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Analysis

Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities?

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Section 377 LGBT

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on gay rights, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

To these youths, being or not being gay is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

Analysis

Air pollution cuts average Indian’s life expectancy by over 4 years: Study

Concentrations in Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi are substantially higher, and the impact on life expectancy exceeds six years.

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Air Pollution in India

New Delhi, Nov 19 : India is the world’s second most polluted country, slightly trailing only Nepal, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) said on Monday.

Particulate pollution is so severe that it shortens the average Indian’s life expectancy by more than four years relative to what it would be if World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines were met.

This is up from about two years in the late 1990s due to a 69 per cent increase in particulate pollution, it said.

Concentrations in Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi are substantially higher, and the impact on life expectancy exceeds six years.

Its new air pollution index, known as the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), finds that air pollution reduces global life expectancy by nearly two years, making it the single greatest threat to human health.

The tool gives figures like — for an average resident of Delhi, gain in life expectancy if the WHO guidelines are met, could be up to 10.2 years.

Likewise, it gives numbers of years lost to pollution for every district of India for a span of 18 years between 1998 and 2016.

What makes AQLI unique is that it converts pollution into perhaps the most important metric that exists — life expectancy. It does so at a hyper-local level throughout the world.

Further, it illustrates how air pollution policies can increase life expectancy when they meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline, existing national air quality standards, or user-defined air quality levels.

This information helps informing local communities and policymakers about the importance of air pollution policies in very concrete terms.

Loss of life expectancy is highest in Asia, exceeding six years in many parts of India and China; some residents of the US still lose up to a year of life from pollution.

Fossil fuel-driven particulate air pollution cuts global average life expectancy by 1.8 years per person, according to the pollution index and accompanying report produced by the EPIC.

“Around the world today, people are breathing air that represents a serious risk to their health. But the way this risk is communicated is very often opaque and confusing, translating air pollution concentrations into colors, like red, brown, orange, and green. What those colors mean for people’s wellbeing has always been unclear,” Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and Director of the EPIC, said.

Greenstone also noted: “My colleagues and I developed the AQLI, where the ‘L’ stands for ‘life’ to address these shortcomings. It takes particulate air pollution concentrations and converts them into perhaps the most important metric that exists, life expectancy.”

The AQLI is based on a pair of peer-reviewed studies co-authored by Greenstone that quantify the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to particulate pollution and life expectancy.

The results from these studies are then combined with hyper-localised, global particulate matter measurements, yielding unprecedented insight into the true cost of air pollution in communities around the world.

Seventy-five per cent of the global population, or 5.5 billion people, live in areas where particulate pollution exceeds the WHO guideline.

The AQLI reveals that India and China, which make up 36 per cent of the world’s population, account for 73 per cent of all years of life lost due to particulate pollution.

On average, people in India would live 4.3 years longer if their country met the WHO guideline, expanding the average life expectancy at birth there from 69 to 73 years.

In the US, about a third of the population lives in areas not in compliance with the WHO guideline.

Those living in the country’s most polluted counties could expect to live up to one year longer if pollution met the WHO guideline.

Globally, the AQLI reveals that particulate pollution reduces average life expectancy by 1.8 years, making it the greatest global threat to human health.

By comparison, first-hand cigarette smoke leads to a reduction in global average life expectancy of about 1.6 years.

Other risks to human health have even smaller effects: alcohol and drugs reduce life expectancy by 11 months; unsafe water and sanitation take off seven months; and HIV/AIDS four months.

Conflict and terrorism take off 22 days. So, the impact of particulate pollution on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, twice that of alcohol and drug use, three times that of unsafe water, five times that of HIV/AIDS, and more than 25 times that of conflict and terrorism.

“While people can stop smoking and take steps to protect themselves from diseases, there is little they can individually do to protect themselves from the air they breathe,” Greenstone said.

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Analysis

AIIMS launches research project on air pollution’s impact on health

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delhi air pollution

New Delhi, Nov 19: As the National Capital Region (NCR) battles poor air quality during winter, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has started a research project to study the effects of air pollution on public health.

