Winter Session of Parliament
The winter session saw the passage of nine bills in the Parliament. These were as follows:
|Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021||The bill will amend sections of the Representation of the People Act of 1950 and 1951.
One of the provisions of the bill seeks to link electoral roll data with the Aadhar number of the voters. In effect, this empowers the Election Commission to seek the Aadhar details of new voters and the requisition of biometric details of existing voters. However, the government has insisted that this linking is voluntary. The bill says that registration to electoral rolls cannot be denied if Aadhaar is not provided due to “sufficient cause”.
However, the catch is that the “cause” which may exempt voters from furnishing Aadhar will be known only when the rules for the same are notified by the Central government after the Bill becomes law.
Unlike other bills, the government brooked no opposition in the passage of this bill.
Those opposing the bill included Congress, TMC, Left parties, DMK, NCP and Samajwadi Party, while those in favour of the bill included BJP, JD(U), YSRCP, AIADMK, BJD and TMC-M.
The latter argued that the bill will help in eradicating duplicate and fake voters from electoral rolls, since the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants that register as fake voters is a serious problem especially in eastern border states.
The detractors of the bill argued that interlinking Aadhar with electoral rolls may lead to denial of basic voting rights to certain people and may compromise privacy (in the absence of a data protection law) leading to Aadhar being used for voter-profiling.
|The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021||The Bill repeals the three farm laws passed by Parliament in September 2020. These are: (i) the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, (ii) the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and (iii) the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.|
|The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020||It was first introduced in Lok Sabha in Monsoon session of 2020. It seeks to provide for the regulation of Assisted Reproductive Technology – technologies which seek to obtain a pregnancy – services in the country. The Bill makes the domain much more tight and well-regulated, provides for legal conditions for operation of ART clinics and stipulates rules for prospective parents as well as legal rights of children.|
|The Dam Safety Bill, 2019||The Bill provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all specified dams across the country. These are dams with height more than 15 metres, or height between 10 metres to 15 metres with certain design and structural conditions. It constitutes two national bodies: the National Committee on Dam Safety and the National Dam Safety Authority. It also constitutes two corresponding state bodies. The Bill was passed after much opposition from the state of Tamil Nadu due to the ongoing intra-state water disputes among the southern states, and due to the states challenging the central authority to intervene in state matters on grounds of federalism.|
|The National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill, 2021||It seeks to amend the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research Act, 1998. The Bill declares six additional National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research as Institutions of National Importance. The Bill provides for a Council to coordinate the activities among the institutes to ensure development of pharmaceutical education and research and maintenance of standards.|
|The High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021||The Bill seeks to amend the two Acts that regulate the salaries and conditions of service of the judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court. The Bill adds a clarification that a person will be entitled to the additional pension or family pension from the first day of the month in which they complete the minimum age under the concerned age bracket.|
|The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019||The Bill defines surrogacy as a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an intending couple with the intention to hand over the child after the birth to the intending couple. The Bill prohibits commercial surrogacy, but allows altruistic surrogacy. It also regulates purposes for which surrogacy is permitted, eligibility criteria of parties concerned and establishes institutions for regulation.|
|The Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021||The Bill seeks to amend the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003. The Bill extends the tenure of the Director by up to one year at a time, till the completion of five years from the initial appointment on the recommendation of the Committee.|
|The Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021||The Bill seeks to amend the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946. It provides for extension of the tenure of the Director by up to one year at a time, till the completion of five years from the initial date of appointment, upon recommendation of the Appointment Committee.|
|The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2021||The Bill amends the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 to correct a drafting error dating back to a 2014 amendment, on a section on penalties.|
Besides these bills, an important proposed bill for amendments to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 has been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee after heated debate. Three changes were proposed viz.,
First, increasing the minimum age of marriage for a women from 18 to 21 years, making the minimum age of marriage same for both men and women.
Second, the bill makes it easier for a “child” to file a petition to declare a child marriage “void”.
Third, and most importantly, the bill sought to introduce a “notwithstanding” clause, thereby ensuring equal application of the bill to all religions, including minorities.
The bill was opposed by minorities – especially Muslims – due to the fact that it entails an amendment to their Personal Laws. It was also opposed by the opposition on the grounds that child marriage is sometimes a compulsion for poor families; thus, unless their economic and educational opportunities are uplifted, such marriages would become criminalized, leading to illicit conduct of such marriages.
The Bill was significant as it, if passed, would set a precursor framework for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.
Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in the first week of December underscored the positive balance in India-Russia relations. He was there to attend the 21st Annual India-Russia Summit. In recent times, bilateral relations have often been constrained due to Russia’s balancing act between India and China. Putin’s visit to India has come after his considerable global hiatus. This is Putin’s second visit abroad this year, the first one being the recent meeting with US’s President Biden in Geneva.
