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October 12, 2017

SC to frame norms for drafting ‘living wills’

  • A person’s advance directive to withdraw medical care to allow him to die with dignity should take effect only when a medical board affirms that his medical condition is beyond cure and irreversible, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Wednesday.
  • The Chief Justice, heading a five-judge Constitution Bench, was responding to a debate on when exactly a person’s “living will” or advance directive for end-of-life medical care should take effect.

Informed consent

  • The Bench said it would lay down guidelines for drafting living wills and how it could be authenticated. It had reserved the case for judgment.The court is hearing a petition by an NGO, Common Cause, to legalise euthanasia and the concept of living will.
  • “Advance directives may be approved by a Magistrate. The Magistrate has to examine that the person executing the living will is of sound mind. That he has taken informed consent…” Chief Justice Misra observed.
  • Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, said a certificate from a statutory medical board that a patient’s condition was beyond cure and irreversible would take care of apprehensions of relatives and doctors about withdrawing life support.

Decision final

  • “If a man is admitted to a hospital and he goes into a coma, the hospital informs the medical board, which takes a fair, informed and impartial decision that his medical condition is beyond cure. This decision is taken by the medical board on the touchstone of modern technology,” Justice Sikri observed.
  • The Constitution Bench, which includes Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, suggested framing guidelines for setting up medical boards in every district. The decision of the board would be final and an advance directive should yield to the board’s decision.
  • Justice Chandrachud suggested a two-fold test as to when living will would come into effect.“One, when the medical condition of the patient has become irreversible. Two, when the prolongation of his life can be done only at the cost of pain and suffering which is at a level inconsistent with his advance directive,” Justice Chandrachud observed.
  • Chief Justice Misra said involving a court in a dispute over living wills would only cause delay, especially when a person is in the hospital.
  • The government, represented by Additional Solicitor-General P.S. Narasimha, said the legalisation of “advance directives” would amount to the waiving of the paramount fundamental right to life enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. Mr. Narasimha said it was opposing the concept of living will as a principle of public policy. It said the State’s primary obligation was to sustain life and not legalise a person’s wish to die.
  • “Persons who exercise the right of self-determination [of when to die by withdrawing medical care] should know that there were many underprivileged persons who may be subjected to abuse if euthanasia and living wills are legalised,” Mr. Narasimha warned.

Framing safeguards

  • The Bench said it would frame safeguards and procedures for forming medical boards.
  • The government has already said that passive euthanasia is the law of the land, with thousands of cases in which doctors withdraw life support after getting the informed consent of the relatives. The government pointed out that the Supreme Court itself, in 2011, had issued comprehensive guidelines allowing passive euthanasia in the tragic case of the bed-ridden former Mumbai nurse Aruna Shanbaug.
  • However, the reference to Chief Justice Misra’s Bench also includes the question whether the Aruna Shanbaug judgment of 2011 had wrongly relied on the Gian Kaur judgment of 1996, which had observed that right to live with dignity also includes right to die with dignity, to approve of passive euthanasia. Even as question about the correctness of the Aruna verdict lies open, the government is finalising a draft law on passive euthanasia called ‘The Management of Patients With Terminal Illness – Withdrawal of Medical Life Support Bill’.

Sexual intercourse with minor wife is rape, says SC

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, who is below 18 years of age, is rape.
  • A girl child below the age of 18 cannot be treated as a commodity having no say over her body or someone who has no right to deny sexual intercourse to her husband, the Supreme Court held.

Separate judgments

  • The two judges wrote separate judgments totalling 127 pages. The court read down Exception 2 to Section 375 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which allowed the husband of a girl child — between 15 and 18 years of age — blanket liberty and freedom to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her. Her willingness or consent was of no concern. The husband in such cases was not punished for rape.
  • The exception had remained an anomaly because Section 375 itself mandated that sex with a girl below 18 years of age, with or without her consent, was statutory rape. An unmarried girl child can prosecute her rapist, but a married girl child aged between 15 and 18 could not even do that, Justice Lokur said, pointing out the injustice.
  • “A child remains a child whether she is described as a street child or a surrendered child or an abandoned child or an adopted child. Similarly, a child remains a child whether she is a married child or an unmarried child or a divorced child or a separated or widowed child. At this stage we are reminded of Shakespeare’s eternal view that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — so also with the status of a child, despite any prefix,” Justice Lokur wrote.
  • The court, however, refrained from dealing with the issue of marital rape of a woman aged above 18.
  • With this judgment, considered by experts as trigger to declaring child marriage void ab initio, the court ended the decades-old disparity between Exception 2 to Section 375 IPC and other child protection laws.

Centre cited tradition, wanted Section 375 to stay

  • The Centre wanted Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, read down by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, to stay. The Section allowed a man to have sexual intercourse with his wife aged below 15.
  • There were deliberations on striking down Exception 2 to Section 375 (rape) in the Home Ministry and the Women and Child Development Ministry after an NGO, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, moved the court. The NGO, run by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, wanted the Supreme Court to examine the conflict of Section 375 with the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which specifies that sexual intercourse with children aged below 18 amounted to rape.
  • In its response to the WCD Ministry, the Home Ministry, the nodal Ministry for such subjects, said, “Marriage of minors is an old custom in India, practised by all social groups, however, the MHA will abide by the SC directions.”

