1. Man seeks NOC to export embryos
He moves Delhi HC over ICMR delay
A married man has moved the Delhi High Court seeking to expedite the process of obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) for exporting embryos to a surrogate mother abroad.
Justice Yashwant Varma issued notice to the Centre, the National Assisted Reproductive Technology and Surrogacy Board (NARTSB), and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the plea and posted it for further hearing on July 20.
The man, in his petition filed through advocates Parminder Singh and Vishnu Tallapragada, said he has been regularly following up with the NARTSB and ICMR for over six months for issuance of an NOC for export of his embryos for personal use.
“However, no substantive response has yet been received by the petitioner,” Mr. Singh said. He said his client, who wish to remain anonymous for personal reasons, was left with no other alternative but to approach the High Court.
Due to the “unreasonable delay” by the authorities, the original surrogacy agreement the man entered into with a surrogate in California had lapsed, Mr. Singh said. “After great effort, the petitioner was able to renegotiate the said agreement with the surrogate mother. Any further delay in the adjudication of the petitioner’s application would cause great prejudice to the petitioner,” the plea said.
Mr. Singh submitted that export of embryos from India has been allowed by the Government of India as per June 12, 2020 notification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry. As per the notification, for the purpose of export of embryos from India, the necessary prerequisite is an NOC issued by the ICMR.
Mr. Singh said his client first moved an application on January 18, 2022 before the ICMR seeking the requisite NOC, but, has failed to receive any response. He said the ICMR was deciding such applications based on the “Guidelines for export of Embryos and Gametes” as available on its website. Meanwhile, on January 25, 2022, the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act, 2021 was brought into force in the country.
Section 229 of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Act prohibited the transfer or use of gametes, zygotes and embryos, directly or indirectly to any party within or outside India except in the case of transfer of own gametes and embryos for personal use with the permission of NARTSB. Mr. Singh said his client followed up with NARTSB, ICMR and the Centre but no response has been received till date.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
ART procedures involve surgically removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory, and returning them to the woman’s body or donating them to another woman.
Assisted Reproductive Technology fertility treatments handle both a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm.
By definition, ART does not include treatments in which only sperm are handled or procedures in which a woman takes medicine only to stimulate egg production without the intention of having eggs retrieved.
It works by removing eggs from a woman’s body which are then mixed with sperm to make embryos. The embryos are then put back in the woman’s body.
The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) [ART] Act, 2021
The act defines ART to include all techniques that seek to obtain a pregnancy by handling the sperm or the oocyte (immature egg cell) outside the human body and transferring the gamete or the embryo into the reproductive system of a woman.
Examples of ART services include gamete (sperm or oocyte) donation, in-vitro-fertilization (fertilizing an egg in the lab), and gestational surrogacy (the child is not biologically related to the surrogate mother).
ART services will be provided through:
- ART clinics, which offer ART related treatments and procedures, and
- ART banks, which store and supply gametes.
Regulation of ART clinics and banks:
The act provides that every ART clinic and the bank must be registered under ICMR’s National Registry of Banks and Clinics of India
The National Registry will be established under the act and will act as a central database with details of all ART clinics and banks in the country.
The State governments will appoint registration authorities for facilitating the registration process. The Clinics and banks will be registered only if they adhere to certain standards (specialized manpower, physical infrastructure, and diagnostic facilities).
The registration will be valid for five years and can be renewed for a further five years. Registration may be canceled or suspended if the entity contravenes the provisions of the act.
Conditions for gamete donation and supply:
- Screening of gamete donors, collection and storage of semen, and provision of oocyte donors can only be done by a registered ART bank.
- A bank can obtain semen from males between 21 and 55 years of age, and oocytes from females between 23 and 35 years of age.
- An oocyte donor should be a married woman having at least one alive child of her own(minimum three years of age).
- The woman can donate oocytes only once in her life and not more than seven oocytes can be retrieved from her.
- A bank cannot supply the gamete of a single donor to more than one couple seeking services.
Conditions for offering ART services:
- ART procedures can only be carried out with the written informed consent of both the party seeking ART services as well as the donor.
- The party seeking ART services will be required to provide insurance coverage in the favour of the oocyte donor (for any loss, damage, or death of the donor).
- A clinic is prohibited from offering to provide a child of pre-determined sex.
- The act also requires checking for genetic diseases before embryo implantation.
Rights of a child born through ART:
- A child born through ART will be deemed to be a biological child of the couple (commission couple) and will be entitled to the rights and privileges available to a natural child of the commissioning couple.
