Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Supreme Court’s Abortion Verdict
- Passive Euthanasia
- Electoral Bond
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Supreme Court’s Verdict on Abortion
Context: The Supreme Court in a significant judgment said it is unconstitutional to distinguish between married and unmarried women for allowing termination of pregnancy on certain exceptional grounds when the foetus is between 20-24 weeks. The decision follows an interim order in July by which the court had allowed a 25-year-old woman to terminate her pregnancy. The ruling, incidentally, delivered on World Safe Abortion Day, emphasises female autonomy in accessing abortion.
What is the court’s decision?
- A three-judge Bench framed the interpretation of Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, as per which only some categories of women are allowed to seek termination of pregnancy between 20-24 weeks under certain extraordinary circumstances.
- The challenge to the provision was made by a 25-year-old unmarried woman who moved the court seeking an abortion after the Delhi High Court declined her plea.
- The woman’s case was that she wished to terminate her pregnancy as “her partner had refused to marry her at the last stage”.
- She also argued that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk of grave and immense injury to her mental health. However, the law allowed such change in circumstances only for “marital” relationships.
- The Supreme Court, holding that the law had to be given a purposive interpretation, had allowed the petitioner to terminate her pregnancy in an interim order. However, the larger challenge to the law, which would benefit other women as well, was kept pending.
What does the law on abortion say?
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy by a medical practitioner in two stages.
- After a crucial amendment in 2021, for pregnancies up to 20 weeks, termination is allowed under the opinion of one registered medical practitioner. For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, the Rules attached to the law prescribe certain criteria in terms of who can avail termination. It also requires the opinion of two registered medical practitioners in this case.
- For pregnancies within 20 weeks, termination can be allowed if:
- The continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or
- There is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality.
- The explanation to the provision states that termination within 20 weeks is allowed “where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children or preventing pregnancy, the anguish caused by such pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.
- The phrase “any woman or her partner” was also introduced in 2021 in place of the earlier “married woman or her husband”.
- By eliminating the word “married woman or her husband” from the scheme of the MTP Act, the legislature intended to clarify the scope of Section 3 and bring pregnancies which occur outside the institution of marriage within the protective umbrella of the law.
- For both stages — within 20 weeks and between 20-24 weeks — termination is allowed “where any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by the pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.
Who falls in the category of women allowed to terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks
- For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, Section 3B of the Rules under the MTP Act lists seven categories of women:
- Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;
- Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
- Women with physical disabilities (major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016);
- Mentally ill women including mental retardation;
- The foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped; and
- Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.”
What is the court’s interpretation?
- The court stated that the whole Rule 3B(c) cannot be read in isolation but has to be read together with other sub-clauses under 3B.
- When other sub-clauses do not distinguish between married or unmarried women, for example survivors of sexual assault, minors, etc., only 3B(c) cannot exclude unmarried women, the court held.
- Rule 3B(c) is based on the broad recognition of the fact that a change in the marital status of a woman often leads to a change in her material circumstances.
- A change in material circumstance during the ongoing pregnancy may arise when a married woman divorces her husband or when he dies, as recognized by the examples provided in parenthesis in Rule 3B(c).
- The fact that widowhood and divorce are mentioned in brackets at the tail end of Rule 3B(c) does not hinder our interpretation of the rule because they are illustrative.
- The court also expanded on Rule 3B(a) — “survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest” — to include married women in its ambit. Although it does not have the effect of striking down the marital rape exception under the Indian Penal Code, the ruling said that even women who have suffered “marital assault” can be included under the provision.
- It is not inconceivable that married women become pregnant as a result of their husbands having “raped” them.
What is the effect of the judgment?
- The court’s “purposive interpretation” states that the common thread in Rule 3B is “a change in a woman’s material circumstance”.
- While the ruling recognizes the right of unmarried women, it leaves the enforcement of the right to be decided on a case-to-case basis.
- It is not possible for either the legislature or the courts to list each of the potential events which would qualify as a change of material circumstances.
- Suffice it to say that each case must be tested against this standard with due regard to the unique facts and circumstances that a pregnant woman finds herself in.
- This means the decision will be in the hands of the registered medical practitioners — and if unsatisfied, the woman can approach the court.
2 . Passive Euthanasia
Context: Recently, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India (SC) asked if a single committee of doctors, judicial officers and government officers, as well as the next of kin of a terminally ill person, can sit together and decide the “genuineness and authenticity” of a Living Will. The Bench is considering a plea to modify a 2018 ruling that upheld passive euthanasia and “Living Wills,” but delegated the task of determining the authenticity of the documents to multiple committees, effectively rendering the ruling obsolete and unworkable.
- Active euthanasia occurs when the medical professionals, or another person, deliberately do something that causes the patient to die.
- Passive euthanasia occurs when the patient dies because the medical professionals either don’t do something necessary to keep the patient alive, or when they stop doing something that is keeping the patient alive.
