Current Affairs 22nd March

Myanmar border shut amid strains over refugee crisis #GS2 #IR

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting on Sunday with Foreign Minister of Myanmar Zin Mar Aung amid the ongoing military crackdown following the February coup, even as India sealed all entry points along the border with the southeast Asian neighbour and is closely monitoring them to prevent any Myanmar national from entering the country.

He had earlier written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging intervention so that “political refugees” from Myanmar are given asylum and food and shelter in the country.

Sensitive issues

The tussle between the Centre and the State on the issue has created a tough time for New Delhi and security agencies in handling the situation on the ground.

In the letter dated March 18, Mr. Zoramthanga said the people residing on both sides have close linkages. “India cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of us in our own backyard.

Stating that the whole of Myanmar is in turmoil and “innocent hapless citizens are being persecuted” by the military regime, who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors, Mr. Zoramthanga said the “Myanmar area bordering Mizoram is inhibited by Chin communities, who are ethnically our brethren with whom we have been having close contacts throughout all these years even before India became independent.”

Following the February 1 coup when the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government, around 300 Myanmarese nationals, including many policemen, have crossed into India and sought refuge.

Deep ties

There is considerable support and sympathy among the people of Mizoram over the situation in Myanmar as many have relations across the border, a government official stated, adding that it was a very emotive and sensitive issue in the State.

India and Myanmar have an arrangement called Free Movement Regime (FMR), which allows locals on both sides to go upto 16 km across the other side and stay up to 14 days.

COVID-19 cases see a new high #GS3 #SnT

A year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a ‘janta curfew’ that ended up being a prelude to the national lockdown on March 25 last year, new daily cases skyrocketed to 43,846 — a new high for this year — on Sunday. This took the number of confirmed infections in India to nearly 11.6 million.

Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh accounted for 77.7% of the new cases in the 24 hours to 8 a.m. Maharashtra reported 27,126 cases followed by Punjab with 2,578 and Kerala with 2,078. A little over 80% of the new cases reported were from six States.

In Maharashtra, Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Thane and Nashik were the districts reporting the highest number of cases.

Over 4 crore doses

Almost 4.4 crore vaccine doses had been administered till 7 a.m. on Sunday.

The beneficiaries include 7.7 million healthcare workers who have received at least one dose and 4.8 million who have got both. About 8 million frontline workers have got the first dose, and 2.6 million have got both doses.

About 17 million senior citizens have been inoculated with at least one dose, and 3.6 million people above 45 with specific comorbidities have received the jabs.

India’s total active caseload stood at three lakh, an increase of 20,639 cases over the last 24 hours. There were 197 deaths in the last 24 hours. Six States accounted for 86% of the new deaths, with Maharashtra reporting 92, followed by Punjab with 38 and Kerala with 15 deaths.

Indian-Israeli collaboration testing oral COVID vaccine #GS2 #IR #GS3 #SnT

An Indian-Israeli collaboration has reportedly developed an oral vaccine for COVID-19, one that can be swallowed like a pill instead of being injected, as is the norm. A preliminary test in animals showed that the vaccine produced the expected antibodies that confer protection. However, the findings have not been reported in a scientific publication yet and cannot be independently verified.

The product is also far from being tested in human trials, though company promoters say depending on how tests pan out, the vaccine could be ready for human trials in the next three months. Premas Biotech, a Gurugram-based biotechnology firm, and Oramed Pharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem headquartered company, have a long-standing collaboration on developing new drug delivery techniques.

The nascent COVID-19 vaccine candidate is a “protein-based VLP (Virus Like Particle) vaccine candidate” that generates “triple protection” against the SARS CoV-2 virus, i.e., it is able to target the spike, membrane, and envelope proteins of the coronavirus.

Oravax, the company developing the vaccine, is a joint venture between Premas and Oramed. “The vaccine candidate is also safe, efficacious and well-tolerated at normal to high doses, and generated high titres of neutralising antibodies. The VLP is manufactured using Premas’ proprietary D-Crypt™ platform, which is highly scalable and can be manufactured on large scales.

