The News Editorial Analysis 6th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 6th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 6th Jan 2022

Bengaluru virologist’s test kit ‘Omisure’ for Omicron variant cuts delays

The News Editorial Analysis 6th Jan 2022

In a major and global breakthrough towards cutting down procedural delays in genome sequencing to ascertain the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV2, Dr V Ravi, former head of the Department of Neurovirology atNational Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences and Head, Research & Development, Tata Medical & Diagnostic Centre, Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, and his team have developed the world’s first test kit, Omisure, that can detect the Omicron variant by combining S-gene target failure (SGTF) and S-gene mutation amplification (SGMA).

“Omisure was approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research on December 30 and, on Wednesday, Tata MD received the licence from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation for commercial production,” announced Dr Ravi. 

‘Omisure test will take about two-and-half hours’

“Globally, all other test kits for Omicron are either made for gene dropout or mutationspecific detection. Omisure is the first test kit combining both. On evaluation by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it picked up all sequence samples with 100 per cent accuracy. We have now received the licence from Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and will start production of Omisure for commercial use within a week’s time,” Dr V Ravi said. The Tata MD management on Wednesday decided to fix the maximum retail price (MRP) of a single kit at Rs 250 for the laboratory.

Speaking exclusively to TNIE, the top virologist, said, “Omisure is a regular PCR test and is compatible with all standard realtime PCR machines. It will cut down the waiting time for genome sequencing of Omicron patients, which is currently the practice and is delaying the results. The Omisure test will take about two-and-half hours; from sample collection and RNA extraction to result.”

On the production capacity, he said the Tata MD plant at Sriperumbudur has the daily manufacturing capacity of two lakh kits, but the production will be ramped up to five lakh kits by the end of this month to meet the demand. “We are also planning to export Omisure and we will be filing for CE marking application for FDA emergency use authorisation,” he added.

A total of 2,135 cases of Omicron variant have been detected across 24 states and UTs, according to the Union Health Ministry data as of Wednesday.

Progressive draft Women’s policy in TN

The Tamil Nadu government recently released a draft of a new policy for women for public feedback. The act of seeking feedback itself warrants credit, as not all of the policies framed by the government do so (the children’s policy being an example). The document has lofty goals and deploys au courant terminology such as intersectionality and the like. It also acknowledges the need for gender sensitivity to be a part of every department’s planning approaches rather than being retrofitted into existing plans and schemes. Significantly, the document attempts a holistic approach, for instance, by noting the role of intergenerational poverty in child marriages or alcoholism in domestic violence. It acknowledges the need for geriatric care for women, who have a longer life expectancy than men, and mental and emotional support services. In considering violence against women, it speaks of the need to end gender segregation in schools and homes. It also moots local clubs to allow mixing of youngsters of all genders to inculcate respect towards women at the grassroots level. 

However, it seems to suggest that only girls and women will benefit from adolescent sexual health and relationship education. If so, it is imperative that such education be extended to all students regardless of gender. Similarly, while acknowledging the role that alcohol may have in domestic violence, it betrays an assumption that deaddiction programmes alone may help resolve the issue as well as that alcoholics can be forced into rehabilitation. It also proposes a baffling insurance scheme for households where men are addicted to alcohol that may be linked to the quantity of alcohol consumed! On the positive side, it proposes alcohol and drug education at schools, which is a progressive move. The policy also acknowledges the influence of the media in perpetuating stereotypes and makes an attempt to provide a corrective without censoring content.

Despite being well-intentioned, several proposals may not be practicable. Nonetheless, despite some of its questionable plans, it is overall a progressive document that will hopefully be improved by civil society feedback.

Govt. says ₹8 lakh EWS income cap ‘best way forward’

The Centre, in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, backed its committee’s recommendation to retain the ₹8-lakh annual income criterion to identify the economically weaker sections (EWS) of society as the “best way forward” and urged the court to let NEET counselling continue.

Appearing before a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna, the government said it would not let anything come in the way of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and the “poorest of the poor” getting the benefits of reservation. “We will not accept any position whereby OBC or EWS is deprived of something that is legitimately due to them,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted.

