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ILO defends report on ‘modern slavery’:

Context

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO), produced a report titled ‘Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017’ along with Australia-based Walk Free Foundation (WFF) showcasing the statistic of modern day slavery.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency dealing with labour problems, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all.
  • The UN member states which are not members of the ILO are Andorra, Bhutan, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, and North Korea.
  • In 1969, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving peace among classes, pursuing decent work and justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to other developing nations.
  • The ILO registers complaints against entities that are violating international rules; however, it does not impose sanctions on governments.
  • Unlike other United Nations specialized agencies, the International Labour Organization has a tripartite governing structure – representing governments, employers, and workers .

WFF-AUSTRALIA

The Walk Free Foundation is an organization attempting to end contemporary slavery and human trafficking. The organization was founded by Andrew Forrest and Nicola Forrest. Its CEO is Nick Grono. It is known for its Global Slavery Index.

What problem does the government have with the report?

  • Union government has questioned the authenticity of the report’s estimates.
  • Union government made a remark saying that “neither the Central government was consulted before the study nor its credibility has been established.”
  • The government is enquiring the basis on which the data has been verified for credibility as apparently it has been neither verified with any official data source.
  • The government is firm that neither ILO nor any national governments have been consulted regarding the survey methodology.

What is the response of ILO?

  • ILO in its defense said that the report doesn’t focus on specific countries but provides a global and regional picture of the situation.
  • The report did not cover country-wise figures but a global figure, the study showed that 40.3 million people were victims of ‘modern slavery’ in 2016.
  • The ILO does not recommend using these estimates to generate national statistics; however, the ILO encourages member-states to implement their own national surveys for which the ILO can provide tested tools and technical support upon request.

Rebuttal from the Labour and Employment Ministry

  • The Labour and Employment Ministry’s rebuttal came following an official letter from the Intelligence Bureau (IB) asking the government to counter multiple international organizations on reports about slavery in India that can hurt India’s image and exports.
  • The Centre is exploring a rebuttal at an international level through consultations with the Ministry of External Affairs and other departments.
  • The Labour and Employment Ministry is also planning to conduct its own surveys on bonded labour in a bid to counter various estimates by private agencies.

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage 2017

  • The 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery focus on two main issues: forced labour and forced marriage.
  • The estimate of forced labour comprises forced labour in the private economy, forced sexual exploitation of adults and commercial sexual exploitation of children, and state-imposed forced labour.
  • The estimates herein are the result of a collaborative effort between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They benefited from inputs provided by other UN agencies, in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • In the context of this report, modern slavery covers a set of specific legal concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, other slavery and slavery like practices, and human trafficking.
  • Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts. Essentially, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

Knitting a safety net: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context:

Rising cases of mental health disorders need a more proactive approach from the government.

Mental illness in the context of India:

  • The 2017 World Health Organisation report, on depression says that almost 7.5% of Indians suffer from major or minor mental disorders that require expert intervention.

According to the report:

  1. Depressive disorders are characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.
  2. Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear.

What are the rising factors that affect the mental illness in India?

With time,  reasons for rising cases of mental illness in India are:

  • a fast-paced lifestyles,   
  • high stress  because of complexities of living,a rural to urban shift
  • a breakdown of support systems,
  • challenges of economic instability.
  • Increased workloads
  • Rise in unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Rising cases of natural calamities

How should the mental health care in India be strengthened?

For an overall strengthening of mental health care in India, the government should eradicate the following barriers:

  1. Scarcity of mental health services in the public health services.
  2. Poor utilization of available services by the patients in the rural areas.
  3. Poor understanding of psychological distress.
  4. Limited acceptance of modern medical care for mental disorders among the general population.