- A donor will not have any parental rights over the child.
National and State Boards:
The act provides that the National and State Boards for Surrogacy constituted under the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act, 2021 will act as the National and State Board respectively for the regulation of ART services.
Key powers and functions of the National Board include:
- advising the central government on ART related policy matters
- reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the act
- formulating code of conduct and standards for ART clinics and banks,
- overseeing various bodies to be constituted under the act.
The State Boards will coordinate enforcement of the policies and guidelines for ART as per the recommendations, policies, and regulations of the National Board.
Offences and penalties:
- abandoning, or exploiting children born through ART
- selling, purchasing, trading, or importing human embryos or gametes,
- using intermediates to obtain donors
- exploiting commissioning couple, woman, or the gamete donor in any form
- transferring the human embryo into a male or an animal.
These offences will be punishable with a fine between five and ten lakh rupees for the first contravention. For subsequent contraventions, these offences will be punishable with imprisonment for a term between eight and 12 years, and a fine between 10 and 20 lakh rupees.
Any clinic or bank advertising or offering sex-selective ART will be punishable with imprisonment between five and ten years, or a fine between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 25 lakh, or both.
No court will take cognizance of offences under the act, except on a complaint made by the National or State Board or any officer authorized by the Boards.
Difference between Surrogacy Act and ART act
The need for ART act:
India is becoming a major center of the global fertility industry, with reproductive medical tourism increasing significantly.
Standardized Protocols: Many ART clinics have been running without regulation and it may affect the health of those who undertake the procedure. If there is no regulation, unethical practices will increase.
Protection of Women and Children: The oocyte (a cell in an ovary) donor needs to be supported by an insurance cover. Multiple embryo implantations need to be regulated and children born through ART need to be protected.
2. Editorial-1: A plan that is much more than just planting trees
The focus now is on ‘forest landscape restoration’, to regain ecological functionality and improve human welfare
Last month, about 100 women, employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), were seen digging pits, planting trees and watering them in Nangal Khurd village, in Mansa district in Punjab, just in time for World Environment Day that is observed every year on June 5. Working alongside them were over 50 young people from a local club. The district administration was involved too. It was an example of community effort.
Let us move to this month. It is also time for Van Mahotsav, which literally means “celebrate the forest”. The history of Van Mahotsav Day goes back to July 1947, when it was first organised by the Punjabi botanist, M.S. Randhawa. Subsequently, in 1950, Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, an environmentalist and Union Minister of Agriculture and Food, expanded its reach and national scope. In today’s world, forests need to be celebrated more than ever before. Simultaneously, more forests need to be created and restored. However, there is much debate about the efforts around tree planting. Is there a right way to do it? Are there dos and don’ts when it comes to mass tree-planting? Let us step back for the bigger picture.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), deforestation and forest degradation contribute around 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The total area occupied by primary forests in India has decreased by 3.6%.
The aim now
Typically, governments have relied on afforestation and reforestation as a means of establishing trees on non-treed land. These strategies have now evolved. The focus is now on forest landscape restoration — the process of regaining ecological functionality and improving human welfare across deforested or degraded forest landscapes.
This approach keeps in mind multiple land uses and people’s needs in the short and long terms. Forest landscape restoration seeks to involve communities in the process of designing and executing mutually advantageous interventions for the upgradation of landscapes. Nearly two billion hectares of degraded land in the world (and 140 million hectares in India) have scope for potential restoration as forest land.
A crucial aspect of this process is to ensure the diversity of the species while planting trees. Natural forests with diverse native tree species are more efficient in sequestering carbon than monoculture tree plantations. Planting diverse species is also healthier for local communities and their livelihoods. An international study published earlier this year in the journal, Science, found that diversifying species in forest plantations has a positive impact on the quality of the forests.
In Punjab, for instance, the community is proactively planting native species such as Jhand (Prosopis cineraria), Desi Kikar (Acacia nilotica) and Pharwan (Tamarix aphylla), which are resilient and acclimatised. And most of these saplings have a high survival rate of 90%, a vital requirement for sustainable reforestation activities.
A pivotal role
Tree planting comes with varied environmental and ecological benefits. Forests are integral in regulating ecosystems, influencing the carbon cycle and mitigating the effects of climate change. Annually, forests absorb roughly 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. This absorption includes nearly 33% of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels.
