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Will SC end personal laws’ immunity?

News:

The Supreme Court’s judgment on the constitutionality of triple talaq may also decide the age-old debate whether personal laws can be brought under the ambit of Article 13 (laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights) of the Constitution.

Beyond News:

Whats the claim of Muslims?

While the All India Muslim Personal Law Board ( AIMPLB) has argued that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to strike down provisions of personal law, organisations calling for reform and Muslim women from various walks of life across the country have urged the court to declare triple talaq and polygamy as “un-Islamic”.

  • This is the first time that aggrieved persons — individual Muslim women — themselves have approached the apex court in person to settle the law on whether religious law is immune from constitutional standards enshrined under fundamental rights.

Article 13:

  • Article 13 includes in its ambit any “ordinance, order, by-law, rule, regulation, notification and even customs and usages” passed or made by the Legislature or any other “competent authority”.
  • It mandates that any law in force in the country before or after the commencement of Constitution should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in Part III.
  • A judicial declaration from a Constitution Bench under Article 13 that personal laws are liable to comply with the fundamental rights guaranteed by Constitution would bring religious law, even uncodified practices, under judicial review.

{Op-Ed}Derailed priorities

News:
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu took several Rail Bhawan mandarins to task within hours of the latest tragedy on the tracks.

Beyond News:

  • Thirteen coaches of the Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express derailed at Khatauli, near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, killing at least 23 people.
  • A portion of the track had been disjointed and was being welded in order to be put back in place as part of ‘routine maintenance’.
  • Reposing confidence in the inquiry process may appear difficult as the CRS is yet to conclude its investigation into one of the deadliest railway mishaps in the past decade: the Indore-Patna Express crash near Kanpur last November, that killed 152 passengers.
  • That process may have been muddied by suggestions of sabotage, from the highest levels of government, and accountability is yet to be fixed.
  • But in Khatauli, evidence is available of serious lapses, including an audio recording of railway officers conceding bungling over the maintenance work.

What next?

  • Two engineers have been suspended, another has been transferred, and three top officials, including a Railway Board member in charge of engineering and tracks, have been asked to go on leave as ‘exemplary punishment’.
  • Action against Railway Board members is rare, and this sends out a strong signal. However, it is no substitute for a larger course correction.

Reasons for frequent incidents:

  • Nearly 70% of the 303 rail accidents reported between 2012-13 and 2015-16 were caused by carelessness of railway staff, which includes shortcuts in maintenance work and failure to heed safety norms.
  • The Railways has over 1.14 lakh km of tracks, but their renewal, the Ministry told the Parliamentary Committee on Railways, depends on the financial resources allotted in a given year rather than the length of tracks that need refreshing.
  • A five-year corporate safety plan, first announced in the Rail Budget for 2015-16, has been drafted, but is yet to be approved.

215 animals, including 13 rhinos, killed in Kaziranga

News:

Flood in kaziranga resulted in submerging of 70% area.

Beyond News:

  • With 70% of its area still submerged, 215 animals including 13 rhinos and a Royal Bengal Tiger have so far lost their lives at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
  • Due to the flooding, the animals at the UNESCO World Heritage Site are facing food shortage within the park, compelling them to go out to the nearby hills, tea gardens and even human habitations in search of food, KNP Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Rohoni Ballav Saikia said here.
  • As the flood water from the national park recedes, the carcasses of animals were being recovered from its four ranges.

China to relaunch one of world’s fastest bullet trains

News:

After cutting back the speed of the Beijing to Shanghai bullet train following a deadly crash, China is set to again make it one of the world’s fastest.

Beyond News:

  • New generation trains will service the route starting next month, making the 1,250-km journey from the capital to Shanghai in just 4 hours, 30 minutes.
  • The latest trains were unveiled in June and have a top speed of 400 kmph.
  • China first ran trains at 350 kmph in August 2008, but cut speeds back to 250 – 300 kmph in 2011 following a train collision near the city of Wenzhou that killed 40 people and injured 191.
  • China has laid more than 20,000 km of high-speed rail, with a target of adding another 10,000 km by 2020.
  • China has spent an estimated $360 billion on high-speed rail, building by far the largest network in the world.

Trump set to announce new Afghan policy

News:

  • President Donald Trump will announce his new strategy for Afghanistan — which his administration now calls a South Asia strategy — on Monday night during an address to the nation, the White House has announced.

Beyond News:

  • Mr. Trump will “provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement in Afghanistan and South Asia,” a statement from the White House said.
  • Defense Secretary James Mattis said the President has taken the “strategic decisions,” and the Pentagon would follow it up once it is announced.

[Op-Ed]Rebooting India-Nepal ties

  • Nepal is run by a revolving door of political leaders who have weakened the polity and economy over the years, but who did battle the odds to promulgate a new Constitution.
  • India, meanwhile, has a Chief Minister-turned-Prime Minister who has had to learn geopolitics on the job.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have realised the limits of optics in geopolitics, and Nepal serves as a marker of adventurism gone awry.
  • With global geopolitics on the boil, and the Hindi-Chini relationship in free fall, it should be in India’s interest to secure its own neighborhood, and that can only be through letting national politics and governance of the smaller neighbours evolve without interference.