Social stigma:

  • Due to the stigma associated with mental disorders, nearly 80 per cent of those with mental disorders had not received any treatment.
  • Thus, Indians should be able to access healthcare without humiliation of proving their financial status or bitterness of social stigma.
  • Within families and across social groups, a mutual sense of responsibility and affiliation towards each other must be reinforced, through rituals and culture, social training or self-learning.
  • There is a need to constitute a national commission on mental health comprising professionals from mental health, public health, social sciences and the judiciary to oversee, facilitate support and monitor and review mental health policies.
  • Targeted social interventions such as the disability allowance, mandated by the Mental Health Care Act and the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, must adopt an integrated single window health and social care system that will minimize cumbersome bureaucracy.

The Mental Health Care Bill, 2016: Key features:

The Statements of Objects and Reasons to the Bill, state the government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007.  The Convention requires the laws of the country to align with the Convention. The new Bill was introduced as the existing Act does not adequately protect the rights of persons with mental illness nor promote their access to mental health care.  The key features of the Bill are:

Rights of persons with mental illness

  • Every person shall have the right to access mental health care and treatment from services run or funded by the government.  The right to access mental health care includes affordable, good quality of and easy access to services. Persons with mental illness also have the right to equality of treatment, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment, free legal services, access to their medical records, and complain regarding deficiencies in provision of mental health care.

Advance Directive

  • A mentally-ill person shall have the right to make an advance directive that states how he wants to be treated for the illness during a mental health situation and who his nominated representative shall be.  The advance directive has to be certified by a medical practitioner or registered with the Mental Health Board.  If a mental health professional/ relative/care-giver does not wish to follow the directive while treating the person, he can make an application to the Mental Health Board to review/alter/cancel the advance directive.

Central and State Mental Health Authority

These are administrative bodies are required to

  • register, supervise and maintain a register of all mental health establishments,
  • develop quality and service provision norms for such establishments,
  • maintain a register of mental health professionals,
  • train law enforcement officials and mental health professionals on the provisions of the Act,
  • receive complaints about deficiencies in provision of services, and
  • advise the government on matters relating to mental health.  

Mental Health Establishments

  • Every mental health establishment has to be registered with the relevant Central or State Mental Health Authority.  In order to be registered, the establishment has to fulfill various criteria prescribed in the Bill.

Mental Health Review Commission and Board

  • The Mental Health Review Commission will be a quasi-judicial body that will periodically review the use of and the procedure for making advance directives and advise the government on protection of the rights of mentally ill persons.  The Commission shall with the concurrence of the state governments, constitute Mental Health Review Boards in the districts of a state.  

The Board will have the power to

  • register, review/alter/cancel an advance directive,
  • appoint a nominated representative,
  • adjudicate complaints regarding deficiencies in care and services,
  • receive and decide application from a person with mental illness/his nominated representative/any other interested person against the decision of medical officer or psychiatrists in charge of a mental health establishment.

Prohibiting electro-convulsive therapy

  • A person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from mental illness at that time and will not be punished under the Indian Penal Code.  Electro-convulsive therapy is allowed only with the use of muscle relaxants and anaesthesia. The therapy is prohibited for minors.

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Hear marital cases in camera: SC:

CONTEXT:

  • In a landmark verdict aimed at keeping matrimonial disputes private and protecting the dignity of women, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that it would be advisable for family courts to conduct in-camera hearings to resolve differences between husband and wife over divorce, maintenance and custody of children.

INTRODUCTION:

  • The Supreme court has overruled the directions issued in the case of Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam, observing that if proceedings are directed to be conducted through videoconferencing,  the spirit of  “the spirit of the 1984 Act will be in peril and further the cause of justice would be defeated”
  • The majority judgment set aside a decision by a two-judge Bench of the Apex Court led by Justice A.K.Goel, directing all high courts to issue administrative instructions to family courts across the country to open video conferencing facilities and use  the technology to conduct marital disputes.