The government, meanwhile, said the NEET admission process could not wait for the conclusion of “lengthy arguments” in court.

The court was hearing the case urgently following the Centre’s repeated oral requests on January 3 and 4 to list the case as NEET counselling was in limbo.

On Wednesday, Mr. Mehta said the government’s statement in court on November 25 to put NEET counselling on hold while reviewing the EWS criterion had “never anticipated” the current situation. Resident doctors had clashed with the police amid protests in the Capital after the counselling was suspended.

“Graduate and postgraduate counselling are stuck. We feel their [doctors’] issue is genuine. We need to respond to the bona fide request of doctors… There is a justified request from resident doctors to continue with the counselling… Society cannot go into lengthy arguments with the situation now… Let us proceed with the counselling,” Mr. Mehta conveyed a sense of urgency.

But senior advocate Arvind Datar, for a petitioner, questioned the government’s plea to allow NEET counselling process to resume. “By counselling, does he [Mr. Mehta] mean the government will conclude NEET medical admissions on the basis of ₹ 8 lakh limit,” he asked.

The government committee report showed that no exercise was undertaken before the ₹8 lakh threshold was fixed to identify EWS. “There was no application of mind… And now they are trying to justify the ₹ 8 lakh limit,” he stated. The cloud of doubt about the ₹8 lakh limit has led to a serious situation.

“The entire counselling has been stopped,” he observed.

The case started in the top court with several NEET aspirants challenging a July 29, 2021 notification of the Centre announcing 27% quota to OBCs and 10% reservation to EWS in the All India Quota (AIQ) for NEET.

The hearings, however. took an unexpected turn in October-November last year when the court itself started questioning the very basis of the income criterion of ₹ 8 lakh to determine EWS, asking whether the figure came out of “thin air” or was even an automatic adoption of the OBC criteria.

‘Grossly unfair’

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for another petitioner, said the July 29 notification came five months after the NEET admission process commenced in March. “The government cannot change the rules of the game after game has begun. This is grossly unfair,” he submitted. He also questioned the OBC quota in AIQ.

The court adjourned the hearing to Thursday.

 The Chinese challenge uncovers India’s fragilities

The border crisis has laid bare political, economic and diplomatic problems — the result of choices made after 2014

Like Banquo’s ghost, the 1962 Sino-India war hangs like a shadow over the current state of bilateral ties between India and China. A military defeat close to six decades ago has no real bearing on the current border tensions, but is a constant reminder to Delhi, like Banquo’s ghost is to Macbeth, of its own fears and insecurities. An outcome of India’s choices since 2014, these weaknesses have been shown up by the prospect of a conflict with China, which may no longer be immediate but it does not feel as far-fetched and remote as it did just two years ago.

China’s diplomatic moves

Nearly 20 months after the border crisis began in Ladakh, China has pressed on with aggressive diplomatic and military gestures against India. Beijing recently renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh, following the six it had done in 2017, weeks after the Dalai Lama visited Tawang. China justifies the renaming as being done on the basis of its historical, cultural and administrative jurisdiction over the area — these old names existed since ancient times which had been changed by India with its “illegal occupation”. The External Affairs Ministry said that the move by Beijing ‘does not alter’ the fact that Arunachal Pradesh — itself a Sanskritised rechristening of the North-East Frontier Agency in 1971 on being made a Union Territory – was an integral part of India.

Possession is indeed nine-tenths of the law but China’s renaming drive is one prong of its plan to assert its territorial claims in disputed border areas. On January 1, 2022, Beijing’s new land border law came into force, which provides the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with full responsibility to take steps against “invasion, encroachment, infiltration, provocation” and safeguard Chinese territory. This law supports — and mutually reinforces — the construction of 628 Xiaokang border villages by China along its disputed border with India. As per available satellite imagery, at least two of these villages have been constructed on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh. These villages will come in handy for Beijing when the principle of ‘settled areas’ is invoked to resolve the border dispute in the future.

