1. No-trust vote dismissed, Imran gets Pak. Parliament dissolved
Opposition turns to top court after President acts on Prime Minister’s advice
Pakistan’s beleaguered Prime Minister Imran Khan bowled a yorker at his rivals on Sunday by getting the presidential nod for the dissolution of Parliament, a move dubbed “unconstitutional” by the Opposition parties. The latter have approached the Supreme Court to challenge the move.
In a suo motu hearing on the issue later on Sunday, the Supreme Court barred all state institutions from taking any “extra-constitutional” steps in the wake of the dismissal of the no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial heard the matter.
Court hearing today
Chief Justice Bandial observed that public order must be maintained and no state functionary shall take any “extra-constitutional” steps in the prevailing political situation, adding that all orders and actions initiated by the Prime Minister and the President regarding the dissolution of the National Assembly will be subject to the court’s order. The top court adjourned the hearing till Monday.
Earlier, Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri dismissed the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition against Prime Minister Khan, terming it against the Constitution and rules of Pakistan. Mr. Suri chaired the crucial session after Opposition parties filed a no-confidence motion against Speaker Asad Qaiser.
The stunned Opposition termed the entire process unconstitutional and its lawmakers refused to leave the premises of the Parliament House which was protected by security personnel.
Mr. Khan, who had effectively lost majority in the 342-member National Assembly, made a brief address to the nation in which he said he has recommended dissolution of the House and sought fresh elections.
Later, President Arif Alvi’s office said he has dissolved the National Assembly according to the advice of the Prime Minister.
Mr. Khan congratulated the nation for the no-trust motion being dismissed, saying the Deputy Speaker had “rejected the attempt of changing the regime [and] the foreign conspiracy”.
Federal Cabinet dissolved
A close aide of Mr. Khan and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the federal Cabinet has also been dissolved.
However, Mr. Khan will continue working as interim Prime Minister.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Mr. Khan and all others involved in the “conspiracy” against the nation are guilty of high treason and should be tried for desecrating the Constitution.
Pakistan’s Army said it had “absolutely nothing” to do with the prevailing political situation in the country. Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Babar Iftikhar made the remarks in the wake of rejection of the no-confidence motion and subsequent dissolution of the National Assembly by the President.
Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met the Prime Minister at least twice last week.
2. All Ministers quit in Sri Lanka
Mahinda remains Prime Minister, to meet President Gotabaya today
All Cabinet Ministers in Sri Lanka resigned late on Sunday, amid raging protests by citizens asking the Rajapaksa administration to quit for “failing” the country in its crisis response.
They submitted their resignation to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who remains in office and is scheduled to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday morning, Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena announced. This paves the way for President Gotabaya to form a fresh Cabinet, amid demands from coalition partners for a “caretaker government”.
Cabinet members who resigned include three members of the ruling family — Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, who was among the first to resign at a heated discussion among the Prime Minister and Cabinet members, informed sources said.
Earlier, defying a curfew imposed by the government, Sri Lanka’s Opposition parties, several student groups and citizens took to the streets on Sunday, as public outrage swells over the Rajapaksa administration’s response to the economic crisis.
Authorities blocked access to major social media sites and messaging apps in the early hours of Sunday, reportedly seeing them as forums for anti-government mobilisations, but it was revoked later.
3. WHO pauses Covaxin supply via UN bodies
Bharat Biotech to upgrade facility
The World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended supply of Covaxin, Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine, through UN agencies to allow the manufacturer to upgrade facilities and address deficiencies.
A WHO statement on Saturday said the suspension was in response to its post-EUL (emergency use authorisation) inspection from March 14 to 22, and the need to conduct upgrades to address GMP (good manufacturing practice) deficiencies. In an April 1 statement, Bharat Biotech said it was committed to implementing facility upgrades.
