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Chandrachud dismisses govt.’s view that women are physiologically weaker

Moment of triumph: Women Army officers celebrating in New Delhi on Monday. R.V. MOORTHY The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the Union government’s submissions that women are physiologically weaker than men as a “sex stereotype” and declared that Short Service Commission (SSC) women officers are eligible for permanent commission and command posts in the Army irrespective of their years of service.

“Women officers of the Indian Army have brought laurels to the force… Their track record of service to the nation is beyond reproach. To cast aspersion on their abilities on the ground of gender is an affront not only to their dignity as women but to the dignity of the members of the Indian Army — men and women — who serve as equal citizens in a common mission. The time has come for a realisation that women officers in the Army are not adjuncts to a male-dominated establishment, whose presence must be ‘tolerated’ within narrow confines,” a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta observed in a 54-page judgment.

The verdict came on a nearly 10-year-old appeal filed by the government against a March 12, 2010 decision of the Delhi High Court to grant SSC women officers permanent commission. The Supreme Court ordered the government to implement its judgment in three months.

The order castigated the government for submitting a note containing written submissions portraying women as physiologically unfit for answering the “call beyond duty” of the Army. The note had shown women officers in a poor light, saying isolation and hardships would eat into their resolve and they would have to heed to the call of pregnancy, childbirth and family. The note had mentioned that women ran the risk of capture by enemy and being taken prisoner of war.

Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the judgment, countered that 30% of women officers were deputed in conflict zones. He said the note screamed of the age-old patriarchal notion that domestic obligations rested only with women. The court found the remarks in the note not only constitutionally invalid but also discriminatory, affecting the dignity of women officers.

Joint study by 10 bodies blames growing threat from loss of habitat, widespread presence of toxins, hunting and trapping

Facing threats: Nilgiri Pipit, a species of High Conservation Concern is currently suffering a decline.File Photo

Over a fifth of India’s bird diversity, ranging from the Short-toed Snake Eagle to the Sirkeer Malkoha, has suffered strong long-term declines over a 25-year period, while more recent annual trends point to a drastic 80% loss among several common birds, a new scientific report jointly released by 10 organisations said on Monday.

The State of India’s Birds 2020 (SoIB) assessment raises the alarm that several spectacular birds, many of them endemic to the sub-continent, face a growing threat from loss of habitat due to human activity, widespread presence of toxins, including pesticides; hunting and trapping for the pet trade. Diminishing population sizes of many birds because of one factor brings them closer to extinction because of the accelerated effects of others, the report warned. For every bird species that was found to be increasing in numbers over the long term, 11 have suffered losses, some catastrophically.

Rare urban sparrows

Of 101 species categorised as being of High Conservation Concern — 59 based on range and abundance and the rest included from high-risk birds on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List — endemics such as the Rufous-fronted Prinia, Nilgiri Thrush, Nilgiri Pipit and Indian vulture were confirmed as suffering current decline, and all except 13 had a restricted or highly restricted range, indicating greater vulnerability to man-made threats.

Among widely known species, the common sparrow, long seen as declining in urban spaces, has a stable population overall, although the data from major cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai confirm the view that they have become rare in cities and urban areas. Among the possible reasons for this is a decrease in insect populations as well as nesting places, but there is no conclusive evidence in the scientific literature on radiation from mobile phone towers playing a part.

The SoIB was produced using a base of 867 species, and analysed with the help of data uploaded by birdwatchers to the online platform, eBird. Adequate data on how birds fared over a period of over 25 years (long-term trend) are available only for 261 species. Current annual trends are calculated over a five-year period.

Looking at the health of avifauna based on scientific groupings such as raptors (birds of prey), habitat, diet, migratory status and endemicity (exclusively found in an area), the analysis concludes that raptors overall are in decline, with ‘open country’ species such as the Pallid and Montagu Harriers, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Red-necked Falcon suffering the most.

The severe long-term decline of vultures, recorded and analysed for years now, is underscored by the report.

Migratory shorebirds, along with gulls and terns, seem to have declined the most among waterbirds, the report states, consistent with population trends among Arctic-breeding shorebirds based on independent assessments.

Habitats need help

Forward-looking actions suggested by the report include an update to the Red List of endangered species published by IUCN using the SoIB, collaborative research by scientists and citizens and urgent emphasis on habitats of species of high concern, notably grasslands, scrublands, wetlands and the Western Ghats.

