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EDITORIALS

Rampant food inflation
Govt needs to pull up its socks
F
ood inflation returning to double digits (12.13 per cent) has caused an understandable alarm. Even though the index measuring wholesale prices does not accurately reflect the actual retail prices consumers pay, the situation is certainly grim, especially at this time of the year when vegetables and fruits are available in plenty.

BJP’s nitpicking
It has nothing new to offer on J&K
M
r Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who announced a three-point proposal of the BJP in Jammu on Thursday after its national-level meeting in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, commented that “on every visit to the Valley, the Prime Minister announces some ad hoc initiatives like the constitution of working groups” for the resolution of the Kashmir crisis, but in vain.



EARLIER STORIES

Destructive politics
December 24, 2010
Withdraw agitation
December 23, 2010
PM’s offer to face PAC
December 22, 2010
Taking on corruption
December 21, 2010
Row over Rahul’s remark
December 20, 2010
Intelligence is gathered from ‘friends’
December 19, 2010
Trade to cement ties
December 18, 2010
Monitoring 2G probe
December 17, 2010
Plugging phone tap ‘leaks’
December 16, 2010
Cooperation is the key
December 15, 2010

Girl child quota
Can help change patriarchal mindset
T
he Himachal Pradesh University’s proposal to reserve seats for the lone girl child in a family in professional courses in all colleges except medicine and engineering across the state is refreshing. The idea has a two-fold advantage. At one level, it is likely to discourage those who adopt sex selection procedures and discriminate against female child and on the other it rewards those who cherish the girl child.

ARTICLE

India-China ties after Wen’s visit
The missing ‘stabilising effect’
by Balbir K. Punj
C
hinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as indicating a transformation in Sino-Indian relations before the event. After the event, all that South Block let it be known was that it had a “stabilising effect” on the relationship.

MIDDLE

Death be not proud
by Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)
I
t would have been easier to accept, had he gone doing what he cherished the most: a solo commando mission deep behind the contact-battle, pioneering a near impossible route up a mountain rock-face, expounding on the “body” and “bouquet” of a good wine ………… .

OPED RIGHT TO LIVE

From which point of time does life begin? Is it from the time of conception, or from the time of birth or from the interim point at which the fetus 
becomes ‘viable’?
Life in the womb
Krishan Vij
T
his vital question came to the centrestage some time back in the well-voiced Niketa Mehta’s case in which the pregnancy had travelled up to the 23rd week when a congenital heart anomaly was diagnosed in the fetus. The couple sought termination of pregnancy through the process of the court presenting their case on both the counts, but the Mumbai High Court rejected the petition of the couple to procure abortion observing that the MTP Act envisaged procuring abortion up to the 20th week of gestation.



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EDITORIALS

Rampant food inflation
Govt needs to pull up its socks

Food inflation returning to double digits (12.13 per cent) has caused an understandable alarm. Even though the index measuring wholesale prices does not accurately reflect the actual retail prices consumers pay, the situation is certainly grim, especially at this time of the year when vegetables and fruits are available in plenty. There has been no crop failure barring the untimely rain in the onion-growing states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, which should not have caused a production loss of more than 30 per cent. Given the price rise, the government may have to shelve the idea of raising the diesel and cooking gas prices.

Media reports say the wholesale price index of vegetables is up 67 per cent this fiscal. There has been a phenomenal increase in the prices of cabbage (159%), garlic (140 %) and potato (86%). Tomato, milk, edible oil, egg, meat and fish prices too are on the rise. A food price spiral in the absence of a crop failure can be attributed to hoarding and glitches in the food supply management. Lack of scientific storage facilities is badly felt time and again. According to one report, fruits and vegetables worth Rs 65,000 crore perish annually due to inadequate cold storage and processing facilities.

The price rise would have been tolerable had the growers benefited. But reports indicate the presence of a cartel of middlemen manipulating prices with the government remaining a mute spectator. In fact, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s statement that onion prices will not come down at least for three weeks, it seems, was a helpful signal to hoarders. The government has abolished the import duty on onion and stopped its exports — rather belatedly. This has caused a dip in the wholesale onion prices. It is time to halt all food exports. In the long term farm productivity has to be raised and storage infrastructure created to minimize wastage to meet the needs of a growing population and make national food security a reality.

