NATIONAL NEWS

The child’s right to dignity

  • Why in news: Recently, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard a petition on the constitutionality of the marital rape exception in the IPC (Exception 2 to Section 375).
  • The petitioners pointed to the contradictions between the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), which defines “child” as a person below 18 years, and the marital rape exception in the IPC, which states that sexual intercourse between a man and his wife (who is not under 15 years) is not rape.
  • The Bench apparently inquired whether the court must intervene to provide protection to married girls between 15 and 18 years from sexual exploitation by their spouse, given the legislative intention to exempt marital rape from prosecution.

Background

  • The technicality is easily answered because the POCSO Act does not carve out any exception in favour of marriage.
  • The legislative intention is also evident from Section 42A of the POCSO Act, which provides that in case of inconsistency with the provisions of any other law, the POCSO Act will override.
  • The marital rape exception under the IPC has not prevented the police from registering cases under the POCSO Act when the victim is above 15 years and is married to the accused. Studies by the Centre for Child and the Law at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru have revealed that the victim was married to the accused before or during trial in 19% of the cases in Delhi, 8% in Assam, and 6% in Maharashtra.
  • The higher judiciary has largely taken a lenient approach in such cases. The Gujarat High Court quashed the FIR against the accused under the IPC and POCSO holding, “[the victim] is admitting… that she had accompanied the applicant on her own free will and… since she was in love with the applicant and the applicant also loved her, they decided to get married.”
  • It added, however, that proceedings under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 (PCMA) should be initiated against the person(s) who performed the nikah , since the PCMA being ‘special law’ would override ‘general’ personal laws.
  • The Gauhati High Court in Jahirul Maulanav. State of Assam (2016) quashed the chargesheet against a man who had allegedly raped a minor. Since the victim was his wife and had borne his child, the court felt that to continue criminal proceedings would defeat the ends of justice.
  • However, the Karnataka High Court faced a case ( Soni Nihal v. Sri. Sandeep Patel, 2017) with nearly identical facts and observed that the “criminal proceedings initiated for the alleged offence [rape] cannot be quashed.”

Analysis

  • Acquittals are the norm as Section 42A of the POCSO Act is not aligned with the social reality of normal sexual exploration among teenagers and the belief about the sanctity of marriage held by most judges, prosecutors, and the police. A few Delhi judges held that a strict interpretation would interfere with the autonomy of teenagers. Many special courts felt the parties were married, and it would be unfair to punish the man for what appeared to be a consensual relationship.
  • The POCSO’s approach fails to recognise the autonomy and evolving capacity of children, particularly adolescents.
  • Parliament and the Supreme Court need to consider the South African Constitutional Court’s conclusions in Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children v. Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development (2013), in which provisions that criminalised consensual sexual conduct of adolescents between 12 and 16 years were held unconstitutional.
  • At the same time, the government and courts cannot be oblivious to sexual violence within personal relationships. CCL studies show that courts do not consider whether the minor consented freely, or the child was groomed by the accused, or whether the marriage was forced.
  • Demands for strict construction of all sexual contact with children as rape and the blind exemption accorded to sexual violence within marriage are both incompatible with the constitutional guarantee of a right to life of dignity and protection against violence.
  • An acceptable exception would only be one that is premised on respect for adolescent children’s right to physical integrity and freedom of expression with safeguards against grooming, force, coercion, and exploitation.

Sensitive blood test to detect cancer

  • Stanford scientists have developed a low-cost and highly sensitive blood test that may quickly detect cancer growth and spread.
  • The test called single colour digital PCR can detect genetic mutations in minute amounts of DNA released from cancer cells into the blood.
  • The test requires only a fraction of a tube of blood and can detect as few as three mutation-bearing molecules in a single reaction, researchers said. It has the potential to be personalised to recognise mutations unique to any individual cancer.
  • The test’s rapid turnaround provides a potential opportunity for universal monitoring of more patients than is currently done, said Hanlee P. Ji, associate professor at Stanford University.

