A common civil code spelling equality for every Indian
The 22nd Law Commission has called for responses to a proposal for a Uniform Civil Code in India. This has set off a debate, which has often been acrimonious. But the debate itself is much needed as Indians have never been consulted on the personal laws they are governed by. These laws were instituted by the British colonial government by giving a cursory hearing to the clergy, or religious scholars in the case of religions without one. The result was a religion-based set of personal laws for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Whether the colonisers did this out of a deep concern for the sentiments of the natives or it was intended as another instrument in a strategy of divide and rule in order to hold India is irrelevant, but we should note the provenance of India’s personal laws.
Laws that are boxed
Personal laws in India are boxed according to the religion or social origins of the citizen. However, it does not take much to see a fearful symmetry between them. This is their unmistakably patriarchal framing, whereby men are privileged at every turn. Thus, only a man can be the ‘karta’ or head of a Hindu Undivided Family, a divorced Muslim woman is not entitled to maintenance beyond a certain period, among some tribes of India, the custom is that women do not inherit ancestral property, and a Parsi woman who marries outside the community is excommunicated. So, from the point of view of women’s empowerment, India’s civil code is uniform already. As for the section of the population that we today refer to as the LGBT community, the British colonialists considered them mere flotsam and jetsam, to be ignored altogether. Not only did they not even merit a personal law but their actions deserved to be criminalised, even when they were consensual.
We can now see why we cannot consider ourselves to be a democracy so long as we continue with current approach to personal law. It is not because it is not the same for different religious groups but because their uniformly patriarchal core denies women equality before the law. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s widely reported query as to how one country can be run on two laws misses this. But so does the Opposition when it rushes to defend inaction on these personal laws on grounds of diversity, which they hold as sacrosanct.
The antiquity of India’s customs and the diversity of its peoples are both brought up to make a case for tip-toeing around the existing personal laws despite their unequal rights for men and women. But is this a valid argument at all? India’s caste system is antique alright, but India’s lawmakers were wise enough to junk it in law very early on the history of independent India.
The matter of diversity
Next comes diversity. Opponents of reform seem to be unaware that they are extolling a diversity based on religion. Here it is worth recalling political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s reminder that India was not conceived of as “a federation of religions”. Similarly, during the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, B.R. Ambedkar is said to have expressed surprise that religion was being given as much importance when choosing India’s political arrangements. These observations have a bearing on what is being debated today. Whether India’s civil code accords with the diktats of all religions is irrelevant. What matters is that it must be in accord with the democratic principles of liberty, equality and dignity. It is entirely possible to draft a civil code that preserves these ideals without any reference to religious practices. This would have the merit of being secular, in keeping with the defining character of India’s constitution.
Self-appointed heads of religious groups have resisted calls for a common civil code by resorting to the argument that it infringes upon religious freedom. They fail to see that religious freedom means the freedom to adopt the faith of one’s choice. In the domain of expression of faith, such as public worship, Indian courts have declared that it should conform to constitutional principles. In what may be considered one of the most significant social changes in India, restriction of temple entry to the avarna was discontinued almost a century ago. Much later, the Supreme Court of India struck down the practice of restricting women’s entry to the Sabarimala temple.
These milestones point to an understanding of the right to religion as being confined to choice of one’s faith and not to extra-constitutional expressions of it, such as the regulation of women’s autonomy by men. This takes us to the question of the efficacy of legislation in advancing rights. For instance, when it comes to temple entry, we find instances of Dalits being denied entry even today. There are also recorded cases of bigamy among Hindus, in some regions greater than among Muslims. But the conclusion drawn from this that banning polygamy among Muslims is discriminatory is a non sequitur. The response to finding bigamy among Hindus hardly invalidates a call for ending the provision for polygamy among Muslims. The right response would be to prosecute those Hindus violating the law.
What is relevant here is not parity among men of different religious groups when it comes to marriage, it is the rights of women within every religious grouping. The demand that sections of the population, whether tribal or Muslim, are entitled to separate personal laws even when they are gender unjust fails to acknowledge that they are equal beneficiaries of India’s democracy. Democracy guarantees them liberty and equality in all spheres of life, including access to the rule of law, freeing them from arbitrary governance. A reform of their personal laws to end gender discrimination, rendering them compatible with democracy, would be no more than to seek a balance between their rights and their responsibilities.
Bridging a gap
The obsession with parity among males across India’s religion-based personal codes blanks out the issue of the rights of its LGBT community. No amount of reform of the Hindu, Muslim and Christian personal codes can reach them, for they have been rendered invisible by these colonial-era constructions. If there were to be a common civil code applicable to all Indians irrespective of faith, gender and sexual orientation, the LGBT population could be accommodated within it. In its absence, an alternative would have to be conceived of. Given the recognition implicitly granted to them with the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018 and a highly visible hearing of a petition in the Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage, which concluded only recently, the question of a personal law for this group can no longer be postponed.
