UPSC Essentials: Weekly news express with MCQs— SC’s abortion ruling to ‘Ban’ on PFI – The Indian Express

Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.

Mains Examination: General Studies I: Role of women and women’s organization, population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues, urbanization, their problems and their remedies.

—The decision follows an interim order in July by which the court had allowed a 25-year-old woman to terminate her pregnancy. The ruling, incidentally delivered on World Safe Abortion Day, emphasises female autonomy in accessing abortion.

—A three-judge Bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud, A S Bopanna, and J B Pardiwala framed the interpretation of Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, as per which only some categories of women are allowed to seek termination of pregnancy between 20-24 weeks under certain extraordinary circumstances.

—The challenge to the provision was made in July by a 25-year-old unmarried woman who moved the court seeking an abortion after the Delhi High Court declined her plea. The woman’s case was that she wished to terminate her pregnancy as “her partner had refused to marry her at the last stage”.

—She also argued that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk of grave and immense injury to her mental health. However, the law allowed such change in circumstances only for “marital” relationships.

—The Supreme Court, holding that the law had to be given a purposive interpretation, had allowed the petitioner to terminate her pregnancy in an interim order. However, the larger challenge to the law, which would benefit other women as well, was kept pending.

—The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy by a medical practitioner in two stages. After a crucial amendment in 2021, for pregnancies up to 20 weeks, termination is allowed under the opinion of one registered medical practitioner. For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, the Rules attached to the law prescribe certain criteria in terms of who can avail termination. It also requires the opinion of two registered medical practitioners in this case.

a) the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or

b) there is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality.

—The explanation to the provision states that termination within 20 weeks is allowed “where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children or preventing pregnancy, the anguish caused by such pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.

—The phrase “any woman or her partner” was also introduced in 2021 in place of the earlier “married woman or her husband”. By eliminating the word “married woman or her husband” from the scheme of the MTP Act, the legislature intended to clarify the scope of Section 3 and bring pregnancies which occur outside the institution of marriage within the protective umbrella of the law.

—For both stages — within 20 weeks and between 20-24 weeks — termination is allowed “where any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by the pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.

Who falls in the category of women allowed to terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks?

—For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, Section 3B of the Rules under the MTP Act lists seven categories of women:

“(a) survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest; (b) minors; (c) change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce); (d) women with physical disabilities (major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016); (e) mentally ill women including mental retardation; (f) the foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped; and (g) women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.”

—The court stated that the whole Rule 3B(c) cannot be read in isolation but has to be read together with other sub-clauses under 3B. When other sub-clauses do not distinguish between married or unmarried women, for example survivors of sexual assault, minors, etc., only 3B(c) cannot exclude unmarried women, the court held.

“Rule 3B(c) is based on the broad recognition of the fact that a change in the marital status of a woman often leads to a change in her material circumstances. A change in material circumstance during the ongoing pregnancy may arise when a married woman divorces her husband or when he dies, as recognized by the examples provided in parenthesis in Rule 3B(c). The fact that widowhood and divorce are mentioned in brackets at the tail end of Rule 3B(c) does not hinder our interpretation of the rule because they are illustrative,” the court said.

—The court also expanded on Rule 3B(a) — “survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest” — to include married women in its ambit. Although it does not have the effect of striking down the marital rape exception under the Indian Penal Code, the ruling said that even women who have suffered “marital assault” can be included under the provision.

“It is not inconceivable that married women become pregnant as a result of their husbands having “raped” them,” the court said.

—The court’s “purposive interpretation” states that the common thread in Rule 3B is “a change in a woman’s material circumstance”. While the ruling recognises the right of unmarried women, it leaves the enforcement of the right to be decided on a case-to-case basis.

“It is not possible for either the legislature or the courts to list each of the potential events which would qualify as a change of material circumstances. Suffice it to say that each case must be tested against this standard with due regard to the unique facts and circumstances that a pregnant woman finds herself in,” the ruling states.

—This means the decision will be in the hands of the registered medical practitioners — and if unsatisfied, the woman can approach the court.

Point to ponder: Supreme Court judgment on abortion stands out as an exception in gender autonomy jurisprudence. Discuss.

1. MCQ:

Which of the statements is/are correct with respect to The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act?

1. For pregnancies within 20 weeks, termination can be allowed only in a condition if there is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality.

2. The phrase “any woman or her partner” was  introduced in 2021 in place of the earlier “married woman or her husband”. 

Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.