SC for videotaping of court proceedings

  • A Supreme Court Bench has mooted the possibility of having audio and video recordings of proceedings in the constitutional courts — the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
  • A Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit said judges in other countries do not consider recording of proceedings as a violation of privacy of court proceedings. The Bench observed orally that the U.S. Supreme Court has video and audio recordings of its proceedings.
  • The discussion with Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh came during the hearing of a petition filed by Pradyuman Bisht for installing CCTV cameras in criminal courts as a measure to ensure fair trial.
  • On March 28, the Supreme Court directed that at least “two districts in every State/Union Territory, CCTV cameras (without audio recording) may be installed inside the courts…” “We make it clear that the footage of the CCTV camera will not be available under the RTI [Act] and will not be supplied to anyone without permission of the High Court concerned,” the Supreme Court had ordered.
  • Mr. Singh submitted that 12 High Courts had already installed cameras in two districts, while others were in the process of doing so.

Largest volcanic region on earth lies in Antarctica

  • The largest volcanic region on Earth — with nearly 100 volcanoes — has been discovered two km below the surface of the vast ice sheet in west Antarctica.
  • Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Britain found a staggering 91 previously unknown volcanoes, adding to the 47 others that had been discovered over the previous century of exploring the region.
  • The height of these newly discovered volcanoes range from 100 to 3,850 metres, with the highest almost as tall as Switzerland’s 3,970-metre Eiger mountain.
  • These active peaks are concentrated in a region known as the west Antarctic rift system — which stretches 3,500 km from Antarctica’s Ross ice shelf to the Antarctic peninsula. Geologists say this huge region is likely to dwarf east Africa’s volcanic ridge — currently rated as the densest concentration of volcanoes in the world.
  • “If one of these volcanoes were to erupt it could further destabilise west Antarctica’s ice sheets. Anything that causes the melting of ice, which an eruption certainly would, is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea,

LA tests a ‘cool’ pavement paint

  • Can a splash of grey pavement paint help combat global warming? In Los Angeles, where summer temperatures regularly surpass 38 degrees Celsius, workers are coating streets in special grey treatments in a bid to do just that.
  • Normal black asphalt absorbs 80 to 95% of sunlight, while the grey “cool pavement” reflects it — dramatically lowering ground temperature and reducing urban street heat, advocates of the method say.

Ignoring the science behind encephalitis deaths

  • Sometime last week, dozens of seriously-ill children at Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital were starved of oxygen from the ventilators that were keeping them alive. News reports say this happened because the hospital didn’t pay its oxygen vendor.
  • This image of babies being suffocated because someone didn’t get their cash is an obscene one.

Unusual suspect

  • But the story of why the babies were in the hospital in the first place is equally worrying — it’s one of medical researchers not looking beyond the obvious while investigating the three-decade old scourge at Gorakhpur.
  • Even though this recurring epidemic has killed over 5,000 people since 2010, its primary cause wasn’t identified until early this year.
  • Now, researchers have learnt that a majority of the children being admitted to BRD have scrub typhus — a mite-borne disease endemic in Uttar Pradesh. Because they weren’t treated during early stages of the disease, the scrub typhus triggered brain inflammation, which can be very hard to cure.
  • This means that the children at the hospital didn’t have much of a chance anyway — a fact the Yogi Adityanath government is citing as a defence of its incompetence.
  • The confused history of research into the Gorakhpur pestilence begins in 1978, when the epidemic first broke out. Within a few years, doctors at the sentinel hospital confirmed that the outbreak of encephalitis, or brain inflammation, was mainly due to the Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus.
  • Today, researchers suspect that Japanese encephalitis wasn’t the only cause even then. Scrub typhus was hiding in the encephalitis burden during the seventies as well.

Why did it take so long to pinpoint scrub typhus?