To be credible, the current debate on personal law must include the LGBT, for the questions of civil partnership, inheritance and adoption are as relevant to them as to other Indians. Mundane acts such as opening a bank account or purchasing life insurance would make one aware of this. Complacently confining the discussion of India’s personal laws within a Hindu-Muslim binary, leaves unrecognised the potential to empower a wide section of the population through their drastic overhaul. The combination of uniformly gender unjust personal laws and a disempowered LGBT population points to the advantage of having a universal civil code which encompasses all Indians. On Independence Day in 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had, in a message to the nation, stated that the task before India was to “create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman”. No social cleavage has been imagined in this vision. A universal civil code would be a step in that direction.
There needs to be a universal civil code applicable to all, irrespective of faith, gender and sexual orientation.
Facts about the News
- The concept of a standard set of civil laws for all citizens of a country, regardless of religious or cultural ties, is referred to as the standard Civil Code.
- A UCC would provide for one law for the entire country, applicable to all religious communities, in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etc.
- In other words, UCC is a set of rules/regulations, which proposes to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in the country with a common set governing every citizen.
Current situation in India
- Currently, Indian personal law is fairly complex, with each religion adhering to its own specific laws.
- Separate laws/ customs govern Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist, Muslims, Christians, and followers of other religions.
- Moreover, there is diversity even within communities. All Hindus of the country are not governed by one law, nor are all Muslims or all Christians.
- For example, in the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws.
- The Constitution itself protects local customs in Nagaland. Similar protections are enjoyed by Meghalaya and Mizoram.
- The exception to this rule is the state of Goa, where all religions have a common law regarding marriages, divorces, and adoption.
– Article 44 of the Constitution lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC for citizens throughout the territory of India.
- Article 44 is among the Directive Principles of State Policy.
- Directive Principles are not enforceable by court, but are supposed to inform and guide governance.
Please read- Shah Bano judgement
Stand of the 21stLaw Commission on the matter
- In 2018, 21st Law Commission underlined that the Uniform Civil Code is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage.
- It argued for reform of family laws of every religion through amendments and codification of certain aspects so as to make them gender-just.
- It further said that cultural diversity cannot be compromised to the extent that our urge for uniformity itself becomes a reason for threat to the territorial integrity of the nation.
Need for UCC
- To promote national unity
- Different personal laws are put to subversive use
- Gender justice and Equality
- Not in the domain of religious activities
- Simplification and Rationalization of legal system
- Vision of constitution makers
Arguments against UCC
- Diversity cannot be compromised for uniformity
- Violation of fundamental rights
- Constitution recognises the customary laws and procedures prevailing in NE states
- Detrimental to communal harmony of India
SC related cases
|Landmark Cases||Ruling and Implications|
|Shah Bano Case (1985)||The Supreme Court upheld the right of a Muslim woman to claim maintenance from her husband even after the Iddat period.|
|It highlighted the need for a UCC to remove contradictions based on ideologies.|
|Sarla Mudgal (1995)||The Supreme Court stated that a Hindu husband cannot convert to Islam and marry without dissolving his first marriage.|
|It emphasized that a UCC would prevent fraudulent conversions and bigamous marriages.|
|Shayara Bano case (2017)||The Supreme Court declared triple talaq as unconstitutional and violative of Muslim women’s dignity and equality.|
|It recommended that Parliament enact a law to regulate Muslim marriages and divorces.|
A Bill that fences in the right to information
The news that the Union Cabinet has approved the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill and will table it in the monsoon session of Parliament (July 20-August 11) raises certain issues. The draft Bill was placed in the public domain in December 2022 but the final Bill has not been placed before the public. Citizens are concerned that if two of its provisions are not changed, it may lead to a major regression for democracy.
The proposed Digital Personal Data Protection Bill has two provisions which would greatly weaken the Indian citizen’s right to information. The Indian Right to Information (RTI) Act, effective since October 12, 2005, is one of the best transparency laws in the world, empowering citizens and is a practical recognition of their role as the rulers and owners of India. This is the outcome of people’s struggles led by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan’s fight starting in rural Rajasthan which culminated in the drafting of the law in 2004. There were intense discussions about its provisions and it took an all-party parliamentary committee to carefully craft its provisions. Its preamble elegantly states that democracy requires informed citizens and transparency in the affairs of their government so that they can hold it accountable and curb corruption. It harmonised the need for an efficient government while preserving the ideals of democracy.