COURT’S VERDICT:

  • The expression of desire by the wife or the husband is whittled down and smothered if the Court directs that the proceedings shall be conducted through the use of video conferencing, court observed.
  • Describing matrimonial proceedings as “sanguinely private”, the majority judgment said chances of “reconciliation requires presence of both the parties at the same place and the same time so as to be effectively conducted”.
  • Court says that it is very doubtful whether the emotional bond can be established in a virtual meeting during video conferencing and it may even create a dent in the process of settlement.
  • Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra agreed that matrimonial disputes should be conducted in camera in the spirit of Section 11 of the Family Court Act of 1984 and video conferencing would destroy the privacy of the proceedings and probably defeat the cause of justice.
  • “The statutory right of a woman cannot be nullified by taking route to technological advancement and destroying her right under a law, more so, when it relates to family matters. In our considered opinion, dignity of women is sustained and put on a higher pedestal if her choice is respected,” the court held.
  • Allowing video-conferencing facility in matrimonial disputes would undermine the sanctity of concepts like constitutional identity, freedom of choice, dignity of a woman and affirmative rights conferred on her by the Constitution, Justice Misra said in the judgment.

MARITAL DISPUTES

What constitutes marital cases?

MARITAL RAPE 

  • Marital rape, under current law is not a criminal offence (Section 375 of India’s Penal Code 1860), “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.
  • Women have been undergoing physical and emotional harassment due to domestic violence of this type.
  • Verma Committee recommended to criminalise marital rape and its exception in Section 375 should be removed. It also says ‘Marriage should not be considered as an irrevocable consent to sexual acts’

CRUELTY

  • Cruelty may be physical or mental cruelty. According to the Hindu Divorce Laws in India, if one spouse has a reasonable apprehension in the mind that the other spouse’s conduct is likely to be injurious or harmful, then there is sufficient ground for obtaining divorce due to cruelty by the spouse.

ADULTERY

  • In India, a man that commits adultery (i.e. has consensual sexual intercourse outside of marriage) can be charged with a criminal offence. The wife may, file for divorce as a civil remedy.

CONVERSION

  • Divorce can be sought by a spouse if the other spouse converts to another religion. This reason does not require any time to have passed before divorce can be filed.

MENTAL DISORDER

  • If the spouse is incapable of performing the normal duties required in a marriage on account of mental illness, divorce can be sought. If,  the mental illness is to such an extent that the normal duties of married life cannot be performed.

CHILD CUSTODY

  • While the courts usually agree to the decision of the parents in a mutual consent divorce, the courts are expected to see to the best interest of the child.

    What are the laws dealing with marital disputes in India?

SECTION 498 A OF IPC:

  • provides complaint of harassment, cruelty or demand of dowry filed by wife against husband and relatives of husband.  For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” means:
  • Any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman;
  • Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ACT 2005 (DV Act)

  • The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to protect women from domestic violence. It was brought into force by the Indian government from 26 October 2006. The Act provides for the first time in Indian law a definition of “domestic violence”, with this definition being broad and including not only physical violence, but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.

THE HINDU MARRIAGE ACT:

  • by an act of the Parliament enacted in 1955. Three other important acts were also enacted as part of the Hindu Code during this time: the Hindu Succession Act (1956), the Hindu Minority and Guardianship act (1956), the  Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956).

THE FAMILY VIOLENCE PREVENTION AND SERVICES ACT:

  • The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) provide the main federal funding to help victims of domestic violence and their dependents (such as children). Programs funded through FVPSA provide shelter and related help. They also offer violence prevention activities and try to improve how service agencies work together in communities.

Hadiya accepts her marriage: SC:

CONTEXT:

“Father cannot take custody of his daughter after the lady becomes adult,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, leading a three-judge Bench, observed in the Hadiya case.

INTRODUCTION:

  • The Supreme Court on Monday observed that a High Court’s power to intervene in a Habeas Corpus petition and give custody of an adult woman to her father is restrained to circumstances when she is found to have been subjected to physical harm and torture or is psychologically depressed.

ABOUT THE CASE:

  • The Bench was considering the legality of the Kerala High Court’s decision to annul the marriage of 24 year old Hadiya, who had converted to Islam and subsequently married Shafin Jahan, a Muslim.
  • The High Court had also placed her in her father’s custody.
  • The court’s decision was based on a habeas corpus petition filed by Hadiya’s father.
  • The Petition was filed on an apprehension that Hadiya was allegedly coerced into adopting Islam as her religion and she was likely to be trafficked to Syria.

