An estimated 349,681 pregnancy losses per year in South Asia were associated with exposure to PM2.5 concentrations that exceeded India’s air quality level (more than 40 μg/m3), accounting for 7% of annual pregnancy losses in the region from 2000 to 2016, according to the report.
Poor air quality is correlated with a large proportion of pregnancy losses in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, according to a modeling study reported in The Lancet Planetary Health Journal, which notes that such losses are more frequent in northern India and Pakistan.
Exposure to air pollution above the WHO air quality guideline could have led to 29 percent of pregnancy losses. Although the WHO guidelines aim at a safer level of air pollution, the authors note that India’s standard is a more achievable target level, given the high average levels of air pollution in the area and the need to balance practical governance and public health.
Considering the first research to estimate the impact of air pollution on pregnancy loss across the country, the limitations in the survey data suggest that it was not possible to differentiate between natural pregnancy loss and abortion, which may have contributed to an underestimation of the effect of air pollution on natural pregnancy loss.
The researchers included 34,197 women who had lost their pregnancy, including 27,480 miscarriages and 6,717 stillbirths, relative to live birth control. Of the cases of pregnancy loss, 77 percent were from India, 12 percent from Pakistan, and 11 percent from Bangladesh.
The authors incorporated data from household health surveys from 1998 to 2016 (from women who reported at least one pregnancy loss and one or more live births) and estimated PM2.5 exposure during pregnancy by satellite combination with atmospheric modeling outputs.
A model was built to analyze how exposure to PM2.5 increased women’s risk of pregnancy loss, and to quantify the risk for each 10 μg/m3 increased PM2.5 after adjusting for maternal age, temperature and humidity, seasonal variance, and long-term pregnancy loss patterns.
Using this connection, they estimated the number of pregnancy losses that could have been caused by PM2.5 in the entire region for the period 2000–16 and looked at how many pregnancy losses could have been avoided under the Indian and WHO air quality requirements (40 μg/m3 and 10 μg/m3, respectively).
Gestational exposure to PM2.5 was associated with an increased risk of pregnancy loss, which remained important after correction for other factors. Each increase of 10 μg/m3 was estimated to increase the maternal risk of pregnancy loss by 3%, according to the report.
Lead study author Tao Xue of Beijing University says: “South Asia has the highest burden of pregnancy loss worldwide and is one of the most contaminated PM2.5 regions in the world. Our findings indicate that poor air quality may be responsible for a substantial burden of pregnancy loss in the area, providing more evidence for urgent action to address hazardous levels of pollution.”
No Extra chance to UPSC candidates: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has refused to provide an extra chance to candidates for appearing in Civil Services Examination in 2021 to candidates barred by age or number of attempts from taking it, after some of them approached the apex court citing difficulties in preparation that affected their performance in the October 2020 exam.
The court did not see merit in the grounds on which the candidates were seeking an extra chance, and was also worried about this setting the wrong kind of precedent.
In a February 5 hearing, the government offered candidates who have exhausted their chances an extra one, as a concession, but the court advised it against this, although it said the government is free to exercise its discretion in addressing the grievances of the petitioners.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the government will now go ahead with this offer.
Dismissing the plea of nearly 150 candidates who approached the Supreme Court, a three-judge bench comprising justices AM Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi said: “What is being claimed and prayed for under the guise of Covid-19 pandemic is nothing but a lame excuse in taking additional attempt to participate in the Civil Service Examination (CSE), 2021.”
In its 40-page judgment, the court said the pattern of CSE has remained unchanged since 2015; the candidates got an additional five months to prepare considering that the examination was originally to be held in May 2020; and those petitioning the court chose not to exercise the option to withdraw from the examination despite the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which conducts it, opening a second window for withdrawal between August 1-8, 2020, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The petitioners were mentally prepared to give the examination, the bench noted.
Refusing to view the case of the petitioners in isolation, the court found merit in the argument of the Centre that any concession to this batch of petitioners will not be fair to the others. All of them, “irrespective of the nature of attempt (first or second, etc) who appeared in the 2020 Examination must have faced the same consequences as being faced by the writ petitioners… the reasoning would equally apply to those who have crossed the upper age barrier”, reasoned justice Rastogi, who authored the judgment.
The court wondered whether a concession to the petitioners could create a similar right for those candidates who withdrew from the examination last year because of a lack of preparation or due to personal reasons.
“If this court shows indulgence to [a] few who participated in the examination in 2020, it will set down a precedent and also have cascading effect on examinations in other streams, for which we are dissuaded to exercise plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution,” the judges held.
UPSC also opposed the petition on the grounds that a favourable judgment could affect various examinations and recruitment tests conducted by it and state service commissions.
The Centre initially opposed the petition, but on February 5 offered a “one-time” concession to those candidates who exhausted their last attempt in the examination conducted last year. General category candidates are allowed six attempts. Candidates belonging to other backward classes (OBCs) are allowed nine and those from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SCs and STs) can appear as many times as they want. The age bar for the three categories is 32, 35 and 37, respectively.
According to government data, 486,952 candidates appeared for the 2020 Civil Service Examination. Of this, 3,863 were appearing for their last attempt, and 2,236 were at the age threshold.
Commenting on the one-time concession offered by the Centre at the suggestion of the court, the bench said, “…any relaxation which is not permissible either in attempt or age under the scheme of Rules (for competitive examinations) 2020 apart from being in contravention to the rules, it may be discriminatory, and it is advisable not to exercise discretion in implementing what is being proposed by Centre (respondent 1).”
However, the court left the door open by stating that the Centre will be free to exercise its discretion to mitigate the difficulties faced by the petitioners. It said: “We make it clear that this decision would not restrict the Centre (Respondent 1) or the executive in exercising its discretion in meeting out the nature of difficulties as being projected to this court, if come across in future in dealing with the situation, if required.”
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