Head Line: Surrogacy Bill, then & now
1) Mains Paper II: mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Why in news:
- ON WEDNESDAY, Lok Sabha passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016.
- Cleared by the Cabinet in 2016, the Bill was subsequently referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee (Health & Family Welfare) before its passage.
- The key aspects of the Bill in current form, and what has changed and what has not.
What does the Bill aim to do?
- Drafted keeping in mind the “Indian ethos” the Bill allows only altruistic surrogacy (by relatives) for married couples.
- It seeks to put an end to commercial surrogacy — payment to a surrogate mother is punishable by up to five years imprisonment — and also has safeguards built in against sex selection of the baby.
- The Bill proposes to allow altruistic, ethical surrogacy to intending infertile Indian married couples between the ages of 23-50 (female) and 26-55 (male).
- It limits the option to only legally married childless couples who have been trying for a child for at least five years.
- The commissioning couple cannot have a surviving child either biological or adopted, except when they have a child who is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from a life-threatening disorder with no permanent cure.
Why was the Bill necessary?
- There have been several reports about the exploitation of surrogate mothers, women who are kept confined in “hostels” during pregnancy and not allowed to meet their families, women who do it repeatedly for a paltry amount thus putting their own bodies at risk. The Bill seeks to put an end to that.
- Ballpark estimations by Indian Council of Medical Research are around 2,000-odd babies per year through commercial surrogacy — when a woman is paid a pre-fixed sum for renting her womb.
- CII figures say surrogacy is a $2.3 billion industry fed by lack of regulation and poverty.
- The 228th report of the Law Commission had recommended prohibition of commercial surrogacy. Commercial surrogacy is allowed only in Russia, Ukraine and California.
- The Bill now requires all surrogacy clinics to be registered.
- Clinics can charge for these services but the surrogate mother cannot be paid.
- The national and state surrogacy boards will be the regulating authorities.
What maternity benefits would a commissioning mother be entitled to?
- The Bill does not take that into account.
- It deals with the rights and responsibilities of commissioning parents and surrogate mother vis a vis each other and the baby, but does not address entitlements of a commissioning parent from his or her employer.
- These are covered by labour laws; the law on maternity benefits does not take into account the possibility of a woman becoming a mother without actually giving birth.
Is the Bill newly passed different from the one cleared by the Cabinet in 2016?
- There are changes, including a reduction of punishment.
- The earlier version provided for a minimum jail term of 10 years for some offences; the present one sets a maximum of 10 years.
- The present Bill forbids the surrogate mother to use her own gametes (eggs), gives her the option to withdraw before the embryo is implanted, and puts a condition for obtaining a “certificate of essentiality” that the intending couple needs —they must provide a 16-month insurance coverage for the surrogate mother including postpartum complications.
- The Bill did not make several changes sought by the Standing Committee.
Standing committee recommendations:
- Pointing out that the Supreme Court has recognised live-in relationships, the Standing Committee had recommended that the government “broadbase the eligibility criteria in this regard and widen the ambit of persons who can avail surrogacy services by including live-in couples, divorced women/ widows”.
- It had countered the “altruistic surrogacy for married couples” argument and recommended that compensation be the norm and the word altruistic should be replaced with compensated.
- Altruistic surrogacy, it observed, is tantamount to exploitation.
Head Line: Dam Safety Bill: its objective, the objections
2) Mains Paper III: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
- The government has introduced the Dam Safety Bill, 2018 in Lok Sabha.
- The Bill provides for “surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of specified dams for prevention of dam failure related disasters and to provide for an institutional mechanism to ensure their safe functioning”.
Why dam safety?
- Of India’s 5,254 large dams, some 75% are over 25 years old and 164 more than 100 years old.
- There have been 36 dam failures.
- There has been a lack of a uniform law and an administrative regime for dam safety.
- While the Central Water Commission (CWC) has made efforts through National Committee on Dam Safety, Central Dam Safety Organisation and State Dam Safety Organisations, these agencies do not have statutory powers and can only make recommendations.
