- A) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
- Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (TH)
- Explained: What constitutes a breach of legislature’s privilege? (IE)
- B) International Relations
- Yemen Crises and Houthi Rebels (TH)
- C) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
- World Sustainable Development Summit 2021 (PIB)
- D) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
- Gaganyaan Mission: Timeline (PIB)
A) Polity, Bills, Acts and Judgments
- Context: In December 2020, Argentina’s Congress legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy this week, in what was a ground-breaking decision in a country that has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 regulates the conditions under which a pregnancy may be aborted. The Bill increases the time period within which abortion may be carried out.
- Currently, abortion requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.
- The Bill allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks.
- The Bill sets up state level Medical Boards to decide if a pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities.
- This implies that for a case requiring abortion due to rape, that exceeds 24-weeks, the only recourse remains through a Writ Petition.
- The Bill does not specify the categories of women who may terminate pregnancies between 20-24 weeks and leaves it to be prescribed through Rules.
- The Act (and the Bill) require abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics.
- As there is a 75% shortage of such doctors in community health centers in rural areas, pregnant women may continue to find it difficult to access facilities for safe abortions.
Unclear if transgender persons will be covered
- The Act and the Bill allow “pregnant women” to terminate pregnancies under certain conditions. Note that the Transgender Persons (Protections and Rights) Act, 2019 recognises transgender as an additional gender in India. Some medical studies have shown that there may be cases where persons who identify as transgender (and not women) can become pregnant even after receiving hormone therapy to transition from female to male, and may require termination services. Since the Act and the Bill only provide for termination of pregnancies in the case of women, it is unclear if transgender persons will be covered under the Bill.
Table 1: Changes proposed in conditions for terminating a pregnancy at different gestational periods
|Time since conception||Requirement for terminating pregnancy|
|MTP Act, 1971||MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020|
|Up to 12 weeks||Advice of one doctor||Advice of one doctor|
|12 to 20 weeks||Advice of two doctors||Advice of one doctor|
|20 to 24 weeks||Not allowed||Two doctors for some categories of pregnant women|
|More than 24 weeks||Not allowed||Medical Board in case of substantial foetal abnormality|
|Any time during the pregnancy||One doctor, if immediately necessary to save pregnant woman’s life|
- Note:*Doctor refers to registered medical practitioner with experience/training in gynaecology or obstetrics.
- Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, voluntarily terminating a pregnancy is a criminal offence. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was enacted as an exception to the IPC, to provide for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
- It is possible to get an abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 if pregnancy is under 20 weeks.
- However, it is subject to several conditions and conducting an abortion without fulfilling the conditions is considered a crime.
What are the conditions?
- Under the medical termination of pregnancy Act 1971, the doctor can perform an abortion in the following situations:
- if the pregnancy would be harmful to the life or physical or mental health of the woman.
- if there is good chance that the child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which would leave him or her seriously handicapped.
Who needs to be satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled to get an abortion?
- If the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks (first trimester), only one doctor needs to be satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled.
- If the pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks and is below 20 weeks (first trimester), two doctors need to be satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled.
- The gestation period does not matter if doctor feels that an immediate abortion must be conducted to save the life of the woman.
- The doctor who determines if it is necessary to perform an abortion and performs it needs to be a ‘registered medical practitioner’ under the law.
- Termination is also allowed at any point during the pregnancy if there is an immediate necessity to save the woman’s life.
Failure of contraceptives
- If you are a married person, you should be able to get an abortion if contraceptives did not work and you did not want to have more children.
- The doctor has a legal duty to assume in such cases that the pregnancy affects your mental health gravely.
- The same legal duty does not unfortunately apply to unmarried women.
- However, this does not mean that you cannot get an abortion.
- If the doctor forms an opinion that your mental health will suffer if the pregnancy continues, he or she can perform the abortion.
Explained: What constitutes a breach of legislature’s privilege? (IE)
- Context: BJP MP Chaudhary issues breach of privilege notice against Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra
- Former Union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP P.P. Chaudhary issued a breach of privilege notice against Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra in the Lok Sabha for the TMC MP’s remarks against a former Chief Justice of India.
