Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021: Ecologists oppose changes to Biological Diversity Act, 2002
The Government of India has introduced the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill, 2021, in the Lok Sabha.
What is the purpose of the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021?
The Bill seeks to amend the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 with the aim of reducing the compliance burden and facilitating investment.
What are the key provisions of the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021?
– Firstly, it exempts registered AYUSH medical practitioners and people accessing codified traditional knowledge among others from giving prior intimation to State biodiversity boards for accessing biological resources for certain purposes.
– Secondly, the Bill exempts cultivated medicinal plants from the purview of the Act.
– Thirdly, the bill facilitates fast-tracking of research, and patent application process.
– Fourthly, violations of the law related to access to biological resources and benefit-sharing with communities that are currently treated as criminal offences and are non-bailable have been proposed to be made civil offences.
What are the criticisms against the Biological Diversity Amendment Bill 2021?
It prioritises intellectual property and commercial trade at the expense of the Act’s key aim of conserving biological resources.It does not mention any provision for protecting, conservation of biodiversity or increasing local communities’ stake in sustainable use.It mainly intends to focus on benefits to the Ayush Industry. It would also pave the way for “biopiracy”.
Lok Sabha passes Bill to regulate assisted reproductive technology
Lok Sabha has passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021.
What is Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021?
Aim: To regulate and supervise assisted reproductive technology clinics and banks, prevent misuse of the technology and promote the ethical practice of the services.
Note: Assisted reproductive technology(ART) includes medical procedures used primarily to address infertility. Examples of ART services include gamete (sperm or oocyte) donation, in-vitro-fertilisation (fertilising an egg in the lab) and gestational surrogacy (the child is not biologically related to the surrogate mother).
What are the key provisions of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021?
Regulation of ART Clinics: The Bill provides for the establishment of the National Registry of Clinics and Banks, which will act as a central database for details of all the clinics and banks in the country. The Registry will grant registration to ART clinics which will be valid for five years and can be renewed for a further five years. Registration may be cancelled or suspended if the entity contravenes the provisions of the Bill.
National and State Boards: The Bill also provides for the establishment of National and State Boards for Surrogacy for the regulation of ART services. The National Board shall advise the Central Government on policy matters relating to assisted reproductive technology.
Rules for ART service providers: ART procedures can only be carried out with the written informed consent of both the person seeking ART services as well as the gamete donor.
Rights of a Child Born through ART: The Bill provides that the child born through assisted reproductive technology shall be deemed to be a biological child of the commissioning couple and the said child shall be entitled to all the rights and privileges available to a natural child only from the commissioning couple under any law for the time being in force.
Offences: Offences under the bill include clinics offering sex selection, abandoning or exploiting children born through ART, the selling, buying, or importing of human embryos and exploiting the couple or donors concerned in any form. Proposed jail terms for violations range from five to 12 years, and fines from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh.
What are the issues with the Bill?
Firstly, the Bill doesn’t include lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people (LGBTQ) or single men for exercising the right of ART.
Secondly, the Government should consider supporting poor childless parents to take ART’s help.
Candy sticks to earbuds: Govt bans single-use plastic from 2022
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
Main Purpose of the Rules:
The rules aim to prohibit the use of specific single-use plastic items which have “low utility and high littering potential” by 2022.
Key Provisions of the Rules:
Range of Plastics Banned:
- The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of the following single-use plastic commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022:
- Earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [Thermocol] for decoration;
- Plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.
The thickness of Plastic bags:
- The permitted thickness of the plastic bags, currently 50 microns, will be increased to 75 microns from 30th September 2021, and to 120 microns from 31st December 2022.
- This is because plastic bags with higher thickness are more easily handled as waste and have higher recyclability.
Plastic Wastes not banned:
- Compostable Plastics: The ban will not apply to commodities made of compostable plastic.
- Instead of using plastic made from petrochemicals and fossil fuels, compostable plastics are derived from renewable materials like corn, potato, and tapioca starches, cellulose, etc. These plastics are non-toxic and decompose back into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass when composted.
- Plastic Packaging waste which is not covered under the phase-out of identified single-use plastic items should be collected and managed in an environmentally sustainable way through the Extended Producer Responsibility as per Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
- Extended Producer Responsibility is a policy approach in which producers take responsibility for the management of the disposal of products they produce once those products are designated as no longer useful by consumers.
Other Plastic Commodities:
For banning other plastic commodities in the future, other than those that have been listed in this notification, the government has given the industry ten years from the date of notification for compliance.
Implementation of Rules:
The Central Pollution Control Board, along with state pollution bodies, will monitor the ban, identify violations, and impose penalties already prescribed under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986
Lok Sabha passes Constitution amendment Bill to restore states’ powers on OBC list
Lok Sabha has unanimously passed the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021.
About Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021:
Main Purpose of the Bill:
The Bill amends the Constitution to allow states and union territories to prepare their own list of socially and educationally backward classes.
Key Provisions of the Bill:
List of socially and educationally backward classes:
- The National Commission for Backward Classes(NCBC) was established under the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993.
- The Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 gave constitutional status to the NCBC, and empowered the President to notify the list of socially and educationally backward classes for any state or union territory for all purposes.
- The 2021 Bill amends this to provide that the President may notify the list of socially and educationally backward classes only for purposes of the central government. This central list will be prepared and maintained by the central government.
- Further, the Bill enables states and union territories to prepare their own list of socially and educationally backward classes. This list must be made by law and may differ from the central list.
Consultation with the NCBC:
- Article 338B of the Constitution mandates the central and state governments to consult the NCBC on all major policy matters affecting the socially and educationally backward classes.
- The Bill exempts states and union territories from this requirement for matters related to the preparation of their list of socially and educationally backward classes.
Distressing’ and ‘shocking’ that people are still tried under Section 66A of IT Act, says SC
The Supreme Court has expressed shock at the practice of police registering FIRs under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. The act was struck down by the SC in the 2015 judgment in the Shreya Singhal case.
What is the issue?
- A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The petition seeks various directions and guidelines against the FIRs under the struck-down provision of Section 66A.
- The plea has stated that as many as a total of 745 cases are still pending and active before the District Courts in 11 States under 66A of the IT Act.
- Moreover, Section 66A has continued to be in use not only within police stations but also in cases before trial courts across India.
What has the Supreme Court said?
- The Supreme Court has termed the continued use of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 as a shocking state of affairs and sought a response from the Centre.
About Section 66A:
- Section 66A defines the punishment for sending “offensive” messages through a computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet.
- A conviction can fetch a maximum of three years in jail and a fine.
What were the issues with the Act?
- The vagueness about what is “offensive”. The word has a very wide connotation and is open to distinctive, varied interpretations.
- Hence, it was subjective and what may be fine for one person, may lead to a complaint from someone else. Consequently, an arrest under Section 66A if the police prima facie accepts the latter person’s view.
The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions (NCAHP) Bill, 2020
About National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions [NCAHP] Bill, 2020
- The Bill seeks to regulate and standardize the education and practice of allied and healthcare professionals.
- Ministry: Health and Family Welfare
Allied health professionals and their role in the delivery of healthcare services-
Allied health professionals are individuals engaged in the delivery of health or related care. Their area of expertise includes therapeutic, diagnostic, curative, preventive, and rehabilitative interventions.
Role- They are the first to recognize the problems of the patients and serve as safety nets. Their awareness of patient care accountability adds tremendous value to the healthcare team in both the public and private sectors.
Key provisions of the NCAHP bill 2020
- Definition of Allied health professional: The Bill defines an allied health professional as an associate, technician, or technologist. The professional, who is trained to support the diagnosis and treatment of any illness, disease, injury, or impairment. For example- The bill recognizes over 50 professions such as physiotherapists, optometrists, nutritionists, medical laboratory professionals, radiotherapy technology professionals.
- Healthcare professional: A ‘healthcare professional’ includes a scientist, therapist, or any other professional who studies, advises, researches, supervises, or provides preventive, curative, rehabilitative, therapeutic, or promotional health services. Such a professional should have obtained a degree under this Bill. The duration of the degree should be at least 3,600 hours (over a period of three to six years).
- The bill uses the International System of Classification of Occupations (ISCO code) to classify allied professionals.
- This allows for greater global mobility and better prospects for such professionals.
- It will benefit up to 8-9 lakh current allied and healthcare professionals.
- The establishment of a central statutory body as a National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions. It shall perform the following functions:
- To frame policies and standards.
- To govern professional conduct.
- Also, to recommend credentials.
- Further, to establish and maintain a central registry.
- Professional Councils: The Commission will constitute a Professional Council for every recognised category of allied and healthcare professions. The Professional Council will consist of a president and four to 24 members, representing each profession in the recognised category. The Commission may delegate any of its functions to this Council.
- The Bill has the provision for state allied and healthcare councils to execute major functions through autonomous boards.
- The state councils are in charge of implementation, while the National Commission is in charge of policy formulation.
- Offences and penalties: No person is allowed to practice as a qualified allied and healthcare practitioner other than those enrolled in a State Register or the National Register. Any person who contravenes this provision will be punished with a fine of Rs 50,000.
Why government’s recognition of allied healthcare professionals is a paradigm shift?