Mains Examination: General Studies II: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

—Speaking at a meeting with the non-resident Indian community in Washington on Sunday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar lashed out at the US for its decision to provide Pakistan with a $450 million package for what the Pentagon has called the “F-16 case for sustainment and related equipment”. Jaishankar questioned the merits of the US-Pakistan partnership, saying it had “not served” either country. When asked about the US justification that the fighter planes were meant to assist Pakistan in its counter-terrorism efforts, Jaishankar retorted: “You’re not fooling anybody by saying these things”.

—This was the first time India had expressed publicly its frustration at the Biden Administration’s move. Last week, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter that he had “conveyed concerns” to his American counterpart Lloyd Austin.

—The Ministry of External Affairs had been quiet thus far, though Ministry officials said they communicated India’s objections to US officials who were in New Delhi for the 2+2 Inter-sessional and Maritime Security Dialogues, and for a Quad Senior Officials Meeting at the time of the announcement on September 7.

—This is the first American military assistance package to Pakistan after the Trump Administration ended defence and security co-operation with the country in 2018 after accusing it of giving only “lies and deceit” for the billions of dollars that the US had “foolishly” given it.

Key takeaways

What is the US’ F-16 package to Pakistan?

—According to the September 7 Defense Security Co-operation Agency press release, included in the $450 million package — the proposed contractor for which is Lockheed Martin — are technical and logistics services for follow-on support of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet. There is participation in several technical coordination groups, aircraft and engine hardware and software modifications and support, equipment support, manuals, precision measurement, and a range of related elements of aircraft maintenance.

—In effect, this means a life-time upgrade for Pakistan’s existing fleet of F-16s.

How has the US responded to Jaishankar’s remarks?

—“We don’t view our relationship with Pakistan, and … our relationship with India as in relation to one another. These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each. We look at both as partners, because we do have in many cases shared values. We do have in many cases shared interests. And the relationship we have with India stands on its own. The relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own”, White House spokesman Ned Price said, when asked about Jaishankar’s remarks.

—All said and done, Pakistan remains a non-NATO ally of the US. As Delhi demonstrates “strategic autonomy” to engage with every side — Quad one week, and Russia and China the next at the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand — and work around Western sanctions to buy oil from Russia, and keep friends in all camps, it may have to come to terms that others in world play the same game.

What specific reasons has the Biden Administration given for its decision?

—“The proposed sale does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions,” the release stated. “[It]…will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by allowing Pakistan to retain interoperability with US and partner forces in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts and in preparation for future contingency operations”.. Also, “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

—But as pointed out by Jaishankar, how the F-16s help in counter-terrorism remains unclear. In any case, much of the heavy lifting in this department was carried out by the US by means of armed, unmanned drones.

—Among the speculated reasons for the Biden Administration’s reversal of Trump’s policy on Pakistan, one revolves around the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul. Questions have swirled, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as to who provided the intelligence for the drone strike that killed the al-Qaeda chief in a posh house that belonged to Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

—Last year, former Prime Minister Imran Khan had categorically denied American assertions that it was negotiating air space rights for security-/counter-terrorism-related operations in Afghanistan.

How does it impact India-Pakistan relations?

—India has been concerned about the F-16s from the time the US first gave Pakistan F-16s as a reward for its assistance in the first Afghan war, in which the US supplied weapons and money to Pakistan to unleash armies of jihadis against the Soviet Army. When the US objective was achieved with the Soviet Union’s departure from Afghanistan, the US too resized its relations with Pakistan. The Pressler Amendment, aimed against Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, froze it out of of military assistance. A decade later, the Bush Administration not only approved the release of previously blocked F-16s, but also provided a refurbishment package, and sale of new F-16s.

—According to Brig. Rahul Bhonsle (retd), who runs the online portal Security Risks Asia, the sustainment programme for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet would enhance conventional deterrence versus India. He says that the last aerial skirmish between Pakistan and India on February 29, 2019 — during which the PAF brought down a MiG-21 flown by IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman — showed that the F-16 is the aircraft that Pakistan will use in any future encounter with India.

—“India will have to effectively enhance conventional combat capability of the IAF to continue to meet the challenge of a resurgent PAF,” he says in an article on his site.

—In August 2019, several months after that encounter, the State Department wrote to the Pakistan Air force chief pointing out that the F16s had been moved to “unauthorised” forward operating bases in defiance of an agreement with the US. The letter, quoted by a US media organisation, said that such actions by Pakistan risked allowing these weapons to fall in the hands of “malign actors” and “could undermine our shared security platforms and infrastructures.” The letter did not explicitly mention the February 29 incident.

