Selected Articles from Various News Paper: Civil Services Mentor Magazine - April 2015

Selected Articles from Various Newspapers & Journals

Gendered approach to sterilisation

In just less than a month after the Centre announced an ‘Enhanced Compensation Scheme’ for sterilisation services in 11 States having high Total Fertility Rates (TFR), more than 13 women lost their lives following botched up surgeries in a medical camp in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh. There seemed no apparent urgency to organize the sterilisation camp other than to meet the ‘targets’ set by the State government and the enhanced compensation, perhaps, was an incentive for the young women. But just that in India sterilisation, somehow, is understood as a permanent method of contraception only for women — safe and simple. Official statistics suggest that the governments — both at the Centre and States — promote female sterilisation disproportionately. Of the total sterilisations performed in 2012-13, as many as 97.4 per cent were tubectomy procedures. Similarly, an analysis by non-governmental organization suggests that in 2013-14, India spent 85 per cent of its family planning expenditure on sterilisation, the beneficiaries of which were mostly women.

On October 20 this year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare decided to enhance compensation for sterilisations for 11 States which were one of the “main interventions’’ under the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child Health plus Adolescent (RMNCH+A) programme launched to meet the millennium development goals. It also added a new component of Post Partum Sterilisation (PPS) — done soon after delivery or within 7 days — to the package for which an extra amount of Rs.3,000 would be given, of which the woman would get Rs 2,200. This was in addition to the hiked compensation of Rs.1,400 from the earlier Rs.600, but restricted for women who came to the public facility for delivery. For vasectomy, the compensation has been hiked from Rs.1,100 to Rs.2,000. These States are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Assam, Haryana and Gujarat.

An analysis done by the Population Council of India, Family Planning Association of India, Parivar Sewa Sansthan, and Common Health in a report on ‘Robbed of Choice and Dignity: Indian Women Dead after Mass Sterilisation’ suggests that in 2013-14, India spent 85 per cent of its family planning expenditure on sterilisation. In 2013-14, India spent Rs.396.97 crore on female sterilisation with the procedure being performed on over 39 lakh women. A chunk of this money — Rs.324.49 crore — was spent on incentives and compensation, and Rs.14.42 crore on the camps themselves. The amount spent as compensation was two-and-half times the untied grants given to Primary Health Centres for infrastructure strengthening. Less than 1.5 per cent of the annual expenditure on family planning went towards spacing methods and the remaining 1.5 per cent was spent on equipment, transport, IEC activities and staff expenses, it said.

“Sterilisation, particularly tubectomy, has been vigorously promoted and pushed by the state through centrally- decided targets and on a mass scale through a camp approach, largely disregarding other currently available methods such as condoms, oral pills, IUDs,’’ suggests a fact-finding report on the sterilisation tragedy brought out by the Jan Swasthya Abhiya, Sama — the Resource Group for Women and the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights. Sterilisation constitutes 75 per cent of India’s total contraceptive use, which is the highest anywhere in the world. From the mid-1980s, the numbers of tubectomies have risen steeply and on average 4.5 million surgeries are performed each year.

Hasty changes in land law

When a law is enacted after considerable debate and consultation, it will be wise to study the experience of its implementation for some time before it is amended, in order to address perceived difficulties. Any such amendment within the first year of its entry into force, especially one pushed through as an ordinance, will be inevitably perceived as hasty, even if on the positive side it is meant to eliminate delays in land acquisition. In this backdrop, the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, is bound to face criticism that the changes constitute a significant dilution of a progressive law. The Congress and the Left parties are likely to oppose the changes when the law comes to Parliament in the form of a bill to replace the ordinance. In substance, the ordinance makes a significant change by omitting in respect of a wide range of projects the requirements of a social impact assessment study, the informed consent of a large section of the families affected by the acquisition of land. These projects include those that are vital to national security and defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and housing for the poor, besides industrial corridors and infrastructure and social infrastructure projects. The vital element of making acquisition a consultative and participative process may thus be subject to bureaucratic discretion.

The principle of ‘eminent domain’, which justifies the compulsory acquisition of land by the state for a public purpose, normally ought to be accompanied by a duty to give fair compensation. However, the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 had in effect reduced compensation to a mere token in relation to the market value, and for decades it was used to deprive many, mostly farmers, of their land for a pittance. Last year’s law radically altered this relationship between citizen and state and created a fair compensation right, as well as a new structure for rehabilitation and resettlement. It also cast a duty on the government to create specified amenities in every resettlement area. Thankfully, the ordinance does not dilute these provisions, but additionally extends them to a list of Acts that were previously exempted. However, this is not its own contribution, as the original Act itself said such a provision shall be enacted within a year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has projected the amendments as those that strengthen protection for the affected families and also removes difficulties in implementation. Perhaps the regime’s intentions could have been better understood had the changes been introduced as a bill in Parliament and referred to a committee for appraisal.