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BJP’s nitpicking
It has nothing new to offer on J&K

Mr Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who announced a three-point proposal of the BJP in Jammu on Thursday after its national-level meeting in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, commented that “on every visit to the Valley, the Prime Minister announces some ad hoc initiatives like the constitution of working groups” for the resolution of the Kashmir crisis, but in vain. Finding a solution to a complicated problem like Kashmir is not as easy as Mr Jaitley wants the nation to believe. The efforts made by the UPA government at the Centre have not led to normalisation of the situation in the Valley, but the measures taken so far have definitely weakened the base of trouble-makers, including the separatists and terrorists.

Of course, the BJP’s opinion on Kashmir has its own significance. But it has nothing new to offer. The suggestions it has made amount to a reiteration of its known stand. The BJP has always stood for the abrogation of Article 370, which it feels has done more harm than good. It has also been opposed to any change in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Its unexceptionable demand for an equitable distribution of the state’s resources showing no discrimination against any region is well known. What is, however, interesting is that the BJP does not approve of the bifurcation or trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir as once mooted by the RSS.

In the larger interests of the nation, the Centre’s efforts to end the unrest in Jammu and Kashmir should be allowed to move on. Now that infiltration from across the Line of Control has come down and ordinary people appear to be more interested in the revival of economic activity than anything else, the Centre appears to be thinking of reducing the visible presence of the security forces in the Valley, as Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram indicated a few days back. This may be aimed at ending the resentment among the people. Any step that helps in the restoration of peace is welcome.

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Girl child quota
Can help change patriarchal mindset

The Himachal Pradesh University’s proposal to reserve seats for the lone girl child in a family in professional courses in all colleges except medicine and engineering across the state is refreshing. The idea has a two-fold advantage. At one level, it is likely to discourage those who adopt sex selection procedures and discriminate against female child and on the other it rewards those who cherish the girl child.

However, this is not the first time such a proposal has been mooted. Panjab University, Chandigarh, already has a quota for the lone girl child that has found support from student organisations as well as teachers’ federations who have often protested against non-implementation of the quota. In Bangalore, the High Court had asked the Directorate of Medical Education to frame special rules to provide reservation to the benefit of the single girl child for post-graduate studies in medicine. Himachal Pradesh University too had introduced the scheme this year in post-graduate courses. Extending the benefit to under graduate courses is bound to send the right signal in a society that continues to undervalue its daughters.

Sceptics may feel that reservation at the college level is not likely to impact the mindset of the people. Indeed, it is nobody’s case that reservations alone can reverse the skewed sex ratio. However, it must be understood that in a country where girl child is denied due status at every stage of life, where gender inequity and violence against women have been entrenched deep, any move that empowers the fair sex should be lauded. There is little doubt that while the law must take its course in curbing malpractices of sex selection, positive measures play an instrumentals role in denting prejudiced attitudes. In fact, the scheme should be adopted by other states as well.

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Thought for the Day

When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. — Frédéric Bastia

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ARTICLE

India-China ties after Wen’s visit
The missing ‘stabilising effect’
by Balbir K. Punj

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit was described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as indicating a transformation in Sino-Indian relations before the event. After the event, all that South Block let it be known was that it had a “stabilising effect” on the relationship.

Wen has lost no time in disabusing Delhi of any such optimism. From here he flew down to Islamabad. And the balance-sheet of the two visits speak for itself about what the communist Chinese think of our Prime Minister’s soft power. Wen announced in Pakistan deals worth $25 billion. In India, he had concluded commercial pacts worth only $16 billion. And that, too, did not narrow the huge gap in favour of China in Sino-Indian trade — the Wen deal only widens that gap. So, South Block has yet to explain in what way its promised pressure on Wen to narrow the trade gap in favour of India has worked.

Not only did Wen not give any assurance or even distant hope of a Chinese aboutturn on India’s attempt for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, in Islamabad he made it clear that he was firmly behind his Pakistan ally on most international political questions. And no one needs to be told what Pakistan thinks of the Indian plea for this seat. Our officialdom has sought to find some solace in his private dialogue with Dr Manmohan Singh. The distinguished visitor, the “sources” assure us has said that China would not be an obstacle in the Indian quest for this seat, but how convincing such a promise from Wen is when that indication was not there in any of the Chinese Premier’s public statements? Read in the context of what he later said in Islamabad in complete backing of Pakistan, the green shoot New Delhi thought there has simply been shown as an illusion, if not a delusion of his host, Dr Manmohan Singh.