It is not just Beijing but even the diplomats posted at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi who have been emboldened by India’s cautious response. Last month, Political Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy, Zhou Yongsheng wrote an angry letter to Indian Members of Parliament — including two Union Ministers, Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Ramdas Athawale — for attending a meet organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile. The letter asked them to not engage with “out-and-out separatist political group and an illegal organization”. This angry missive from an Embassy official to two Ministers has earned no reproach from the Government for the Chinese Ambassador. It did not even beget an official condemnation from the External Affairs Ministry.

Submissive response

The reasons for such submissiveness by the Narendra Modi government towards the Chinese are not difficult to understand. Delhi has run out of proactive options against Beijing that will force the Chinese leadership to change course on its India policy. Tibet and the Dalai Lama were often projected as a trump card but evidently are not. Beijing does not care for its declining popularity among the Indian populace. The two countries have an increasingly lopsided trade relationship driven by Indian dependency on Chinese manufacturing, a situation further worsened by the Government’s mishandling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Delhi has little geopolitical or economic leverage over Beijing to boast of. There are no arrows left in Mr. Modi’s quiver. The best Delhi can do is to prevent any further loss of territory to China with extensive military deployment on the LAC, while hoping that Beijing, either with Moscow’s urging or otherwise, will give Mr. Modi an honourable diplomatic exit out of this crisis. If India was to give it back to the Chinese as good as it gets, Beijing may take it as an affront, further smothering Indian desire for a smooth end to the crisis.

To restore the status quo ante on the LAC as of April 2020, India undertook internal balancing of its military from the Pakistan border to the China border and external rebalancing through a closer partnership with the United States in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) has, however, remained a non-military grouping. The signing of the AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) and the humiliating American exit from Afghanistan made it crystal clear that for all the intelligence sharing and logistics support from the U.S., India will have to deal with the Chinese challenge on the border on its own. In decline since 2017, India’s economy is incapable of supporting such an endeavour. The Modi government has now placed its hopes on Moscow, which seems keen to play a mediator between India and China. Russian officials say that their offer of a Foreign Ministers meeting, if not a leaders’ summit, of the Russia-India-China grouping is on the table but Delhi first wants to see some steps from China towards resolving the border crisis.

Now revealed

The Chinese challenge has laid bare globally India’s political, economic and diplomatic fragilities under Mr. Modi, and this has grim portends of how challenges in future will be managed. Worried about its northern borders and the threat of a two-front collusive threat, the Modi government and the ruling party are no longer as vociferous on Pakistan. Even if viciously attacking Pakistan has been an electorally rewarding domestic agenda for Mr. Modi, he has been forced to stay away from even mentioning India’s western neighbour in any of his recent electoral speeches. With ‘development’ and ‘employment’ no longer Mr. Modi’s calling card, that vacuum is being filled by the most horrific attacks by Hindutva bigots on Christians and Muslims under the benign gaze of the Hindu majoritarian government.

Because of the China factor, the U.S. is currently looking away even as India mistreats its minorities and its democracy stands diminished. That is unlikely to continue for long if India is to be the democratic counter in Asia to the rise of a one-party authoritarian state like China, one that is now keen to offer its own governance and growth model to the world. India’s difficult diplomatic and military engagement with China is going to leave it more dependent on U.S. support, rendering the Modi government more vulnerable to American pressure on ‘shared values’.

A decade ago, many observers had warned that the emergence of an increasingly assertive and confident China under Xi is going to be to India’s detriment. The signs were there when PLA soldiers walked into Chumar even as Mr. Modi hosted Mr. Xi in Ahmedabad in 2014. The Doklam crisis of 2017 only lulled the Government into thinking that the worst was over. It, instead, triggered the border crisis of 2020. With the loss in the 1962 war, India lost its pre-eminent position in Asia; with this display of weakness six decades later, India is in danger of losing its dominant influence even in South Asia.

India’s internal situation, from Nagaland to Kashmir, with the minorities under attack, is not going to help either. India made its choices after 2014, and the China border crisis has only shown them up.

Onus on the leader

With a rising China as its neighbour and a more self-centred U.S. – which is uncomfortable with India’s reliable partner, Russia — as its friend, Delhi continues to face difficult choices. Not made from a position of strength, in future too, these choices will be as much domestic as they will be in the domain of foreign policy. A collegial and deliberative model of decision-making would work best but is unlikely to be followed if the track record of the current dispensation is any indicator. Pushing a domestic narrative through a compromised media is one thing but dealing with the geopolitical realities at a difficult time is a different ball game.