[Op-Ed]Newsrooms under siege

  • Public discourse on the media’s ills through the media is relatively rare.
  • The fourth estate of the world’s largest democracy is fast acquiring a dark underbelly which threatens the vibrancy of democracy itself.
  • Threats to press freedom are far greater from within than from without.
  • Paid news is no more a phrase elite national English newspapers condescendingly used to describe malpractices in small Hindi or regional language newspapers.
  • “Advertorial” is the new sophisticated catchphrase to legitimise and blur the distinction between reportage and paid content.
  • Bribed reporters, ferociously lobbying senior editors and highly politically biased journalists and anchors preach to us every day as “independent” voices, in both the print and visual media.

Recasting the steel frame

  • It is impossible to run a 21st century economy with a 19th century bureaucracy using 18th century rules.
  • The “New India” that is under way also needs independence from bad bureaucracy, not necessarily from all bureaucracy, for any state would need to be run by some set of rules, by some set of people — call them by any name you wish.
  • The minute you say banish all bureaucracy, there will begin a chorus claiming nepotism, politicisation, lack of transparency and accountability, and the need for an umpire and a strong catalyst of change — which is what the higher civil service ought to be in the first place.
  • The civil services need to bring about three fundamental changes, some of which are already under way under the new dispensation.
  • First, specific clauses under All India Services and Central Services Conduct Rules have been invoked to sack officers on grounds of incompetence and/or corruption.
  • The rules always existed in the rule book but this government has had the courage to use it in public interest and more will follow soon.
  • The black sheep should be identified and sent home, with public opprobrium.

Prison and privilege

News:
The Karnataka government has ordered an inquiry headed by Vinay Kumar, a retired bureaucrat, into irregularities in the prison, while the Anti-Corruption Bureau is examining the corruption charges.

Beyond News:

  • These investigations should not be mere formalities as prison corruption poses a great danger to society.
  • It is not only influential politicians but also offenders jailed for serious charges, such as Abdul Karim Telgi, the kingpin of the stamp paper racket that rocked the country over a decade ago, who are the beneficiaries of a suborned system.
  • Overcrowding, ill-treatment, lack of infrastructure and inadequate facilities are some of the problems that the country’s prison system has been facing for years.
  • In recent years, newer vices have been added to the list of problems: availability of drugs, for instance, and access to mobile phones to prisoners to beat the communication protocol.
  • Any inquiry into Ms. Roopa’s charges cannot be limited to the facilities that one or two prisoners may enjoy, but should comprehensively address all these issues.
  • Failure to curb the illegal facilities allowed to some prisoners will ultimately lead to the loss of whatever deterrent value a jail term has.
  • To paraphrase Shakespeare, one must not make “a scarecrow of the law” that is set up to scare away birds, but lets “custom make it their perch and not their terror”.

Diversity in Delhi Police

News:

With a strength of 76,348 personnel, as of January 2016, Delhi Police is one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world.

Beyond News:

  • As it is responsible for a diverse population of 1.68 crore (2011 census), it too needs to be diverse, inclusive, and sensitive to the people it serves.
  • Yet, over the past two decades, despite the city seeing extensive migration from Bihar, Punjab, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and the Northeastern States, among others, the recruitment at the lower and middle levels in the force has mainly been from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.

Statistics: 

  • Affirmative policies are on paper: there is 15% reservation for Scheduled Castes, 7.5% reservation for Scheduled Tribes, 27% for Other Backward Classes, and 33% for women. Currently, there are 11,787 SCs (15.43%), 5,596 STs (7.32%) and 16,416 OBCs (21.5%) in Delhi Police.
  • This means that while the SC and ST quotas are being filled, this is not the case with the OBC quota. Also, there are only 7,004 women in Delhi Police, which is less than 10%. This is woefully low.

Zika comparisons

News:

Clinical studies have already shown that infection of pregnant women by the Asian Zika virus strain, especially during the first and second trimesters, leads to significantly higher foetal anomalies.

Whats new:

  • Now, laboratory studies using blood samples taken from pregnant women in their first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy have confirmed that foetuses are more vulnerable to the Asian strain during the first and second trimester.

A study published on August 21 in the journal, Nature Microbiology, has also found that infection by the Asian strain leads to expression of two genes that are associated with pregnancy-associated complications.

Findings of Experiment:

  • The experimental evidence also strongly suggests that the early stage of pregnancy is a time of “high susceptibility” to the Zika infection.
  • Tested whole blood samples of pregnant and non-pregnant women using both the African and Asian Zika virus strains.
  • While the two strains share closely similarity (90%), the presence of African virus in certain blood cells was much higher than the Asian strain.
  • However, the Asian strain showed greater ability to trigger immune suppression, which allows the virus to replicate and even possibly sneak into the womb and cause more foetal damage.

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