The Chinese visitor did not give any assurance either on the stapled visa issue or on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror against India. If New Delhi was looking for some bright spots in the long dialogue between the two Prime Ministers here, Wen made it clear in Islamabad what his stand is. He praised Pakistan for its attempt to tackle Al-Qaeda terror but said nothing on Pakistan’s own sponsorship of Jihadis across the border into India. During the Indian visit, the Chinese Premier did not say a word about the 26/11 attack or on Pakistan’s contretemps on prosecuting the perpetrators of that attack. Instead, during his Pakistan visit, Wen was saying that terrorism was not to be linked to any country or religion. “Let us not have any dual standards in this regard”, Wen told the Pakistan Parliament-that was perhaps a line from our own Digvijay Singh’s mouth because as against New Delhi’s official stand of Pakistan-based terrorism, abetted by the government there, the Congress party itself now speaks of “majority terrorism” in India, thereby giving solace to Pakistan. Wen could point to this and talk back at New Delhi.

The Chinese Premier said that Pakistan and his country were “all-weather strategic partners”. That means “the Chinese government and people will stand by you to face all challenges together”. That leaves no scope for China to annoy Pakistan by making any concession in its disputes with India. Hence no Chinese commitments on issues concerning India. The Wen visit to India has gone all the way the Chinese wanted.

New Delhi is sulking and seeking to cover up its failures by finding some hope in the small mercies that Wen Jiabao showed. As small as the visiting Prime Minister agreeing to raise the level of economic dialogue and have the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to chair the economic strategic dialogue between the two countries, is considered as “a big plus”. In the absence of anything else from the visit, the UPA government is clutching on the straws.

After what the Chinese Premier said in Pakistan there should be no doubt left anywhere that Beijing will use Islamabad to counter and harass India. There is no change in that strategy that communist China adopted long ago taking a lesson from the Nehruvian lollypop treatment towards emerging China. We wrote off Tibet without a protest and let the Chinese occupy it. And then closed our eyes when they went about building roads and occupying chunks of our territory in Aksai Chin and elsewhere. Remember Nehru’s blue-eyed boy Krishna Menon describing that territory in the 1960s as one “where not a blade of grass grew”.

If Dr Manmohan Singh had any illusion that the Chinese are now coming round — “sources” claimed they are citing China’s acceptance of Sikkim as an Indian territory — Beijing had disabused them of it. Just before Wen set foot on India, Beijing had said that the Sino-Indian border was only 2,000-km long. The official position of New Delhi is that it is 3,600 km even without including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s border with China. That means China has already claimed as its some 1600 km of the border area. So, it is as usual heads-I-win, tails-you-keep” syndrome. Parts of Kashmir’s border with China is not considered a Sino-Indian border by Beijing. This is a new element in the dispute between the two countries. And this is linked to China’s refusal to consider J&K as an integral part of India.

For all the red carpet that Dr Manmohan Singh rolled out for his Chinese counterpart, there was total opposition from premier Wen regarding the Kashmir question. The issue of stapled visas for anyone going from J&K to China was supposed to have been discussed by the two Prime Ministers. Apparently, the issue was discussed among the two Prime Ministers. But the Chinese leader stood his ground and would not even acknowledge the existence of the legal position. Obviously, all this partly linked to the position China has taken that it considers J&K as a disputed territory. That provides advantage to its friend Pakistan.

New Delhi claims a weak defence of its position by revealing that in the joint communique it has also not allowed any reference to “one China” policy as a retaliation. But that hardly matters for Beijing that has consolidated its position in Tibet with new roads and rail link to Lhasa and from there to the border and total suppression of Tibetans. Further, China has encouraged Chinese to occupy chunks of Tibet and change its demographic environment. Tibetans are now a minority in their homeland. History records how the Nehru government disregarded its own ambassador’s advice not to sign off Tibet.

In recent months India has, through its short-sighted policy of playing second fiddle to America, agreed to resume talks with Pakistan despite Islamabad making no concessions on any issue. Therefore, the Obama visit, despite much trumpet-blowing, brought no concrete results. Now the Wen visit has followed suit. Only New Delhi goes on claiming “stabilising effect” without specifying where that “stabilising effect” of the visit is being felt.

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MIDDLE

Death be not proud
by Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

It would have been easier to accept, had he gone doing what he cherished the most: a solo commando mission deep behind the contact-battle, pioneering a near impossible route up a mountain rock-face, expounding on the “body” and “bouquet” of a good wine ………… .