Embraced by the citizen
Governments and those wielding the levers of power have been perturbed by this transfer of power to the ordinary citizen. Citizens have taken to the RTI like a fish to water. Despite public officials using various devices to deny citizens their legitimate right, many have used this democratic instrument to expose wrongdoing and corruption. The law recognises that the default mode is that each citizen has the right to access almost all the information with the government. Ten categories of information have been exempted from disclosure to prevent harm to certain interests and to ensure smooth working of the government. These are outlined in Section 8(1), with the 10 subsections from a to j.
The most widely misused exemption is Section 8(1)(j) which exempts personal information which is not a part of public activity, or which is an invasion on the privacy of an individual. It has a proviso which is an acid test to help anyone claiming exemption which states: ‘Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.’ Thus, the law stated that personal information may be exempt if: it is not related to a public activity or interest, or would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual
To help an officer, an Information Commissioner or judge to arrive at the right decision, the special proviso was provided as an acid test. Whoever claimed that a disclosure was exempt under Section 8(1)(j) should make a statement that he would not give this information to Parliament.
The basis of refusals
Many refusals of information did not adhere to the law but refused information with a bland statement that since it was personal information, they would not give it. This was illegal but has been widely used to cover arbitrary, corrupt or illegal acts of government officials. Some examples are: the Department of Personnel and Training refusing “Total number of Annual Performance Appraisal reports (APAR) of IAS officers pending presently for over one year, two years, three years and four years” by claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(j); request for details of Member of the Legislative Assembly funds being denied saying it was personal information; details of the beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s fund; bogus caste certificates, education certificates, ghost employees; gross arbitrariness and corruption in selections for jobs and non-conformance to rules and laws; disproportionate assets compared to declared income; verification of affidavits of elected representatives; unfair assessment of students and job seekers in government; disregard of corruption charges against officials that have been proven; file notings and minutes of meetings
What is in store
However, many honest officers and commissioners often gave information if it was not covered by the exemption. Unfortunately, the proposed Data Protection Bill plans to amend RTI Act Section 8(1)(j) to read as exempting information under (j), which relates to personal information
If this amendment is made, all information which can be related to a person could be legally denied. Most information could be shown as being related to a person, and hence the law would become a Right to Deny for Public Information Officers (PIO) who do not wish to give out information. Incidentally, this proposal is a tacit admission that any current denial of information on the grounds of it being ‘personal information’ only, is illegal. Whenever a PIO wants to deny information, he will be able to link it to some person. The proposed Bill defines the term ‘person’ very widely to include individuals, companies, and the state. Most information except budgets would be linked to one of these. Thus, the RTI would become a Right to Deny Information, rendering it an ineffective tool.
In 18 years no harm has come to any national or personal interest because of RTI. Therefore, the proposed amendment would lead to a major regression for democracy.
In the proposed Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, the plan to amend Section 8(1)(j) in the RTI Act will greatly weaken the Indian citizen’s right to information.
Facts about the News
India’s Strengthening of Data Protection Regime:
Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India 2017:
- In August 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that Indians have a constitutionally protected fundamental right to privacy under Article 21, which encompasses life and liberty.
B.N. Srikrishna Committee 2017:
- The government appointed a committee chaired by Justice B.N. Srikrishna in August 2017 to propose a framework for data protection.
- The committee submitted its report in July 2018, along with a draft Data Protection Bill.
- The report included recommendations to enhance privacy laws in India, such as imposing restrictions on data processing and collection, establishing a Data Protection Authority, introducing the right to be forgotten, and advocating for data localization.
Seven Principles of the BILL-
1.usage of personal data by organisations must be done in a manner that is lawful, fair to the individuals concerned and transparent to individuals.
2.personal data must only be used for the purposes for which it was collected.
4.puts an emphasis on data accuracy when it comes to collection.
5.The fifth principle talks of how personal data that is collected cannot be “stored perpetually by default” and storage should be limited to a fixed duration.
6.There should be reasonable safeguards to ensure there is “no unauthorized collection or processing of personal data”.
7.“The person who decides the purpose and means of the processing of personal data should be accountable for such processing”.
Key Features of the Bill-
– Data Principal and Data Fiduciary:
- Data Principalrefers to the individual whose data is being collected.
- Data Fiduciaryis the entity (individual, company, firm, state etc), which decides the “purpose and means of the processing of an individual’s personal data”.
Defining personal data and its processing
- Under the law, personal data is “any data by which or in relation to which an individual can be identified.”
- Processing means “the entire cycle of operations that can be carried out in respect of personal data.”
(3) Individual’s informed consent
- The bill also makes it clear that individual needs to give consent before their data is processed.
- Individuals also have the right to withdraw consentfrom a Data Fiduciary.
- The bill also gives consumers the right to file a complaint against a ‘Data Fiduciary’ with the Data Protection Board.
(4) Language of information
- It notice of data collection needs to be in clear and easy-to-understand language.