4. A far-reaching verdict that ends a regressive exception
In pronouncing the end of the marital rape exception, the Karnataka High Court has delivered a nuanced judgment
Over the last several months, arguments challenging the constitutionality of the marital rape exception in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had gripped the Delhi High Court. While the judgment in those petitions is still awaited, in one clean swoop Justice M. Nagaprasanna of the Karnataka High Court on March 23, 2022, in the case of Hrishikesh Sahoo vs State of Karnataka, pronounced the end of the marital rape exception.
Outcomes in judicial proceedings are almost always shaped by the cases which come before the courts. This judgment was a result of a unique case where a woman had filed a criminal complaint of rape against her husband due to the repeated acts of sexual assault she had to face. The police registered her complaint under Section 376 notwithstanding the marital rape exception, a charge sheet was filed and the Sessions Judge took cognisance and framed charges under Section 376. The husband filed an application to drop the charge of Section 376 but the Sessions Judge rejected it. This led to the husband approaching the High Court seeking to quash the criminal proceedings.
In a nuanced and far-reaching judgment, Justice Nagaprasanna refused to quash the charge of rape against the husband. He held that if a man, being a husband is exempted for his acts of sexual assault, it would destroy women’s right to equality, which is the very soul of the Constitution. He held that the Constitution recognises and grants equal status to women, but the exception to marital rape in the IPC amounts to discrimination because a wife is treated as subordinate to the husband. The Constitution considers marriage as an association of equals and does not in any sense depict women to be subordinate to men and guarantees women the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 the right to live with dignity, personal liberty, bodily integrity, sexual autonomy, right to reproductive choices, right to privacy, right to freedom of speech and expression. He held that the exemption of the husband on committal of such assault/rape cannot be so absolute that it becomes a licence for commission of a crime; in provocative words he stated, “a man is a man; an act is an act; rape is a rape, be it performed by a man the “husband” on the woman “wife”, and refused to quash the case.
There have been other judgments which have already been a precursor to doing away with this exception. In Independent Thought vs Union of India (2017), the Supreme Court of India diluted it and removed the exception to marital rape to a wife not below 15 years and made it 18 years. The Court stated that this would not amount to removing the exception to marital rape for women above 18 years as that was not the case before it, but Justice Madan B. Lokur in similar words held, “… a rape is a rape… A rape that actually occurs cannot legislatively be simply wished away or legislatively denied as non-existent….” The Court held that a girl cannot be treated as a commodity having no say over her body or someone who has no right to deny sexual intercourse to her husband and that the human rights of a girl child are very much alive and kicking whether she is married or not.
Roots of the principle
The exception to marital rape in common law was due to the dictum by Chief Justice Matthew Hale of Britain in 1736 where he stated: “But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.” The concept that by marriage, a woman gave up her body to the husband was accepted as an enduring principle of common law, due to which a husband could not be guilty of raping his wife. This was therefore translated into criminal codes, including the Indian Penal Code which India adopted.
This principle has now been completely abolished. In the United Kingdom, in 1991, the exception to marital rape was done away with in the case of R. vs R. The House of Lords held that where the common law rule no longer even remotely represents what is the true position of a wife in present-day society, the duty of the court is to take steps to alter the rule. The court held that a husband’s immunity as expounded by Chief Justice Matthew Hale no longer exists and took the view that the time had arrived when the law should declare that a rapist remains a rapist subject to the criminal law, irrespective of his relationship with his victim. It held that it was the duty of the court to remove a common law fiction which had become anachronistic and offensive and that there was no justification for the marital exemption in rape.
That was in 1991, more than 30 years ago in the U.K. The Karnataka High Court took a similar view of its duties as a constitutional court in the present case and held that the exception to marital rape in Section 375 is regressive, wherein a woman is treated as a subordinate to the husband and against the constitutional guarantee of equality. Our courts have now truly pronounced the death knell of the marital rape exception.
5. The ‘Chandigarh question’
Why has the issue of the shared capital between Punjab and Haryana resurfaced? Is the Central government trying to fan old flames?