Almost all paratroopers would want to “jump” every morning but Balwant Sandhu was among the few who did just that. Besides setting an example, he was also driven by two personal needs. The peace-time safety regime preparatory to a jump takes nearly two hours which for this voracious reader was the ideal uninterrupted reading session. The other compelling urge arose from his belief that the pull of gravity on the paratrooper was the perfect anti-dote for the hangover of the night before!

Balwant was among the probables for the 1964 Indian Everest expedition. During the course of training-cum-selection under Tenzing in West Sikkim, one aspirant fell critically ill and Balwant volunteered to safely evacuate his ”rope” buddy to Darjeeling. Despite this lost opportunity, he would nevertheless enter the Hall of Fame of great mountaineers.

The breakthrough came when he climbed the Sickle Moon Peak and then with Sir Chris Bonnington, he summited Changabhang in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, rated among the world’s technically most difficult climbs. And in 1975, Balwant became the first Indian atop Nanda Devi. With several other peaks and Principalship of the Uttar Kashi Mountaineering Institute to his credit, his selection for the Arjuna Award was applauded the most.

When an instructor at the Infantry School Mhow, he qualified for the Defence Services Staff Collage Course at Wellington. It made no sense that he would sit in one train compartment while his Bullet motorbike stood idle in the adjoining one. So he drove, resting wherever refuelling and three days later walked into our room for the sun-downer.

Days later, he would create another landmark. After a Saturday late evening at the Gymkhana, the speeding Bullet jumped the parapet at a sharp curve and the duo fell twenty feet below in the rose-bed of his instructor’s bungalow. But the faithful Bullet responded to the kick and together they made a neat exit before detection!

His cup of joy was full when he won the tough, Point to Point horse race and carried the Peter Pan Cup to the cheering German who would later take marriage vows with him inside the regimental gurdwara.

Now on the evening of December 2, an errant driver threw this good man up into the air like a rags-doll. All effort by the Army’s R&R Hospital, New Delhi to mend and revive failed and he passed away a weak later. The evening after, as leaping flames consumed the body, Balwant’s physical presence was reduced to memories alone. Farewell friend, till you and us reunite in Valhalla.

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OPED RIGHT TO LIVE

From which point of time does life begin? Is it from the time of conception, or from the time of birth or from the interim point at which the fetus becomes ‘viable’?
Life in the womb
Krishan Vij

This vital question came to the centrestage some time back in the well-voiced Niketa Mehta’s case in which the pregnancy had travelled up to the 23rd week when a congenital heart anomaly was diagnosed in the fetus. The couple sought termination of pregnancy through the process of the court presenting their case on both the counts, but the Mumbai High Court rejected the petition of the couple to procure abortion observing that the MTP Act envisaged procuring abortion up to the 20th week of gestation.

“Viable period”

Perhaps the ancient sages, too, were knowledgeable about this ‘viable period’ during fetal development as emerging from the citation appearing in the Shiv Purana: “Remaining suspended upside-down in the mother’s womb is a sort of imprisonment wherein the organism has to undergo varied kinds of torture depending upon one’s previous karmas. That is why saintly souls leave the womb during 7th month and the other ones go on suffering till 9th”

Medical Ethics

The International Code of Medical Ethics (1949) says: “A doctor must always keep in mind the importance of preserving human life from the day of conception until death. Abortion may be performed if the conscience of the doctor and the national laws permit”.

However, the declaration of Geneva as last amended in 2006 cites that: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life…..” deleting the words ‘from the time of conception’ which were present in the original declaration of 1948. The literature tends to support the former while purporting to indicate that conception is a ‘process’ overtime, rather than an event.

The issue may further be addressed by looking at the definition of the term “conceptus” as inserted in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (prohibition of sex selection) Act in 2003: “Conceptus means any product of conception at any stage of development from fertilisation until birth”.

An appeal is lying in the apex court for the amendment of the Act so as to cover such situations and prevent litigation voicing ‘wrongful life claim’ i.e. a suit may be brought up by or on behalf of the disabled / handicapped child arguing that non-existence was preferable to such a vegetative life occasioned from the congenital abnormality.

In the legal parlance, there has been a tendency in the past that, in cases where the abortion was caused by the action of another person, to compensate the mother or the family in a limited way, i.e. they were used to be compensated for their mental and physical anguish and any impairment of health of the mother occasioned by the miscarriage but not for the productivity of the aborted fetus as if it were a potential wage earner.

However, on March 5, 2007 the Maharashtra State Commission in the case of Kanta Mohan Lal Kotecha Vs United India Insurance Company ruled that the claim in respect of the unborn child was maintainable provided certain requirements were satisfied.