“Delhi’s air quality deteriorates every year during Diwali owing to multiple reasons like stubble burning and bursting of crackers. However, last year, when the air pollution level escalated, we noticed a surge in patients visiting AIIMS,” Dr Karan Madan, Associate Professor, Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Sleep Disorders, AIIMS, who is part of this research programme, told IANS.

So the country’s premier medical research and referral hospital decided to conduct empirical research on the impact of air pollution on health.

For the study, titled “DAPHNE” (Delhi Air Pollution Health And Effects), AIIMS researchers have developed an air pollution sensor technology.

“This sort of study has not been earlier conducted in India. The device has been developed in a belt format which is very light and it gives clear continuous pollution data. The belt can be wrapped around the waist or on the arms,” Madan said.

He explained that the device is wireless and directly sends data to a monitoring system through a Global Positioning System (GPS). AIIMS is primarily focusing on children suffering from pulmonary diseases like asthma, bronchitis and other breathing troubles — as well as pregnant women.

The device, which is to be worn by children suffering from asthma or bronchitis, will give an idea of the exposure level of air pollution when one is travelling in the school bus, at home, when in school, or outdoors while playing.

“On pregnant women, we are trying to see how pollution might affect the unborn child. We are also trying to figure out the birth rate issue from this study owing to poor air quality,” Madan noted.

Funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, and Medical Research Council, Britain, the project is a collaborative effort of the the two nations.

In India, apart from AIIMS, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai, IIT Delhi and GTB Hospital are also associated with the research.

“While the data on asthma in children will be compiled at AIIMS, GTB Hospital will be following the cases of pregnant women,” Madan said.

The research process, initiated last year, began on a pilot basis two months ago. Dr Madan stated that around 10 children have been given this belt across Delhi NCR.

“So far, the project is going good and the readings have come accurate. The study will conclude next year and the report will be released,” he added.

Talking about the rise in health hazards among residents in the National Capital Region and its surrounding areas, Madan said that AIIMS has witnessed an increase of 15-20 per cent in the number of patients with cases of respiratory problems like coughing, heavy breathing, asthma symptoms, and burning sensation in throat and nose.

“People with respiratory problems are increasing. Apart from asthma patients, there were fresh cases who visited AIIMS owing to pollution,” he stated.

IANS

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Analysis

Revised railway flexi-fares to kick-off from March 15, 2019

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Indian Railways

New Delhi, Nov 18 : The revised flexi-fares for premier trains will be applicable from March 15, 2019 — and advance bookings have commenced as the changes required in the software have been executed.

Aimed at giving relief to passengers and also offering convenience and competitive fares to passengers, as well as generating revenue for the Indian Railways, the decision to tweak the fares in the Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains was taken on October 31 this year.

However, it could not be implemented because of the need for changes in the ticketing system’s software.

The flexi-fare scheme introduced for 44 Rajdhanis, 46 Shatabdis and 52 Duronto trains in September 2016 has drawn criticism from various quarters, including passengers and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

As per the system, the tariff goes up as the occupancy rate increases. The fare increases by 10 per cent as every 10 per cent of berths are occupied with a cap of 1.5 times of the base fare.

“It has also resulted in many vacant berths due to high prices in certain trains. So there was a review committee which looked into the issue and recommended rationalisation of the flexi-fare system,” a senior Railway Ministry official told IANS.

As recommended, flexi-fare was completely removed from 15 trains, which include the Kalka-New Delhi, New Delhi-Ludhiana and Dibrugarh-Guwahati Shatabdis.

The flexi-fare system was scrapped for trains that have shown 50 per cent utilisation — or, in other words, bookings — said the official.

Flexi-fares were also removed from 32 trains during the lean period (February, March and August). The trains included the Bilaspur-New Delhi and Ranchi-New Delhi Rajdhanis and the Pune-Secunderabad, New Delhi-Amritsar, Kathgodam-Anand Vihar and Ranchi-Howrah Shatabdis.

The revised structure also offers the current cap of 1.5 times to be reduced to 1.4 times the tariff in all classes.

The railways earned about Rs 800 crore from flexi-fares in the last fiscal.

(Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at [email protected])

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