The News Editorial Analysis 19th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 19th Dec 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 19th Dec 2021

No funds or support, future tense for Afghan embassy

Four months after the collapse of the government in Afghanistan to Taliban forces, its embassy in Delhi faces a bleak future, with no financial assistance and an unclear formal status.

The embassy, headed by Ambassador Farid Mamundzay who was only posted to India earlier this year, now comprises a small staff of 20 Afghan diplomats, while the local Indian staff have had to be cut back, given the budgetary constraints. While Mr. Mamundzay declined to speak on the discussions with the Government of India for support, he admitted that the embassy was disappointed by the small number of visas granted to Afghans in need by India, and hoped that more food and medical aid would be forthcoming after the first batch was sent by air last week.

“Running an embassy requires policy, administrative and financial support. At present, none of the 70 Afghan missions worldwide, with the possible exception of Beijing and Islamabad are receiving any support from Kabul,” Mr. Mamundzay told The Hindu, sitting at his office in Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, where ousted President Ashraf Ghani’s photo- graph still adorns the wall above his desk. Asked why, Mr. Mamundzay said it was unclear whose photograph should replace it.

1st case at IAMC to be Lalit Modi dispute

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana on Saturday expressed confidence that the International Arbitration and Mediation Centre (IAMC) in Hyderabad would be a step towards enhancing the alternative disputes redressal landscape in the country, even as he pointed out that the first case at the Centre would be that of the Lalit Modi family dispute.

The IAMC premises was handed over by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao to Justice Ramana.

“I am sure that this trend will change with this Hyderabad centre. Domestic and international parties will increasingly come to this centre, which has world class facilities. Its location in Hyderabad will also be an attraction,” the CJI said, as he described Hyderabad as his city, and one of the best in the world. “It is a growing hub of commerce and is one of the top destinations for business in India.”

The CJI recalled that recently ‘Modi family dispute’, referring to former Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi family dispute, came up to his bench for hearing.

“I want to tell one thing: before the Centre started, two days back when a heavy dispute between two families, that is the Modi family, has come up before our bench, Sister Justice Hima Kohli was one of the members of the bench. So, we suggested for mediation and they readily agreed. We set a condition that you have to use the facilities of Hyderabad Mediation and Arbitration Centre. So you already have got a first case,” Justice Ramana said.

Batting for alternative dispute redressal mechanism, he said that these were beneficial on account of low cost, speed, control over timelines, autonomy of processes, a more comfortable environment and a non-adversarial nature. Such methods, Justice Ramana said, provide support to the judicial system as they worked towards stopping matters for going to court, or moving them outside courts.

Justice Ramana described the setting up of the centre as ‘nothing short of a miracle’ as the project concluded in a short span of time. He said that the centre was established collectively, and with a lot of hope.

“It is for you to take it forward and turn it into most sought after destination for resolution of all types of disputes, including family as well as commercial disputes,” he said.

Soon after handing over the premises, the Chief Minister said, “I assure the Honourable Chief Justice and the honourable judges of the Supreme Court that we will bring in an amendment, a suitable law to facilitate the local arbitration in our own centre.”

DRDO scientist held for blast in Delhi court

The News Editorial Analysis 19th Dec 2021

The Delhi Police Special Cell has arrested a scientist in connection with the low-intensity blast in Rohini court on December 9, said Commissioner of Police Rakesh Asthana on Saturday. The scientist, employed with the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), allegedly wanted to eliminate his neighbour, police said.

Mr. Asthana said that the accused has been identified as Bharat Bhushan Kataria (49). He committed the crime to take revenge on his neighbour, advocate Amit Vashistha, over a protracted legal battle between the two.

The Commissioner said that after the blast in courtroom number 102, the case registered on charges of attempt to murder and under the Explosives Act was transferred to the Special Cell as the initial probe revealed the involvement of an improvised explosive.

According to the police, Mr. Kataria went inside the courtroom at about 10.15 a.m. and placed a bag containing the explosive device behind Mr. Vashistha, after which he triggered the IED from a safe distance with a remote.

