The Hindu Notes – 24th November 2018 – Read Important Issues

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The Hindu Notes for 24th Novemeber 2018
Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 24th Novemeber 2018

Not by ordinance

Proposals to hasten construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya are extremely ill-advised

  • There is a clamour by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Sangh Parivar for an ordinance and later a statute (i.e. Act) for building a Ram temple over the ruins of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya immediately. No more waiting, they say. The supposedly neutral Justice J. Chelameswar, who retired as a Supreme Court judge earlier this year, joined the fray, saying it was possible. The ex-justice is learned and bold, but needed to show the downside.
  • The Centre’s remit

  • Any ordinance would have to be passed by the Central government if the President (as advised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet) “is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action” to promulgate an such an ordinance, which will cease if it is negated or lapses. If it lapses, re-promulgation can take place. Repeated re-publication was frowned upon in the D.C. Wadhwa case (1986).
  • Again, by brute strength an Act may be passed amidst upheavals and rancour throughout India. But can the Central government as statutory receiver pass such an ordinance or even table a Bill in Parliament? There is an immediate conflict of interest. The alternative is a Private Member’s Bill. Given the conflict of interest, the Central government is obliged to oppose it, albeit with a three-line whip. The State of Uttar Pradesh is bound by its stance in the Allahabad High Court that it is not interested in the site.
  • Even if passed, any such statute would have to cross many hurdles. First, there is the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. In this Act, the cut-off date for freezing the religious character of a place of worship is August 15, 1947 and all suits regarding their status would abate. Section 6 prescribes punishment of up to three years or fine or both if this is violated. But Section 5 of the Act said: “Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the place or place of worship commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid situated in Ayodhya in the State of Uttar Pradesh and to any suit, appeal or other proceeding relating to the said place or place of worship.” This, however, does not pave the way for simply repealing the section, for that would give further protection to the Muslim case.
  • Second, we have to turn to the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, which acquired the site to put an end to the litigation, and vested the property in Central government.
  • Third, the Act of 1993 was interpreted in Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India (1994) so that the property would remain with the Central government as a “statutory receiver”, a concept invented by the court. The cessation or abatement of the pending Ayodhya case between the Muslims and Hindus (Section 4(3)) was set aside by the Supreme Court while unfairly allowing Hindu worship. The court declared: “The best solution in the circumstances, on revival of suits is, therefore, to maintain status quo as on 7th January, 1993 when the law came into force.” Any action taken now (i.e. 2018 onwards) would violate this status quo. As the “statutory receiver”, the Central government has the responsibility to wait for the result of the suit. No ordinance or statute can sit in appeal on the Ismail Faruqui judgment of 1994.
  • Separation of powers

  • There is a well-known principle, emanating from the doctrine of separation of powers in the Constitution, that the legislative power of Parliament cannot usurp the judicial power to sit in appeal over the judicial decision-making – still less where the case is pending as a suit or in appeal. This decision, which was considered earlier, was firmed up on a tax case — Shri Prithvi Cotton Mills (1969) — after which there have been dozens of cases going one way or the other. But the legislature can change the basis of the law. It’s more complicated than you think. What will a proposed Act or ordinance say? Can it say that this first appeal to the Supreme Court under the Code of Civil Procedure will be taken away? The right to adjudicate cannot be taken away as it would be discriminatory if applied to a particular case to take away a valuable right. The new basis for the law would have to invalidate the Allahabad High Court judgment of 2010, Ismail Faruqui (1994) and the orders subsequent to it and then injunct the pending proceedings in the Supreme Court. The justification for this can only be that strident members of the Hindu majority are impatient to reverse the Allahabad decision which gives one-third of the land to the Muslims. There is also a resistance by the Nirmohi Akhara, which claims the entire site and does not want to give the Deity its one-third.
  • As soon as the ordinance or Act is passed, it will be challenged in the Supreme Court because it is of national importance and affects the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. True, there is a presumption of the constitutional validity of a statute. Even if no stay is granted, the urgency of the matter may mean an assurance sought by the court that no precipitous steps would be taken during these new proceedings. There will be counter-clamour, protests, news that India favours Hindus over Muslims. Throughout the world the destruction of the Babri Masjid has provoked doubts on the capacity of India to be neutral. India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world — short of 200 million. The case against the constitutionality of the new ordinance or Act will take some time to decide. The decision in the Ayodhya case will be delayed further.
  • There is only one part of Justice J.S. Verma’s majority in Ismail Faruqui (1994) that I like. He begins by quoting Jonathan Swift: “We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
  • A secular state?