As per the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, Chandigarh was made a UT and the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab with State assets divided between both States in the ratio of 60:40. The lack of full rights to its capital remains a vexing issue in Punjab politics.
The issue has come to light again following the Centre’s decision to amend the rules governing the functioning of the Bhakra Beas Management Board and to bring Chandigarh UT administration employees under the Central Services Rules. The latter move has been seen as an affront to Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.
Given its unique geographical location at the intersection of three States, Chandigarh developed a unique cosmopolitanism and has become a magnet for the youth across the north western region. City residents thus favour the status quo.
The story so far: The newly elected Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution, moved by the Chief Minister himself, on April 1 in a special session seeking the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab. With this, the ‘Chandigarh question’ has resurfaced, but this time it occupies the national spotlight.
How did Chandigarh come to its current status?
Chandigarh, described as a ‘planned city’ emblematic of ‘Nehruvian modernity’, is a greenfield city, which was commissioned by the government in independent India to replace Lahore, which went to Pakistan after Partition, as the capital of of Punjab. Designed by Le Corbusier in association with Pierre Jeanneret, it is located on the foothills of the Shivalik Himalayas on village land acquired from what was then the Kharar tehsil of Ambala district. It was the capital of undivided Punjab from its inauguration in 1953 till 1966. Under the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966 following the Punjabi Suba movement, Haryana was carved out of the Hindi-speaking regions as a separate State while the hill regions of Punjab were merged with what was then the Union Territory (UT) of Himachal Pradesh. Chandigarh was made a UT and has remained the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab with State assets divided between Punjab and Haryana in the ratio of 60:40.
What is the Chandigarh issue?
Since 1966, the lack of full rights to its capital has remained a vexed issue in Punjab politics. All the governments and most political parties of Punjab have regularly raised the demand for Chandigarh. It has featured in all major developments, whether it is the 1973 Anandpur Sahib resolution, Dharam Yudh Morcha (of Akali Dal with J.S. Bhindranwale) and the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord. Since 1966, the Punjab Assembly has passed at least six such resolutions with the last being in 2014 under the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government. The BJP’s opposition to the latest Assembly resolution is the first time a political party has taken a contrarian stand.
Political actors in Punjab also interpret any action of the Central government vis-à-vis Chandigarh in terms of its implications for Punjab’s claim over the city. For example, in 2008, CM Parkash Singh Badal withdrew his government’s No Objection Certificate to convert Panjab University, which the 1966 Act designated an ‘inter-state body corporate’, into a Central university after criticism emerged that this had weakened Punjab’s claim over the city.
What is different this time?
The immediate provocation this time has been two recent decisions of the Central government, both taken in the aftermath of SAD breaking ties with the BJP over the now withdrawn farm laws. In February, the Centre amended the rules governing the functioning of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB), constituted under the 1966 Act, changing the eligibility criteria for the two full-time members of the Board which have, though technically open to all Indian officials, by convention gone to officials from Punjab and Haryana. Officers from the two States may not be able to meet the new eligibility criteria given the technical qualifications specified. All stakeholders in Punjab and Haryana have objected to this move though Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar was more muted in his response. Second, following the March-end announcement by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Centre issued a notification bringing Chandigarh UT administration employees under the Central Services Rules with effect from April 1, 2022 replacing the Punjab Services Rules. Coming within weeks after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rose to power in Punjab, this move was interpreted not just as a continuation of the Centre’s contentious relationship with the AAP government in Delhi, but also as an affront to Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh.
What has been the position of the Union government on the city?
At the time of the 1966 Act, the Union government with Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister indicated that the UT status to Chandigarh was temporary and that it would be transferred to Punjab. This decision was formalised in 1970 with Mrs Gandhi promising Haryana funds for building its own capital. According to the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord, Chandigarh was to be handed over to Punjab on January 26, 1986 but this never fructified after the assassination of Longowal and the long period of militancy till the mid-1990s. The recent developments could thus indicate a shift in the Central government’s position.