- switch off life-support machines
- disconnect a feeding tube
- don’t carry out a life-extending operation
- don’t give life-extending drugs
Passive Euthanasia in India
- The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment in 2018 allowing “living will” where, an adult in his conscious mind, is permitted to refuse medical treatment or voluntarily decide not to take medical treatment to embrace death in a natural way.
- In the 538-page judgment, the court laid down a set of guidelines for “living will” and defined passive euthanasia and euthanasia as well.
- The court stated the rights of a patient would not fall out of the purview of Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Indian Constitution.
The moral difference between killing and letting die
- Many people make a moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia.
- They think that it is acceptable to withhold treatment and allow a patient to die, but that it is never acceptable to kill a patient by a deliberate act.
- Some medical people like this idea. They think it allows them to provide a patient with the death they want without having to deal with the difficult moral problems they would face if they deliberately killed that person.
There is no real difference
- But some people think this distinction is nonsense, since stopping treatment is a deliberate act, and so is deciding not to carry out a particular treatment.
- Switching off a respirator requires someone to carry out the action of throwing the switch. If the patient dies as a result of the doctor switching off the respirator then although it’s certainly true that the patient dies from lung cancer (or whatever), it’s also true that the immediate cause of their death is the switching off of the breathing machine.
- In active euthanasia the doctor takes an action with the intention that it will cause the patient’s death
- In passive euthanasia the doctor lets the patient die
- When a doctor lets someone die, they carry out an action with the intention that it will cause the patient’s death
- So there is no real difference between passive and active euthanasia, since both have the same result: the death of the patient on humanitarian grounds
- Thus the act of removing life-support is just as much an act of killing as giving a lethal injection.
Key disputes in the controversy over euthanasia
- Killing vs. letting die: There is dispute over whether killing a patient is really any worse than letting the patient die if both result in the same outcome.
- The distinction between killing and letting die is controversial in healthcare because critics charge there is no proper moral basis for the distinction. They say that killing the above patient brings about the same end as letting the patient die. Others object to this and claim that the nature of the act of killing is different than letting die in ways that make it morally wrong.
- Ordinary vs. extraordinary treatment: Ordinary medical treatment includes stopping bleeding, administering pain killers and antibiotics, and setting fractures. But using a mechanical ventilator to keep a patient breathing is sometimes considered extraordinary treatment or care. Some ethicists believe letting a patient die by withholding or withdrawing artificial treatment or care is acceptable but withholding or withdrawing ordinary treatment or care is not. This view is controversial. Some claim the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary treatment is artificial, contrived, vague, or constantly changing as technology progresses
- Death intended vs. anticipated: Some ethicists believe that if a suffering, terminally ill patient dies because of intentionally receiving pain-relieving medications, it makes a difference whether the death itself was intended or merely anticipated. If the death was intended, it is wrong but if the death was anticipated it might be morally acceptable. This reasoning relies on the moral principle called the principle of double effect.
3 . Electoral Bond
Context: Ahead of Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the government approved issuance of 22nd tranche of electoral bonds that will open for sale on October 1. Electoral bonds have been pitched as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties as part of efforts to bring transparency in political funding.
About Electoral Bonds
- Electoral bonds are money instruments like promissory notes that can be bought by companies and individuals in India from the State Bank of India (SBI) and donated to a political party, which can then encash these bonds. The electoral bond does not bear the name of the donor and is, in effect, anonymous.
- The scheme was first announced by former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during the 2017 budget session and was notified in January 2018.
- It was introduced to” cleanse the system of political funding in the country” by eradicating the “menace of unaccounted money coming into the country’s economy through political funding”.
- The government contended that it would make political donations transparent while also protecting the identity of the donor.
- Under the scheme, bonds are available for purchase at any SBI branch in multiples of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹1 lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore and can be bought through a KYC-compliant account.
- There is no limit on the number of electoral bonds that a person or company can purchase.
- Every party registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and having secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or State election has been allotted a verified account by the Election Commission of India. The donor can donate the bond to a party of their choice, which can cash it within 15 days, only through the allotted account.
- The bonds go for sale in 10-day windows in the beginning of every quarter, i.e. in January, April, July and October, besides an additional 30-day period specified by the Central Government during Lok Sabha election years.
Why have electoral bonds attracted criticism?
- The central criticism of the electoral bonds scheme is that it does the exact opposite of what it was meant to do: bring transparency to election funding.
- For example, critics argue that the anonymity of electoral bonds is only for the broader public and opposition parties.
- The fact that such bonds are sold via a government-owned bank (SBI) leaves the door open for the government to know exactly who is funding its opponents.
- This, in turn, allows the possibility for the government of the day to either extort money, especially from the big companies, or victimise them for not funding the ruling party — either way providing an unfair advantage to the party in power.
- Further, one of the arguments for introducing electoral bonds was to allow common people to easily fund political parties of their choice but more than 90% of the bonds have been of the highest denomination (Rs 1 crore).
