The Mental Health Care Bill

The Mental Health Care Bill, which decriminalises suicide and guarantees the right to better healthcare for people with mental illness, was unanimously passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

It mandates that a person attempting suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from “severe stress” and, therefore, shall not be tried or punished by law. Further, the Bill mandates that persons with suicidal tendencies be provided help and rehabilitated.

The Bill was passed after a disruption-free five-hour debate, placing mental health patients at the centre of the legislation. “It was heartening to see parliamentarians discuss for five hours how to improve this Bill. We are, potentially, opening a new chapter in mental healthcare in India. Patients rights have been put at the heart of the legislation and the Bill approaches it from a rights-based perspective,” said Dr Soumitra Pathare, mental health expert who was a member of the drafting committee for the Bill.

This is the first mental health law to take a “rights-based” approach to mental illness by consolidating and safeguarding the rights of fundamental human rights of the patients.

“The Bill empowers the patients for mental healthcare. It gives them the right so that they are not denied [treatment] or discriminated against. The focus is on community mental healthcare ... it is a rights-based Bill,” Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda said. While suicides due to insanity declined from 7% in 2010 to 5.4% in 2014, data from the National Crime Records Bureau say nearly 7,000 people killed themselves because of mental disorders in 2014.

Advance directives

The Mental Healthcare Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 134 official amendments last August. A unique feature of the Bill is that it allows adults to make an advance directive on how they wish to be treated in case they got mental illness in the future.

Such a person can chose a nominative representative who would take care of him or her, the Minister said. The Bill also promises free treatment for such persons if they are homeless or fall below the poverty line, even if they do not possess a BPL card. The Bill clearly defines mental illness adding that the earlier definition, under Mental Helath Act 1987 was vague. There are also provisions under which a person cannot be sterilised just because he or she is a mental patient. “As per this law, we cannot separate a child for three years... Also, one cannot chain a mentally-ill person,” Mr Nadda said in Parliament while introducing the Bill. “We tried to see that the patient is protected and no coercive methodology is adopted. Persons who will not adhere to it will be liable to penalty and imprisonment. This is a very progressive bill,” he added.

India is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations. Around 6-7% of India’s population suffers from some kind of mental illnesses, while 1-2% suffer from acute mental disease.



GST a step closer to reality, Lok Sabha passes four supplementary bills

The historic Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime on Wednesday came a step closer to meet its July 1 target of roll out, with the Lok Sabha approving four supplementary legislations.

The Central GST Bill, 2017; The Integrated GST Bill, 2017; The GST (Compensation to States) Bill, 2017; and The Union Territory GST Bill, 2017 were passed after negation of a host of amendments moved by the opposition parties.

Replying to the seven-hour-long debate, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the GST, which will usher in a uniform indirect tax regime in the country, will make commodities "slightly cheaper".

He said the GST rates would depend upon whether the commodity is used by a rich person or a common man.

Jaitley said once the new regime is implemented, the harassment of businesses by different authorities will end and India will be one rate for one commodity throughout the country.

He said the>GST Council, comprising Finance Ministers of Union and states, had agreed to take a decision on bringing real estate within the ambit of the new tax regime within a year of its rollout.

On the impact of GST on prices, Jaitley said: "Today you have tax on tax, you have cascading effect. When all of that is removed, goods will become slightly cheaper".

On why the Council has decided on multiple GST rates, Jaitley said one rate would be "highly regressive" as "hawai chappal and BMW cannot be taxed at the same rate".

He said currently food articles are not taxed and those will continue to be zero rated under the GST. All other commodities would be fitted into the nearest tax bracket.

The GST Council has recommended a four-tier tax structure -- 5, 12, 18 and 28 per cent. On top of the highest slab, a cess will be imposed on luxury and demerit goods to compensate the states for revenue loss in the first five years of GST implementation.

However, the Central GST (CGST) law has pegged the peak rate at 20 per cent and a similar rate has been prescribed in the State GST (SGST) law, which takes the peak rate to 40 per cent which will come into force only in financial exigencies.