What about Haryana?
As in Punjab, all parties in Haryana present a common position asserting the latter’s claim to the city and have objected to any move which associates Chandigarh solely with Punjab. The International Airport which comprises territory from both the UT and Mohali city of Punjab was inaugurated in 2015 but remains nameless as Haryana has objected to the inclusion of Mohali in the name claiming that Haryana has a 50% stake in the airport. Haryana had also objected to the name ‘New Chandigarh’ for a township developed in the Mullanpur area adjoining Chandigarh in Punjab. Apart from the ruling BJP-Jannayak Janta Party, the Congress and Indian National Lok Dal have also condemned Friday’s resolution, and raked up other inter-State disputes, prominently that of the Satluj Yamuna Link.
Is there a distinctive Chandigarh position?
Employees and unions of the Chandigarh administration have mostly welcomed the change in service rules since the Central provisions carry more benefits, especially on retirement age and other allowances, though pay scale-wise Punjab rules are considered better. After decades of existence as a UT, Chandigarh has developed a distinctive cultural character. Given its geographical location at the intersection of three States, as well as the presence of many educational institutions, medical establishments and the Army and Air Force, Chandigarh has developed a unique cosmopolitanism and become a magnet for the youth across the north western region. City residents thus favour the status quo.
The Chandigarh units of political parties, in contrast with their Punjab party units have time and again reiterated retention of the status quo.
What lies ahead?
While this time the issue has attracted more attention than usual, the future depends on the AAP’s calculations. Its Punjab mandate indicates massive expectations from the electorate including better service conditions from government employees but it has inherited a debt-ridden government. Upping the ante on Chandigarh could buy it time but not much else. Moreover, it wishes to expand in other States, especially Haryana. It also risks antagonising city residents after performing well in the recent Chandigarh municipal corporation elections. As a new party without the comfort of long-established State units, it will have to balance these contending claims in deciding further action.
6. The key takeaways of a UNEP report on noise pollution
What does the Frontiers report say about the effects of sustained high decibel levels? Why was the inclusion of Moradabad as a noisy city cause for controversy?
The first chapter of the February UNEP report compiles studies about noise levels in several cities around the world. Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, Asansol and Moradabad are the five Indian cities mentioned in this list.
Moradabad had never been suggested as an unusually noisy city. The author of that chapter said that the confusion stemmed from errors in the bibliography.
Adverse effects of noise pollution on public health range from mild and temporary distress to severe and chronic physical impairment.
The story so far: A February report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme on the environmental challenges posed by noise, wildfires and the disruption of biological rhythms of plants, animals and ecological cycles became controversial on account of the mention of a single city, Moradabad.
What was the controversy?
The first chapter of the report, called Frontiers 2022: Noise, Blazes and Mismatches, deals with noise. It compiles studies about noise levels in several cities around the world and illustrates a subset of 61 cities and the range of dB (decibel) levels that have been measured. Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata, Asansol and Moradabad are the five Indian cities mentioned in this list and Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh was shown as having a dB range from 29 to 114. At a maximum value of 114, it was the second-most-noisiest city in the list. The first was Dhaka, Bangladesh at a maximum value of 119 dB.
While road traffic, industry and high population density are well-known factors associated with high dB levels, the inclusion of Moradabad appeared strange because similar studies in the past had never suggested it to be an unusually noisy city. There was no mention of the city in any of the scientific reports listed out in the bibliography of sources. A perusal of the list of research articles, linking each city to the scientific study undertaken to measure noise levels, pointed to a study, “Environmental noise challenges and policies in low-and middle-income countries. South Florida Journal of Health.” This was authored by Dietrich Schwela, a researcher at the University of York, but surprisingly had no reference to Moradabad.