  • First, because we were too focused on the usual suspects to look beyond them. Over the past few decades, organisations such as the National Institute of Virology and the National Centre for Disease Control, visited BRD Hospital repeatedly and ran lab tests for dozens of pathogens known to cause encephalitis, such as enteroviruses, the chikungunya, herpes simplex and dengue viruses, and the malaria parasite.
  • But researchers say this was the wrong approach. The scientists should have studied the symptoms of each patient in detail, logging data such as the length of fever before encephalitis, and involvement of organs other than the brain, like the liver and the spleen.
  • These symptoms would have revealed that the epidemic wasn’t due to typical viruses, but the scrub-typhus bacterium that is not known to trigger encephalitis outbreaks.
  • Instead, the focus remained on lab testing, allowing the disease to continue killing, unseen.
  • The second lapse was that the Uttar Pradesh administration wasn’t listening to the scientists, who were finding that the Gorakhpur outbreak had changed over the years.
  • Once Japanese Encephalitis vaccinations began in 2007, incidence of this disease at the hospital fell to less than 20%, but encephalitis cases kept coming. It was obvious to researchers that something other than Japanese encephalitis was at work.
  • For a brief period, doctors at BRD suspected that enteroviruses, a class of viruses to which the poliovirus belongs, were the top cause for the epidemic. But research didn’t bear out this suspicion either.
  • Yet, even today, the Yogi Adityanath government is talking of poor sanitation as the reason behind the pestilence at the hospital (enteroviruses spread through contaminated water). And while pushing Japanese encephalitis vaccination campaigns is crucial, as the government is doing, this won’t make a dent in the hospital’s burden.

The government can’t ignore the science for a number of reasons.

  • First, it’s going to take a miraculous effort by the government to weed out scrub typhus in the State. Most patients who develop fever, the first sign of scrub typhus, go to private healthcare practitioners and not government hospitals. So, these private practitioners, many of whom aren’t medically qualified, must be targeted in training programmes. Unless they suspect scrub typhus in children and treat it before it advances to encephalitis, children will keep coming to BRD. The hospital will be able to do precious little then.
  • The real danger is that if the government ignores scrub typhus, children will continue to die, and we’ll never know if the science pointing to scrub typhus bears out. Dumping the hypothesis without testing it fully is the most criminal thing the administration can do. But Yogi Adityanath’s statements to the media raise the very real fear that this will happen.

Rain triggers flash floods in Bihar

  • Heavy rain in the last three days triggered flash floods in parts of Bihar, where 41 people have died so far, and inundated large areas in Assam and North Bengal, paralysing normal life and snapping rail link to the Northeast from the rest of the country.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh too, the flood situation continued to be grim in several districts with recurring landslips disrupting road traffic.
  • In Assam, floods claimed three more lives, taking the toll this season to 102.
  • With the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam getting submerged, rhinos and other animals have taken shelter on the highlands. Hence patrolling has been intensified as poachers could take advantage of the situation

Centre likely to differ with J&K on Article 35A

  • The Centre is likely to take a divergent opinion from that of the Jammu and Kashmir government on Article 35A, on the grounds that it discriminates against women who marry outside the State from applying for jobs or buying property, which is in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution
  • Article 14 says: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
  • There were apprehensions that any adverse order against the provision could give the separatists a chance to stoke violence in the Valley.
  • The Supreme Court is hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition challenging the constitutional validity of Article 35A, which prohibits a non-Jammu and Kashmir resident from buying property in the State and ensures job reservation for residents.

High Court order

  • A 2002 order by the J&K High Court in the State of Jammu and Kashmir Versus Dr. Sushila Sawhney and Others had said that the daughter of a permanent resident marrying a person outside the State would not lose the status of permanent resident of J&K.
  • Article 35A was a provision that had been inserted in the Constitution through a “presidential order”, and it was not ratified by Parliament. There was an option with the Centre to ratify the provision by sending it to Parliament