Former SC judge Nanavati passes away

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Girish Thakorlal Nanavati (retd.), who investigated the 1984 anti-Sikh and the 2002 Godhra riots, passed away on Saturday. He was 86.

He died of cardiac failure at 1.15 p.m. on December 18 in Gujarat, family members said.

Justice Nanavati, born on February 17, 1935, was enrolled as an advocate in the Bombay High Court on February 11, 1958.

He was appointed a permanent judge of the Gujarat High Court on July 19, 1979, and transferred to the Orissa High Court on December 14, 1993. He was appointed as the Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court with effect from January 31, 1994.

He was transferred as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court on September 28, 1994.

Justice Nanavati was appointed as a Supreme Court judge with effect from March 6, 1995, and retired on February 16, 2000.

Justices Nanavati and Akshay Mehta had in 2014 submitted their final report on the 2002 riots to the then Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. Over 1,000 people, mainly from the minority community, were killed in the violence.

The commission was appointed in 2002 by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi to probe the riots, which took place after the burning of two coaches of the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station, in which 59 karsevaks died.

Justice Nanavati was appointed by the NDA government to probe the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He was the sole member of the Nanavati Commission.

After 50 years, gharials alive and kicking in Beas Reserve

After successfully reintroducing the critically endangered gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) in the rivers of Punjab where it went extinct half a century ago, the State’s wildlife preservation wing is now keeping its fingers crossed, expecting the breeding of the crocodilians to start in the new few years as the released gharials are healthy and have adapted to the Beas Conservation Reserve as their home.

“Since 2017, we have released 94 gharials in the Beas Conservation Reserve and there have been only two casualties. These gharials have been dispersed both upstream and downstream of the release sites in the reserve and they can be spotted any time depending on the water levels and season, indicating that the first step of their rehabilitation has been successful,” R.K. Mishra, Punjab’s Chief Wildlife Warden, told The Hindu.

“The next big challenge is their breeding. Once natural breeding of gharials starts it would then be a real success. Normally, we expect the breeding to start after 10 years. The eldest of the reintroduced gharials is seven years old now, and we are hopeful that breeding could start in the coming three-four years. The habitat is conducive for egg-laying and hatching and we are taking all necessary steps to provide a safe environment predator,” he said.

Ambitious project

The gharial reintroduction in the Beas Conservation Reserve is an ambitious programme of the Punjab government.

The reptiles were commonly sighted in the Beas River till the 1960s but later became extinct. The gharial can be found in north Indian rivers such as the Ganga, Yamuna and Chambal and their tributaries.

Mr. Mishra said after the release of gharials, regular monitoring by the department is being done to understand the dispersal, behaviour, threats and other ecological aspects so that these juvenile and sub-adult gharials mature into adults and start breeding.

“Regular patrolling and monitoring of the reserve by forming a gharial task force, rapid rescue unit and anti-poaching group is being undertaken. The monitoring teams have also been raising awareness of the farmers and riparian communities working in the close vicinity of the Beas river,” he said.

While there is no documentation on the extinction of gharial from the Beas, experts believe there have been multiple reasons for the disappearance of the species.

“After understanding the Beas river ecosystem, learning from other gharial habitats in the world and from interacting with numerous stakeholders residing or working around the Beas river, it is quite evident that change in the hydrology due to construction of dams and barrages, significantly reduced water flow, rapid land-use change of floodplains and rampant overfishing led slowly to the extinction of the gharial from the Beas,” said Gitanjali Kanwar, Coordinator, Rivers, Wetlands and Water Policy, WWF-India.

Release in batches

In the first phase of the reintroduction project, 47 gharials were released in 2017-18 in the river in Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts. Later, 23 gharials were released in February 2021 on an island near Saleempur and Tahli Forest in district Hoshiarpur. On December 5, another set of 24 gharials was released near the Kulla Fatta forests in the reserve in Hoshiarpur district.

“As man yas 40-50% of the released gharials are sighted during the field survey, and they are healthy and have adapted to the Beas Conservation Reserve. Like tigers are the topmost predators in a forest, gharials are the topmost predators in a river. They (gharial) balance the riverine food chain. Gharial keeps in check their prey (fish), which keep in check their prey and so on. The presence of gharials indicates a healthy riverine ecosystem,” Ms. Kanwar said.