Exception challenged

  • On Wednesday, a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta read down the Section while hearing a similar petition filed by an NGO, Independent Thought, which challenged the exception, on how when sexual intercourse with a minor aged below 18 with or without her consent amounts to rape under the IPC, it is not so once she is married. The Home Ministry under the UPA government in February 2014 had filed a counter-affidavit against striking down the provision. The NDA government adopted the UPA’s affidavit and supported the IPC provision.
  • The affidavit said, “It is true that the minimum age of marriage of a female is 18 years and punishment has been provided in the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 to discourage child marriages. However, it is also a fact that a large section of the Indian society, which is living in rural areas, continues to follow such practices as part of their tradition. As per the data collected in National Family Health Survey-III, 46% of women between 18-29 years in India were married before the age of 18. It is also estimated that there are 23 million child brides in the country. Hence criminalising the consummation of a marriage union with a serious offence such as rape would not be appropriate.”

PM’s advisory panel admits to slowdown

  • The priority areas include economic growth, employment and job creation, informal sector and integration, fiscal framework, monetary policy, public expenditure, institutions of economic governance, agriculture and animal husbandry, patterns of consumption and production, and the social sector.
  • Stressing that there is no good data regarding jobs, employment and unemployment, Mr. Debroy said the only good way to obtain satisfactory jobs data is through household surveys and that the previous National Sample Survey was released in 2011, and the next one will release data only in 2018.

Spanish PM threatens to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy

  • Spain threatened on Wednesday to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if it followed through on its threat to break away as an independent country.
  • Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession after a banned referendum in the region, which remains divided over independence. He later gave Catalonia’s separatist leader five days to clarify his position.
  • He held an emergency cabinet meeting after Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont announced on Tuesday that he had accepted the mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state.” Mr. Rajoy asked the Catalan leader to clarify whether he had actually declared independence, which could trigger moves by Madrid to suspend the region’s semi-autonomous status.
  • Mr. Puigdemont said the referendum had given him a mandate for independence but asked regional lawmakers to suspend the declaration to allow for negotiations with the central government.

Show full respect: EU

  • While separatist leaders say 90% of voters opted to split from Spain in the October plebiscite, less than half of the region’s eligible voters actually turned out. The drive to break Catalonia away from Spain has raised concern for stability in a European Union still coming to terms with Britain’s shock decision to leave the bloc.
  • The EU on Wednesday urged “full respect of the Spanish constitutional order,” with European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis saying the bloc was following developments “closely”.

IMF cautions against complacency

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday said policymakers must take advantage of the improving global outlook and avoid complacency by addressing rising medium-term vulnerabilities that are building under the surface.
  • “This is no time for complacency. Action is required now because vulnerabilities are building. This could put growth at risk in the future,” Tobias Adrian, IMF financial counsellor, told journalists on the release of its Global Financial Stability Report.
  • Noting that vulnerabilities are building under the surface, Mr. Adrian said if left unattended, they could derail global recovery.

Direct tax collections rise 15.8% in H1 FY’18

  • Net direct tax collections for the first half of the financial year, at Rs. 3.86 lakh crore, were 15.8% higher than the collections in the same period of the previous year, according to official data released on Wednesday.

Provisional figures

  • “The provisional figures of Direct Tax collections up to September, 2017 show that net collections are at Rs. 3.86 lakh crore which is 15.8% higher than the net collections for the corresponding period of last year,” the official data showed.
  • “Net Direct Tax collections represent 39.4% of the total Budget Estimates of Direct Taxes for financial year 2017-18 (Rs. 9.8 lakh crore).
  • Gross collections, before adjusting for refunds, increased 10.3% to Rs. 4.66 lakh crore during April to September 2017.
  • Refunds worth Rs. 79,660 crore have been issued during that period.

Advance tax

  • “An amount of Rs. 1.77 lakh crore has been received as Advance Tax up to September 30, 2017 reflecting a growth of 11.5% over the Advance Tax payments of the corresponding period of last year,” the release said. “The growth in Corporate Income Tax Advance Tax is 8.1% and in Personal Income Tax Advance Tax is 30.1%,” according to the data.

PM gives a fillip to rural goods

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged government departments to follow an outcome-based approach to ensure comprehensive rural development, and appealed to citizens to use rural products as a “fashion statement” to ensure prosperity of rural artisans.
  • Ahead of Deepavali, the Prime Minister appealed to the well-off to use earthen lamps made by rural artisans for the festival. “If people in big households use earthen lamps made by our potters for Deepavali, then you ensure that they too can celebrate the festival,” he said.

Centenary fete

  • The Prime Minister shared his views on rural development at an event to mark the centenary celebrations of Nanaji Deshmukh, one of the founding members of the Jana Sangh and social reformer, and the 115th birth anniversary of the socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan.
  • Mr. Modi said he did not agree with the view that “the country lacks resources to ensure development to the last person in a queue”. He said lack of “good governance” was what was holding back the desired results.
  • He said the States that had an efficient and proactive machinery delivered welfare schemes better. “MGNREGA is a scheme meant for the poor, but I have noticed that the States where there is more poverty give less MNREGA work, while those that have less poverty allocate more MNREGA work,” he said.

Mobile app

  • The Prime Minister, who formally launched 11 Rural Self-Employment Training Institutes (RSETI) and a mobile app to track development schemes, said democracy was not just about winning elections but ensuring participative development. “It’s about ensuring a dialogue where the right guidelines and feedback are given for effective policy making and such a mobile app will help achieve this,” he said.