(5) Significant Data Fiduciaries
- The bill also talks of ‘Significant Data Fiduciaries, who deal with a high volume of personal data.
- The Central government will define who is designated under this category based on a number of factors
(6) Data protection officer & Data auditor
- Such entities will have to appoint a ‘Data protection officer’ who will represent them.
- They will be the point of contact for grievance redressal.
- They will also have to appoint an independent Data auditor who shall evaluate their compliance with the act.
(7) Right to erase data, right to nominate
(8) Cross-border data transfer
(9) Financial penalties
Concerns Raised by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI):
- The version of the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, set to be introduced in Parliament, includes a section that would significantly alter Section 8(1)(j) of the 2005 RTI Act.
- Section 8(1)(j) currently allows for the disclosure of personal information if it is in the larger public interest and has a relationship to a public activity or interest, while avoiding unwarranted invasion of privacy.
- The data protection bill would remove these provisions, prohibiting government agencies from sharing any private information, irrespective of potential public interest.
- The NCPRI, a prominent advocacy group for transparency since 1996, expressed alarm over the proposed amendment.
- The NCPRI’s letter to Members of Parliament emphasized that the amendment would restrict the scope of the RTI Act and hinder people’s ability to access information.
- They argued that access to granular information, including personal information, is essential for empowering individuals to monitor collective welfare and access their rights and entitlements.
- The NCPRI warned that the proposed bill could impede public disclosures and create barriers and restrictions in accessing critical information.
Dispute settlements that have no parallel
One of the significant outcomes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official state visit to the U.S. was the decision of the two countries to end six long-standing trade disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO Appellate Body has been redundant since 2019, and disputes filed into the ‘void’ will not be considered for adoption. In view of the continuing impasse in the appointment of ‘judges’ to hear appeals at the Appellate Body, a meaningful resolution of these disputes was almost out of sight. Three cases settled as part of the deal are before the defunct Appellate Body, while the rest could have potentially been ‘appealed into the void’. In this context, what has been achieved by both sides is without a parallel.
One of the early cases among the settled disputes involved a challenge of the domestic content requirements under India’s National Solar Mission. While disagreements persisted regarding India’s compliance with the WTO treaty obligations, a number of off-shoot proceedings arose out of this dispute with the U.S. seeking authorisation from the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body for trade retaliation, which India contested. India too challenged certain sub-federal programmes implemented in the U.S. in the renewable energy sector and won the case. However, over time, some of the sub-federal schemes expired or were modified substantially, and the prospects of enforcing the WTO panel ruling became slim. Amending domestic laws to effect compliance with international treaty obligations is a matter of great political sensitivity, especially in the U.S. That said, while India’s victory in the original WTO proceedings was significant, the U.S. also retrieved certain gains in the subsequent compliance proceedings. This dispute was poised to reach the Appellate Body and could have remained moribund for years.
India can also breathe a sigh of relief from settling the challenges involving some of its foreign trade policy schemes, including the special economic zone (SEZ) and export-oriented unit schemes. In particular, certain corporate tax deductions provided under the SEZ scheme faced an uncertain future. While India’s appeal to the defunct Appellate Body would have kept the dispute dormant, India had voluntarily removed some controversial schemes, including the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme. India also initiated a comprehensive process to reform its SEZ law. However, perfect WTO compliance in the short run in the export subsidy proceedings would not have been easy for India.
Against that backdrop, settling disputes in all six cases shows a pragmatic approach on the part of two strong trading partners. They have accepted each other’s domestic challenges in dispute compliance and realised the importance of burying differences.
However, at the heart of the trade deal was an understanding reached in two ongoing disputes, where the WTO panel process is alive, but kept on a temporary hold. The first involved a challenge by India against the controversial Section 232 tariffs imposed under the U.S. Trade Expansion Act, 1962. The U.S. had imposed an additional duty of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium, triggering a series of WTO challenges and unilateral trade responses. India considered these as safeguard measures and imposed retaliatory measures. The U.S. considered India’s retaliatory duties excessive, while India believed that it could retain these duties as long as the Section 232 tariffs remained. While the disputes are proposed to be terminated, both India and the U.S. would not forego their measures but would modify them to meet each other’s concerns and interests. The U.S. will receive and consider requests for exclusions from Section 232 measures with approval rates of 70% for steel products and 80% for aluminium products from India. While the importers in the U.S. have to file exclusions applications, the committed approval rates provide a tangible market access opportunity for India’s steel and aluminium exporters, who have experienced serious challenges in competing in the U.S. market.
In return for committing to the stated proportions of approval rates for steel and aluminium, the U.S. has received an assurance from India that it would remove the additional duties, which were retaliatory in nature, on certain U.S. agricultural imports which had suffered certain collateral damage on account of the Section 232 measures. India will now revert to the currently applied ‘most favoured nation’ (MFN) rate for eight products. In other words, India is only removing the retaliatory duties on these eight products and not offering any preferential concessions on them. The MFN-applied rates would continue to apply to these products.