Put under the harsh glare, a domestically divided, economically weak and diplomatically boastful India has been found wanting in its ability to deal with future challenges. The immediate challenge, however, remains China. It cannot be wished away and must be tackled.

As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, when Mr. Modi was barred from most western capitals after the 2002 riots, he frequently travelled to China. He made a show of learning from China’s remarkable and unique growth story, and applying it to the ‘Gujarat Model’ which he promised to India in 2014. After he became the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi has met Mr. Xi at least 18 times, but has not had even one telephone call since the border crisis began.

As a proponent and exemplar of personality-centric diplomacy, which included two informal summits with Mr. Xi, there has been a surprising lack of any personalised move from Mr. Modi so far. Now that his generals, advisers and Ministers have failed to deliver, it is time for Mr. Modi to step up and personally resolve the crisis. He has no excuse left. Allowing things to fester will only ensure that India pays a price far higher than it can afford.

These islands of excellence must not be marooned

The national law universities need to look at intra-collaboration and work on becoming multi-universities

Recently, the Chief Justice of India (CJI), N.V. Ramana, made several comments concerning legal education through his addresses in various universities. He observed that the national law universities were being perceived as ‘elitist and detached from social realities’ because not enough students were joining the bar. He added that even among those who joined the bar, the trend was to practise at the levels of the Supreme Court of India and High Courts while ignoring trial advocacy. Earlier in the year, the CJI had made the comment that law graduates were ill-equipped to handle the profession and that sub-standard legal educational institutions in the country were a worrying trend. Additionally, the CJI made a remark recently that the focus on legal education should be on the practice and not theory.

The CJI’s words are a welcome cause for introspection. As institutions capable of fundamentally altering the legal landscape of the country in the decades to come, such comments must not be brushed aside casually. So far, the experiment of national law universities has thrown up mixed results. While they have been celebrated as ‘islands of excellence in a ‘sea of mediocrity, as perceptible from the CJI’s remarks, they are also deemed by many to be detached from society. But this is just one of the many contradictions that national law universities face today. The first contradiction is that even though national law universities are criticised for imparting pedagogy focused on securing placements in corporates and corporate firms, it is these placements that are taken to be a significant marker in judging the success of national law universities.

Another contradiction is that even though they are referred to as ‘National’ Law Universities, they are established and partially funded by State governments. National law universities, therefore, have to operate in an increasingly fluid political environment. With state funding shrinking, most national law universities are facing a serious crisis. The ‘national’ character of these universities stems from their cosmopolitan demographic profile of students and faculty. Of late, this ‘national’ profile of the national law universities has had to increasingly navigate the pressures in many States which, by virtue of being the primary patron of a national law university, are able to exert influence on several key issues such as domicile-based reservations and pay scale choices.

Research-driven academics

The perceived disconnect between social realities and legal education can only be bridged if the research emerging from national law universities addresses social issues and provides workable and practicable solutions. Therefore, there is a need to focus on the promotion of research-driven academics. This requires us to move beyond the rigid framework created by the Bar Council of India and the University Grants Commission, which for example, needs the faculty to undertake a minimum number of lecture hours per week, etc. There is a need to have separate faculties for teaching and research. Research-driven academics must also be promoted through institutional arrangements and schemes incentivising the same. National law universities can no longer survive as mere teaching institutions.

Internal issues

The national law universities face stiff competition from upcoming private universities vis-à-vis quality faculties with exposure to best practices and these universities lose out on such faculty owing to many factors including rigid pay scales. While the hiring of faculty holding foreign degrees is not the only solution, the training of the existing faculty in traditional methods of knowledge delivery cannot be expected to satisfy the purpose for which the national law universities were created. The same results in a demand from students for better faculty, pedagogies and curricula. While the delivery of these demands differs from national law university to national law university, these issues have been at the centre of student protests in several universities.