“We are also focusing on meticulous documentation of this conservation programme, which will act as a reference and learning guide for the next generation. A coffee table book on the gharial was released earlier this month, documenting 22 years of work on the gharial conservation by Punjab,” she said.


Early inhabitants

New evidence from the bottom of a lake in the remote North Atlantic Faroe Islands indicates that an unknown band of humans settled there around 500 AD — some 350 years before the Vikings, who up until recently have been thought to have been the first human inhabitants. The settlers may have been Celts who crossed seas from what are now Scotland or Ireland.

Biodiversity hotspot

Researchers created the most detailed distribution map to date of butterflies in the American tropics, showing that areas of highest diversity coincide with regions most threatened by deforestation and development. The study focused on glasswing butterflies, a large group with nearly 400 species that occur throughout much of Central and South America.

Carbon sink

New research reveals how old-growth forests have been recycling and storing carbon: treetop soils. Branches in forest canopies can hold caches of soil that may store substantially more carbon than soils on the ground beneath them. Scientists are just beginning to understand how much carbon canopy soils could store.

Tone of voice

Researchers have found that baby seals can adapt their voices to sounds. The pups lowered the pitch of their voice when they heard louder noises. Only a few species may be capable of changing the pitch of their voice, which is a crucial element of human speech. This makes seals an excellent animal model for studying the evolution of human speech.

Is testing, sequencing strategy used missing Omicron?

Over 100 Omicron variant cases have been detected so far in 11 States in India. Except for one case of a medical doctor in Bengaluru who has been confirmed to be infected with the Omicron variant, the remaining have been detected in international passengers arriving in India and their contacts.

A November 30, 2021 circular from the health ministry clearly mentions that effective December 1, all passengers arriving from specified “at-risk” countries will be required to undergo an RT-PCR test on arrival. And random testing is to be done on 2% of the total flight passengers arriving from other countries. Incidentally, the at-risk countries list has not been updated since the circular was sent on November 30; it includes only Europe, the U.K. and 11 other countries.

While all positive samples are to be sent for genome sequencing, passengers arriving from at-risk countries will have to undergo home quarantine for seven days, retest on the eighth day of arrival in India and if negative, further self-monitor their health for the next seven days.

The testing strategy adopted now looks quite similar to the one put in place early last year when testing was confined to international passengers and their contacts if the index case tests positive. While over 80 countries have confirmed Omicron variant, the testing in India is confined to international passengers. Positive samples sent for genome sequencing to confirm for the Omicron variant are almost primarily restricted to international passengers. Is India missing to identify the Omicron variant in the community by not at least randomly sequencing a few positive samples? Absence of evidence is surely not evidence of absence.

Limited testing

“This depends on the extent to which we believe the Omicron variant has already spread in the country. Levels of overall testing are currently fairly low, at the level of 1-3 million daily but the problem is that most of these tests are being done in a small number of States, mainly Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Because of this, it is hard to figure out to what extent silent spread has already begun in other parts of the country or whether cases are picking up,” says Dr. Gautam Menon, Professor of Physics and Biology at Ashoka University.

Based on the speed at which the Omicron variant spreads, scientists have said one infected person can spread it to three or more people. Scientifically speaking, the R0 of the Omicron variant is over 3. The Omicron variant has been found to spread two-three times faster than the highly transmissible Delta variant. As a result, in other countries, Omicron cases are doubling every two to four days, which is far shorter time frame compared with the Delta variant.

Since the variant spreads faster than the Delta variant, there would have been a surge in cases in India if it is already present in the community. “For now, we have nothing that suggests a large-scale rise in cases so far, which might have been a consequence of Omicron,” Dr. Menon says in an email to The Hindu.

Incorrect test kits used

Not only are the testing rates across India low, most of the RT-PCR test kits used in many States do not have a S-gene target in the primer. The S-gene dropout in the BA.1 sub-lineage is used as a proxy for identifying the Omicron variant. In the absence of test kits with a S-gene target, only genome sequencing can identify the variant.