The Dam Safety Bill:
- The Dam Safety Bill was first introduced in Lok Sabha in 2010
- It sought to mandate the Centre, state governments and individual owners of dams to establish a mechanism for safety
- It was to be initially applicable only to Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and the Union Territories; the two states had passed resolutions under Article 252(1) of the Constitution requesting Parliament to make a law
- The Speaker referred the Bill to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which submitted its report in 2011
- It suggested that provisions be added for punishing the owner in case of dam failure and fixing liability for compensating affected people and that an independent regulatory authority on safety measures and a national-level early warning system be set up
- On June 13, 2018, the Cabinet approved the draft of the Dam Safety Bill, 2018
- Most of the recommendations of the standing committee were incorporated in the draft
Regulatory structure for dams:
- The legislation provides for a National Committee on Dam Safety, to be headed by the CWC chairperson and with members nominated by the Centre.
- There will be representatives of the Centre and states (through rotation) as well as dam safety experts.
- The committee will formulate policies and regulations, which are to be implemented by a centrally appointed National Dam Safety Authority, headed by an officer of at least Additional Secretary rank.
- The authority will also resolve issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs) or between an SDSO and any individual dam owner, lay down regulations for dam inspection and for accreditation to construction and designing agencies.
- The Bill provides for a safety unit in each dam to be set up by individual dam owners.
Grounds for opposition to the bill:
- In cases where a dam is owned by one state and located in another, or extends over multiple states, or is owned by a central public sector undertaking, the Bill provides that the National Dam Safety Authority will act as the SDSO.
- This provision is the primary reason for opposition from Tamil Nadu.
- Tamil Nadu’s Mullaiperiyar, Parambikulam, Thunakkadavu and Peruvaripallam dams are owned, operated and maintained by the Government of Tamil Nadu by virtue of Inter-state Agreements, but are located in a neighbouring state Kerala.
- The government has argued that Article 252 empowered the Centre to legislate for two or more states by consent.
- The states have pointed out that water is listed as a state subject.
- As regulation of the safety of dams has not yet been declared by Parliament to be expedient in public interest, it would be prudent to believe that Parliament has no powers to make law for the state or for that matter by the Union Government at this juncture.
Head Line: Vaccine against Zika long elusive, here is why scientists see new hope
3) Mains Paper III: Awareness in the fields of biotechnology.
Why in news:
- Since 2016, when the World Health Organization (WHO) called for prioritising the development of vaccines against the mosquito-borne disease Zika, research has taken place around the world but no vaccine has been approved yet.
- This week, two teams have separately reported vaccines they have or may have identified, one of these with the promise of overcoming what has been seen as a possible stumbling block so far.
Problem in making vaccine against Zika virus:
- While a vaccine against Zika would create protective antibodies against the virus, many studies show that antibodies against Zika virus can worsen dengue virus infection, which too is mosquito-borne.
What are new findings:
- The team may have identified a vaccine that would defend against Zika virus without producing antibodies, the statement said.
- It quotes researcher Eric Weaver as saying: “If you have immunity to one of these viruses and get infected by a second one, the illness can be much worse. The body makes the wrong immune response.”
- Now that the potential vaccine does not produce antibodies, Weaver said: “If we can figure out the mechanism, we might be able to apply it to other vaccine strategies. This would be a huge leap for immunology and vaccine research.”
Development of new vaccines:
- The scientists used two forms of weakened Adenovirus to serve as vectors to deliver the Zika vaccine.
- They inserted structural genes of Zika into genomes of two types of Adenovirus.
- Tested in mice, the two vaccines offered strong responses and substantial protection against Zika infection, and one vaccine induced strong responses with undetectable antibodies.
- The other potential vaccine was announced in a press release by KU Leuven Rega Institute, Belgium.
- Describing it as safe, it said the vaccine should prevent the virus from causing microcephaly and other serious conditions in unborn babies.
- It was tested successfully in pregnant mice.
- The team said they made use of the yellow fever vaccine, which is closely related to the Zika virus and is transmitted by the same mosquito.