- Stressful life due to modern lifestyle, rapid urbanization
- Rising chronic non-communicable disease burden.
- An increasing proportion of elderly people.
The above issues require a change in healthcare delivery methods. Therefore, trained, allied health professionals are needed to care for patients with mental illnesses, the elderly, those in need of palliative treatment. Also, it will enable professional services for lifestyle change related to physical activity and diets.
Issues in the MTP Amendment Bill
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy or MTP Amendment bill is a step forward in recognising the rights of women. But it is not a giant leap.
The 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio due to unsafe abortions in India. The amendments made a few significant updates to the 1971 Act.
Salient provisions of The MTP Act, 1971:
- The act allows a woman to terminate her pregnancy within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After consulting an RMP (registered medical practitioner) woman can terminate her pregnancy.
- If a woman want to terminate her pregnancy between 12-20 weeks, she needs to get an opinion from 2 RMPs.
- The Medical practitioners have to ascertain that continuance of the pregnancy would risk the life of the pregnant woman or substantial risk (Physical or mental abnormalities) to the child if it is born
Salient provisions of the MTP Amendment Bill:
- The amendment extends the upper limit for permitting abortions from the current 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
- The opinion of one RMP is required for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation. (Between 20 weeks to 24 weeks the opinion of two RMP’s is required).
- The Amendment also allows the termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks if there are foetal anomalies.
- Formation of the medical boards in each state by State governments for this specific purpose(termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks).
- Further, the amendment facilitates abortion of “unmarried women also“. As the amendment replaced the word ‘husband’ with the word ‘partner’. For the first time, the amendment of the MTP Act moved beyond marital relationships.
The problems in the MTP Amendment Bill:
But the MTP Amendment falls short of few important things. Such as,
- The amendment does not address the heart of any debate on abortions. That is a woman as an agency of reproduction.
- The key decision-maker regarding the termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks should be the woman and her gynaecologist (for deciding the health of the woman/foetus). Instead, the amendment created a Board of specialists. The board will make the woman undergo a difficult process before such an abortion. Sometimes the cases will also get decided in courts.
- The Amendment is not in line with the global trend. Over 60 countries allow women to abort their pregnancy at any point during their 10-month gestation.
Health Ministry Releases “National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021”
The caretakers of patients with ‘rare diseases’ are not satisfied with the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021. The Union Health Ministry recently released the policy.
Rare Diseases: WHO defines a rare disease as a lifelong disease or disorder that often highly weakens an individual. It has a prevalence of 1 or less per 1000 population. Example: Haemophilia, Thalassemia, Sickle cell anaemia, auto-immune diseases among others.
- However, every country has its own definition for rare diseases.
- The US defines rare diseases as a disease or condition that affects fewer than 200,000 patients in the country.
- Likewise, the EU defines rare diseases as life-threatening or chronically debilitating (weakening) condition. It should affect no more than 5 in 10,000 people.
About National Policy For Rare Diseases,2021:
- Aim: The policy aims to lower the incidence and prevalence of rare diseases based on an integrated and comprehensive preventive strategy. The strategy includes awareness generation, counselling programmes, providing affordable Health Care among others.
Key Features of the National Policy For Rare Diseases,2021:
Categorisation: The policy categorizes rare diseases into three groups:
Group 1: Disorders amenable to one-time curative treatment;
Group 2: Diseases requiring long term or lifelong treatment; and
Group 3: Diseases for which definitive treatment is available, but challenges are to make an optimal patient selection for benefit.
The government will provide Financial support of up to Rs. 20 lakh under the Umbrella Scheme of Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi for treatment of those rare diseases listed under Group 1.
Moreover, Beneficiaries for such financial assistance would not be limited to BPL families. About 40% of the population, eligible under Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, will also be eligible for assistance.
Further, for group 2, the State Governments can consider supporting specific patients. It includes a rare disease that can be managed with special diets or hormonal supplements or other relatively low-cost interventions (Diseases listed under Group 2).
Voluntary Crowdfunding: The government has said that it will assist in voluntary crowd-funding for the treatment of Group 3. It is because it will be difficult to fully finance the treatment of high-cost rare diseases of Group 3.
Objections to the Policy:
- The policy offers no support to patients awaiting treatment since the earlier National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases 2017 was kept on hold.
- The policy has left patients with Group 3 rare diseases to fend for themselves. It has absolutely no consideration for Group 3 patients who require lifelong treatment support.
Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi scheme:
It provides financial assistance to patients living below the poverty line and who are suffering from major life-threatening diseases, to receive medical treatment.
Bihar Assembly Passed the “Bihar Special Armed Police Bill 2021”
Bihar State Assembly has passed the Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021.
About Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021
- The mandate of the bill is to maintain public order, combat extremism. Further, the bill ensures better protection and security of specific establishments.
- For this, the Bill proposes setting up a Special Armed Police force. The Special Armed Police will have one or more battalions depending on the requirement for any specified period.
- Nodal Authority: The command, supervision, and administration of the Special Armed Police shall vest in the Director-General of Police, Bihar.
- However, the general superintendence of the Special Police shall be exercised by the Government.
Powers of the Special Armed Police force:
- Firstly, Power to arrest without a warrant: They will have the power to arrest people even without a warrant. This power will be available to any of the Special Armed Police’s officers.
- Secondly, Arrests on suspicion: They have the power to arrest people on the basis of mere suspicion. This includes suspicion like disrupting state government functions or attempting to conceal their presence with the aim to commit a crime or cognizable offence.
- Thirdly, Search without Warrant: They have the power to conduct a search of a suspect’s premises without obtaining a warrant from a magistrate. The only safeguard is that the search can be conducted by an officer of a notified rank or above.
- And Lastly, Immunity from Courts: The bill also grants immunity to the officers of the Special Armed Police. It bars courts from taking cognizance of any complaint against the Special Armed Police. The court can take action only when the state government has sanctioned action against the concerned officers.
New IT Rules for Social Media and OTT platforms – Explained Pointwise
The Government of India has released the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. It aims to regulate social media, digital news media, and Over-The-Top (OTT) content providers. The rules were jointly announced by the Minister for Information Technology and the Minister for Information and Broadcasting. Despite being praised by few experts as revolutionary, it also has certain challenges to be addressed.
Need for the New IT Rules 2021:
India at present doesn’t have any specific rules to govern the digital news media and OTT platforms. At present these are governed under Section 79 of the IT Act. But it was not able to effectively control the misuse of data over social media and digital platforms. The reasons were,
Non-liability of Intermediary:
Section 69 of the IT Act gives power to the government to issue directions “to intercept, decrypt or monitor…any information generated, transmitted, received or stored” in any digital equipment.
The Intermediaries are required to preserve and retain specified information. Further, they have to obey the directions issued by the government from time to time.
By adhering to government rules, they will get protected from legal action for any user-generated content under Section 79. Section 79 states that an intermediary (Digital media and OTTs) shall not be liable for any third party information, data, or communication
Further, the user base of big companies has expanded rapidly. Currently there are over 53 crore WhatsApp users, over 44.8 Crore YouTube users and 41 Crore Facebook users.
The government rejected the Self-regulatory toolkit submitted by 17 OTT Platforms. The government rejected them for reasons like lack of independent third-party monitoring, the tool-kit did not have a well-defined Code of Ethics, etc.
This induced the government to come up with new rules under the IT Act, 2000. The IT Rules 2011 got replaced with the new IT Rules 2021.
Salient provisions of IT Rules 2021
The new IT rules have been framed to address the Social Media, Digital Media and OTT platforms in a specific manner.
New IT Rules related to Social Media:
- Social media companies are prohibited from hosting or publishing any unlawful information. These information are “in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries, etc.
- If such information is hosted or published the government can take down such information within 24 hours. The user will be given a notice before his/her content is taken down.
- The government can direct messaging platforms to tie the identity of the user with the message transmitted by him/her for strengthening traceability.
- The IT rules 2021 call for social media companies to publish a monthly compliance report.
- Social media platforms are classified into two categories
- Social media intermediaries – Platforms that have a limited user base.
- Significant social media intermediaries – These are the platforms with a large user base.
- The significant social media intermediaries have to follow few additional measures like:
- These platforms should have a physical contact address in India.
- Appointing a Chief Compliance Officer, Nodal Contact Person, and a Resident Grievance Officer in India. All of them should be Indian Residents.
- Nodal Contact Person will do 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies.
- The Resident Grievance Officer must acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours, and resolve it within 15 days of receipt.
New IT Rules related to Digital media and OTT platforms:
- A Code of Ethics has been prescribed for OTT platforms and digital media entities.
- The streaming platforms (Like Netflix and Amazon Prime) will have to self-classify content on five age-based categories: U (universal), 7+, 13+, 16+, and A (adult).
- They need to have suitable parental locks for 13+ content and a robust age verification system for accessing adult content.
- Publishers of news on digital media will have to observe the norms of journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.
- A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has also been established:
- Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers
- Level-II: Self-regulating body: This body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court or independent eminent person.
- Level-III: Oversight mechanism: I&B Ministry will formulate an oversight mechanism and establish an inter-departmental committee for hearing grievances. This body will also have censorship and blocking powers.