  • With the rise of an uncompromising fundamentalism, India is faced with extreme populist demands against minorities and the rule of law. The Constitution is secular, but parts of civil society are rabidly communal. The demand for the state to intervene to allow the Ram temple is part of an aggressive Hindu fundamentalism which seeks to suborn the state to its wishes. The state has to remain neutral. To yield to a demand of one faith against another not only condones the destruction of the Masjid, but abandons the very basis of India’s multi-religious and cultural ethos which it is bound to protect. It is the Constitution that has pledged our diverse people together. It is not a plaything – still less in the hands of a motivated majoritarianism that puts ‘India’ to ransom. Muslim fundamentalism is allegedly terrorists, its violent elements banned. Hindu fundamentalism reigns free with its Hindutva, “ghar wapsi”, cow protection, violence, murders of activists and the Ram temple movement seeking immediate solution.
  • Looking beyond the optics

    Vietnam is crucial to India’s Look East Policy — bilateral ties must build on common concerns

  • President Ram Nath Kovind’s choice of Vietnam as the first Southeast Asian country to visit in his capacity as the President is not surprising. A close ‘ally’ of India for over 70 years, and not limited to official diplomatic ties, Vietnam is critical for India’s foreign policy at the regional and systemic levels. While Mr. Kovind’s visit highlights the ‘normal’ trajectory of a presidential visit, there is a need to understand how Vietnam has calibrated its domestic and foreign policy shifts and where India’s relevance can fit into these policy changes.
  • Domestically, since the start of its Doi Moi policy — its political and economic renewal campaign —in 1986, Vietnam has made dramatic strides. Today it is a rapidly growing, regional economic giant, showing both dynamism and pragmatism in its calculations. While earlier it imported agricultural products, today it is a major exporter. Agricultural competence has furthered Vietnam’s entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The Vietnam National Assembly ratified the CPTPP on November 12, asserting its growing economic impact globally, with exports increasing to approximately $240 billion for the year 2018. Membership to the CPTPP, which accounts for nearly 14% of the global GDP, will boost Vietnam’s economic growth, from 6.8 % in 2017-18, by a further 1.1% to 3.5% by 2030. One of the core areas of Mr. Kovind’s visit focussed on furthering cooperation in agriculture and innovation-based sectors, pushing the potential for increasing bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2020.
  • Common ground of health

  • An area of potential convergence for both Vietnam and India is health care. The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in 2016, highlighted the importance of linking economic growth to universal health care, whereby 80% population would be covered by health insurance. India too, since 2011, has been focussing on the need to deliver accessible and affordable health insurance to weaker sections of society. With Indonesia ratifying the India-ASEAN Services agreement on November 13, New Delhi is a step closer to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, bringing India to the forefront of the services sector globally. A potential area of convergence in the realm of health care through joint public-private partnership agreements can be explored by the two countries.
  • Internationally, Vietnam’s foreign policy is characterised by ‘multidirectionalism’, which addresses regional asymmetries of the power balance by engaging across a broad spectrum of states to achieve its interests. Increasingly, this asymmetrical power structure in the region, offset by the rise of China, is bringing regional and extra-regional states together to address the shifts in the normative order. Within this context, Vietnam even normalised relations with the U.S., its former opponent, credit for which is given to the late U.S. Senator, John McCain.
  • Security concerns