There were references to noise levels in Aurangabad (40-102), Chandigarh (51-75) and Kolkata (70-83). Schwela’s study itself is a compilation of studies by several authors from around the world and the studies on Aurangabad, Chandigarh and Kolkata were done by independent authors. Another place that finds itself in the Frontiers report is Asansol, India, again referenced to Schwela’s study and like Moradabad has no mention in the study.
So, is Moradabad the second-noisiest city?
The author of that chapter, Francesco Aletta, is based at the University College, London, in response to queries from The Hindu said that the confusion stemmed from errors in the bibliography. The actual study linked to Moradabad was: “Assessment of noise level status in different areas of Moradabad city” by Avnish Chauhan, of the Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun. Incidentally this study was published in 2010 and, as is routine in many studies measuring noise levels, involved measurements in different parts of the city: residential areas, industrial areas and commercial places during the day and night. The 114 measurement was an average of measurements reported from a factory in an industrial zone. Aletta added that inferring Moradabad to be the ‘second-noisiest city’ was incorrect because the list of cities whose values were illustrated were only indicative.
The noise indicators that the different studies/reports included weren’t “necessarily consistent/harmonised and it was generated simply as an example of the spread of noise values that different people have observed in different cities over time in different places.”
Why are measurements of noise important?
The latest 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines established a health-protective recommendation for road traffic noise levels of 53 dB. The Frontiers report compiled a host of evidence, including the adverse effects of noise on public health, which range from mild and temporary distress to severe and chronic physical impairment. Night-time noise disturbs sleep and affects well-being the following day.
Estimates suggest that in Europe 22 million and 6.5 million people suffer from chronic noise annoyance and sleep disturbance, respectively. The elderly, pregnant women and shift workers are among those at risk of noise-induced sleep disturbance. Noise-induced awakenings can trigger a range of physiological and psychological stress responses because sleep is necessary for hormonal regulation and cardiovascular functioning. Traffic noise exposure is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders such as elevated blood pressure, arterial hypertension, coronary heart disease and diabetes. Long-term exposure to environmental noise contributes to 48,000 new cases of ischemic heart disease and causes 12,000 premature deaths annually in Europe.
Two 15-year-long studies of long-term residents of Toronto, Canada found that exposure to road traffic noise elevated risks of acute myocardial infarction and congestive heart failure, and increased the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by 8%, and hypertension by 2%, says the report.
What is India doing about noise pollution?
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is mandated to track noise levels, set standards as well as ensure, via their State units, that sources of excessive noise are controlled.
The agency has a manual monitoring system where sensors are installed in major cities and few cities have the facility to track noise levels in real time. The CPCB also measures noise levels before and after Diwali in major cities, to publicise the impact of firecrackers.
7. NFC technology for instant payments
How will the ‘Tap to Pay’ feature make things easier for monetary transactions on smartphones? What are the other uses of NFC technology?
Near-field communication is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that allows NFC-enabled devices to communicate with each other and transfer information quickly and easily with a single touch.
NFC tech has a wide range of applications besides driving payment services. It is used in contactless banking cards or to generate contact-less tickets for public transport.
Google Pay will now allow users with UPI accounts to make payments just by tapping their NFC-enabled Android smartphones on any Pine Labs Android POS terminal. This process will be much faster compared to scanning a QR code or entering the UPI-linked mobile number.
The story so far: Google Pay has recently launched a new feature in India, ‘Tap to pay for UPI’, in collaboration with Pine Labs. The feature makes use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.
The functionality will allow users with NFC-enabled Android smartphones and UPI accounts linked to Google Pay to carry out transactions just by tapping their phones on any Pine Labs Android point-of-sale (POS) terminal across the country, Google said in a release. Till now, Tap to Pay was only available for cards.
What is NFC and how does it work?
NFC is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that allows NFC-enabled devices to communicate with each other and transfer information quickly and easily with a single touch — whether to pay bills, exchange business cards, download coupons, or share a document.