A new chapter
Finding mutually agreed solutions to long-standing disputes is not unfamiliar in the WTO. However, reaching a deal on six separate disputes covering a range of sectors and products is unprecedented. A greater use of diplomacy and bilateral negotiations can be more practically useful when adjudicatory outcomes are not immediately available or politically infeasible. In other words, the decision to end these disputes seeks to script a new chapter in India-U.S. trade relations and sets a template for other WTO members to emulate. As Commerce and Industries’ Minister Piyush Goyal noted, the disputes deal was struck at a time when India-U.S. trade relations are ‘scaling new heights’ and could ‘deepen greater economic engagements’.
What India and U.S. have achieved by reaching a deal on six separate disputes is unprecedented.
How are cheetahs faring in India?
Why is India’s cheetah relocation programme one of the most ambitious of its kind in the world? How many cheetahs have died so far? How are the cheetahs being acclimatised to Indian conditions? Are there plans to build more cheetah enclosures and reserves?
The story so far:
As more deaths of cheetahs have been reported last week from the Kuno National Park (KNP), Madhya Pradesh, an expert committee charged with managing the Project Cheetah programme has recommended that all animals undergo a thorough medical review.
What is Project Cheetah?
Project Cheetah is India’s cheetah relocation programme and is perhaps among the most ambitious of its kind in the world. The attempt is to, over the next decade, bring in 5-10 animals every year until a self-sustaining population of about 35 cheetahs is established. Unlike cheetahs in South Africa and Namibia that are living in fenced reserves, India’s plan is to have them grow in natural, unfenced, wild conditions.
As of today, 11 of the translocated cheetahs are in the true wild with four in specially designed one-square-kilometre enclosures called ‘bomas,’ to help the animals acclimatise to Indian conditions. Five of the translocated animals and three of four cubs born in India have died.
Why the need for a medical review?
One of the cheetahs, nicknamed Surya, was found dead in KNP last week. Veterinarians examining the animal saw a wound on its neck, infected with maggots. The larvae of the maggots were also found on the radio-collar fitted onto the cheetah’s neck. There was a chance that chafing from the collar may have indirectly sickened the cheetah. The collars that the cheetahs wear are made from polystyrene and equipped with a radio-frequency tracking chip that helps monitor the animals. While ideally expected to not interfere with the animal’s movement, it is known to pose obstructions. Coupled with the moisture from the monsoon season — something that South African cheetahs aren’t acclimatised too — the animal may have been unable to lick itself clean which allowed parasites to fatally lodge inside the wound. There are veteran forest officers who say that radio-collaring is an extremely common practice in India among lions, tiger, leopards, elephants and never have they been linked to any such infections.
There is also a hypothesis that via the wound the African animal may have been exposed to parasites that Indian big-cats are usually resistant too. However, the Environment Ministry in a note on July 16 dismissed these suggestions as “hearsay…in the absence of scientific evidence.” To investigate these points, the expert committee has recommended that all surviving animals be subject to a thorough physical examination. This will involve removing their collars, taking tissue samples and checking for parasites. This will mean getting all the free-ranging animals back and subjecting them to an investigation — a long, laborious exercise — that will, at the end, significantly influence the future of the cheetah project.
Are the cheetah deaths unusual?
Two days before Surya, another cheetah, Tejas, was reported dead after being attacked by a female cheetah. This happened within the enclosure. While the official version goes that the cheetah died immediately after being fatally wounded, there are reports that Tejas, too, may have sustained an infection. In May, three of four cubs — the first litter born in India — died from heat and malnourishment. An adult female, Daksha, died following injuries involving a skirmish among the animals that same month. Two other animals, Sasha and Uday died in February and April from a renal infection and cardiovascular problems, respectively. Alarming as this may seem, experts say that cheetah cubs, in the wild, have a very high mortality rate relative to tigers and lions. Cheetah cubs, in the wild, reportedly have a survival rate of only 10% and roughly the same fraction make it to adulthood, a press release from the Environment Ministry noted. However, all the deaths in Kuno, save for Surya, have occurred among the cheetahs in the boma.
How successful has Project Cheetah been so far?
In September 2023, it will be one year since a batch of eight cheetahs from Namibia arrived in India. They were followed by 12 others from South Africa in February 2023. While conceived as an experiment that is susceptible to failure in the initial years, independent critics have argued that there are some basic flaws in the project.