The forum laid stress upon the concept of ‘viability’ i.e. whether the fetus had reached the stage of ‘viability’ at the time of the accident and thereby attained the status of a ‘potential person’ who could be able to live outside the mother’s womb albeit with artificial aid.

The medical literature speaks of attainment of this stage at the completion of seven calendar months i.e. 210 days of intra-uterine life. The view expressed by Berriman Cox as early as 1969, “No specific limit can be assigned to the period when the chance of life begins, but it may, perhaps, be safely assumed that under seven months, the great probability is that the child would not be born alive” still holds substance.

Furthermore, observations of the court in the case of Jabbar Vs State (1966, AII): “where the postmortem report shows that the fetus had developed sufficiently to have an identity of its own as child, it would be enough to satisfy the definition of the term ‘person’ as used Section 304A of the Code” lend unambiguous authenticity to the same.

Next important medico-legal milestone of gestational period may be considered as 20th week. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy on the basis of opinion of one registered medical practitioner where the length of pregnancy does not exceed 12 weeks and, on the basis of opinion of not less than two registered medical practitioners where the length of pregnancy exceeds 12 weeks but does not exceed 20 weeks.

And, such an opinion must be formed in good faith showing that the continuance of pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The stage of ‘quickening’ is another well recognised period in the fetal life. It implies feeling of fetal movements by the mother which are appreciated between 16th and 18th weeks in multigravida and between 18th to 20th week in primingravida. Causing miscarriage during this period attracts punishment under Section 312 IPC.

The explanation appended to the section makes it clear that this section applies equally both to the woman miscarrying and to the abortionist who causes her miscarriage. The offence is committed by the latter with the consent of the woman and they, therefore, are both particeps criminis.

However, situations may be there when the intention of the offender is to commit culpable homicide against the mother and, in that process, mother however survives but the child with which she is pregnant (the pregnancy having reached beyond the stage of quickening), gets killed.

Such cases are punishable under Section 316 IPC. The offence here may be described as a modified form of culpable homicide as applied to an unborn child through the principle of ‘transfer of malice’.

The period around the 12th week of gestation is significant from the angle of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PC & PNDT Act. The necessity for the enactment of this Act was felt because of the absence of any specific provision in the Indian Penal Code regarding ‘feticide’ (explanation third to Section 299 IPC which defines culpable homicide opens with the words: “The causing of death of a child in the mother’s womb is not homicide………”).

And the emerging trends for female feticide, probably because of the still lingering belief that the son is the old-age-security (budhape ki lathi) and, the daughter is the other’s asset (paraya dhan); have added fuel to the fire.

Women, therefore, face covert violence before birth through sex-selection and overt violence after conception through sex-selective abortion. The clinching period for determination of the sex of the fetus ultra-sonographically, as mentioned in various standard books on the subject, rests at 12th week of intra-uterine development since during embryologic development, the male and female genitalia are identical until the 11th week of gestation.

At 12th weeks’ gestation, fetal gender can be determined in 86 per cent to 100 per cent of these cases. The male fetus is diagnosable when the penis and scrotum are demonstrated. And the female, when the labia majora are demonstrated. Inopportune fetal position, oligohydramnios (abnormally small amount of amniotic fluid in which the fetus is suspended in the womb), maternal obesity, and operator’s / expert’s experience represent the major limitations in fetal gender assessment.

It will be worth focusing here that PC & PNDT Act is the only Act wherein the punishment has been prescribed even at the stage of framing of charges by the court which includes suspension of registration until the case is disposed off.

Lastly is the gestational period around 8th week. In humans, the developing organism from fertilisation to the end of 8th week is termed as embryo. And, from 9th week onwards, it is termed as fetus. The overwhelming desire to have a child is the product of a deep-seated, instinctive, and evolutionary urge to perpetuate the species.

Therefore, in the ever emerging societal shake-up, issues like surrogacy (a surrogate mother is one who is hired to bear a child which she turns over at birth to the contracting couple, the practice sometimes called as ‘baby selling’ and the surrogates as ‘whores)’, oocyte donation/selling, cryo-preservation and implantation of embryos, etc; deserve consideration.

Apart from the general laws that prohibit the use of the body for commercial purposes, there is no specific law that could deal with such practices.

Dr Krishan Vij, former Professor & Head, Forensic Medicine, GMCH, Chandigarh, is currently Professor , Head, Forensic Medicine, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, Bathinda

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