NFC transmits data through electromagnetic radio fields, to enable communication between two devices. Both devices must contain NFC chips, as transactions take place within a very short distance. NFC-enabled devices must be either physically touching or within a few centimetres from each other for data transfer to occur.
How will this technology work with the recently launched feature, ‘Tap to pay for UPI’?
Google Pay has been the first among UPI apps to bring the Tap to Pay feature working on POS terminals. It will allow users with UPI accounts configured on Google Pay to make payments just by tapping their NFC-enabled Android smartphones on any Pine Labs Android POS terminal. Once users tap their phones on the POS terminal, it will automatically open the Google pay app with the payment amount pre-filled. Users can then verify the amount and merchant name and authenticate the payment, using their UPI PIN. They will be notified once the payment is successful, Google told The Hindu.
The process is much faster compared to scanning a QR code or entering the UPI-linked mobile number which has been the conventional way till now.
Are other companies using NFC tech for payments using smartphones?
In February this year, Apple introduced Tap to Pay on the iPhone. It will allow merchants across the U.S. to use their iPhones to accept Apple Pay, contactless credit and debit cards, and other digital wallets through a tap to their iPhone without the need for any additional hardware or payment terminal.
At checkout, the customer just needs to hold their iPhone or Apple Watch to pay with Apple Pay, their contactless credit or debit card, or other digital wallet near the merchant’s iPhone to complete the payment using NFC technology, Apple said in a release earlier.
What are the other applications of NFC technology?
NFC tech has a wide range of applications besides driving payment services like Google Wallet and Apple Pay. It is used in contactless banking cards to perform money transactions or to generate contact-less tickets for public transport. Contactless cards and readers use NFC in several applications from securing networks and buildings to monitoring inventory and sales, preventing auto theft, keeping tabs on library books, and running unmanned toll booths, according to investopedia.
NFC is behind the cards that we wave over card readers in subway turnstiles and on buses to check tickets. It is present in speakers, household appliances, and other electronic devices that we monitor and control through our smartphones. With just a touch, NFC can also set up WiFi and Bluetooth devices in our homes, investopedia noted.
It also has an application in healthcare, to monitor patient stats through NFC-enabled wristbands. NFC is used in wireless charging too.
How safe is this technology ?
NFC technology is designed for an operation between devices within a few centimetres from each other. This makes it difficult for attackers to record the communication between the devices compared to other wireless technologies which have a working distance of several metres, according to the NFC forum, a non-profit industry association.
The user of the NFC-enabled device determines by the touch gesture which entity the NFC communication should take place with, making it more difficult for the attacker to get connected. The security level of the NFC communication is by default higher compared to other wireless communication protocols.
The NFC Forum has also added Peer to Peer communication which is a mechanism to cipher all exchanged data to avoid external interpretation of recorded communication. Since the receiving device reads your data the instant you send it, NFCs also reduce the chance of human error, according to investopedia.
Where does it stand in comparison to other wireless technologies?
There are other wireless technologies available which are replacing cable-based connections. The IrDa technology is a short range (a few metres) connection based on the exchange of data over infrared light where the two communication devices must be positioned within a line of sight. Today, this technology is mainly used for remote control devices. For larger data communication with computer devices this technology was replaced by Bluetooth or WiFi connections.
However, for these technologies’ receiver devices need their own power supply due to the larger working distance. Therefore, the receiving device cannot be powered by the radiofrequency (RF) field like in NFC, the NFC forum highlighted. Another consequence of the larger working distance is the need for the user to configure their device and to pair them together for communication. Connection cannot be initiated by a simple touch gesture like in NFC.
When did NFC tech start?
In 2004, consumer electronics companies, Nokia, Philips and Sony together formed the NFC Forum, which outlined the architecture for NFC technology to create powerful new consumer-driven products.
Nokia released the first NFC-enabled phone in 2007.
8. Uniform Civil Code debate gains momentum
While the BJP is weighing political stakes, the issue has seen a renewed push in the Supreme Court
Will the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) be the next big political push for the ruling BJP in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election?
