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3rd March Current Affairs

SC enforces a landmark ruling on death penalty

(GS-II: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions)

In News:

More than four decades after a landmark ruling on death sentence cases, a bench in the Supreme Court has made psychological evaluation of the condemned prisoner mandatory.

Details:

It has also sought a report on the inmate’s conduct at the time of examining whether the gallows remains the only fitting punishment.

What has the court said?

Taking a cue from the Bachan Singh verdict, justice Lalit, in a series of death sentences cases, has recently held that “complete assistance” to the court in such matters would necessitate the production of not just the evidence in the case but also the latest state of the mental health of the prisoner.

Supreme Court’s verdict in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980):

This verdict established the doctrine of “rarest of rare” crime in handing down capital punishment while mandating a comparative analysis of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in connection to the accused.

The judgment laid down that a court must scrutinise both the crime as well as the criminal, and then decide whether death penalty is the only suitable punishment in the facts of the case.

Emphasis is to be also laid on the aggravating and mitigating factors which are dependent upon the facts and circumstances of the case.

Machi Singh vs State of Punjab (1983):

In this case, the Supreme Court elucidated the doctrine of “rarest of rare” and set down some guiding principles in the death sentences cases.

The aggravating circumstances included the manner in which the crime was committed, motive for committing the crime, severity of the crime, and the victim of the crime.

The mitigating circumstances consisted of the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation of an accused, his mental health and his antecedents.

What has the Court said on prolonging death sentences and review petitions?

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that unexplained delay in execution was a ground for commutation of death penalty, and an inmate, his or her kin, or even a public-spirited citizen, could file a writ petition seeking such commutation.

It held that prolonging execution of death sentence has a “dehumanising effect” on condemned prisoners who have to face the agony of waiting for years under the shadow of death during the pendency of their mercy plea. An inordinate delay would certainly have an agonising effects on their body and mind.

In the same year, a Constitution bench also held that a review petition by a death-row convict will be heard by a three-judge bench in open court. Such cases were earlier being considered by two-judge benches in the judges’ chamber without any oral arguments.

Challenges ahead:

The enormity of the task before the Supreme Court is captured by the fact that trial courts in India have already sentenced more than 50 people to death in 2022 and often in violation of procedural and substantive laws.

It is not going to be easy for the Supreme Court to bring about a balance of fairness and consistency in death penalty sentencing across courts in India but the fact that the court has chosen to address it head-on is certainly noteworthy and worthy of our appreciation.

WHO’s pandemic treaty

(GS-II: Issues related to Health)

In News:

Members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) held the first round of negotiations towards the pandemic treaty on February 24, 2022.

Details:

The meeting was aimed at agreeing on ways of working and timelines for a “convention, agreement or other international instrument” to prevent further pandemics and to improve the preparedness and response in case of its occurrence.

What is the pandemic treaty?

In December 2021, the Health Assembly adopted a decision titled “The World Together” at its second special session since it was founded in 1948.

Under the decision, the health organisation established an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate the contents of the pandemic treaty in compliance with Article 19 of the WHO Constitution.

The pandemic treaty is expected to cover aspects like data sharing and genome sequencing of emerging viruses and equitable distribution of vaccines and drugs and related research throughout the world.

Need for:

Solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic have seen an inequitable distribution of vaccines so far, with poorer countries at the mercy of others to receive preventive medication.

Most countries have followed the “me-first” approach which is not an effective way to deal with a global pandemic.

Why is this treaty not a sufficient step to fight present or future pandemics?

Treaty only provides recommendations for tackling a particular issue while ignoring that the countries especially in the south require resources and capacities to reach the public health targets.

There is no focus on bridging these deficiencies or capacity inequities. That rich countries have given out far more booster shots in four months than poor countries have given out doses all year, reflects this capacity inequity b/w global North and the South.

Any global effort must ensure distributed capacities so that countries and regions in the south have sovereignty over essential medicines, materials, manufacturing and supply chains.

What are cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons?

(GS-III: Disaster management)

In News:

Russia has resorted to the use of dangerous thermobaric bombs — or vacuum bombs — in Ukraine.

Details:

Cluster weaponry has been banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions; however, neither Ukraine nor Russia were signatories at the convention.

Thermobaric weapons:

These are called vacuum bombs as they suck in oxygen from surrounding areas to generate high-voltage explosions.

The blast wave is of a greater intensity and duration than conventional bombs and can vapourise humans.

While they cannot be used in taking down tanks and other such military vehicles, they can dismantle civilian spaces, like residential or commercial complexes.

Cluster bombs:

Cluster munitions are non-precision weapons that are designed to injure or kill human beings indiscriminately over a large area, and to destroy vehicles and infrastructure such as runways, railway or power transmission lines.

They can be dropped from an aircraft or launched in a projectile that spins in flight, scattering many bomblets as it travels.

Many of these bomblets end up not exploding, but continue to lie on the ground, often partially or fully hidden and difficult to locate and remove, posing a threat to the civilian population for long after the fighting has ceased.

Convention on Cluster Munitions:

It is an international treaty that prohibits all use, transfer, production, and stockpiling of cluster bombs, a type of explosive weapon which scatters submunitions (“bomblets”) over an area.

Additionally, the Convention establishes a framework to support victim assistance, clearance of contaminated sites, risk reduction education, and stockpile destruction.

The convention was adopted on 30 May 2008 in Dublin.

As of date, there are 110 state parties to the convention, and 13 other countries have signed up but are yet to ratify it.

Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana

(GS-II: Issues related to health)

In News:

The Odisha government recently distributed smart health cards to beneficiaries under its flagship Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana.

About the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana:

Launched on August 15, 2018.

Aimed at providing Universal Health coverage, with special emphasis on the health protection of economically vulnerable families.

The scheme has two components:

One a free health services for all (irrespective of income, status or residence) in all state government healthcare facilities starting from sub center level up to District Head Quarter Hospital level.

Two, additional facility of free healthcare beyond District Headquarters hospital level, for over 70 lakh economically vulnerable families in the state.

Eligibility:

After the announcement on Independence day last year, all families covered under National Food Security Act (NFSA) and SFSA also became eligible for BSKY.

Benefits under the scheme:

Every family enrolled under Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana is eligible for Rs 5 lakh from the state government, while women get cover of Rs 10 lakh under this scheme.

All health services are free of cost, including free drugs, free diagnostics, free dialysis, free cancer chemotherapy, free OT, free ICU, in-patient admission etc., in all government health institutions up to district headquarters hospital level, for all persons.

BSKY vs Ayushman Bharat:

Almost a month after the launch of BSKY, the central government had launched its health scheme — Ayushman Bharat – on September 28, 2018. Odisha is one of the only four states which has not accepted the health coverage scheme.

Key differences:

The package cap: Rs 5 lakh a year under Ayushman Bharat but goes upto Rs 10 lakh under BSKY.

Coverage: BSKY covers over 90 lakh families, Ayushman Bharat can cover only 60 lakh families.