—According to an Indian source, under its agreement with the US, Pakistan must station the F-16s at the Jacobabad air base in Sindh, and the Americans were upset at evidence that they had been shifted from there. Three years later, that does not appear to matter any more.

—In fact, while he was responding to Jaishankar’s remarks, the White House spokesman appeared to delink entirely the F-16s from India-Pakistan peace prospects, as if one had no bearing on the other.

—“We also want to do everything we can to see to it that these neighbours have relations with one another that are as constructive as can be possible, so that’s another point of emphasis,” he said.

Point to ponder: The relationship between India and US, the natural allies has been put under severe stress by Russia’s Ukraine war. Discuss.

2. MCQ:

With relation to India-U.S relationship which of the following statements is/are true

1. 123 Agreement is the bilateral “Agreement for Co-operation between the Government of India and the Government of the United States
of America concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy”.

2. BECA is a pact or communication agreement proposed for geo-spatial cooperation between the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence.

a) Only 1

b) Only 2

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2

Archaeological Survey of India’s recent findings in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve


Preliminary Examination: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains Examination: General Studies I: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

Why in news?

—The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Wednesday (September 28), reported 26 Buddhist caves in Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, after a month-long exploration conducted this summer. Besides the caves, which date back to the 2nd-5th century BCE, other archaeological remains of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, such as chaitya-shaped doors and cells containing stone beds, were also reported by the ASI team.

Key takeaways

The exploration

—The exploration was conducted between May 20 and June 26 this year by the ASI’s newly formed Jabalpur Circle, under the direction of its Superintending Archaeologist, Shivakant Bajpai and a dozen team members including archaeologists, archaeological analysts, photographers and forest guards. The team covered nearly 170 sq km within the reserve’s core area.

—“In the exploration, remarkable archaeological remains came to light, adding a new chapter in the history of Baghelkhand,” said the ASI. Baghelkhand, which is said to derive its name from the Vaghela Rajput kings of the 14th century, covers the northeastern regions of Madhya Pradesh, and a small area of southeastern Uttar Pradesh.

The findings

—The 26 caves that were found are associated with the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, ASI said, adding that these date back to the same time as the Ajanta caves in Aurangabad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides the caves, the team also found the remains of 26 temples, two mathas, two stupas, 46 idols and sculptures, 26 fragments and 19 water bodies, according to the report signed by Bajpai. It also mentioned a Buddhist pillar fragment containing a miniature stupa carving, dating to the 2nd-3rd century CE, and 24 Brahmi inscriptions from the 2nd-5th century CE.

—The temples are from more recent times — the Kalachuri period (9th-11th century), while the water bodies range between 2nd-15th centuries CE. The report says that the places Kaushami, Mathura, Pavata (Parvata), Vejabharada and Sapatanaairikaa are mentioned in the Brahmini inscriptions, while the inscribed names of kings include Shri Bhimsena, Maharaja Pothasiri and Bhattadeva.

Other explorations at the reserve

—This was the first phase of the current exploration by ASI, which covered the expanse of the Tala Range. In the coming phases, the ASI will survey the remaining ranges of the Bandhavgarh forest, Khitauli and Magadhi. Tala, Khitauli and Magadhi comprise the three main zones of the national park, which together cover an area of 716 km.

—Bandhavgarh was declared a national park in 1968 and became a tiger reserve in 1993. The ASI stated that explorations in the region had been undertaken for the first time since 1938, under the command of ASI archaeologist NP Chakravarty.

The significance of the findings

—Officials in the ASI stated that while the remains were visible to anyone visiting the specific regions of the reserve, the exploration is nonetheless significant because it is the first time that all remains have been officially documented by the agency. They add that while digital documentation and videography has been done, metal signs cannot be placed for visitors as they may be harmful for animals living inside the tiger reserve.

—NP Chakravarty, “mainly focussed on exploring and documenting the inscriptions”, the ASI report says, adding, “because of which, not much is known about the architecture of the caves”. While smaller expeditions have been conducted in this region since then, no significant report is available in the public domain, the agency claims.

—The new Bajpai report clearly lays out all that has been added to the Chakravarty report — as many as 35 temples have been documented in the reserve, of which 26 were done during the latest expedition. Also, the number of documented caves has increased from 50 to 76, two mathas and two stupas have been reported, another 24 inscriptions have been found (50 in total), the number of reported sculptures have increased to 56 from the previous 10, 20 additional fragments and another 19 water bodies have been found, above the eight previous ones.