The UCC means formulation of one law to be made applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.
Days after taking over as the Uttarakhand Chief Minister for a second time, Pushkar Singh Dhami kept his pre-poll promise and announced an expert panel to examine the possibility of applying the UCC in the State.
Even before the Hijab row further fuelled the debate, Rakesh Sinha, Rajya Sabha member of the party, had moved a private member’s Bill for a law on the UCC. A similar petition by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyaya is before the Delhi High Court as well. The government, though, has maintained an ambivalent position.
During the winter session of Parliament last December, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, in response to a written question, said “the matter is sub judice”.
However, answering a query by the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey on the same issue around the same time, the Law Minister said the matter required an in-depth study of the personal laws governing different communities. “The matter may be taken up by the 22nd Law Commission of India,” Mr. Rijiju said.
But the irony is that even after two years since the Union Cabinet approved the constitution of the 22nd Law Commission in February 2020, its chairperson and members are yet to be appointed.
One of the reasons for the government’s ambivalence, argued some leaders, is the potential fallout of such a move on tribal communities, a political constituency that the BJP and its ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are trying hard to win over.
But the issue has seen a renewed push in the Supreme Court as well, especially after the top court indicated that the government should explore the UCC as a means to secure gender justice, equality and dignity of women.
The court’s view is based on several petitions claiming that personal laws governing the followers of certain faiths discriminate against women.
One of these petitions, filed in January this year, by the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Firoz Ahmed Bakht, asked the Supreme Court to direct the government to constitute a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to prepare a draft UCC in tune with international conventions which protect the rights of women.
Mr. Bakht, who is also the grandnephew of Independent India’s first Education Minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, says it is time to shed personal laws based on “patriarchal stereotypes”.
He argues that the UCC would not only protect the vulnerable sections, including women and religious minorities, but “promote nationalistic fervour through unity” as well as simplify the complex personal laws.
His petition resonates with the Jose Paulo Coutinho judgment of the Supreme Court in 2019, which wondered why the nation had still not endeavoured to secure a common civil code for its citizens.
A Bench of Justices (retired) Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose had said that though the “Hindu laws were codified in the year 1956, there has been no attempt to frame a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all citizens of the country”.
The judgment had said that “despite exhortations of this court in the case of Shah Bano in 1985, the government has done nothing to bring the Uniform Civil Code. The Shah Bano case, which upheld a Muslim women’s right to maintenance was considered a step in the direction of implementation of the UCC. However, the government, in 1986, enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which nullified the Shah Bano judgment. The Act allowed maintenance to women only for 90 days after the divorce”.
The Supreme Court has even hailed Goa as a “shining example” where “the uniform civil code is applicable to all, regardless of religion except while protecting certain limited rights”.
The Supreme Court’s exhortation came despite the Law Commission, in a consultation paper released in 2018, finding the UCC “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”. Article 44 of the Constitution does not mandate but only asks the State to make an endeavour to secure the UCC for all citizens. In his Constituent Assembly speech, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had explained that the UCC was incorporated into the Constitution as a “desirable” move, but for the moment “voluntary”.
The current push within the Supreme Court for the UCC steps away from the cautionary note seen in earlier judgments.
While the top court’s judgments in Sarla Mudgal and Shah Bano Begum cases lamented the official inactivity over a common civil code which would “help the cause of national integration”, several verdicts, like in S.R. Bommai, have warned against “mixing politics with religion”. The court had worried whether a secular state should bring a code which can be perceived to be a threat to personal laws based on the religious beliefs of individual religions.
9. CBI no more a ‘caged parrot’, says Rijiju
The CBI is no more a “caged parrot” but is truly performing its duty as India’s top criminal investigating agency, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said in a tweet on Sunday, saying there was a time when people sitting in the government sometimes used to become a problem in investigations.
He also said that the challenges some officers had faced in the past are “no more in existence”.