- While speaking on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address, she has cast some aspersions with respect to the conduct of a judge. So the question is whether the conduct of a judge can be discussed on the floor of the House or not.
- Article 121 of the Constitution does not allow allegations to be levelled against a sitting or a former judge.
- Supporting him, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey demanded that Ms. Moitra’s membership be cancelled.
Parliamentary privileges and privileges of State Legislature
- Parliamentary privileges (Article 105 of the Constitution)/privileges of State Legislature (Article 194 of the Constitution) are special rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the two Houses of Parliament/State Legislatures, their committees and their members.
- They are necessary:
- To secure the independence and effectiveness of their actions;
- To maintain their authority, dignity and honour; and
- To protect their members from any obstruction in the discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities.
- The Constitution has also extended the parliamentary privileges/privileges of State Legislature to those persons who are entitled to speak and take part in the proceedings of a House of Parliament/State Legislature or any of their committees.
- These include the Attorney General of India/Advocate General of the State and Union/State Ministers.
- It must be noted that the parliamentary privileges do not extend to the President/Governor who are also integral part of the Parliament/State Legislature.
- Parliamentary privileges/privileges of State Legislature can be classified into two broad categories:
- Those that are enjoyed by each House of Parliament//State Legislature collectively; and
- Those that are enjoyed by the members individually.
- The privileges belonging to each House of the Parliament/State Legislature collectively are:
- It has the right to publish its reports, debates and proceedings and also the right to prohibit others from publishing the same.
- The 44th Amendment Act of 1978 restored the freedom of the press to publish true reports of parliamentary proceedings/proceedings of the State Legislature without prior permission of the House.
- But this is not applicable in the case of a secret sitting of the House.
- It can exclude strangers from its own procedure and hold secret sittings to discuss some important matters.
- It can make rules to regulate its own procedure and the conduct its business and to adjudicate upon matters.
- It can punish members as well as outsiders for breach of its privileges or its contempt by reprimand, admonition or imprisonment (also suspension or expulsion, in case of members).
- It has the right to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment and release of a member.
- It can institute inquiries and order the attendance of witnesses and send for relevant papers and records.
- The courts are prohibited to inquire into the proceedings of a House or its committees.
- No person (either a member or outsider) can be arrested, and no legal process (civil or criminal) can be served within the precincts of the House without the permission of the presiding officer.
- The privileges belonging to the member individually are:
- They cannot be arrested during the session of Parliament/State Legislature and 40 days before the beginning and 40 days after the end of a session.
- This privilege is available only in civil cases and not in criminal cases or preventive detention cases.
- They have freedom of speech in Parliament/State Legislature.
- No member is liable to any proceedings in any court for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament/State Legislature or its committees.
- This freedom is subject to the provisions of the Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament/State Legislature.
- They are exempted from jury service.
- They can refuse to give evidence and appear as a witness in a case pending in a court when Parliament/State Legislature is in session.
Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House
- Normally, a breach of privilege may amount to contempt of the House. Likewise, contempt of the House may include may include a breach of privilege also.
- Contempt of the House, however, has wider implications. There may be a contempt of the House without specifically committing a breach of privilege. Similarly, actions which are not breaches of any specific privilege but are offences against the dignity and authority of the House amounts to contempt of the House.
Sources of Privileges
- Originally, the Constitution (Article 105) expressedly mentioned two privileges, that is, freedom of speech in Parliament/State Legislature and right of publication of its proceedings.
- With regard to other privileges, it provided that they were to be the same as those of the British House of Commons, its committees and its members on the date of its commencement (26th January 1950), until defined by Parliament.
- It should be noted that the Parliament, till now, has not made any special law to exhaustively codify all the privileges.
- They are based on five sources:
- Constitutional provisions;
- Various laws made by Parliament;
- Rules of both the Houses;
- Parliamentary conventions; and
- Judicial interpretations.
Who can move a privilege motion? How?
- A notice is moved in the form of a motion by any member of either House against those being held guilty of breach of privilege.
What are the rules governing privilege?
- A member may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee thereof.
- The rules however mandate that any notice should be relating to an incident of recent occurrence and should need the intervention of the House.
- Notices have to be given before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson.