Significantly, the two sides held the inaugural round of a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue involving the defense and foreign ministers of India and Russia. India has 2+2 ministerial formats with only the Quad countries — US, Japan and Australia. The Inter-Governmental Commission on Military & Military-Technical Cooperation also held a meeting during the visit. An extended pact on military cooperation for 10 years from 2021 to 2031 was also signed. Around 28 Memorandums of Understanding were signed, spanning important areas such as cooperation on outer space, defense, and energy security. The summit focused on core issues of common concern, such as terrorism, terrorist financing, illegal drug trade and changing regional situation in Afghanistan
Russia’s relationship with India rests on the core bedrock of defence procurement, with around 60 to 70 per cent of India’s supplies being from Russia and with India constantly relying on Russia for the regular supply of spare parts for defence equipment. India is also further engaging with Russia on defence, as ahead of the summit, it cleared the long-pending AK 203 Kalashnikov rifles deal worth nearly Rs 5,000 crore for production of over five lakh such rifles by an Indo-Russian joint venture. The two sides also focused on co-production and co-development of military equipment and platforms. India’s decision to boldly go ahead with the import of Russian S-400 missile system despite US’s sanctions on the same further cemented commitment in the relationship.
Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi are also the only two leaders with whom PM Modi has held informal summits, reflecting the importance India places on these countries, despite ongoing conflicts with China. The significance of a strong trilateral relationship between India, Russia and China cannot be emphasized enough, as this relationship forms an alternative bulwark to the West.
Population Control and Fertility
Data from National Family Health Survey (NFHS 2019-21) reveals that India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has, for the first time, fallen below the replacement level. TFR refers to the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime. Replacement level refers to the level of fertility at which a population replaces itself exactly from one generation to the next. According to the United Nations, below-replacement fertility — lower than 2.1 children per woman — indicates that a generation is not producing enough children to replace itself, eventually leading to a reduction in population.
In India, the national Total Fertility Rate was found to be 2.7 in the NFHS 2005-06 survey and decreased to 2.2 in the NFHS 2015-16 survey. It has now declined to 2.1 in rural areas and 1.6 in urban areas, as per the latest NFHS survey.
|States with TFR above 2||States with TFR below 2||States where TFR equals national average = 2|
|Bihar – 3||TFR of 1.6||Madhya Pradesh|
|Meghalaya – 2.9||West Bengal||Rajasthan|
|Uttar Pradesh – 2.4||Maharashtra|
|Jharkhand – 2.3||TFR of 1.7|
|Manipur – 2.2||Karnataka|
|TFR of 1.8|
|TFR of 1.9|
Separately, a study by a U.S. think-tank, Pew Research, has studied the religion-wise fertility rate from 1992 to 2015. The results are as follows:
Source: Pew Research Centre
The findings show that fertility rates across all religions have declined. However, the Muslim fertility rate continues to be the highest across all religious groups. In percentage terms, between 1951 and 2011, Muslims grew by 4.4 percentage points to 14.2% of the population, while Hindus declined by 4.3 points to 79.8%.
It is likely that demographic changes will occur further, especially among Muslims, as women become more exposed to education and aware about their rights. Societal factors, such as giving a good education and profession to all children despite economic constraints, also influences people’s choice to have less children.
COVID19 Pandemic: Rising Cases Globally
Recent surge of COVID19 pandemic globally has been driven by the ongoing Delta variant and the upsurge of Omicron variant. The data below provides a snapshot of new cases and deaths across major countries.
|Country||Active cases||Total cases||Total cases/million of population||Total deaths||Total deaths/million of population||Share of population fully vaccinated against COVID19 (%)|
The trends clearly show that India has the lowest count of deaths per million of population as well as cases per million of population, out of these major countries. It is also notable that this is despite the fact that India has only 41% of population fully vaccinated.
Saudi Arabia’s Ban on Tablighi and Da’wah Group
Saudi Arabia recently banned the Tablighi and Da’wah or the Al Ahbab Group, terming it a ‘danger to society and one of the gates of terrorism’. It has also declared that affiliation with partisan groups is prohibited in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Indian branch of Tablighi Jamaat criticized Saudi Arabia’s ban and requested the Kingdom for a review. Tablighi Jamaat is also banned across other countries, including Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Tablighi Jamaat originated from India’s Mewat in 1927 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, who coined the slogan “Oh Muslims! Become Muslims”. It has its roots in Darul Uloom’s Sunni Islamic Deobandi tradition. It is a missionary movement that seeks to reach out to the ordinary Muslims and revive their faith in Islam. It has its roots across nearly 150 countries, and is shaped by Saudi Arabia’s traditional Wahhabi style of Islam – one of the most conservative, extremist and intolerant forms of practice. Many of its members have had radical, terrorist and extremist linkages. In India, the movement gained infamy in 2020 in the context of flouting of COVID19 lockdown.
The recent ban by Saudi Arabia is significant as the Kingdom is the heart of the Islamic world. It sets benchmarks for Muslims across the world and influences religion as well as politics. No Muslim country flourishes without being the good graces of the Kingdom. In recent years, under the Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, the Kingdom has enacted a series of changes geared towards guaranteeing partial women rights as well as restricting the activities of its Muslim clerics. The recent ban comes in the wake of these actions and is a significant setback to Islamic expansionism.