For one, it is a mistake to have had all 20 cheetahs in KNP as it’s too little space and prey, given that the animal is a courser and needs large distances. Moreover, having cheetahs for extended periods in quarantine have affected their adaptive capabilities and caused them to have psychological adjustment problems, making them more vulnerable. Unlike tigers and leopards, cheetahs are relatively delicate animals and are more likely to be fatally injured in the wild. Currently, Indian cheetahs face no competition from other comparable predators such as lions and leopards. So, it remains to be seen if the animals can successfully establish themselves in India, over time.
While officials say that there is enough space and prey in the Kuno reserve, there are plans to develop a second reserve in Gandhisagar, Madhya Pradesh and also establish a cheetah rehabilitation centre.
Project Cheetah is India’s cheetah relocation programme. The attempt is to, over the next decade, bring in 5-10 animals every year until a self-sustaining population of about 35 cheetahs is established.
One of the cheetahs, nicknamed Surya, was found dead in the Kuno National Park last week. Veterinarians examining the animal saw a wound on its neck, infected with maggots. The larvae of the maggots were also found on the radio-collar fitted onto the cheetah’s neck.
While officials say that there is enough space and prey in the Kuno reserve, there are plans to develop a second reserve in Gandhisagar, Madhya Pradesh and also establish a cheetah rehabilitation centre.
Russia ‘exits’ UN-brokered deal to export Ukrainian grain via Black Sea
The Kremlin’s decision came hours after drones struck the sole road link connecting Russia to Crimea peninsula, President Putin calls it a terrorist action and vows retaliatory measures, says Defence Ministry is preparing relevant proposals
The Kremlin on Monday said it was exiting a major agreement allowing Ukraine grain exports hours after drones struck Russia’s only bridge connecting its mainland to the Crimea peninsula.
Moscow said the deadly Kerch bridge attack had nothing to do with its withdrawal and for months has complained about the implementation of the pact, which was designed to ease fears of food shortages in vulnerable countries.
“The grain deal has ceased. As soon as the Russian part (of the agreements) are fulfilled, the Russian side will immediately return to the grain deal,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The announcement came hours after drones struck the sole road link connecting Russia to the annexed Crimea peninsula, a key supply line for Russian forces resupplying frontlines in the south of Ukraine.
Kyiv’s Navy and SBU security service carried out a “special operation” using seaborne drones, a security service source said.
Russian authorities said a civilian couple was killed and their daughter wounded in the attack on the bridge, which was also damaged last year in a blast that Moscow blamed on Kyiv.
Local officials said traffic had been halted and asked tourists to stay in their lodgings. Officials encouraged Russians travelling to and from Crimea to travel through occupied Ukrainian territory.
The Kremlin noted Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered “repair and restoration work” on the bridge and help for people stuck in traffic. He also vowed retaliatory action. “Another terrorist attack was committed on the bridge last night,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks.
“Of course, there will be a response from Russia. The Defence Ministry is preparing relevant proposals,” he added.
“From a military point of view, this is a senseless crime,” Mr. Putin added. He said the bridge had not been used for military transportation “for a long time” and called for tougher security measures.
Over the course of the last year, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has enabled the export in cargo of more than 32 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain.
No new ships
“The applications have not been approved by all parties,” said a statement from the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) that oversees the agreement. “No new ships have been approved to participate since 27 June.”
Mr. Putin just last week signalled Russia’s intention to terminate the agreement saying Moscow’s interests were being ignored under the deal brokered by the UN and Turkey.
Moscow also notified Turkey, Ukraine and the UN that it was against extending the deal, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Foreign Ministry.
Facts about the News
What is the Black Sea grain deal?
Ukraine is among the world’s biggest exporter of foodgrains, such as wheat and corn, and a major contributor to the UN’s food aid programmes. When Russia invaded the country and blockaded its ports, it sent food prices soaring and raised fears of food security in the poorer nations of the world. Pakistan, for instance, saw wheat prices skyrocket to crisis levels.
About Black Sea Grain Initiative:
- It was set up to resume vital food and fertilizer exports from Ukraineto the rest of the world.
- It was brokered between Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey.
- The Initiative allowed exports of grain, other foodstuffs, and fertilizer, including ammonia, to resume through a safe maritime humanitarian corridorfrom three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, to the rest of the world.
NITI Aayog report says 13.5-cr. people lifted out of multidimensional poverty
India has registered a significant decline of 9.89 percentage points in the number of multidimensionally poor, from 24.85% in 2015-16 to 14.96% in 2019-2021, says the “National multidimensional poverty index: a progress review, 2023”, released by NITI Aayog here on Monday.
The study says nearly 13.5 crore people came out of multidimensional poverty during the period, assessed by identifying “acute deprivations in health, education and standard of living” using United Nations-approved parameters.
The report said rural areas witnessed the fastest decline in poverty from 32.59% to 19.28%, mainly due to a decrease in number of multidimensionally poor in States such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Rajasthan. Delhi, Kerala, Goa, and Tamil Nadu have the least number of people facing multidimensional poverty, along with the Union Territories. Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh top the chart where the percentage of population which is multidimensionally poor is high.