“We need more random testing to detect community spread in those States which are not already testing well, and we need to sequence some fraction of the positive cases, both symptomatic and random, on a priority basis to look for Omicron. Right now, we don’t have any evidence of large-scale transmission of Omicron but that could simply be an artefact of lack of testing,” he says.

In the absence of increased testing and genome sequencing, another layer of complexity in noticing a surge in cases might be related to the mild nature of the disease caused by the variant in those who are already protected. While the Omicron variant can cause reinfections in people who have been previously infected and cause breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people and even among those who have received a booster shot, the cases mostly have only mild disease.

Missing the mild cases?

With a large percentage of the population in India being naturally infected, over 57% fully vaccinated and over 87% having received the first dose, most of the cases caused by Omicron may be mild, thus not being tested. A significant number of people who have been vaccinated might have been previously infected during the deadly second wave. This combination of infection plus vaccination produces hybrid immunity, which is more protective than just vaccination or infection alone. This could be another reason why cases in the community might have been missed.

One of the first Omicron positive cases detected in India on November 22 was a medical doctor in Bengaluru who had no travel history or contact with any international passenger. This suggests that the possibility of the variant already being present in the community cannot be completely ruled out. “That [case] is certainly evidence for some degree of community transmission, since there is no apparent connection to a case of international travel. However, not all such infections will necessarily lead to an explosion in cases and it is possible that this was a one-off event,” Dr. Menon says.

“I personally think it is just a matter of time till we see Omicron cases rising, perhaps by January. There is some level of protection, one assumes, from the fact that many Indians have sustained a recent Delta infection and many are now vaccinated as well. This may lead to overall milder cases, which might be one reason why we have not seen any sizeable jump in hospital admissions,” he adds.

Kerala health secretary Dr. Rajan Khobragade says that besides sequencing positive cases of international passengers, Kerala will sequence positive cases from huge clusters and superspreader events to rule out the Omicron variant in the State.

But Dr. Menon feels it might be necessary to sequence some fraction of symptomatic COVID-19 patients across the country to assess the presence of COVID-19 and this specific variant in the population, and also test randomly, looking for the presence of Omicron in a fraction of those that test positive. “Only then can we assess the extent of community spread,” he says.

Early signs of worsening air emerge in Northeast India

Air quality in India’s northeast States is worsening and while still much better than pollution hotspots in other parts of the country, appear to be under threat by the same sources — vehicles, industry and urbanisation — that have soiled the air elsewhere, according to an analysis of air quality by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

So far air pollution is largely seen as a crisis of the Indo Gangetic plains, particularly in winter when Delhi and several cities in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana find themselves in lists of the world’s most polluted cities. Air in the northeast States, in the popular imagination, is less befouled due to the region’s topography that is less conducive to fossil-fuel led industrialisation and geographical isolation.

CSE analysed concentrations of PM 2.5, particulate matter sized 2.5 micron or less, from January 1, 2019 to December 7, 2021 in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh over annual and seasonal periods. They relied on live data available from seven continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations (CAAQMS) spread across six cities in five States: two stations in Guwahati and one station each in Shillong (Meghalaya), Agartala (Tripura), Kohima (Nagaland), Aizawl (Mizoram) and Naharlagun (Arunachal Pradesh).

The number of air quality monitors in the Northeast are few and have been installed in the last two years unlike those in many cities in India. This, therefore, gives only a limited picture of the variability and scale of air pollution.

What CSE found was that the annual, average PM 2.5 levels of Guwahati in 2021 (as of November 30) was 60 microgram per cubic metre (μg/m3) which was less than that in 2020 (62 μg/m3) but more than in 2019 (56 μg/m3). India’s upper limit for PM 2.5 is 40 μg/m3.

Agartala, readings for which were available only for 2021, had an annual concentration of 45 μg/m3 whereas Shillong, Kohima and Naharlagun were below the 40-mark.

Shillong was the only other city in the region with a station generating data for over two years but “due to poor data availability its annual averages could not be considered credible,” the researchers noted, “Aizawl and Naharlagun do not meet the minimum data availability requirement but the limited data available indicates that these two would most probably be meeting the annual standard.”