PERSONAL LIBERTIES:

  • The apex court held that children when they become adult are entitled to their views.
  • Kerala High court’s decision to grant custody of Haldia to her parents thoroughly undermined her liberty to choose her faith, possibly her life partner or her desire to take decisions about her own life.

SUPREME COURT’S EARLIER VERDICTS ON THE SAME ISSUE:

  • The Supreme Court of India in its previous decision in Arumugam Servai vs. State of Tamil Nadu while dealing with the atrocities perpetrated by Khap Panchayats observed that it is illegal to interfere in marital choices of individuals and such interfere in marital choices of individuals and such interferences have to be ruthlessly stamped out.
  • In essence, the Supreme Court criticized an institution/ideology that suppresses inter caste marriages and upheld the choice of the individual as such choice is a deeply personal act.

Article 21 secures two rights:

1)  Right to life

2) Right to personal liberty

  • Article 21 applies to natural persons. The right is available to every person, citizen or alien. Thus, even a foreigner can claim this right. It, however, does not entitle a foreigner the right to reside and settle in India, as mentioned in Article 19 (1) (e).
  • Article 21 of the Constitution of India, a very familiar fundamental right, applicable to all persons under Part III of the Constitution of India

Related laws:

  • In A. K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1996 SC 1234 the validity of the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 was challenged. The question arose that whether Article 21 provides any procedure of law enacted by legislature, or such procedure should be fair or reasonable. The Supreme Court held that the Act is valid and according to the due process of the law.
  • Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597 is a landmark case of the post-emergency period. This case witnessed a great transformation has come about in judicial attitude towards the protection of personal liberty after the traumatic experiences of the emergency during 1975-77 when personal liberty had reached in nadir.

WHAT IS PERSONAL LIBERTY?

  •  Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950 provides that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”The Constitution’s Preamble secures to all its citizens liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Thus the Constitution assures freedom of thought, word and deed.
  • A person is essentially free to think about anything, and there can be no external control on the thought process except perhaps only in very broad terms, such as political or religious propaganda or insidious advertisement.

What is Habeas Corpus?

Habeas Corpus

  • Habeas Corpus literally means ‘to have the body of’. Via this writ, the court can cause any person who has been detained or imprisoned to be physically brought before the court. The court then examines the reason of his detention and if there is no legal justification of his detention, he can be set free. Such a writ can be issued in following example cases:
  • When the person is detained and not produced before the magistrate within 24 hours
  • When the person is arrested without any violation of a law.
  • When a person is arrested under a law which is unconstitutional
  •  When detention is done to harm the person or is malafide.
  • Thus, Habeas corpus writ is called bulwark of individual liberty against arbitrary detention. A general rule of filing the petition is that a person whose right has been infringed must file a petition. But Habeas corpus is an exception and anybody on behalf of the detainee can file a petition. Habeas corpus writ is applicable to preventive detention also. This writ can be issued against both public authorities as well as individuals.

Towards transparency: (The Hindu, Editorial)

CONTEXT:  

In a move towards transparency in the elevation, confirmation and transfer of judges, the Supreme Court has begun to upload the decisions of the collegium, and the reasoning behind them, at the time that its recommendations are forwarded to the government.

INTRODUCTION:

  • The collegium, comprising the Chief Justice of India and four senior judges, has said it would indicate the reasons behind decisions on the initial appointment of candidates to High Court benches, their confirmation as permanent judges and elevation as High Court Chief Justices and to the Supreme Court, and transfer of judges and Chief Justices from one High Court to another.
  • The Supreme Court collegium’s decision to disclose the reasons for its recommendations marks a historic and welcome departure from the entrenched culture of secrecy surrounding judicial appointments.
  • In a 2015 judgment rejecting the proposed National Judicial Appointments Commission, the Supreme Court recommended improving the transparency of the collegium system.