  • Today there is increasing commonality of security concerns between Vietnam and its ASEAN partners — as well as with Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., particularly in the areas of maritime security and adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A former Vietnamese President, Trân Đai Quang, had earlier this year endorsed the term Indo-Asia-Pacific. Similarly, Mr. Kovind’s speech in the Vietnamese National Assembly referred to a ‘rules based order in the Indo-Pacific’, reiterating India’s own concerns over troubled maritime spaces. Finding compatibility between the ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ and the U.S. driven ‘Indo-Pacific’ necessitates a more nuanced approach whereby regional concerns of ASEAN centrality can be assuaged while accounting for diverse approaches to maintaining regional stability. In pursuance of this, the two countries have planned a bilateral level maritime security dialogue in early 2019.
  • Focus on sub-regionalism

  • As ASEAN continues to focus on its centrality in the region, there will undoubtedly be shifts in how smaller members of ASEAN perceive the centrifugal forces of China’s rise. Vietnam has helped to mitigate these by focussing on both sub-regionalism and regionalism as the core of its priorities. India too looks at both sub-regionalism and regionalism as priority avenues to pursue its foreign policy. The India-Vietnam Joint Statement of March 2018 reiterates the focus given to sub-regionalism and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation framework. However, another area is emerging in the CLV, or Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam growth triangle sub-regional cooperation, bringing these three countries together. India and Vietnam can jointly explore the potential for enhancing capacity building and providing technical assistance and training within this sub-regional grouping.
  • The major takeaway from Mr. Kovind’s visit is the reference to the ‘cooperation model’ India offers, providing choices and opportunities for its friends. This reference highlights India’s willingness to address issues on which increasing synergies need to evolve. One such area where convergence is likely, but has been held back due to individual preference, is the $500 million line of credit offered to Vietnam. Both India and Vietnam possess the capacity to find compatibility in areas promoting defence cooperation and infrastructure simultaneously. Vietnam’s role as country coordinator for India in ASEAN will come to a close in 2018. While the ties have progressed under the Look East and Act East Policies, going forward they need to factor in pragmatism, helping relations to move forward. India’s ability to look beyond the prism of optics will remain a core challenge.
  • Stopping the virus

    Following India’s first outbreak of Zika infections in Rajasthan in September 2018, Madhya Pradesh has now reported a second one, with six districts affected. The response from the State administration, however, has been marred by muddled science and poor public health communication, reports Priyanka Pulla

  • Maya Madan, 22, lives in a brick hut in Hamid Khedi village. A few feet from her home, which is in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh, is a narrow street, criss-crossed by ditches full of dirty water. The buzz of mosquitoes breeding in these pools fills the air. It does not come entirely as a surprise that several of the cases of the State’s first and India’s second Zika outbreak are from Hamid Khedi and its neighbouring hamlets. Zika is spread by the mosquito species, Aedes aegypti. It thrives in stagnant water.
  • Even though the Zika virus only causes mild fever and symptoms such as rashes in most people, Madan has more to worry about as she is three months pregnant. The virus has been linked to birth defects in 5%-15% of children of infected mothers. Such birth defects include an abnormally small head (microcephaly), eye damage, shortened muscles and joints, and hearing damage.
  • This is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that in areas with ongoing Zika transmission, pregnant women should be made aware of Zika’s dangers. They must use mosquito nets and repellent. Given that Zika can spread through sexual activity, they should avoid unprotected sex, while couples planning to have children should consider delaying pregnancies. Yet, 18 days into the outbreak, Madan hasn’t heard anything about it. In fact, public communication about the virus seems to be limited to mosquito-control alone, with no mention of the other ways in which it can spread. Zika has the unique property of causing birth defects, which other mosquito-borne diseases do not. Yet, recently painted signs on the village walls warn about dengue and malaria, but are silent about Zika.
  • Misinterpreted science

