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MAINS Q/A 3-05-2018

 

 

Q1. The Delhi High Court (HC) judgment revoking Monsanto’s Bollgard-2 patent is fraught with problems. Comment

The Delhi High Court (HC) judgment revoking Monsanto’s Bollgard-2 patent is fraught with problems. Bollgard-2 is an insecticidal technology which uses a gene called Cry2Ab from the soil bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt). When inserted into a cotton plant, the gene confers resistance against cotton pests. Monsanto’s 2008 patent on Bollgard-2 protects several aspects of this technology: the modification of Cry2Ab to make it compatible with the cotton genome, the process of introducing this gene at a specific location in the cotton genome, and the protein expressed by the plant containing the gene.

So, why did the Delhi HC reject this patent? The judge reasoned that Monsanto’s Bt gene was useless to farmers unless inserted into a cotton hybrid, which farmers could then grow to repel pests. This insertion is carried out by seed companies, who cross a Bt gene-containing plant (from Monsanto’s donor seeds) with their proprietary cotton varieties. The judge argued that this crossing of plants was a natural and biological process. This argument undermined Monsanto’s patent, because under Section 3(j) of India’s Patents Act, a seed or a plant, or a biological process to create a seed or plant cannot be patented. If this argument is correct, few plant biotechnology innovations would be patentable in India. This is a dangerous conclusion because the lack of patent protection would discourage crucial research by the agri-biotech industry.

The are two key steps in the process of creating a Bt cotton hybrid. The first is carried out by Monsanto, in which it modifies the Cry2Ab gene into a form which doesn’t occur in nature. Next, Monsanto inserts this modified gene into cotton seeds, again an unnatural process that cannot happen without human intervention. Such seeds, called donor seeds, are then sold to seed companies.

The second step is carried out by seed companies who hybridise cotton plants grown from the donor seeds with their own varieties. This hybridisation, as the HC said, is a biological process that cannot be patented. But that doesn’t mean the insertion of the modified gene into cotton seeds by Monsanto is a natural biological process, says Eashan Ghosh, a Delhi-based intellectual property lawyer. The judgment appears to have conflated a step involving human intervention with a step involving a biological process.

Transgenic technologies such as Bt cotton are an important part of India’s cotton production arsenal. They are not infallible. But this is true of all technologies, like antibiotics, that fail when used improperly, as was the case with Bollgard-2. The important thing for India is to keep incentivising the development of such technologies and to use them properly. Strong patent protection is a crucial part of this process.

 

Q2. What is DNA Profiling bill?

The bill was originally proposed in 2007 and in 2012 drafting of the bill began. The draft bill was prepared by the Department of Biotechnology. The bill proposes to form a National DNA Data Bank and a DNA Profiling Board, and use the data for various specified purposes.

The proposed DNA Profiling Board will consist of molecular biology, human genetics, population biology, bioethics, social sciences, law and criminal justice experts. The Board will define standards and controls for DNA profiling.

It will also certify labs and handle access of the data by law enforcement agencies. There will be similar bodies at state levels.

The bill will also create a National DNA Data Bank, which will collect data from offenders, suspects, missing persons, unidentified dead bodies and volunteers. It will profile and store DNA data in criminal cases like homicide, sexual assault, adultery and other crimes.

The data will be restricted and will be available only to the accused or the suspect. A person facing imprisonment or death sentence can send a request for DNA profiling of related evidence to the court that convicted him.

The bill has the provision that any misuse of data will carry a punishment of up to three years imprisonment and also fine

Criticism and support

The bill has been criticised for not addressing the concerns of privacy The Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties has opposed the bill on privacy concerns and sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of India in 2012.

  1. P. Shah committee report

In October 2012, an expert committee headed by Ajit Prakash Shah presented its report. It said that there should be safeguards to prevent illegal collection and use of DNA data. There should be also safeguards to prevent the proposed body from misusing them.

The report also suggested that there should a mechanism using which citizens can appeal against the retention of data. There should also be a mechanism of appeal under which citizens under trial can request a second sample to be taken.

