Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 25 January 2023

‘Emergency powers’ for online content

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) directed YouTube and Twitter to take down links sharing the BBC documentary ‘India: The Modi Question.’ The order was passed under the emergency provisions of the Information Technology Rules, 2021, for allegedly casting “as persions on the authority and credibility of the Supreme Court of India, sowing divisions among various communities, and making unsubstantiated allegations regarding actions of foreign governments in India”.

What are the emergency provisions?

  1. Under the Information Technology Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021), the MIB has powers to issue content takedown notices to social media intermediaries like YouTubeTwitter and Facebook in emergency situations “for which no delay is acceptable”.
  2. The Rules say that “In case of emergency nature, the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may, if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable for blocking for public access of any information or part thereof through any computer resource and…as an interim measure issue such directions as he may consider necessary to such identified or identifiable persons, publishers or intermediary in control of such computer resource hosting such information or part thereof without giving him an opportunity of hearing.”
  3. These emergency notices can be issued if the MIB believes that the content can impact the sovereignty, integrity, defence, or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, or to prevent incitement to any cognisable offence.

What can users whose content has been impacted do?

  1. While the IT Rules, 2021 prescribe recourse options for users, those are limited to actions taken by a social media company.
  2. For instance, if a platform has on its own taken down some content, the user can approach the grievance officer of the platform to raise a dispute, which they are to redress within 15 days.
  3. However, if a platform has taken down content on the basis of the emergency provisions in the Rules, the legislation does not offer any direct recourse. The only option users have in this case is to approach courts.


SC hearings on passive euthanasia

GS Paper - 2 (Judiciary)

The Supreme Court agreed to modify its existing guidelines to make India’s “living will” — a written statement that details a person’s desire regarding future medical procedures — to make it less cumbersome. During its hearings, a Constitution Bench pulled up the central government for not making a law on “living wills”. The apex court had legalised passive euthanasia in 2018 and had held the “right to die with dignity” as part of the fundamental “Right to Life” under Article 21 of the Constitution.

What is euthanasia?

  1. Euthanasia is the act of deliberately putting an end to a person’s life in order to eliminate pain or suffering.
  2. Some ethicists differentiate between active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is the act of deliberately and actively doing something, such as injecting a lethal dose of a drug, to end a person’s life.
  3. The Missouri School of Medicine defines passive euthanasia as “intentionally letting a patient die by withholding artificial life support such as a ventilator or a feeding tube.”
  4. While the Supreme Court first tackled the question of whether the “Right to Life” includes the “right to die” in P Rathinam vs Union of India (1994) and Gian Kaur V State of Punjab (1996), it wasn’t until 2011 that debate gathered steam in its present form — whether a person who’s in a vegetative state could be euthanised.
  5. In her petition before the Supreme Court, activist and author Pinki Virani asked for permission to pull out the life support of Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who had by then spent nearly 40 years in a vegetative state after she was raped in 1973.  

Aruna Shanbaug and what the SC said

  1. Shanbaug, formerly a nurse at King Edwards Hospital in Bombay, was sexually assaulted at the age of 25. She died of natural causes in 2015.
  2. Although the 2011 petition to stop administering life-supporting drugs to her was dismissed, it helped the court come to its SC’s 2018 landmark verdict.
  3. In that case, a Constitution Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra drew the distinction between active and passive euthanasia.
  4. Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill a person, e.g. a lethal injection… Passive euthanasia entails withholding of medical treatment for continuance of life, e.g. withholding of antibiotics where without giving it, a patient is likely to die,” the court said.
  5. By rejecting outright the use of active euthanasia to end life through administration of lethal substances, the apex court thereby laid down stringent guidelines under which passive euthanasia would be legally allowed via a high court-monitored mechanism, the court said.