  • The Madhya Pradesh Public Health & Family Welfare Department’s reluctance to counsel citizens quickly is due to an odd misinterpretation of Zika research. On November 3, 2018, a press release from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare cited the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) findings to say that the Zika strain — which had earlier caused an outbreak in Rajasthan — did not have “known mutations” for microcephaly. M.P.’s health officials are now waiting for the ICMR to genetically sequence the local Zika strain, as they believe it may also lack those mutations, and so, may not be dangerous to foetuses. Only if the strain turns out to have the dangerous genetic changes, health officials said, would they begin explicitly warning couples about delaying pregnancies during the outbreak. Pallavi Govil Jain, M.P.’s Health Commissioner, says: “Because we still don’t know from the Health Ministry whether the strain can cause microcephaly, we have to be cautious about what we tell women. If we tell them that it will impact their children, it will cause panic among the public.”
  • This delay in launching intensive communication campaigns can cost lives, according to Zika researchers, because all Zika strains have been shown to cause birth defects. Contrary to what the Health Ministry’s press release suggests, there is no “known mutation” for microcephaly. “People have got to stop saying this,”, says Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health. “It’s going to drive complacency within the general population if they don’t believe Zika can cause birth defects,” he adds. Grubaugh studied the Brazil and U.S. Zika epidemics, in 2015.
  • Anant Bhan, a Bhopal-based bioethics researcher, says the State government’s concern about causing alarm can be tackled with a good communications strategy. “Contextualise the communication, so that it is done sensitively. But not sharing or withholding information is not acceptable,” he says.
  • One reason why the State Health Department cannot drag its feet about informing people is that Zika epidemics are typically larger than they appear. Nearly 80% of the infected people do not show symptoms. Therefore, surveillance systems detect only a fraction of the cases. This means that even though diagnostic tests have so far uncovered not more than 127 cases with 35 pregnant women in M.P., the actual number could be many times as much. In such a situation, says Grubagh, telling women that Zika is linked to birth defects can motivate them to protect themselves, softening the impact of the virus. “If I were in such a situation, and if there was information that I could use to my benefit, I would want to know it. I don’t want people to tell me: Oh, it’s not an issue, when it actually is,” he adds.
  • India’s first major outbreaks
    India’s first major Zika outbreak began in September 2018 in Rajasthan. Until then, a surveillance programme run by the ICMR at 35 sites across the country had detected only three isolated cases in Gujarat in 2016-17, and one in Tamil Nadu.

  • Then, in September, the surveillance system, which randomly tests a fixed number of fever patients for Zika each month, found an 85-year old woman from Jaipur to be carrying the virus. Over the next few days, more and more cases turned up. Rajasthan then began testing all pregnant women living in a three-km radius around the index case. This effort uncovered a total of 154 cases, with over 60 pregnant women among them. Two of these women have given birth and the babies are healthy, officials say.
  • Around mid-November, State officials declared that their extensive larvicidal and fogging activities had “controlled” the outbreak. According to Govind Pareek, Deputy Director, Public Relations for the Government of Rajasthan, no new cases were found in the two weeks leading up to the announcement.
  • However, by this time, the ICMR’s surveillance system in Bhopal had picked up a second outbreak. As this story goes to print, M.P.’s officials say that there are 127 infections in six districts of the State. But according to B.N. Chouhan, the State’s Director of Health Services, the outbreak seems to be slowing down due to intensive mosquito-control activities.
  • Silent epidemics