- Moreover, before the electoral bonds scheme was announced, there was a cap on how much a company could donate to a political party: 7.5 per cent of the average net profits of a company in the preceding three years. However, the government amended the Companies Act to remove this limit, opening the doors to unlimited funding by corporate India.
4 . Facts for Prelims
UNESCO’s iconic Indian Textiles
- UNESCO released a list of 50 exclusive and iconic heritage textile crafts of the country.
- Handmade for the 21st Century: Safeguarding Traditional Indian Textile lists the histories and legends behind the textiles, describes the complicated and secret processes behind their making, mentions the causes for their dwindling popularity, and provides strategies for their preservation.
- According to UNESCO, one of the major challenges to the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the South Asia is the lack of proper inventory and documentation.
- The publication, which aims to bridge this gap, brings together years of research on the 50 selected textiles.
- Toda embroidery and Sungadi from Tamil Nadu, Himroo from Hyderabad, and Bandha tie and dye from Sambalpur in Odisha were some of the textiles that made the cut.
- Textiles documented from north India are Khes from Panipat, Chamba rumals from Himachal Pradesh, Thigma or wool tie and dye from Ladakh, and Awadh Jamdani from Varanasi.
- From the south, Ilkal and Lambadi or Banjara embroidery from Karnataka, Sikalnayakanpet Kalamkari from Thanjavur have been included.
- Kunbi weaves from Goa, Mashru weaves and Patola from Gujarat, Himroo from Maharashtra and Garad-Koirial from West Bengal also find a place among the 50 iconic textiles.
Small saving scheme
- Small savings schemes are designed to provide safe and attractive investment options to the public and at the same time to mobilise resources for development.
- These schemes are operated through about 1.54 lakh post offices throughout the country.
- Public Provident Fund Scheme is also operated through about 8000 branches of public sector banks in addition to the post offices. Deposit Schemes for Retiring Employees are operated through selected branches of public sector banks only.
- The Centre announced increases of 0.1-0.3 percentage points in interest rates payable on five small savings instruments (SSIs) including the Kisan Vikas Patra, Senior Citizens’ Savings scheme and time deposits for 2 and 3 years, for the quarter beginning October 1, marking the first increase in small savings rates since January 2019.
Pacific nation islands
- Pacific Islands, island geographic region of the Pacific Ocean.
- It comprises three ethnogeography groupings—Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia—but conventionally excludes the neighbouring island continent of Australia, the Asia-related Indonesian, Philippine, and Japanese archipelagoes, and the Ryukyu, Bonin, Volcano, and Kuril Island arcs that project seaward from Japan.
- Fifteen Pacific Island countries and areas are included in the Country Cooperation Strategy for the Pacific Island Countries.
- They are the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna. Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are classified as least-developed countries. New Zealand is a developed country.
- The remaining countries and areas are classified as developing countries.
- These countries and areas are characterized by small populations, remote locations, high telecommunications and transportation costs, and poor infrastructure.
- The total population in the region in only 6.6 million and 35%–45% of the population are under 14 years of age.
- In most countries, a democratic style of government co-exists with traditional social systems.
- Many economies rely on a single or just a few commodities. Large proportions of the populations are engaged in subsistence agriculture, and the public sector remains the largest employer in many countries.
Sovereign gold bond
- Sovereign Gold Bond Scheme was launched by Govt in November 2015, under Gold Monetisation Scheme.
- SGBs are government securities denominated in grams of gold. They are substitutes for holding physical gold. Investors have to pay the issue price in cash and the bonds will be redeemed in cash on maturity. The Bond is issued by Reserve Bank on behalf of Government of India.
- The quantity of gold for which the investor pays is protected, since he receives the ongoing market price at the time of redemption/ premature redemption.
- The SGB offers a superior alternative to holding gold in physical form. The risks and costs of storage are eliminated. Investors are assured of the market value of gold at the time of maturity and periodical interest.
- SGB is free from issues like making charges and purity in the case of gold in jewellery form. The bonds are held in the books of the RBI or in demat form eliminating risk of loss of scrip etc.
- Eligibility: Persons resident in India as defined under Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 are eligible to invest in SGB. Eligible investors include individuals, HUFs, trusts, universities and charitable institutions. Individual investors with subsequent change in residential status from resident to non-resident may continue to hold SGB till early redemption/maturity.
- Joint holding is allowed. The application on behalf of the minor has to be made by his/her guardian.
- Limit: The Bonds are issued in denominations of one gram of gold and in multiples thereof. Minimum investment in the Bond shall be one gram with a maximum limit of subscription of 4 kg for individuals, 4 kg for Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) and 20 kg for trusts and similar entities notified by the government from time to time per fiscal year (April – March).
- In the case of joint holding, the limit applies to the first applicant. The annual ceiling will include bonds subscribed to under different tranches during initial issuance by the Government and those purchased from the secondary market. The ceiling on investment will not include the holdings as collateral by banks and other Financial Institutions