Jaitley said the cess would be transient for a period of 5 years so that the proceeds can be utilised to compensate the states.

Touted as the biggest taxation reform since Independence, GST will subsume central excise, service tax, VAT and other local levies to create an uniform market. GST is expected to boost GDP growth by about 2 per cent and check tax evasion.

Jaitley said that GST Council is working on the basis of consensus and slowly all items will come within the ambit of the new indirect tax regime, which will ensure free flow of goods and services throughout the country.

"The hard work put in by GST Council members and officers bore fruits today in terms of 4 classic pieces of legislation passed by the Lok Sabha," revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia tweeted later.

Adhia termed the passage of the four laws as a "historic milestone in economic history of this country".

Replying to the discussion on the four bills, Jaitley said once the new tax regime is rolled out, a businessman will have to deal with only one assessing officer instead of multiple authorities at present.

The Bill will also improve tax compliance and ensure that assessees get input credit of the taxes paid.

To opposition questions as to why the government brought the legislations as 'Money Bills', Jaitley cited the Constitutional provisions and said that since 1950 all tax- related legislations were brought before Parliament as Money Bill.

With regard to centralised registration to banks, the minister said the GST Council will take a final decision in this regard.

Elaborating on the anti-profiteering provisions, he said these are meant to ensure that the benefits of reduction in tax rates are passed on to the consumers and there should be no "unjust enrichment".

Responding to the concerns expressed by members on bringing agriculturists within the ambit of GST, he said the GST bill have provided a definition of agriculturists for the purpose of exemption from registration.

He further said most of the agricultural produce would continue to be zero rated and there should be "no confusion" about it.

As regards Jammu and Kashmir, the finance minister said the law passed by Parliament will not apply to the state which will have to legislate its own law and integrate with the GST regime.

On the powers of CAG to audit GST, the minister said that the official auditor draws its power from the Constitution and the CAG Act and there was no need to mention it separately in the legislations.

Jaitley also dismissed the contention that GST would erode the power of Parliament and state legislatures to levy taxes. He said the taxation powers would continue to be with the legislatures and would be used on the recommendations of the GST Council.
Under the new regime, sovereignty would be shared between the Centre and the states.
"The GST idea has created a grey area (with regard to power of Centre and states)... Taxes will be jointly imposed by Centre and states, there will be one tax," he said, adding an expert committee has been appointed to remove bottlenecks relating to GST implementation.



Sands of Saturn’s moon Titan are electrically charged

The particles that cover the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, are “electrically charged”, show results of an experiment.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, may help explain an odd phenomenon — prevailing winds on Titan blow from east to west across the moon’s surface, but sandy dunes nearly 300 feet tall seem to form in the opposite direction.

“These electrostatic forces increase frictional thresholds,” said the lead author of the study, Josh Mendez Harper from Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in the US.

“This makes the grains so sticky and cohesive that only heavy winds can move them. The prevailing winds aren’t strong enough to shape the dunes,” Mendez Harper said.

To test particle flow under Titan-like conditions, the researchers built a small experiment in a modified pressure vessel in their Georgia Tech lab.

They inserted grains of naphthalene and biphenyl — two toxic, carbon and hydrogen bearing compounds believed to exist on Titan’s surface — into a small cylinder.

Then they rotated the tube for 20 minutes in a dry, pure nitrogen environment.

Titan’s atmosphere is composed of 98 per cent nitrogen.

Afterwards, they measured the electric properties of each grain as it tumbled out of the tube.

“All of the particles charged well, and about two to five per cent didn’t come out of the tumbler,” Mendez Harper said.

“They clung to the inside and stuck together. When we did the same experiment with sand and volcanic ash using Earth-like conditions, all of it came out. Nothing stuck,” Mendez Harper explained.

The Earth sand does pick up electrical charge when it is moved, but the charges are smaller and dissipate quickly.

That is one reason why you need water to keep sand together when building a sand castle. Not so with Titan, according to the study.