  • Yet, there are several questions about whether the outbreaks in Rajasthan and M.P. have truly been extinguished. Zika cases typically rise and drop with the seasonal prevalence of the Aedes mosquito, which means the drop in November may have as much to do with the weather as with antilarval activity. Says Grubagh, “Control of an outbreak is quite hard to define. First, not detecting Zika cases doesn’t necessarily mean that transmission stopped, because the vast majority of cases are asymptomatic.”
  • Second, the ICMR’s surveillance system relies on a technique called Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), which looks for Zika’s genetic signature in patient blood samples. But RT-PCR tends to throw up false-negatives when there is too little virus in the patient’s blood, something that happens frequently with Zika, says Grubaugh. Such barriers mean that the best of surveillance systems catch only a fraction of the incidence. After an outbreak in Salvador, Brazil during 2015, researchers found that the number of people who had Zika antibodies — indicating that they had been infected in the past — was roughly 40 times the number of detected cases. If the same multiple is applied to MP, then, given its 127 detected cases, the potential number of infections could be as high as 5,080.
  • Sometimes outbreaks may escape notice altogether. Grubaugh describes one such suspected outbreak in Cuba in 2017. When his team analysed the number of Zika cases among travellers entering Florida, U.S., and several European countries, they found a spike in both regions during the summer of 2017. All cases were those of recent travel to the Caribbean nation. The researchers estimated that Cuba likely saw an outbreak in 2016-2017, with around 2,000-20,000 cases. Yet, local reporting systems in the Caribbean country detected only 187 cases in 2016 and none the next year. The virus, which had seemingly stopped in its tracks in the dry season of 2016, had re-emerged the next year.
  • If epidemics can persist quietly long after surveillance systems suggest they have ended, they can also begin before surveillance picks them up. During Brazil’s first Zika outbreak in 2015, for example, genetic sequencing of the circulating strains suggested that the virus had entered the country more than a year before the first case was detected.
  • This could well be the case in M.P. and Rajasthan too. If so, the number of pregnant women infected would be even larger, and communicating Zika’s danger to them would become even more crucial.
  • Study of a mutation

  • The M.P. government’s lackadaisical approach to counselling people in the affected areas seems to be driven by the Ministry of Health press release, highlighting the importance of clear communication by premier research agencies such as ICMR (whose work was cited). But why did the press release suggest that the Rajasthan strain had no known mutations for microcephaly? Responding to a questionnaire from The Hindu, Nivedita Gupta, a virologist at the ICMR, referred to a Science study in 2017 to support the claim. Here, Chinese researchers found that when they infected new-born mice with a Zika strain that contained a mutation called S139N, the mice had more damaged brain cells when compared to animals infected with other strains. This suggested that the mutation had a role to play in making the Zika virus more virulent to foetal brain cells.
  • When the ICMR sequenced the virus that triggered the Rajasthan outbreak, they did not find the S139N mutation. This led to the Health Ministry announcing that the Rajasthan virus did not have “known mutations” for microcephaly.
  • The problem, according to Grubaugh and other researchers, is that the hypothesis of the Science study has not stood the test of time. Later studies have found microcephaly cases associated with strains that lacked the S139N mutation. Meanwhile, researchers who repeated the mouse experiments did not get the same results.
  • This is why the ICMR’s claim about “known mutations” is misleading, according to him. Other scientists agree. “It is still too early to conclude that any particular strain cannot cause microcephaly,” says Scott C. Weaver, a microbiologist at the University of Texas, who worked on the Brazilian outbreak. When asked if the ICMR would issue a clarification, Gupta responded that there were no errors in the press release.
  • Tackling the mosquito menace

  • The good news is that even though M.P. is dawdling in its public-communication campaign, it is implementing mosquito-control measures. “Our initial plan of action is vector control,” says Pallavi Govil Jain. But the challenge is a steep one.
  • Due to persistent neglect by local municipal bodies, says Praveen Kumar Tiwari, most Zika-affected villages were in a bad state at the beginning of the outbreak. When Tiwari, an entomologist from the Regional Office of Health and Family Welfare was deputed to Sehore’s Kothari village earlier this month, dozens of houses were found to have mosquito larvae-infested water.
  • One reason for all the stagnant water in Kothari is the lack of a sewerage system. Open drains line the narrow streets, which are dotted with potholes. Moreover, the village suffers from chronic water shortages. “We don’t have tap water at home. We have to bring it [water] from the public tap. So, we fill buckets and store water for days,” says Shweta Singh, who is in her second trimester of her pregnancy and also diagnosed as Zika positive. Some homes have built septic tanks for their toilets, but are using them to store water instead.
  • As a result, the Breteau index (BI) — a measure of the number of containers such as tyres and buckets containing larva per every 100 households — was between 10 and 15 in Kothari. Any index above 5 increases the chances that larvae will turn into adults, Tiwari explains.
  • With intensive insecticide use, he says, the BI in the village has come down to below five. The problem is that as long as the Kothari Nagar Panchayat does not prohibit water storage in open tanks and fill potholes, the mosquitoes will return. Tiwari is frustrated because, according to him, the upcoming State elections have drawn field staff away. Standing astride one of the many water-filled potholes on the village street, he exclaims, “I can put larvicide in the water, but what can do I about these potholes? When the larvicidal activity stops, the mosquitoes will come back.”
  • How wide will Zika spread?