SC walks a tightrope over vacancies #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court Collegium is striving to reach a consensus on recommendations to fill the five vacancies in the top court.

With barely a month left for Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde to retire, the Collegium is discussing diverse opinions from within on issues like proportionate representation from various High Courts and seniority among High Court judges before finalising the names to recommend to the government for appointment.

Proportionate representation from High Courts and seniority, though only conventions and not constitutional or legal mandates, carry weight during the appointment process.

Fading strength

The last appointments to the Supreme Court were of Justices Krishna Murari, S. Ravindra Bhat, V. Ramasubramanian and Hrishikesh Roy in September 2019.

The past several months have seen the Supreme Court function under a series of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, even as its judicial strength faded to 29 with the recent retirement of Justice Indu Malhotra.

The year 2021 will see four retirements in the top court, starting with Chief Justice Bobde, and Justices Ashok Bhushan, Rohinton Nariman and Naveen Sinha. The latter two judges retire in August. The names of several High Court judges are in the zone of consideration.

Of this, Chief Justices Mathur and Radhakrishnan will retire during the course of 2021. Others retiring this year include Telangana Chief Justice Kumari Hima Kohli, Chhattisgarh Chief Justice P.R. Ramachandra Menon, Himachal Chief Justice L.N. Swamy and Uttarakhand Chief Justice R.S. Chauhan.

Crowded space

Of the remaining, however, most Chief Justices belong to parent High Courts which already have multiple representations in the Supreme Court judiciary.

Justice Vikram Nath’s parent High Court is Allahabad. But this High Court already has three representations — Justices Bhushan, Vineet Saran and Murari. Justice Kohli’s parent High Court is Delhi, which has three representations in Justices S.K. Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna and S. Ravindra Bhat in the top court.

While Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur is from Rajasthan, the Supreme Court already has Justices Ajay Rastogi and Dinesh Maheshwari from that State.

Corrective voice from top court against stereotyping women #GS2 #SocialIssues

A judgment by the Supreme Court forbidding judges from making gender stereotypical comments came as a corrective voice from within the highest level of judiciary in India.

The judgment, pronounced on March 18, came days after the court ran into a maelstrom of criticism after the Chief Justice of India (CJI), during a virtual hearing on March 1, reportedly asked an alleged rapist’s lawyer to enquire whether his client would marry the survivor.

‘Completely misquoted’

On March 8, Chief Justice Bobde said he was “completely misquoted”. The CJI said the court had the highest respect for womanhood. The top judge’s statement coincided with International Women’s Day.

Ten days later, a Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat, in its judgment, urged courts to avoid using reasoning or language which diminished a sexual offence and tended to trivialise the survivor.

“Even a solitary instance of such order or utterance in court, reflects adversely on the entire judicial system of the country, undermining the guarantee to fair justice to all, and especially to victims of sexual violence (of any kind from the most aggravated to the so-called minor offences),” the judgment, authored by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, said.

Series of orders

The judgment stopped courts from trying to mandate marriage or compromise between a sex offender and his victim. It was based on an appeal against a Madhya Pradesh High Court order directing an alleged molester to “allow” his victim to tie a rakhi on him.

This judgment is one among a series of interventions with which the top court has clamped down on abuse and sex stereotyping of women.

Some of the notable judgments which have lashed out at sex stereotyping include the framing of the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment of women at workplaces, and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s historic judgment giving women Armed Forces officers equal access to Permanent Commission while debunking the establishment’s claim that women were physiologically weaker than men.

Justice Chandrachud, in the Permanent Commission for women officers case, said, “women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force … Their track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army — men and women — who serve as equal citizens in a common mission.”

In the Anuj Garg case, the Supreme Court had rebuked “the notion of romantic paternalism”, which, “in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage”.