The Minister’s remarks defending the agency came close on the heels of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana saying that the CBI’s credibility has come under deep public scrutiny with the passage of time as its actions and inactions have raised questions.
On April 1, CJI Ramana had called for creating an “independent umbrella institution” to bring various investigating agencies under one roof.
The CJI said, “When it comes to the CBI, it possessed immense trust of the public in its initial phase. But, with the passage of time, like every other institution of repute, its actions and inactions have raised questions.”
10. First cases of infection from diabetes medication in India
State drug controllers to include warning in SGLT2 package
After the U.S. and Canada, India too has admitted incidence of a rare but serious infection of the genitals and area around the genitals among Type 2 diabetes patients using sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors (a class of Type 2 diabetes medication).
This rare but serious infection, called necrotizing fasciitis of the perineum, is also referred to as Fournier’s gangrene.
As a precautionary measure, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has requested all State Drug Controllers to direct the manufacturers of SGLT2 inhibitor class drugs, named Canagliflozin, Dapagliflozin and Empagliflozin, under their jurisdiction to include warnings in the package and promotional literature of these drugs.
The Health Ministry, responding to a question on the adverse reaction to the anti-diabetes medicine by P. Velusamy, MP, submitted the information recently.
SGLT2 inhibitors and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors are recommended as preferred add-on oral anti-diabetic drugs (OADs) after metformin among Type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), heart failure (HF), and chronic kidney disease (CKD). They are generally many times costlier than other OADs, experts say.
The Ministry submitted in Parliament that CDSCO was notified about a Health Canada communication to all those authorised to market SGLT2 inhibitors regarding a summary safety review (SSR) on the potential risk of pancreas inflammation (acute and chronic).
The United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), in its drug safety communications (DSC), has cautioned about cases of the rare but serious infection of the genitals and the area around the genitals being reported with the use of SGLT2 inhibitors.
“This serious rare infection, called necrotizing fasciitis of the perineum, is also referred to as Fournier’s gangrene. The USFDA has revised the labels of SGLT 2 inhibitors to include new warnings about the risk to patients,” the Ministry said.
It added that the issue was examined in consultation with the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of CDSCO and information available under the Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI) has also been obtained.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya had stated in Parliament that the exact number of patients suffering from diabetes in India was not known.
However, as per 10th edition of Diabetes Atlas 2021 of International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the estimated number between the age group of 20 and 79 is 74.2 million in 2021 and it is estimated to increase to 124.8 million in 2045.
11. Taliban order ban on poppy cultivation
As per decree, crop will be destroyed and offenders will be tried under Sharia law
The Taliban announced on Sunday a ban on the cultivation of narcotics in Afghanistan, the world’s biggest opium producer.
“As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country,” according to an order from the Taliban’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
“If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law,” the order, announced at a news conference by the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, said. The order said the production, use or transportation of other narcotics was also banned.
Drug control has been one major demand of the international community of the Islamist group, which took over the country in August and is seeking formal international recognition in order to wind back sanctions that are severely hampering banking, business and development.
The Taliban banned poppy growing towards the end of their last rule in 2000 as they sought international legitimacy, but faced a popular backlash and later mostly changed their stance, according to experts.
Afghanistan’s opium production — which the United Nations estimated was worth $1.4 billion at its height in 2017 — has increased in recent months, farmers and Taliban members said.
The country’s dire economic situation has prompted residents of south-eastern provinces to grow the illicit crop that could bring them faster and higher returns than legal crops such as wheat.
Taliban sources told Reuters they were anticipating tough resistance from some elements within the group against the ban on poppy and that there had been a surge in the number of farmers cultivating poppy in recent months.
“Other crops are just not profitable,” he said.
A farmer in Helmand who spoke on condition of anonymity said that in recent weeks prices of poppy had already more than doubled on rumours the Taliban would ban its cultivation. But he added that he needed to grow poppy to support his family.