—Additionally, a Votive Stupa has also been reported for the first time, adding a new chapter to Bandhavgarh’s history, the ASI said, claiming that the reported temples are also important from an architectural point of view.

Point to ponder: While scholars see it as a crucial chapter in bridging the gap in Tamil history, ASI officials said it was significant as they had discovered some Sangam age artefacts from Natham Medu too, 40 km north west of Chennai city. Do you know what is being talked about?

3. MCQ:

The painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani is one of the most famous and oft-illustrated paintings at (2017)

(a) Ajanta

(b) Badami

(c) Bagh

(d) Ellora

‘Ban’ on PFI


Preliminary Examination: Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

Mains Examination: General Studies III: Internal Security

Why in news?

—The notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) imposed a ban on the PFI and its associate organisations, including the Rehab India Foundation (RIF) and Campus Front of India, for five years under The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.

Key takeaways

What does the “ban” on the PFI mean?

—The UAPA, India’s main law against terrorism and terrorist activities, allows the government to declare an organisation an “unlawful association” or a “terrorist organisation”, which is often colloquially described as a “ban” on the organisations.

—Under Section 3 of the UAPA Act, the government has powers to declare an association “unlawful”. Apart from a gazette notification, the government is required to notify such association by affixing a copy on its offices or by “proclaiming by beat of drum or by means of loudspeakers, the contents of the notification in the area in which the activities of the association are ordinarily carried”.

What happens when an association is declared unlawful?

—Declaring an organisation an unlawful organisation, as has happened in the case of the PFI now, has serious consequences in law, which include the criminalisation of its membership and the forfeiture of the properties of the organisation.

—Under Section 7 of the UAPA, the government has power to prohibit the use of funds of an unlawful association and, under Section 8, all places that are used by the unlawful association can be notified and seized. The law allows any person aggrieved by a prohibitory order to make, within 15 days of the date of the service of such order, an application to the Court of the District Judge within the local limits.

—Also, a person who “is and continues to be a member of such (unlawful) association; or takes part in meetings of such association; or contributes to, or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of, such association; or in any way assists the operations of such association” is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.

And how is an “unlawful association” defined?

—Section 2(1)(p) of the UAPA defines an “unlawful association” as an association which has for its object any unlawful activity or offence defined under Sections 153A or 153B of the Indian Penal Code — that is, promoting enmity between different groups and making imputations, assertions that are prejudicial to national integration. An unlawful association is also one that “encourages or aids persons to undertake any unlawful activity, or of which the members undertake such activity”.

What is the process to declare an association unlawful?

—Under Section 4 of the UAPA, the government is mandated to send the notification to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Tribunal within 30 days of issuing the gazette notification to have the ban ratified. The Ministry will have to make a reference to the Tribunal along with details of cases the National Investigation Agency, Enforcement Directorate, and state police forces have registered against PFI and its cadres across the country.

—The Tribunal, which is required to be headed by a retired or sitting judge of a High Court, will then issue a show-cause notice to the PFI asking it to reply in writing about why it should not be banned. After arguments from both sides, the Tribunal can hold an inquiry to decide within six months on whether there is sufficient evidence to declare PFI an “unlawful association”.

—Such inquiries by the Tribunal are also held in areas where the association ordinarily conducts its activities for the general public to give their views. The ban becomes applicable for a period of five years once the Tribunal approves it.

—In 2019, Justice Mukta Gupta, then sitting judge of the Delhi High Court, held public hearings in Aurangabad, Pune, and other places to ascertain whether there was sufficient evidence to ban the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI was first banned in 2001, and the ban was periodically extended except in 2008 when it was lifted following orders by a special tribunal presided over by Justice Gita Mittal. The ban was imposed again in 2008, then in 2014 and 2019.

—Hours after the government’s ban, PFI state general secretary A Abdul Sattar, in a statement, said the organisation has been disbanded after the notification was issued. This does not, however, materially change the conditions or implications of the gazette notification.

Point to ponder: How UAPA tribunal works ?

4. MCQ:

With respect to UAPA tribunal, which of the following statement is not true:

a) The tribunal consists of only one person, who has to be a High Court judge.

b) To make inquiries, the tribunal has the same powers as vested in a civil court.

c) All expenses incurred for a tribunal are borne out of the Consolidated Fund of India.

d) Not all proceeding before the Tribunal are deemed to be judicial proceedings.

Answer to the MCQs: 1 (b), 2 (c), 3 (a), 4(d)

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