These air quality figures are a far cry from those recorded in cities in the Indo Gangetic Plains, where annual concentrations are in triple digits but Guwahati has increasingly been sending concerning signals. Until November end, the number of days with air quality in ‘very poor’ or ‘severe’ category stands at 54 days in Guwahati city which is “comparable to cities of North India” and in other cities ‘good’ and ‘satisfactory’ days dominate but poor and very poor days had begun to emerge. Agartala registered 10 ‘very poor’ days while Kohima had two ‘very poor’ days. Good, satisfactory and very poor refer to degrees of PM 2.5 concentrations.

Except Guwahati, rest of the cities in the States in the Northeast have low annual PM2.5 levels but during winter, episodes of high pollution were common, the study noted. Weekly PM2.5 levels could go as high as 189 μg/m3 in Guwahati. This winter, so far, the highest weekly level has been reported from Agartala when it hit 91 μg/m3. Last winter it had gone up to 112 μg/m3. Similarly, high pollution has been recorded in Aizawl and Kohima.

“The current obsession with high pollution concentration in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and in overall northern India overshadows and side-lines the early signs of the crisis in our north-eastern states in the national discourse on air pollution and public health. Weak and inadequate air quality monitoring and paucity of data do not allow proper assessment of the risk. But even the limited evidence shows several cities — especially the state capitals — are already vulnerable to poor air quality and winter smog,” Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive director, Research and Advocacy, CSE, said in a statement. “Cities of north-eastern states need urgent attention…to cut pollution from growing motorisation and congestion, use of solid fuels and open burning, and dispersed industrial sources at the early stages to prevent worsening of the public health crisis in this ecologically vulnerable region.”

Inescapable risks of mandatory iron fortification

Many things have been said about the necessity for mandatory iron fortification of foods in India. That it is a ‘necessity’, ‘complementary strategy’ to dietary diversity, ‘effective’ and more loudly now, that it is ‘safe’. Given what we now know, and are uncovering, about the risks associated with too much iron, particularly in children, the proclamation of safety must be made carefully.

The simple fact is that iron is not safe in excess; it is an oxidant with a variety of ill-effects. Just because a ‘tolerable upper limit was proposed for its intake, any intake less than this was thought to be safe. But no longer. We must think of the long-term risk for other diseases, not the toxicological approach of looking at acute clinical symptoms, like stomach pain. This is because we now know that iron increases the risk for many non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension and even high blood cholesterol.

What is the evidence? Take diabetes: what happens when body iron stores, measured by serum ferritin concentration, increase? In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of a healthy U.S. population, those with high ferritin level had a four-fold higher risk of having diabetes. In India, our team recently analysed a national, quality-controlled survey (Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey) of Indian adolescents, to evaluate the risk of high blood sugar, high blood lipids and high blood pressure as their serum ferritin increased.

The results were scary; there was a clear and significant risk for each of these conditions as serum ferritin increased. Note that fortification of any one staple (rice, wheat, or salt) will increase serum ferritin, without necessarily changing the haemoglobin level. When provided together, the increased iron intake could be 20- 30 mg/day. We also modelled the risk when an additional 10 mg of iron/day (single staple fortification) was present: this increased high blood sugar prevalence by 2-14% across States of India, with similar findings for high blood pressure and high lipids.

Risk already high

If that is not sobering enough- another of our published analyses of the same national survey, showed that no less than 50% of Indian children, aged 5-19 years, already had a biomarker of either high blood sugar or high blood lipids, even when thin or stunted. Thus, the risk of chronic disease is already very high in our children, and we will implement this veiled threat of risk magnification by mandatory cereal fortification. Cereal intake is already too high, and should be replaced by more quality foods like pulses, fruits and vegetables, etc. We should be straining every sinew to prevent the high burden of chronic disease with life-long and intergenerational consequences, starting with our children. Remember- India is already called the world capital of diabetes and hypertension: what next?