What is the role of the Speaker/Rajya Sabha Chair?
- The Speaker/RS chairperson is the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion.
- The Speaker/Chair can decide on the privilege motion himself or herself or refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament.
- If the Speaker/Chair gives consent, the member concerned is given an opportunity to make a short statement.
What percentage of privilege notices are rejected?
- A large number of notices are rejected, with penal action recommended in only a few.
What is the privileges committee?
- In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members as per respective party strengths.
- In the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairperson heads the committee of privileges, that consists of 10 members.
What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House?
- The house can ensure attendance of the offending person.
- The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.
B) International Relations
3.Yemen Crises and Houthi Rebels (TH)
- Context: Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted the Abha International Airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia, causing a civilian plane on the tarmac to catch fire, the kingdom’s state television reported.
- The Iran-backed Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack soon afterward, with military spokesperson Yehia Sareai saying the group used four bomb-laden drones to target Abha airport.
Yemen Crises: The Timeline
April 2020: Yemen separatists declare self-rule in south
- Yemen’s main southern separatist group announced that it would establish self-rule in areas under its control, which the Saudi-backed government warned would have “catastrophic consequences”.
- The move threatens to renew conflict between the UAE-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Saudi-backed government, allies in Yemen’s war.
- The STC is one of the main groups fighting against the Houthis as part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. But the separatists have clashed with government forces in the past.
September 2019: Bombing of oil field in Saudi Arabia
- In September 2019, the Houthis, a rebel Shia group of Yemen that is backed by Iran, bombed the Abqaiq plant as well as the Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia.
- Saudi Aramco describes Abqaiq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world,” and the Khurais is considered Saudi Arabia’s second-largest oil field (see map below):
- In recent months, the Houthi rebels have carried out a spate of cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for a long-running Saudi-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.
- The latest attack, executed by drones, meant that Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, had to not only suspend the production of almost 6 million barrels per day (about 6 per cent of global oil supply) but also restrict the use of 2 mbd of spare capacity.
- This is the largest-ever disruption in crude oil production in Saudi Arabia, which supplies 10 per cent of global world supply and is the world’s largest crude oil exporter.
- India is world’s third largest crude importer after China and U.S. (with Saudi Arabia supplying nearly a fifth of India’s imports).
- Iraq was India’s primary source of crude oil between January and July 2019; Saudi Arabia was a close second.
The Yemen Crisis: Background
- Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?
- Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a civil war.
- How did the war start?
- Failed political transition following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its long-time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
- President Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including
- attacks by al-Qaeda,
- a separatist movement in the south,
- the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as
- corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
- The Houthi movement (by Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority) took advantage of the new president’s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas and later forcing Mr Hadi to flee to Riyadh where he currently heads an ‘internationally recognised’ but largely ineffective government of Yemen.
- Yemen’s internationally-backed government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Saudi ally, is controlling the south, though Mr. Hadi is running the purported administration from Saudi Arabia.
- Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis – including Sunnis – supported the Houthis.
- Alarmed by the rise of Houthis – believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and other mostly Sunni Arab states (UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt- mostly Sunni powers) began an air campaign (“Operation Decisive Storm”) aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
- The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
- Four years on, the civil war has ground to a stalemate, with the al-Houthis hunkering it out in the north.
- The United Nations has described Yemen to be currently in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, with over 11,000 deaths and 3 million internally displaced.
A three-way conflict
- The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), which was formed in mid-2017, calls for an independent South Yemen and is vehemently against the presence of Islamists in Yemen such as Islah party (member of Saudi-led coalition), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State.
- Recently, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a militia group that was fighting the Houthis as part of the Saudi-led coalition, turned against their masters and captured the presidential palace in Aden as well as the city’s main port.
- In return, Saudi jets targeted STC fighters before a tenuous ceasefire set in. It now looks like a three-way conflict.
- The STC wants the south to be an independent entity, like it was till the Yemeni unification in 1990.
Other related aspects
- Island of Socotra – a UNESCO world Heritage Site where UAE, coalition partner of Saudi Arabia had deployed its security forces.
- Operation Golden Victory
- A large-scale ground operation to liberate Yemen’s Hodeidah city and its main port west of the country.