To be decided by Constitution Bench

  • The question whether Article 35A, relating to special rights and privileges of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, is ultra vires of the Constitution or not is likely to head for a decision before a five-judge Constitution Bench.  Article 35A also empowers the State’s legislature to frame any law without attracting a challenge on grounds of violating the Right to Equality of people from other States or any other right under the Constitution.
  • The indication that the constitutionality of Article 35A will be under scrutiny came from a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar while hearing a petition filed by Charu Wali Khanna, who has challenged the Article as well as Section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution, which deal with the permanent residents’ status in J&K.
  • The petition said Article 35A protects certain provisions of the J&K Constitution which denies property rights to native women who marry from outside the State. The denial of these rights extend to her children also.
  • Section 6 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution restricts the basic right of women to marry a man of their choice by not giving the heirs any right to property if the woman marries a man not holding the Permanent Resident Certificate. Her children are denied a permanent resident certificate thereby considering them illegitimate — not given any right to such a woman’s property even if she is a permanent resident of Jammu and Kashmir
  • The court tagged the petition along with another filed by NGO We the Citizens challenging Article 35A.
  • The NGO’s petition contended that the State’s special autonomous status under Articles 35A and 370, was discriminatory against non-residents as far as government jobs and real estate purchases are concerned.

Dissent on quota for orphans among OBCs

  • Two out of five members of the National Commission for Backward Classes whose term has now expired have appended a dissent note to an advice by the commission that orphans and destitute children who are enjoying reservations in Telangana and two other States be included in the Central list of Other Backward Classes for all States and Union Territories.
  • Instead, they suggested that the inclusion can only be for Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan where this section is included among State BCs.
  • The advisory of the commission to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in October last year has been referred to the Ministry of Women and Child Development for comments
  • The commission headed by former Judge of Andhra Pradesh V. Eashwaraiah took the view “orphans and destitute children who have lost their parents before reaching the age of ten and are destitute and who have nobody else to take care of them either by law or custom and who are admitted to any of the schools or orphanages either run or recognised by the government be included in the Central list of OBCs for all States/Union Territories”.
  • It was on the basis of a letter from the Member-Secretary of the commission in May 2015 that the State government issued an order in September that year including orphans and destitute children among BCs in Group ‘A’ at serial number 55.
  • The commission sent the letter on the basis of a proposal by Tamil Nadu government seeking inclusion of orphans and destitute children in the Central list of OBCs.

NOTA option to stay in Rajya Sabha polls

  • The ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) option will remain on the ballot paper in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections.
  • The Supreme Court rejected the Gujarat Congress’s plea to freeze the NOTA option for elections to the three Rajya Sabha seats in the State on August 8.
  • The plea raised the concern that MLAs could defy the party whip and invalidate their votes by opting for NOTA.
  • The court, however, issued notice to the Election Commission of India, saying the poll body should be heard in detail as any judicial decision on NOTA may have a ripple effect on elections conducted from January 24, 2014, to the present day.

Tiruchi fifth best among non-metro airports: Survey

  • The Tiruchi airport has been ranked fifth best among non-metro airports in the country in a nation-wide customer satisfaction survey conducted this year. It has emerged on top among non-metro airports managed by Airports Authority of India (AAI) in the southern region this time.
  • The survey was carried out by engaging an agency selected by AAI from January to June. The team inspected various airports and ascertained feedback from passengers. It was conducted for a week at Tiruchi airport in May.
  • Various parameters were set to rate the airports which included cleanliness, toilet facilities, car parking, trolley facility, speed of immigration authorities and customs, other infrastructure facilities and staff behaviour.
  • Questionnaires were circulated to passengers and feedback obtained from them. It was compiled to arrive at the rating.

Bengaluru prison has three doctors for 4,400 inmates

  • Many prisoners in the overcrowded facility suffer from chronic ailments
  • Bengaluru Central Prison, which has a capacity for a little more than 2,000 inmates but is housing double the number of prisoners, does not have adequate medical facilities. There are only three medical officers — a psychiatrist, a chief medical officer and an assistant medical officer — to see to the health of approximately 4,400 inmates. They are assisted by three paramedical staff.
  • A team of doctors from the State Health Department, who conducted a medical check-up on Thursday, reported that 36 inmates are HIV+ and are on antiretroviral therapy; 12 have advanced tuberculosis, 60 suffer from epilepsy, and 140 are psychiatric patients.
  • The medical infrastructure is not enough, said senior prisons officials. The 100-bed prison hospital is currently treating 200 patients for various ailments.
  • To help them out, convicts who have a record of good behaviour are assigned duties at the medical centre within the prison premises.