WHY THE DECISION WAS TAKEN?

  • There will now be some material available in the public domain to indicate why additional judges are confirmed and why judges are transferred or elevated.
  • It is important to strike the right balance between full disclosure and opaqueness.
  • It is to be hoped that this balancing of transparency and confidentiality will augur well for the judiciary.

WHAT IS THE COLLEGIUM SYSTEM?

  • It is the system of appointment and transfer of judges that has evolved through judgments of the Supreme Court, and not by an Act of Parliament or by a provision of the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court collegium is headed by the Chief Justice of India and comprises four other seniormost judges of the court.
  • A High Court collegium is led by its Chief Justice and four other seniormost judges of that court.
  • Names recommended for appointment by a High Court collegium reaches the government only after approval by the CJI and the Supreme Court collegium.
  • Judges of the higher judiciary are appointed only through the collegium system — and the government has a role only after names have been decided by the collegium.
  • The government’s role is limited to getting an inquiry conducted by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) if a lawyer is to be elevated as a judge in a High Court or the Supreme Court.
  • It can also raise objections and seek clarifications regarding the collegium’s choices, but if the collegium reiterates the same names, the government is bound, under Constitution Bench judgments, to appoint them as judges.

What does the Constitution say regarding the appointments of judges?

  • Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are appointed by the President under Articles 124(2) and 217 of the Constitution.
  • The President is required to hold consultations with such of the judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts as he may deem necessary.

Article 124(2) says: “Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with such of the Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Courts in the States as the President may deem necessary for the purpose and shall hold office until he attains the age of sixty-five years. Provided that in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of India shall always be consulted.”

Article 217: “Every Judge of a High Court shall be appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, the Governor of the State, and, in the case of appointment of a Judge other than the Chief Justice, the Chief Justice of the High Court.”

Critics argue that the system is non-transparent, since it does not involve any official mechanism or secretariat.

Why has the collegium system been criticised?

  • It is seen as a closed-door affair with no prescribed norms regarding eligibility criteria or even the selection procedure.
  • There is no public knowledge of how and when a collegium meets, and how it takes its decisions.

What efforts have been made to address these concerns?

  • The NDA government has tried twice, unsuccessfully both times, to replace the collegium system with a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).
  • The BJP-led government of 1998-2003 had appointed the Justice M N Venkatachaliah Commission to opine whether there was need to change the collegium system. The Commission favoured change, and prescribed an NJAC consisting of the CJI and two seniormost judges, the Law Minister, and an eminent person from the public, to be chosen by the President in consultation with the CJI.

How are appointments being made now?

  • The collegium has been making recommendations for appointments and transfer of judges.
  • However, the 2015 ruling, had also paved the way for a new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) to guide future appointments so that concerns regarding lack of eligibility criteria and transparency could be redressed.
  • The Bench had asked the government to draft a new MoP after consultation with the CJI. But more than a year later, the MoP is still to be finalised owing to lack of consensus on several fronts between the judiciary and the government.

Conclusion:

The mammoth task of filling these vacancies would be better served if a revised Memorandum of Procedure for appointments is agreed upon soon. A screening system, along with a permanent secretariat for the collegium, would be ideal for the task. The introduction of transparency should be backed by a continuous process of addressing perceived shortcomings. The present disclosure norm is a commendable beginning.

Fixing the steel frame: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context:

  • Since 1947, India continued to adopt the civil service system inherited from the British with no major reforms.
  • But in reality, the colonial civil service system was unsuitable for a politically free, socially feudal and economically poor country such as India.

Indian bureaucracy: legacy of British Colonialism

  • Colonial bureaucracy: Colonial bureaucracy was an instrument or apparatus which included the employment of officials to assist in the administration of the colonial states.
  • India inherited an administration which was created by its British rulers to serve the interest of their Queen and the British parliament.
  • The whole set of Indian Civil Services was designed and trained by the British with the aim of extracting maximum revenues from the local Indians.
  • The country segregated the civil services as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS), etc.