There are also other simple truths, that should give us pause before we rush to mandatory iron fortification. First, we do not even know if anaemia is as rampant to warrant such mandatory measures. The WHO is having a consultation this year to evaluate if haemoglobin diagnostic cut-offs for anaemia should be lowered in different geographies, one of which is India. This is partly based on a recent paper in The Lancet by us, that showed that the cut-offs were likely lower than the WHO cut-off in Indian children. This lowering has been also confirmed in a study of no less than 32 countries worldwide, as well as another in pregnant women. A lower cut-off will mean a lower (halved) anemia prevalence.

Choices removed

Second, when mandatory fortification is enforced in parts of the population that do not need this, it removes their choice of foods, or autonomy, and could even be unethical if the risk of other morbidities is increased. Third, iron deficiency in the Indian diet is not a universal problem: the Indian requirement for iron has been lowered by half to two-thirds in 2020. Fourth, rice fortification has not been shown to work in a combined analysis, by the respectable Cochrane group, of all available and rigorous studies.

It is misleading to dismiss this analysis, and instead quote sporadic Indian studies purporting to show that fortification is successful, since these are either not published, or ‘quasi experimental’, sometimes without randomization or even a true measurement of blood haemoglobin.

Pragmatism demands that we await the forthcoming WHO haemoglobin cut-offs to get to the true anaemia burden and only rely on gold-standard venous blood haemoglobin in future surveys. Dietary modification strategies should be the preferred solutions; they are not impossible to achieve, as studies in rural India show. With the ever-expanding health care infrastructure (Ayushmaan Bharat and associated clinics), we need to move to equity for all in precision treatment: here, we should evaluate the cause of anaemia and prescribe treatment accordingly. Experience from Covid testing shows that India can do it!

(Anura Kurpad is Professor of Physiology and Nutrition in St John’s Medical College, Bengaluru, and Harshpal Singh Sachdev is a senior consultant in Paediatrics and Clinical Epidemiology, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, New Delhi)

Why did India reject UNSC draft on climate?

The story so far: On December 13, India joined Russia in opposing a draft proposal at the United Nations Security Council which would effectively bring climate change in the Security Council’s purview, allowing it to enforce and hold countries accountable for their promises to mitigate global warming. The proposal was sponsored by Niger and Ireland, who claimed that 113 countries, which included permanent Security Council members U.S., the U.K., and France, backed their view to integrate climate-related security risks into the UNSC’s conflict prevention mandate. However, after a heated debate and a strong counter by Indian Permanent Representative T.S.Tirumurti, the proposal was vetoed by Russia, and the UNSC recorded 12 in favour, 2 against as well as an abstention from China.

Why are sponsors keen to introduce climate change into the UNSC mandate?

Climate change has been discussed at the UNSC since 2007, and several UNSC statements reference the impact of global warming on conflicts. Both Niger and Ireland pointed out that people in countries most vulnerable to climate change are also most vulnerable to terror groups and violence, attempting to connect both to the UNSC’s mandate on peacekeeping. They said climate-related conflicts over arable land, food security, desertification and forced migration, the increase in climate refugees due to global warming would all eventually lead to conflicts that the UNSC needs to weigh in on. According to a report by Peace Research Institute SIPRI, 10 of 21 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations are located in countries ranked as most exposed to climate change. Some commentators in favour, said it was only after 2000 when the UNSC passed Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security that gender violence in conflict really entered the debate, and hoped they could do the same for climate. Niger’s representative said if the Security Council could pass a resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic and health security (UNSCR 2565 (2021)), why could climate security not be addressed there?

Why did India vote with Russia?

Apart from close multilateral cooperation with Russia, reaffirmed during a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Foreign and Defence Minister 2+2 on December 6, India’s stand on the proposal is consistent with a desire not to allow the UNSC too broad a mandate to “intervene” and overreach on sovereign issues. While the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which held the CoP conference in Glasgow last month collates the voluntary contributions of countries in order to battle climate change and promote sustainability, India believes these are not issues where the UNSC should interfere. Mr. Tirumurti said while India is “second to none” on keeping its climate commitments and fighting for climate justice, it would be “misleading” to view conflicts through the prism of climate change worldwide. India even suggested that it would support a more limited draft that focused exclusively on the Sahel region of North Africa, where desertification of arid areas is directly sparking water-related conflict, but this was not considered, and India then recorded its first negative vote in this term at the UNSC. The Chinese representative, also said that UNSC should only consider security risks driven by climate change, based on “country-by-country or situation-by-situation” analysis.