- It has been launched by Yemen forces supported by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
- It was launched by India to evacuate its citizens from Yemen in 2015 after an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and UAE intervened in Yemen.
- India has also teamed up with the United Arab Emirates in providing major humanitarian and post-traumatic medical support to the soldiers of Yemen who were injured in the ongoing war against the rebels of that country.
- So far, India has treated victims from Iraq and Syria on a bilateral basis.
- However, this is the first time that such an operation is being conducted through support from a third country – the UAE.
Forward defence doctrine
- Iran has adopted a ‘forward defence’ doctrine which involves empowering militias and proxies in other countries, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, mobilisation units in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthis in Yemen.
- Yemen borders both Saudi Arabia and Oman.
- Yemen borders both Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
- While almost all Yemenis are Muslims, the population in the north is mostly Zaidi which is closer to the Shia sect followed in Iran.
- The southerners are mostly Sunnis akin to a majority of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) citizens.
- Bab al-Mandeb Strait is a geo-strategic choke point connecting the Arabian Sea with the Red Sea onwards to the Suez Canal.
- Most of India’s west-bound sea trade passes through Bab al Mandeb.
C) Schemes, Policies, Initiatives, Awards and Social Issues
4.World Sustainable Development Summit 2021 (PIB)
- Context: Prime Minister of India inaugurated World Sustainable Development Summit 2021.
- The theme of the Summit is ‘Redefining our common future: Safe and secure environment for all’.
- Instituted in 2001, the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) is the annual flagship event of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
- TERI is an independent, multi-dimensional organization, with expertise in research, policy, consultancy and implementation.
- India aims to reduce emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, increase cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel energy resources to 40 percent by 2030, and create additional carbon sequestration of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030.
- Emission intensity is the volume of emissions per unit of GDP. Reducing emission intensity means that less pollution is being created per unit of GDP.
- However, a more concrete measure of emission reduction is an “absolute reduction”. That’s the reduction in the total emissions. To tackle climate change total emissions must go down so an absolute reduction is the most relevant measure.
- India is making steady progress on its commitment to Land Degradation Neutrality. India has raised its target for restoring degraded land from 21 million hectare to 26 million hectares by 2030.
- Land degradation neutrality has been defined by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.
- India is well on track to setting up 450 giga watts of Renewable Energy generating capacity by 2030.
D) Science and Technology, Defence, Space
5.Gaganyaan Mission: Timeline (PIB)
24 April 2020: ISRO invites technology proposals for human space flight missions
- In August 2018, ISRO announced its first human space trip slated for around 2022, the ₹10,000-crore Gaganyaan.
- It plans to send three astronauts to a distance of 400 km in space in a special spacecraft. They will circle earth over three to seven days.
- Four pilots of the Indian Air Force are currently training in Moscow to be the first set of potential candidates for Gaganyaan.
What happens to our body in space, and what are the risks?
- Scott Kelly was the first American to spend nearly one year in space aboard the International Space Station, twice the normal time.
- The risks to human body in space are not the same for six months on the space station versus three years on a Mars mission.
- The risks are grouped into five categories related to the stresses they place on the space traveller:
- gravity fields,
- hostile/closed environments,
- space radiation, and
- distance from Earth.
- Transitioning from one gravity field to another affects spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, locomotion, and one is more likely to experience motion sickness.
- Bones lose minerals in space at a much faster rate than on earth, with density dropping at over 1% per month.
- By comparison, the rate of bone loss for elderly men and women on Earth is from 1% to 1.5% per year.
- Even after returning to Earth, bone loss might not be corrected by rehabilitation, so one could be at greater risk of osteoporosis-related fractures later in life.
- Astronauts lose muscle strength, endurance, and experience cardiovascular deconditioning since because of lack of gravity it does not take effort to float through space.
- The fluids in our body will shift upwards to our head, which could put pressure on your eyes causing vision problems.
- Astronauts are prone to develop kidney stones due to dehydration and increased excretion of calcium from their bones.
- Medications react differently in body in space.
- On the space station, astronauts receive over ten times the radiation than what’s naturally occurring on Earth.
- Our planet’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from harsh cosmic radiation, but without that, we are more exposed to the treacherous radiation.