Multidimensional poverty in urban areas, during the same period, saw a decrease from 8.65% to 5.27%. “Uttar Pradesh registered the largest decline in number of poor with 3.43 crore people escaping multidimensional poverty,” the NITI Aayog said in a statement. The report was released by its Vice-Chairman, Suman Bery.
The report has been prepared based on the latest National Family Heath Survey of 2019-21 and is the second edition of the National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). “The broad methodology followed is in consonance with the global methodology,” the statement said.
It said 12 parameters of health, education, and standard of living are examined in the report.
13.5 cr. people lifted out of poverty: NITI Aayog
“These include nutrition, child and adolescent mortality, maternal health, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, assets, and bank accounts,” the release said.
According to the report, between 2015-16 and 2019-21, the MPI value has nearly halved from 0.117 to 0.066 and the intensity of poverty has reduced from 47% to 44%. “With our own national MPI, India is poised to gain a deeper understanding of poverty’s complexities and forge solutions that ensure inclusivity for all. The district-wise estimation of the national MPI will also prioritise reaching out to the furthest behind first through focused efforts on specific indicators and dimensions. The results and findings of the index provide valuable insights for both policymakers and the wider community,” Mr. Beri said adding that it will help the country to achieve the target of reducing multidimensional poverty as per UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The link between endometriosis and an infectious bacterium
Fusobacterium cultured in a thioglycollate medium. US CDC
A study has found a correlation between the presence of Fusobacterium and endometriosis, opening the door for researchers to potentially develop non-invasive tests for the condition as well as treat its severity with antibiotics. Endometriosis currently affects one in 10 women worldwide
REBECCA ROSE VARGHESE
Endometriosis, a reproductive disease affecting one in 10 women worldwide, involves the growth of lesions on pelvic organs such as the ovaries.
These lesions are composed of endometrium, a layer of tissue lining the uterus. It causes infertility, chronic pain during periods, pelvic pain, bloating, nausea and fatigue and is also associated with depression and anxiety.
A new study points to a link between a bacterium associated with infections in the oral cavity, and endometriosis.
What was the study design?
The experiment was conducted with a cohort of 155 women in Japan, of which 79 were diagnosed with endometriosis while 76 were healthy. Researchers found a species of Fusobacterium in 64% of endometriosis patients, while it was present in 7% of those who did not have the condition.
To assess the direct effect of the bacteria on the disease, the scientists transplanted endometrial tissue inside the abdominal cavity of two sets of mice, one infected with Fusobacterium and another without it. They found that the bacteria triggered the growth of larger lesions of endometriosis in the former set, relative to the latter.The study concluded that the bacteria had a role in the formation and aggravation of endometrial lesions.
Experts told The Hindu that the study broadens our understanding of endometriosis, a condition whose underlying origins and mechanisms are still obscure. Part of the problem is that different women experience endometriosis differently.
Ramakrishna Kommagani, an Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, said scientists are yet to figure out why the locations of the lesions vary in each woman. He also said that there may not be a directly proportional relationship between the number of lesions and the intensity of chronic abdominal pain, a primary symptom of the condition.
“Women with small lesions have more pain while women with deeply infiltrating large black lesions that could be located close to the bowel region or the rectum may experience less pain,” he said.
Scientists worldwide have come up with different ideas of the disease’s cause. One is retrograde menstruation – when some part of the menstrual blood flows backwards, into the abdominal region, instead of flowing out of the vagina. But this is common, occurring in close to 90% of menstruating women, whereas endometriosis affects only 10%.
Another possibility: The inability of the immune system to detect and eliminate blood cells from retrograde menstruation, allowing it to persist in the pelvic region, points to some dysfunction in the immune system.
Researchers have also linked endocrine-disrupting substances to the endometriosis as they interfere with the signalling, production, transport and metabolism of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone, which are causal factors of endometriosis. The condition has also been linked to genetic and metabolic factors.
But for all their efforts, scientists are yet to identify the root cause of endometriosis. So treatment options are limited to hormone therapies, contraceptive pills and laparoscopic surgery to remove the lesions. (The last can control the symptoms but can’t prevent the lesions from growing back.)
Link to gut microbes
There’s a link between inflammatory bowel disease – among others – with endometriosis; the latter’s proximity to the gut has had scientists asking whether a bacteria could be the problem.
An October 2022 paper co-authored by Dr. Kommagani reported that people with endometriosis had gut dysbiosis – an imbalance in the various microbe populations in the gut.
He said that the altered microbiota (range of microorganisms) could help endometriosis progress, but also that more research will be required on this front.