But beyond the environmental benefits, there is the human dimension that is at the front and centre. Millions of lives and livelihoods are intertwined with our forests. Forests are a boon for local communities and their livelihoods by functioning as a resource base for goods and services. India is an agrarian economy. According to academics from the World Resources Institute, forest ecosystems enrich soil fertility and water availability, enhancing agricultural productivity, and in turn the rural economy. Tree planting prevents erosion and stems flooding. Sustainable forest crops reduce food insecurity and empower women, allowing them to gain access to more nutritional diets and new income streams. Agroforestry lessens rural-to-urban migration and contributes to an increase in resources and household income. Planting trees is deeply linked to the ‘wholistic’ well-being of all individuals, the community, and the planet.
India and programmes
The span 2021-2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, emphasising efforts to restore degraded terrestrial ecosystems including forests. In 2011, the Bonn Challenge was launched with a global goal to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. India joined the Bonn Challenge in 2015, pledging to restore 26 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030. An additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through forest and tree cover is to be created by 2030.
There are a myriad government programmes such as Compensatory Afforestation, the National Afforestation Programme, the National Mission for a Green India (Green India Mission), the Nagar Van scheme and the Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme to name a few. There is a spotlight on youth via the Green Skill Development Programme for youth who aspire to attain employment in the environment and forest sectors. State governments are not far behind either, a case in point being Telangana, which has initiated a large-scale tree planting programme called ‘Telanganaku Haritha Haram’.
However, forest restoration in India faces hurdles in terms of the identification of areas for restoration, a lack of importance accorded to research and scientific strategies in tree planting, stakeholders’ conflicts of interest, and financing.
Planting a sapling
So, what is the right way to undertake tree plantation drives? To be successful, forest landscape restoration must be implemented proactively, bolstering landscapes and forest ecosystems to be durable and adjustable in the face of future challenges and societal needs. It also needs the involvement and the alignment of a host of stakeholders including the community, champions, government and landowners. The restoration of natural forest ecosystems can be strengthened through participatory governance by engaging stakeholders —as in the Punjab example. Vulnerable forest-dependent communities should be factored in, and any effort should be tailored to the local socio-economic context and landscape history of a region.
The women and youth of Mansa district are securing the future of their communities and their well-being while maximising the rewards of tree-planting. Let us pledge to truly celebrate the forests by doing it the right way. That is the maha utsav our forests need.
3. Editorial-2: Beating the heat
India must include financial incentives for adoption of effective cooling plans
The steady rise in the planet’s temperature as a consequence of humanity’s unfettered use of fossil fuel forms the backdrop to altered weather patterns everywhere. India too has been registering instances of anomalous weather with alarming frequency with an erratic monsoon and coastal erosion. However, some recent changes are seemingly paradoxical. An analysis of public weather data over the last half a century by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), suggests that the all-India average temperature during the monsoon months (June-September) is higher than the summer months (March-May). Monsoon temperatures are 0.3°C higher than average summer temperatures when compared from 1951-80. In 2012-2021, this anomaly rose to 0.4°C. The India Meteorological Department has said that India’s average temperature has risen 0.62°C from 1901-2020 but the CSE analysis says — supporting similar studies on these lines — that this has not meant a uniform rise in temperatures across seasons. It is the winter (January and February) and post-monsoon (October-December) average all-India temperatures that have risen faster than even the monsoon and summer temperatures. Average daily maximum temperature for north-western States in March was 30.7°C, whereas the all-India average was 33.1°C or 2.4°C hotter. The average daily minimum temperature showed an even larger (4.9°C) difference. Central India’s normal maximum was 2°-7°C higher, while south peninsular India’s normal minimum was 4°-10°C higher than temperatures in northwest India.
The shattering of temperature records is only one part of the changes; there is also evidence of the toll on lives. From 2015-2020, 2,137 people had reportedly died due to heat stroke in northwest India but southern India had reported 2,444 deaths due to excess environmental heat, with Andhra Pradesh accounting for over half the reported casualties. The urban heat island effect — whereby cities because of concrete surfaces and dense populations tend to on average be hotter than rural habitations — also contributed to heat stress. Indian authorities are cognisant of these trends with some States, led by Gujarat, having Heat Action Plans (HAP). The National Disaster Management Authority is working with 23 out of 28 heat-prone States to develop HAPs that stress changes in the built environment: using material that keeps the indoors cooler, having an early warning system about heatwaves and improving health infrastructure to treat heat stroke patients. However, much remains in terms of reaching out to rural India as well as governments taking steps to plan infrastructure and housing in ways that recognise the dangers from a warming environment. It is time that India includes financial incentives, preferably via Budget outlays, for effective cooling plans. Adapting to and mitigating this most visceral challenge is the need of the hour.