- Above Earth’s protective shielding, radiation exposure may increase our cancer risk.
- Flu vaccine stimulates immune system, even in space. Also, inflammation increases while in space.
NASA studied an astronaut’s body with his Twin
- NASA found that space affects an aspect of DNA that is related to aging and cancer.
- Scott’s telomeres (endcaps of chromosomes that shorten as one ages) grew significantly longer in space.
- It turned out that 93 percent of Scott’s genes returned to normal after landing, but according to NASA’s researchers, the remaining seven percent could indicate “longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.
11 Feb 2020: Four Indian pilots begin astronaut training in Russia
- The four Indian pilots chosen as candidate-astronauts began their 12-month training at the Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Moscow, Russian space business company Glavkosmos has announced.
- The four candidates are fighter pilots from the Indian Air Force and were chosen from among hundreds of applicants over the last few months.
- At the end of all training modules in India and Russia, one or two of the four will be finally named to circle the earth in the first crewed Gaganyaan, which is planned around 2022.
- The Il-76MDK is an Ilyushin-78 military transport plane specially re-designed for parabolic flights of trainee astronauts and space tourists.
- Gaganyaan, the human space flight Programme (HSP), seeks to put a three-man Indian crew in a low earth orbit for 5-7 days by the 75th Independence Day.
- ISRO will also receive assistance from the French space agency CNES, in terms of expertise various fields including space medicine, astronaut health monitoring, radiation protection and life support.
- The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is setting up a third launch pad at Sriharikota to undertake the Gaganyaan manned space flight programme.
- In addition, ISRO is scouting for a location on the western sea coast near Gujarat to set up another launch pad for Small Satellite Launch Vehicles (SSLV).
Why GSLV Mk-III?
- ISRO will use its GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle which can carry the heavier payload of the Gaganyaan.
- One of the most important requirements is the development of a launch vehicle that can carry heavy payloads into space.
- The spacecraft carrying human beings, called crew module, is likely to weigh in excess of 5 to 6 tonnes.
- ISRO’s main launch vehicle, the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), which carried the Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions too, can carry payloads that are barely up to 2 tonnes, and that too only to orbits at about 600 km altitude from the Earth’s surface.
- That is why the development of GSLV Mk-III, a launch vehicle with capabilities to deliver much heavier payloads much deeper into space, was necessary.
- The satellites normally launched by ISRO, like those for communication or remote sensing, are meant to remain in space, even when their life is over. Even Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan were not meant to return to Earth.
- Any manned spacecraft, however, needs to come back. This involves mastering of the highly complicated and dangerous reentry and recovery ability.
- ISRO has begun work on the manned mission in 2004, and that many of the critical technologies required for human spaceflight have already been validated through various tests — Space Capsule Recovery Experiment, Crew Module Atmospheric Re-Entry Experiment and Pad Abort Test.
Pad Abort Test
- Its purpose was safely parachute future astronauts down in case their space vehicle develops snags while taking off. In July 2018, ISRO successfully conducted this test.
- ISRO demonstrated the flight of a crew module and its re-entry in 2014.
Crew Escape System
- This is a crucial safety technology, involving an emergency escape mechanism for the astronauts in case of a faulty launch.
- The mechanism ensures the crew module gets an advance warning of anything going wrong with the rocket, and pulls it away to a safe distance, after which it can be landed either on sea or on land with the help of attached parachutes.
- Only in July 2018, ISRO completed the first successful flight of the crew escape system.
- The Environmental Control & Life Support System (ECLSS) is meant to ensure that conditions inside the crew module are suitable for humans to live comfortably.
- The inside of the crew module is a twin-walled sealed structure that will recreate Earth-like conditions for the astronauts. It would be designed to carry two or three astronauts.
Would be only the Fourth Such Nation!
- When it achieves the mission, India would be the fourth nation to circle Earth after the Soviets, the Americans and the Chinese.
- In 1984, India’s first astronaut Wing Commander (retd.) Rakesh Sharma orbited Earth as part of a Soviet mission.
- ISRO revealed the first germ of an HSP in November 2004 and got incremental funds for supporting projects over the next few years.
- It could not go ahead mainly because the GSLV MarkIII vehicle was not ready until last year.