Will the climate security proposal be reviewed and resubmitted?

Given the strong support the proposal has received, and the numerically small opposition from Russia and India at the UNSC at present, it is unlikely that the issue will go away, and it is only a matter of time before American, European, African and Latin American countries come together with another proposal to introduce climate change to the Security Council’s mandate. The current proposal is a revised version of a draft proposed by Germany that was opposed in the UNSC in 2020. According to its backers, the real objective is to ensure that the UNSC considers the impact of climate change along with other causes of conflicts it is debating. However, those opposed to it, which include about 80 countries, say that bringing climate change into an already polarised Security Council, torn between the U.S., the U.K. and France versus Russia and China will only deepen schisms over an issue that concerns the whole globe and requires an undivided approach. As one of the most populous countries in the UNSC at present, and representing a region that is itself highly exposed to the risks of climate change, India’s voice will be important in deciding the debate between securitising climate change, and ensuring the global peacekeeping body doesn’t overstep its mandate.

Is raising marriage age enough to help girls?

The story so far: The Government has listed its proposal to raise the age of marriage for women to 21 for legislative business in Parliament in the coming week. The move comes within days of the Union Cabinet approving the proposal which is based on the recommendations of a task force constituted last year.

What do marriage laws in India say?

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, prescribe the age of 18 years for the bride and 21 years for the groom. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, allows marriage if the boy and the girl have attained puberty. The Special Marriage Act, 1954, which governs inter-faith marriages also lays down 18 years for women and 21 years for men as the age of marriage. There is also the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which prohibits marriage below 18 years for women and 21 years for men.

What is the purpose of raising the age of marriage?

In her 2020 Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the Government would set up a task force to look into the “age of a girl entering motherhood” with the aim to lower maternal mortality rates, improve nutrition levels as well as to ensure opportunities for women to pursue higher education and careers. These were also the terms of references for a 10-member panel headed by former Samata Party chief Jaya Jaitly when it was constituted on June 6, 2020. The panel submitted its report to the PMO and Ministry of Women and Child Development in December 2020 but it has not yet been made public. Ms. Jaitly told The Hindu that raising the age of marriage is one of its many recommendations, which include a strong campaign to reform patriarchal mindsets, improving access to education by providing girls safe transport to schools and ensuring toilets and sanitary napkins so girls don’t drop out, providing sex education, as well as vocational training and livelihood options. “Unless all of the recommendations go with it, there is no justification to raise the age of marriage. It is like making traffic rules without providing good roads or traffic lights,” said Ms. Jaitly.

Will raising the age of marriage serve its purpose?

While children born to adolescent mothers have higher prevalence of stunting and low weight, experts argue that the underlying cause is poverty. There is also a need to improve access to education, skill training and employment opportunities which are some of the barriers for girls in pursuing higher education. It is also important to ensure a safe environment free from the constant threat of rape and sexual assault which is why girls are married off early. “A legislation to increase age of marriage is not needed for this purpose. This measure is superficial and does not go to the root of the problems faced by young women,” women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes told The Hindu. Steps must also be taken to address early pregnancies instead of focusing on age of marriage by extending family planning and reproductive health support which focus on preparation for pregnancy and delaying the first birth.

Will the new proposal make women more vulnerable?

According to National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021), 23.3% of women aged 20-24 years married before the age of 18, which shows that the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA), 2006, has not been successful in preventing child marriages and increasing the legal age at marriage for girls will expand the number of persons deemed underage and render them without legal protection. According to an analysis of NFHS-4 (2015-2016) data by Mary E. John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, 56% girls were married below the age of 21 and this figure was as high as 75% among the poorest category of population. This is also worrisome when one looks at evidence on how PCMA is used largely by parents to punish their daughters who marry against their wishes or elope to evade forced marriages, domestic abuse and housework– a study by Partners for Law in Development showed.


The News Editorial Analysis 18th Dec 2021


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