“These non-silicate, granular materials can hold their electrostatic charges for days, weeks or months at a time under low-gravity conditions,” co-author George McDonald from Georgia Tech said.



Japan scientist’s ‘typhoon turbine’

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Atsushi Shimizu aims at harnessing nature’s fury to tackle country’s energy woes

Most people look for a place to hide when a typhoon is on the horizon, but Atsushi Shimizu hopes that the fury of nature may one day help resource-poor Japan tackle its energy woes.

As thousands of Australians seek shelter from a “monster” cyclone battering the country’s northern coast, the Tokyo-based engineer believes that his bladeless wind turbine can not only stand up to the raw force of these destructive storms, but also harness that power to generate electricity.

Mr. Shimizu’s egg-beater shaped creation — the device has three cylinders and a central rod — responds to wind coming from any direction and does not use a propeller to spin. Instead it takes advantage of the Magnus effect, a force that sees air curve when passing by a spinning object, such as a football.

“There are some estimates that wind power has more potential here than solar,” said the 37-year-old, who quit his job at an engineering firm to launch start-up Challenergy in 2014.

“But we haven’t been able to turn that much of this wind power into actual energy here in Japan,” he said.

Japan turned to expensive and polluting fossil-fuel options when it shut down dozens of nuclear reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima accident.

Public wary

A quake-sparked tsunami swamped the plant in Fukushima, sparking the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Six years later, a wary public is resisting government efforts to switch reactors back on — boosting interest in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

The amount of electricity produced by wind nearly doubled in 2016 from a year earlier, according to a recent survey by the Japan Wind Power Association.



New species of crocodile-like dinosaur discovered

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Los Angeles, Apr 1 (PTI) Scientists have identified a new species of tyrannosaur dinosaur and found their face was covered in a scaly protective layer with a high degree of tactile sensitivity, similar to crocodiles.

Researchers, including those from University of New Mexico in the US, identified and named the new species of the tyrannosaur clan: Daspletosaurus horneri - Horners Frightful Lizard.

They analysed the texture of the facial bones of the new species found at the banks of Montana river in the US.

"Being a tyrannosaur, they had really small arms," said Jason R Moore of University of New Mexico.

"They would not be able to interact with their environment with their hands the way mammals do - find food, build nests, tend to eggs and young. In order to do these things, Daspletosaurus needed to use its feet or head," said Moore.

"The discovery and analysis of the tyrannosaur shows that the dinosaur had a developed face sensitivity similar to the sensitivity in our finger tips, suggesting it could use its snout for all those complex ecological interactions, similar to the way crocodiles do today," Moore said.

The study also provides new information about the mode of evolution and life appearance of tyrannosaurs, specifically the face.

Researchers found evidence for a rare, nonbranching type of evolution in tyrannosaurs and that tyrannosaurs had scaly, lipless faces and a highly touch-sensitive snout.

"Daspletosaurus horneri was the youngest, and last, of its lineage that lived after its closest relative, D torosus, which is found in Alberta, Canada," said Thomas Carr of Carthage College in the US.

"The geographic proximity of these species and their sequential occurrence suggests that they represent a single lineage where D torosus has evolved into D horneri," Carr said.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports. PTI APA SAR SAR



A Russian Volcano Just Erupted for the First Time in Centuries

THIS WEEKEND SAW a new eruption from Kambalny in southern Kamchatka. Now, the Kamchatka Peninsula is a very volcanically active area, with multiple eruptions going on simultaneously much of the time. There are certain volcanoes that are in almost-constant unrest, like Shiveluch, Kliuchevskoi, and Karymsky. However, Kambalny is not one of the usual suspects for activity.

This changed when a dark grey ash plume was spotted by Earth-observing satellites on March 25. The plume (see above) stretched hundreds of kilometers to the south over the Pacific Ocean and may have reached as high as 8 kilometers (26,000 feet) above sea level. You can also check out the NASA Earth Observatory image of the eruption that clearly shows the plume and its shadow