What are the problems of Indian bureaucracy?

The inherited bureaucracy of India is crippled by

  • political interference,
  • outdated personnel procedures,
  • and a mixed record on policy implementation.
  • The bureaucracy has continued to be deeply hierarchical and rule-bound.
  • There has been a resistance to change. It is said that the age-old system is keeping the Indian bureaucracy intact.
  • But in turn its inefficiency, corruption and delays have become, in public perception, the hallmarks of public administration in India

What are the  measures to be taken?

Reforms should be brought about by the government to

  1. reshape recruitment and promotion processes,
  2. improve performance-based assessment of individual officers, and
  3. adopt safeguards that promote accountability while protecting bureaucrats from political meddling. For example:

Reforms suggested by  Second Administrative Reforms Commission (SARC) are as follows:

  • The commission had recommended significantly lowering the permissible age of entry into the civil services.
  • It recommended establishment of national institutes of public administration that would cultivate a new pool of aspiring civil service applicants.
  • The commission also suggested that all promotions be based on successful completion of mandatory training.
  • The commission recommended a system of two intensive reviews at the 14 and 20 year marks to determine continuance in public service.
  • And a new civil service reform bill to fix a minimum tenure for senior posts and establish safeguards against arbitrary dismissal.
  • Moreover, changing the character of the personnel system would not by itself be enough, organizational charges in the area of government ministries departments are also needed.

Bay of Bengal diplomacy: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

India to host the first Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation Disaster Management Exercise (BIMSTEC DMEx 2017) starting October 10.

What is the significance of this exercise?

  • The BIMSTEC region, comprising 22% of the global population, is exposed to an ever-increasing threat from natural disasters.
  • BIMSTEC has the opportunity to enable a paradigm policy shift from a traditional relief centric, reactive approach towards a joint, proactive, holistic one.
  • Despite a decade of meaningful efforts in the sector, political and security tensions between members have hindered progress on regional cooperation and action.
  • The renewed focus and enthusiasm of the regional leaders to rejuvenate BIMSTEC is therefore a welcome opportunity to boost effective cooperation in the sub-region.
  • In the absence of a joint integrated mechanism to address the spurt in the scale, frequency and impacts of disasters, the response has largely been reactive and limited to post-incident crisis management.

What are the steps needed to implement the proposal?

  • In order to strengthen inter-governmental coordination, the first step would be to devise a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) regional action plan.
  • The road map should reflect a clear strategy to integrate DRR in all development programmes of member nations, adopt a multi-hazard and multi-sectoral approach to DRR
  • All member nations must work towards common outcomes through institutionalizing partnerships across all levels of governance.

What role can India play to strengthen its position within BIMSTEC?

Role of a leader

  • India should adopt regional cooperation on environment and disaster management as it is an opportunity for India to take a measured approach and add value to its own regional agenda.
  • It has further volunteered to lead the Environment and Natural Disaster Agenda under BIMSTEC
  • It must make the best of this opportunity by translating the learnings from the disaster management experiences of SAARC and ASEAN.

On-going disputes

  • India’s tensions over transboundary Teesta river water sharing with Bangladesh, and the Rohingya refugee crisis between Myanmar and Bangladesh are cases in point.
  • Like other regional blocs, this initiative is set to take place amidst a long-standing climate of political discord amongst some of the member nations — Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

What are the challenges that need to be addressed?

Building capacity

  • Given the regional nature of the threats, there is an urgent need for setting up of regional institutional capacity for threat assessment and designing response strategies.

Awareness

  • An important challenge for disaster preparedness is addressing the knowledge gaps among the member countries.

Research and development

  • Setting up of research taskforces on various climate change and environment risks in the BIMSTEC sub-region can develop a common understanding of the threats
  • It shall further create standards for emergency management and come up with cost-effective solutions.

About BIMSTEC

  • Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectcoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
  • This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  • It constitutes seven Member States: five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two from Southeast Asia.
  • The regional group constitutes a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries. BIMSTEC has also established a platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.
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