There were some limitations. “Though this finding is important, metronidazole as an antibiotic has many side effects if used on a long-term basis, since it can adversely affect the patient’s physiology … [Further] study is required before we come up with new treatment options,” Dr. Kommagani said.
Fusobacterium already has known links to infections of the gum, vagina, and rectum – yet it isn’t commonly found in meaningful quantities in the gut. Experts have suggested that it could be moving to the abdomen through the bloodstream or to the vaginal region from the rectum.
While the new study is compelling and shows the bacteria’s role in aggravating the disease, according to Dr. Kommagani, researchers are yet to prove that the bacteria is present in all those who have this condition.
He also said that the results from experiments to understand endometriosis – including in his study – were limited by the fact that they were conducted with mice, a species that does not menstruate itself. So, to comprehensively understand the disease, it is essential to study a population of diverse women, he added.
What do the findings portend?
Endometriosis currently takes six years on average to be diagnosed. And even after a diagnosis, few treatment options are available.
A common response to bacterial infections is antibiotics; the new study considered it as well – and in doing so, opened up potentially new ways to diagnose and treat endometriosis.
For example, a 2019 study investigating the relationship between gut dysbiosis and endometriosis found that treating mice with metronidazole, an antibiotic that targets certain microbes, instead of broad-spectrum antibiotics slowed the rate at which the condition progressed.
If the presence of Fusobacterium bacteria indicates that a person has endometriosis, experts have said they could develop non-invasive tests for the condition – like vaginal swabs or stool samples – in place of the currently used laparoscopy or an ultrasound scan.
The former could also be more sensitive to the presence of lesions in different parts of pelvic organs than the latter.
In elucidating an inherent connection between gut health and endometriosis, the studies also pave the way for a future in which researchers can devise personalised treatment options.
Dr. Kommagani said that fibrous food can help manage the condition because, while metabolites released by certain microbes can aggravate endometrial lesions, other metabolites produced by the fermentation of certain types of food can protect from the condition. This is because the latter can decrease the abundance of Fusobacterium and other infectious bacterial species.
This is why the consumption of food with high amounts of antioxidants, probiotic foods (with Lactobacillus gasseri bacteria), and food rich in omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to help suppress the development of endometriosis.
Facts about the News
- Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It can cause severe pain in the pelvis and make it harder to get pregnant.
- Endometriosis can start at a person’s first menstrual period and last until menopause.
- With endometriosis, tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. This leads to inflammation and scar tissue forming in the pelvic region and (rarely) elsewhere in the body.
- The cause of endometriosis is unknown.
- There is no known way to prevent endometriosis. There is no cure, but its symptoms can be treated with medicines or, in some cases, surgery.
- Endometriosis affects roughly 10% (190 million) of reproductive age women and girls globally.
- It is a chronic disease associated with severe, life-impacting pain during periods, sexual intercourse, bowel movements and/or urination, chronic pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, nausea, fatigue, and sometimes depression, anxiety, and infertility.
Webb space telescope rediscovers star-forming region
NASA has released an image obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to earth, as the space agency marked one year since it unveiled the telescope’s first scientific results.
The Webb telescope was launched in 2021 and began collecting data last year.
The Rho Ophiuchi image was an example, showing a nebula, a humongous cloud of interstellar gas and dust that serves as a nursery for new stars, located in the Milky Way galaxy, roughly 390 lightyears from earth. The nebula is only about a million years old.
“Here, we see how new suns are forming, along with planet-forming disks appearing as small dark silhouettes. These are very similar to what we think the solar system looked like more than 4.5 billion years ago,” former Webb project scientist Klaus Pontoppidan, now a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.
“As the stars and planetary systems assemble, they blow apart the dusty cocoon from which they formed in violent outbursts, as seen in red jets ploughing through the cloud … The Rho Ophiuchi core is completely obscured by huge amounts of dust, so it is essentially invisible to telescopes working in visible light, like the Hubble telescope. Yet, Webb peers through the dust to reveal the young stars within, showing the very first stages in the life of every star,” Dr. Pontoppidan added.
The image, obtained by April, shows how the jets of material emanating from young stars affect the surrounding gas and dust while lighting up molecular hydrogen. In one part of the image, a star is seen inside a glowing cave that its stellar winds carved out in space.
Since becoming operational, Webb has revealed the existence of the earliest-known galaxies and black holes. It has observed large and mature but remarkably compact galaxies teeming with stars that had formed within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang event – far sooner than scientists had considered possible.
The orbiting observatory was designed to be more sensitive than the Hubble space telescope. Webb looks at the universe mainly in the infrared, while Hubble has examined it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. Webb is able to look at greater distances and thus farther back into time.
“In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
The orbiting observatory was designed to be more sensitive than the Hubble space telescope. Webb looks at the universe mainly in infrared, while Hubble has examined it primarily at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.