  • It is tough to say how big a risk Zika will be to Indians in the coming days. For now, the two outbreaks, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, appear to be relatively small, with 154 and 127 detected cases, respectively. But given the number of asymptomatic cases, it is difficult to rule out the possibility of Zika cases elsewhere in India. “I would not be surprised if the Zika virus were already present in other parts of the region, but has remained undetected due to the lack of active surveillance in the absence of an overt outbreak,” says Weaver.
  • On the other hand, one speed-breaker for the epidemic could be herd immunity. If Zika has already been in India for some time, and Indians have antibodies to it, the virus would not move as quickly. But as on today, there is no data on herd immunity in the Indian population. In a 1954 survey of people, from across the country, researchers had found 33 of 196 people to have antibodies that neutralised the Zika virus, suggesting that the virus was circulating here.
  • What researchers did not know then was that flaviviruses — a genus to which the Zika, dengue and Japanese encephalitis viruses belong — are notorious for a phenomenon called cross-reactivity. This means that human antibodies to one flavivirus, such as dengue, can neutralise another one, such as Zika. So, the 1954 study was not conclusive evidence of Zika’s presence in India, because it could just as well have been evidence of dengue.
  • In other words, if Zika hasn’t been widespread in India before, the lack of herd-immunity would mean it would blaze its way quickly to other States. Says Weaver, “Without good information on herd immunity, I think we should assume that there is risk wherever A. aegypti is present and temperatures are permissive.” One good way to visualise how Zika will spread is to think of the mid 2000s chikungunya epidemic in India. After not being recorded in the country for nearly 32 years, the virus, which is also spread by A. aegypti, showed up in 2005. Within the next 12 months, it had infected 1.4 million people in 15 States. Says Grubaugh: “Think of what chikungunya did, and the number of cases it caused. Now replace the name with Zika, and there you have the epidemic.”
  • Tracking through health systems

  • If Zika spreads, India’s antenatal health-care systems will be critical in screening pregnant women for foetal abnormalities, and helping them decide if they want to terminate the pregnancy. The good news is that birth defects such as microcephaly, contractures and clubfoot can be picked up during sonography at around 17 to 18 weeks of pregnancy, according to Vijay Sadasivam, a radiologist at SKS Hospital, in Salem, Tamil Nadu. Ideally, around five sonographies should be done to find any anomalies, he adds.
  • M.P. State officials have begun tracking pregnant women diagnosed with Zika, and say they are drawing up guidelines for monitoring them. But if the outbreak returns or grows larger next year, the State’s antenatal health-care system will have to gear up substantially, because it does not reach enough women today.
  • According to National Family Health Survey-4 data, 80% of pregnant women deliver in hospitals in M.P.’s urban areas, while only 76% do so in the rural areas. Out of the women who do deliver in hospitals, estimates Archana Mishra, Deputy Director, Maternal Health at National Health Mission in M.P., only around half receive at least one sonography during pregnancy.
  • At this rate, it is likely that pregnant women who ought to get screened will not be. This is another reason to inform all women of reproductive age of Zika’s dangers so that they may seek care on their own. “Why should health officials be shielding the populace from a truly scary scenario by withholding information? This is our paternalistic health-care approach at its worst,” says Sadasivam.
  • Back in Hamid Khedi, Maya Madan says she has been using a mosquito net and repellent because the local health-care worker has advised her to do this to avoid illnesses such as dengue. If she knew that using condoms during sexual activity or getting an extra sonography would help her child, she would likely do it quite gladly.
  • Names of Zika-infected patients have been changed to protect their identities.
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