The samples must be taken after consent in case of victims and suspects. However, samples can also be taken from crime scenes. The committee noted that although the bill allows volunteers to submit samples, there is no proper procedure to obtain consent and there is no mechanism under which volunteer can withdraw their data.

The committee proposed that before giving the data to a third party, the person must be notified and consent must be sought, if the third party is not an authorised agency. The report said that purpose for which data is being collected should be state publicly, and the data should be destroyed after the purpose has been served and the time frame has expired.

The report said bodies collecting, analysing and storing DNA data should be made to release an annual report, detailing their practices and organisational structure.

Lokniti Foundation vs Union of India

In 2012, a non-government organization (NGO) called Lokniti Foundation filed a public interest litigation against the government in the Supreme Court of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No.491 of 2012, stating that India does not have a national DNA database to address the issue of thousands of unclaimed dead bodies in India that are reported annually.

The Supreme Court asked the government to present a roadmap detailing how the bill will implement mandatory DNA profiling of unclaimed bodies

The government replied to concern by stating that the bill will establish a national database which will help identify unclaimed bodies, and returned rescued children and adults to their families. The database would store DNA profiles from the relatives of missing persons, and also from convicts, accused and volunteers

The government also added in the affidavit that India also lacks trained personnel to implement it  It has also been stated that the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, India was in the process of acquiring specialized software from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), USA for cross matching of DNA profiling data.

India has 30-40 DNA examiners and a DNA examiner can handle 100 cases per year. However, India gets 40,000 unclaimed bodies annually, the purpose will require at least 400 DNA examiners. Since, a single case requires ₹20,000, annually ₹80 crore will be required for 40,000 cases, excluding salaries of the examiners and support personnel

 

Q3.Why labour laws have become an important issue in INDIA?

By the virtue of being an ILO members, India is under obligation “to promote and to realise, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those conventions, namely:

  1. a) Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
  2. b) The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
  3. c) The effective abolition of child labour
  4. d) The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation…”

However, these rights are being ridiculed by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at every single stage of policy making by amending labour laws.

The real state of labourers in India tells a disappointing story. The status of the working class people in India is miserable despite a scheme launched by our Prime Minister on October 16, 2014, named, “Shramev Jayate”.

The scheme has failed to bring any significant change to the lives of the working class. This had to happen since no consultation was held with central trade unions while framing labour laws.

Last year on May Day, the Union ministry of labour and employment organised an event in Delhi, where officials spent most of their time showcasing portals and apps launched by the government for “ease of doing business”. This sums up the BJP government’s intentions in “empowering” the backbone of nation’s GDP growth.

Soon after assuming power at the Centre, Modi government made climbing up the ladder of ratings in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” its sole agenda. In pursuit of this, the government has “simplified” the labour laws, which were considered hindrance in the path of corporates.

Workers of both organised as well as the unorganised sector were targeted. In the name of labour reforms, the entire edifice of labour laws which was built over more than a century of the labour movement was sought to be dismantled. Labour laws fall in the concurrent list with legislative power for the states as well as the Centre. The changes in labour laws were initiated by the BJP state government in Rajasthan, which made fundamental amendments in four laws.

The central labour minister issued instructions for other states to follow the Rajasthan model. Rajasthan was the first BJP-ruled state to come up with “a labour law reform laboratory”, which had made amendments to labour laws. This was followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh – all BJP ruled states.

Three steps undertaken by Vasundhara Raje-led Rajasthan government, which should be considered as the most disastrous were to the amendment to Industrial Disputes Act. This change allowed companies to raise the limit of number of employees which they could lay off without government’s permission from 100 to 300.

Second, the Contract Labour Act was amended to absolve the principal employer of responsibility for compliance. Up to 49 contract workers can be employed without a licence. Third, changes in the Apprentice Act made it possible for employers to employ large numbers of people with no rights – not even the meager rights of contract workers, even after working for five years in an establishment.

Here is an overview of amendments made by the governments of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh.

Rajasthan Labour Law, 2014

The amendments in the Factories Act propose to increase the threshold limit of employment for factories operating without power from 20 to 40 and from 10 to 20 for factories operating with power. Complaints against the employer about violation of this Act would not receive cognizance by a court without prior written permission from the state government. A provision for compounding of offences has been added.