Why India needs a conservation act

I have just returned from an extended tour of our jungles where, as usual, much is being spoken; little is being done to conserve our wilderness. While camping near the Corbett National Park, our cook, also the village leader, was called in every night to help with the elephant menace in his hamlet. He narrated numerous stories of tigers killing humans. Most kills were recent. The so-called man-animal conflict was at its worst and even the forests where I work in southern India we were seeing a spate of escalating conflicts between local people and officials. This got me thinking. Was something seriously amiss with our wilderness policies? On further thought, the answer dawned on me. India does not have its own standalone conservation act. We have the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972; why did we choose not to have the Wildlife (Conservation) Act of 1972 instead? The first thing that comes to mind is that in conservation one needs to be in constant dialogue with all the players, and certainly our forest officials want no such thing. Dialogue makes one answerable, vulnerable and transparent, actions alien if not loathsome to officials. Conservation is solely achieved through building trust and respect with all parties concerned. Though transparent dialogue is a crucial part of that trust-building process, the people living near our protected forests are not in dialogue with the officials. This has led to a severe conflict.

‘Protection’ has a very minor but essential part in effective ‘Conservation’. ‘Conservation’ comes first, followed by ‘Protection’. Wherever conservation fails, protection is supposed to kick in. That’s the way it is the world over, except India. When the African countries can have their own conservation laws, why in heavens name doesn’t India have one which stands on its own two feet? Instead of a Wildlife Conservation Act, we have a National Tiger Conservation Authority tucked away, hidden deep in the recess of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. But it has only a handful of pages that make a veiled attempt to address the term ‘conservation’. Further, protection is an exclusionary form of management that pushes people away. After more than six decades of Independence, it’s clear that we need to embrace the people living around our protected forests and convert them from being a liability to an asset. Only conservation can do that, not protection. Since 1947, officials and locals have drifted apart at an alarming rate and today a chasm exists between them. This has led to severe conflict. There being no effective dialogue between them, locals in general believe officials to be corrupt and officials on their part think most locals to be smugglers and poachers. This further escalates the conflict.
We have arrived at this alarming situation because it takes 10 to 15 years, if not a couple of generations, to start the dialogue process leading to effective conservation. Our officers hold their posts for but a couple of years, and fail to share the larger vision. Also because the process of dialogue and trust-building that feeds conservation at most times remains intangible, most funding towards wildlife management gets funnelled into protection. Efforts in any protection activity are tangible and can be measured for the disbursement of funds — examples are anti-poaching camps, vehicles, arms, fences, trenches, roads, fire lines, staff quarters and so on.

Conservation acts suffer because they cannot be measured thus. Conservation can best be described as the ‘human’s ethical pursuit of letting things be in nature’. This natural balance is difficult to maintain as man interferes with nature without truly understanding the consequences. Sadly, whenever man plays god he destroys without having the power to recreate. The writing is on the wall. Forest officials must stop hiding behind the so-called man-animal conflict and the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. If we are to conserve our wilderness, we need a hard-hitting yet sensitive conservation act that also addresses, as an integral part of conservation, the local people-authority conflict upfront.

Arbitrary use of power

The Union government recently blocked 32 websites, including globally popular ones such as Vimeo, GitHub, Dailymotion and that support data-archiving, video-sharing and software development, evoking serious questions and criticism. The action was sought to be justified on the grounds that these websites were being used for “Jihadi Propaganda” by “Anti-National groups” encouraging Indian youth to join organisations such as Islamic State (IS). Such a justification may in principle seem reasonable, yet it does not instil confidence in citizens given the weak track record of Internet regulation and a deficient legal framework coupled with the arbitrary use of state power. Following the arrest of Bengaluru-based Mehdi Biswas, suspected of operating a pro-IS Twitter account, the government officially banned IS in India only last month. A 2012 United Nations report titled “The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes”, warns of terror groups using the Internet for their “propaganda”. For instance, al-Qaeda uses the Internet to announce its latest attacks and strategic alliances, promote its interests and so on. Robert Hannigan, from the Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K., spoke in an interview about how IS uses popular hashtags to boost its viewership, sending “thousands of tweets a day without triggering spam controls”. Undoubtedly, terrorists use technology with some level of sophistication.

The scepticism is with regard to implementation rather than the principle behind the action. First, the government invoked Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and relevant “Blocking Rules” were framed under it to take down the sites. These provisions, the constitutionality of which is under challenge in the Supreme Court, are riddled with vagueness and are open to arbitrary use. Second, reasonable restriction on free speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution is to be interpreted to include only cases where there is a direct relation between the offending speech and public disorder or national security. But in blocking URLs, the government speaks of not just content that poses a direct threat to public order and security, but also the spread of “propaganda” — which is a perilously vague term with the potential to impinge on fundamental rights. Third, blocking websites is rarely an effective method to curb terror activities. Competent users can circumvent with ease such restrictions through Proxies and Virtual Private Networks. Instead of blocking websites outright, a more coordinated public-private dialogue should be the way ahead. Giving national security precedence over all else, including fundamental rights, is an often-exploited narrative that needs to be closely scrutinised, without reducing this scrutiny to a “with us-or-against us” logic.

Courtesy: Various News Papers

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