Another reason for student protests in national law universities has been the inability of the leadership to respond to the needs of the students, faculty and staff in an adequate manner. Day-to-day problems when left unaddressed lead to avoidable confrontations. Decisions resolving the issues must be taken firmly and in a timely manner without undue delays. This problem is going to multiply as the State withdraws its funding and national law universities are left to generate their own resources. The same will require a display of ingenuity and entrepreneurship in raising adequate finances in the face of ever-increasing expenditures.

It is equally important that the pedagogy must be focused on practical aspects of law, rather than just the theory. The courses must invigorate our classrooms with the experience of practitioners and arm our students with the practical understanding of the functioning of laws and the justice system. Our judges and advocates must be obligated to contribute to the classrooms. They must be encouraged to offer paid internships to students to incentivise their learning experiences.

Finally, it must also be understood that the purpose of education at the graduate and postgraduate levels is fundamentally different. The focus of education at a graduate level must be practice-oriented with a focus on imparting students with the ability to learn and understand. On the other hand, the focus of pedagogy at the post-graduate level should be academic with a stress on imparting students with the ability to not only critically evaluate but also to apply the knowledge. This is crucial if we are to create well rounded and quality faculty which can contribute to the academic discourse meaningfully.

For the long term

Going by the National Education Policy, the shape and the content of a single discipline university is to change soon. The need, therefore, is to plan the future vision of national law universities in terms of becoming multi-universities to include subjects of crucial significance, including the awarding of degrees other than the law discipline. Also, there is a need to establish an independent regulator for legal education in India. National law universities can collaborate in a significant way to benefit each other by sharing human resources and expertise.

With the exception of a few national law universities, most have a long way to go with respect to many of the points raised above. This article is not intended to be a justification or an explanation to the CJI’s comments. Instead, its purpose is to introspect over and understand the problem areas which require rectification. As mentioned earlier, national law universities have the potential to transform the legal landscape of our country. But much is still required to be done before such a potential can be realised.

G.S. Bajpai is Vice-Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. The views expressed are personal

 Civil Service Mains from Friday: UPSC

The Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2021 will begin according to schedule this Friday, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) said on Wednesday, even as a group of candidates filed a last-minute petition in the Delhi High Court, pleading for a postponement in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The case has been listed for a hearing on Thursday.

The examination is scheduled to be held from January 7-9 and January 15-16.

In a statement, the UPSC urged the State governments to make public transport operational and to ensure that no inconvenience is caused to candidates and examination functionaries in their movement, especially those coming from containment or micro-containment zones.

India reports first death linked to Omicron

73-year-old died in Rajasthan due to post-COVID pneumonia coupled with co-morbidities, says Centre

India on Wednesday announced its first death linked to the Omicron variant of novel coronavirus.

Lav Agarwal, Joint secretary, Union Health Ministry, said the death of a person with co-morbidities had been reported from Rajasthan, and this was “technically” a Omicron-related death.

The 73-year-old man, who was found infected with Omicron through genome sequencing, had tested negative for the infection twice. He died in a Udaipur hospital on December 31 due to post-COVID pneumonia coupled with co-morbidities — diabetes mellitus, hypertension and hypothyroidism. He tested positive on December 15 and had been in hospital since then.

At the weekly press conference, the Ministry indicated that the surge in COVID-19 cases was a matter of concern. Mr. Agarwal said India had reported a 6.3 times surge in the number of new cases in the past eight days. The case positivity had risen from 0.79% on December 29 to 5.03% on January 5. He added that 65.9% of the adult population had been fully vaccinated so far.

“Currently, 28 districts are reporting more than 10% weekly positivity and 43 districts are reporting a weekly positivity between 5% and 10%. While there has been a sharp surge in cases across countries, hospitalisation has remained relatively lower as compared with the earlier surges,” he added.

Indian Council of Medical Research chief Dr. Balram Bhargava said Omicron was now the predominant strain circulating in cities and all mass gatherings should be avoided. He also cautioned that the anti-viral drug, Molnupiravir, was not part of the national taskforce treatment protocol.

“We are still looking into the drug,” he said. The drug recently received emergency use authorisation.


The News Editorial Analysis 5th Jan 2022


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