Gujarat Labour Law, 2015: Out-of-court settlement of dispute between workers and management

This provision will reduce unnecessary and endless litigation, as court cases go on for years. Thus, we want to introduce a system wherein labourers can arrive at a compromise with employers without approaching court. This amendment clearly alienates workers from their basic right of bargaining and reach a court of law.

Madhya Pradesh Labour Law, 2015

Companies are now allowed to let go of up to 100 employees without government approval. The new, higher limit will be applicable to companies where “not less than 300 workers were employed on an average per working day for the preceding 12 months”.

Maharashtra Labour Law, 2017

Large number of small and medium-scale establishments will be out of the purview of the Act. Larger establishments will also employ four to five sets of 40 contract workers to avoid coming under this law. This means employers will avoid providing statutory benefits, including provident fund, the minimum wage and leave to contract workers in smaller units.

From 2015 to 2017, workers from all states staged protests against the anti-worker policies of the Modi government. About 180 millions workers went on strike in 2016 against the “economic reforms” of government. It was termed as the biggest strike of workers of the world.

A 12-point charter of demands was prepared by the trade unions against stringent labour laws, disinvestments in central and state-owned enterprises and opening up sectors ranging from railways to insurance and defence to foreign direct investments (FDI).

Q4. What is meant by Virtue ethics?

Virtue Ethics (or Virtue Theory) is an approach to Ethics that emphasizes an individual’s character as the key element of ethical thinking, rather than rules about the acts themselves (Deontology) or their consequences (Consequentialism).

There are three main strands of Virtue Ethics:

Eudaimonism is the classical formulation of Virtue Ethics. It holds that the proper goal of human life is eudaimonia (which can be variously translated as “happiness”, “well-being” or the “good life”), and that this goal can be achieved by a lifetime of practising “arête” (the virtues) in one’s everyday activities, subject to the exercise of “phronesis” (practical wisdom) to resolve any conflicts or dilemmas which might arise. Indeed, such a virtous life would in itself constitute eudaimonia, which should be seen as an objective, not a subjective, state, characterized by the well-lived life, irrespective of the emotional state of the person experiencing it.

A virtue is a habit or quality that allows individuals to succeed at their purpose. Therefore, Virtue Ethics is only intelligible if it is teleological (i.e. it includes an account of the purpose or meaning of human life), a matter of some contention among philosophers since the beginning of time. Aristotle, with whom Virtue Ethics is largely identified, categorized the virtues as moral virtues (including prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) and intellectual virtues (including “sophia” or theoretical wisdom, and “phronesis” or practical wisdom). Aristotle further argued that each of the moral virtues was a golden mean, or desirable middle ground, between two undesirable extremes (e.g. the virtue of courage is a mean between the two vices of cowardice and foolhardiness).

Ethics of Care was developed mainly by Feminist writers (e.g. Annette Baier) in the second half of the 20th Century, and was motivated by the idea that men think in masculine terms such as justice and autonomy, whereas woman think in feminine terms such as caring. It calls for a change in how we view morality and the virtues, shifting towards virtues exemplified by women, such as taking care of others, patience, the ability to nurture, self-sacrifice, etc, which have been marginalized because society has not adequately valued the contributions of women. It emphasizes the importance of solidarity, community and relationships rather than universal standards and impartiality. It argues that instead of doing the right thing even if it requires personal cost or sacrificing the interest of family or community members (as the traditional Consequentialist and deontological approaches suggest), we can, and indeed should, put the interests of those who are close to us above the interests of complete strangers.

Agent-Based Theories, as developed recently by Michael Slote (1941 – ), give an account of virtue based on our common-sense intuitions about which character traits are admirable (e.g. benevolence, kindness, compassion, etc), which we can identify by looking at the people we admire, our moral exemplars. The evaluation of actions is therefore dependent on ethical judgments about the inner life of the agents who perform those actions.

The term “virtue ethics” is a relatively recent one, essentially coined during the 20th Century revival of the theory, and it originally defined itself by calling for a change from the then dominant normative theories of Deontology and Consequentialism.

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