Suhel Quader, a member of the SoIB team, noted that the report was a first step and an assessment of trends rather than causes. “Habitat loss and fragmentation are known causes of species declines, but targeted research is needed to pinpoint causes of decline”, he said.

Officials and diplomats say task force may retain grey list status

Brownie points: Pakistan may highlight the recent conviction of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed for terror financing. PTI

As officials from the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) of the 39-member Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meet in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the risk rating for Pakistan and Iran, India plans to raise the repeated “politicisation” of the process by Pakistan, which is aiming to avoid being “blacklisted” by the group for its actions on countering terrorism.

In particular, Indian officials are expected to point to statements by the leaders of Turkey and Malaysia, who have gone public on their plans to back Pakistan, instead of going by the regulations of the FATF that evaluates countries on the basis of technical parameters and maintains confidential proceedings. In the past two weeks, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have issued statements promising to support Pakistan at the FATF, as well as on Kashmir.

The External Affairs Ministry issued sharp responses to both statements, in addition to issuing the Turkish Ambassador to India a “strong demarche” on Monday over the references to India’s “internal affairs”.

Asked about India’s plans to raise the issue at the FATF, however, the Ministry declined to comment. “It is for the FATF to decide,” said an official, adding that the government “would not like to comment on FATF deliberations”. In the past, the FATF had taken strong exception to public statements and “politicisation” of its processes.

Decision on Friday

The decision of the FATF’s plenary session (February 16-21) on whether to retain Pakistan on its “greylist” of countries of concern, downgrade it to its ‘blacklist’ for non-compliance, or let it off for progress shown, will be finalised on Friday at the end of the session.

At the last meeting of the Asia Pacific Group in Beijing last November, Pakistan had been judged as having cleared 14 of the 27-point action plan checklist it was given by the group on countering terror financing and black money laundering.

India hopes to highlight the unfinished items on Pakistan’s agenda, as well as the government’s claimed inability to track UN Security Council-designated terrorists like Jaish e Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and 26/11 LeT operations chief Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi as India seeks to push for more stringent action against Pakistan.

However, officials and diplomats aware of the process said it was more likely that Pakistan would be retained on the “greylist” for the moment with a “stern warning” rather than being moved to the blacklist during this round at the FATF, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, there is a general perception that, albeit on paper, Pakistan does appear to have made some positive moves on the FATF’s demands, including amending its laws and a crackdown on bank accounts and premises of terror groups such as the LeT/JuD and JeM.

However, officials say differences have narrowed on 25 of the 30 issues

Robert Lightizer

With no significant movement on the India-U.S. trade negotiations yet, officials are considering taking even a modest trade deal off the table when U.S. President Donald Trump visits India on February 24-25, sources privy to the talks said.

As The Hindu had reported on Friday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lightizer was due to visit New Delhi last week, but put off the visit when it appeared there was not enough progress in the talks, that appear to have run into trouble over market access for agricultural products including dairy, liberalising e-commerce, and investment norms for retail, as well as India’s push for a full reinstatement of its GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) status that the U.S. revoked last June.

Mr. Lightizer and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal have not spoken since last Thursday, it is learnt, and after another unsuccessful attempt to reschedule Mr. Lightizer’s visit over the weekend, officials are beginning to feel that time may be running out to wrap up negotiations in time for the presidential visit.

Met three times

However, officials on both sides have confirmed that there has been a narrowing of differences on as many as 25 of about 30 issues, as USTR officials have met with Commerce Ministry negotiators three times in the past month, and their talks could be picked up after the President’s visit. In addition, said the sources, if there is enough political backing for a trade deal of some sort, Mr. Trump, who said last week that he was keen on signing the “right deal” with India, could include Mr. Lightizer as a part of his delegation to try and make a broad announcement.

Another issue that has eluded resolution despite talks for more than two years concerns the U.S. Embassy’s sale of “Lincoln House”, its previous Consulate Building in Mumbai, that was sold for a record bid of ₹750 crore to a businessman in 2015. However, the property is on a long-term lease from the Defence Ministry, which has yet to clear the transfer of the property, holding up the payment for the Embassy. Officials had hoped to have this issue, which incurs U.S. Congressional oversight, cleared before Mr. Trump’s visit, but have made no headway yet.

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