Issue of ‘living wills’ in India

  1. Although the 2018 SC order recognises passive euthanasia, the procedure on living wills has been seen as time-consuming.
  2. Currently, the law states a living will should be signed in the presence of two attesting witnesses and affirmed by a judicial magistrate. In case the executor — that is, the person for whom the will is made — becomes terminally ill, a doctor overseeing treatment is mandated to constitute a board of three experts. 
  3. The experts must be from the fields of general medicine, neurology, psychiatry, oncology, cardiology, or nephrology with at least 20 years of experience in the medical field. 
  4. The medical board will decide whether to certify whether to carry out the instructions in the living will. However, this is only a preliminary opinion — once the hospital board grants permission, it asks the appropriate district collector for its sanction.
  5. The collector will form a medical board comprising the chief district medical Officer and three expert doctors. If the board agrees with the hospital’s findings, the decision will be communicated to the appropriate judicial magistrate before the decision is implemented.


India entry for UNESCO World Heritage tag

GS Paper - 1 (Culture)

Assam’s Charaideo Moidams, or royal burial mounds, are India’s only entry to UNESCO for recognition as a World Heritage site in the cultural category in 2023-24. Charaideo Moidams are mounds containing the remains of the royalty of the Ahom dynasty that ruled present-day Assam for 600 years — from the 13th century to the 19th century.

What are Moidams?

  1. The Moidams contain the remains of Ahom dynasty royalty. Previously, the Ahoms were buried, but after the 18th century, they adopted the Hindu mode of cremation, and bones and ashes were enclosed in a “moidam” which is an earthen pyramid. These moidams are commonly known as the pyramids of Assam.
  2. 386 Moidams have been explored so far90 royal burials at Charaideo are the best preserved, representative, and most complete examples of this tradition.
  3. Charaideo, or the “shining town on a hill top”, was the first capital established by King Chaolung Sukapha, the founder of the dynasty, in 1229 CE
  4. Through the 600 years of the Ahom rule, the capital was shifted several times. Yet, Charaideo remained the symbolic centre of power.

Who were the Ahoms?

  1. The Ahoms reportedly represented a time when the “Assamese race was united and able to fight an alien, formidable force such as the Mughals”.
  2. The Ahoms, who were non-Hindus, adopted the local religionHinduism, during the reign of Sudangpha (1397-1407).
  3. It was the first time that Hinduism, which was the predominant religion outside the Ahom realm, penetrated into it right at the very top.
  4. Hindu rituals, including worship of Laxmi-Narayan Shaligram in addition to the Shan idol Somdeo, began to be performed at the royal palace.


‘Immune imprinting’ making bivalent boosters less effective

GS Paper - 3 (Health and Diseases)

Countries like the UK and the US have rolled out variant-specific or bivalent boosters, in the hope that they would provide better protection against infection in comparison to the original vaccine. However, a slew of recent studies has shown that a phenomenon in our bodies, called immune imprinting, might be making these new boosters far less effective than expected.

What is immune imprinting?

  1. Immune imprinting is a tendency of the body to repeat its immune response based on the first variant it encountered — through infection or vaccination — when it comes across a newer or slightly different variant of the same pathogen.
  2. The phenomenon was first observed in 1947, when scientists noted that “people who had previously had flu, and were then vaccinated against the current circulating strain, produced antibodies against the first strain they had encountered”, according to a report published in the journal Nature.
  3. At the time, it was termed the ‘original antigenic sin’ but today, it’s commonly known as imprinting.
  4. Over the years, scientists have realised that imprinting acts as a database for the immune system, helping it put up a better response to repeat infections.
  5. After our body is exposed to a virus for the first time, it produces memory B cells that circulate in the bloodstream and quickly produce antibodies whenever the same strain of the virus infects again.
  6. The problem occurs when a similar, not identical, variant of the virus is encountered by the body.
  7. In such cases, the immune system, rather than generating new B cells, activates memory B cells, which in turn produce “antibodies that bind to features found in both the old and new strains, known as cross-reactive antibodies”, the Nature report said.
  8. Although these cross-reactive antibodies do offer some protection against the new strain, they aren’t as effective as the ones produced by the B cells when the body first came across the original virus.


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