Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two Ladies, Who Made The Mission Possible!

This piece came in Counter Currents on August 27, 2016

Web link: http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/08/27/two-ladies-who-made-the-mission-possible/

A 6-14 year old minor girl could be an‘object’used for dispute settlement between two parties. No matter how absurd it may sound, this practice, known as “Swara” (http://bit.ly/1PWTLKm), is prevalent in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, mostly in tribal belts. This is a 400 year-old tradition based on principle of “blood for blood” for dispute settlement where virgin girls are forcibly married off. If not all, at least one woman had the courage the fight it out in her community in Swat valley. Tabassum Adnan, a lady from Swat valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan was awarded with the Nelson Mandela–Graca Machel innovation award 2016 in Bogota, Columbia in April 2016 during the International Civil Society week held by CIVICUS for her valiant work on violence against women in her community.


“Our fear is our biggest obstacle and cause of our failure. If you get one success, you get motivated. The biggest achievement will be to shed fear and demand our rights.” Said Tabassum. Her journey to fight for the cause of women started with a case of acid attack by a man on a girl, who eventually succumbed to the injury. Tabassum and other women approached the Jirga, the traditional body of elders for dispute settlement, asking justice for this girl. It resulted in nothing. “So we decided to start our own Jirga – Khwendo Jirga(Sisters’ council), consisting only women in 2011.” Said Tabassum.
In the particular case of Swara in the community, where Tabassum lives, a married man had kidnapped the wife of another man. In the dispute settlement, the first man was asked to give his 7 year old daughter Fatima (Name changed) to the other man for ever, who could use her as his property. Aggrieved and helpless, the mother of the Fatima approached Tabassum for help. The women brigade of Khwendo Jirga rescued the minor girl from the captivity defying the order of the men Jirga. “We forcefully took the girl out of the custody of that man. Several men there opposed us, but we did not relent.” Said an assertive Tabassum. Thus started her fight for the helpless women in her area. “Khwendo Jirga” is the Centre of hope for several vulnerable and languished women. We have dealt with girls’ trafficking cases, have given shelter of women having five-six children deserted by family and husband etc” added Tabassum. Tabassum, 38 is a victim of child marriage and of an abusive husband. She decided to walk out of the marriage after 20 years and started working for justice for women.
The men’s brigade reacted. She was issued with Fatwa(order made under Islamic Law) by the traditional Jirga in 2011-12, which was eventually withdrawn. Appreciation for her work started pouring in even within her community. She was made the member of the district dispute settlement committee. She got international acclamations with ‘Best human right defenders’ award’given by government of Netherland in 2014 and ‘International Women of Courage award’ conferred by US state department in 2015.
Apart from dispute settlement, issues relating access of women to the decision-making bodies and justice for women, Tabassum’s group has worked for education of girl child, heath of women, and advocated against child marriage.
The work of Smriti Nagpal, 26 from New Delhi, India also is similarly inspiring for which she was conferred with the Nelson Mandela –Graca Machel innovation award 2016. Smriti has stared an initiative, Atulyakala (Unparalleled art forms) in 2012 to give a platform for marketing the art and crafts by the people with speech and hearing impairment. “Once, a guy with speech impairment having a masters degree, who was doing manual job in a NGO, approached me asking where his paintings could be sold. I had no answers. I was just a graduate then. But it did give me an idea.”
Smriti has two siblings having hearing and speech impairments. Her best way to communicate with them was through her hands. Shetherefore knows the use of sign language, which helps her to communicate with people with similar impairments. She has been a sign language interpreter in National Association of Deaf and interpreted republic day parade in national TV.
“The kind of paintings and crafts by the people with hearing and speech impairment are just immaculate. Therefore, I thought why not to start an institution with help of all fascinating artists. This is a way of taking them away from a stigmatized life, and to live a life of dignity,” narrates Smriti.


Atulyakala markets online the products like like mugs, wallets, journals etc designed by the person with hearing and speech impairments with their signatures on all products. This gives them the identity and confidence. Apart from social enterprising, Atulyakala also conducts awareness programme in universities about the Indian sign language and inclusion of such people. India is the place for highest numbers of population of 18 million with speech impairment in the world.
She was chosen as the 100 most inspiring women by BBC in 2015.As many as 200 people with such impairments have been benifitted from Atulyakala.It has centers in the country and a center in Denmark. Atulyakala plans to replicate it’scenter and training model in different cities.
In the message for the young generation, Smritisays “I am a dream, and I’ve believed dreams shape your life. Whatever you are passionate about, work on it. Your small effort can bring changes in many lives.”

The author is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. He can be reached through e mail: 2006pradeep@gmail.com

BRICS And Civil Society

This piece came in Counter Currents on July 16, 2016

Web Link: http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/07/16/brics-and-civil-society/

India is going to host the 8th BRICS Summit in Goa on October 15-16, 2016 as part of India’s chairmanship of BRICS this year. BRICS is the acronyms of its member nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all of which are fast growing developing economies. The formation came to existence in 2009 but South Africa was taken as member in 2010. In BRICS summits, the heads of state or heads of government e.g. Presidents and Prime Ministers of the partner countries participate.
How important is BRICS for India? In the 7th summit of BRICS in Ufa, Russia last year, Prime Minister Modi announced his 10-point programme on future engagement of BRICS nations. This year in March the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj narrated the core theme for the Chairmanship as “Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions (BRICS)”. It’s going to organize more than 50 sectorial meetings at the ministerial, official, technical, and track II levels. Among them are BRICS Film Festival, BRICS Youth Forum, Young Diplomat’s Forum, BRICS Trade Fair, Think-Tank and Academic Forums etc. This signifies how engrossed is India in BRICS process and sees value in the formation.
India’s focus will be five prong: institution building, implementation, integration, innovation, and continuity with consolidation, I4C, in short.
BRICS initiated New Development Bank (NDB) has already come into existence and started operating. It is widely believed that the NDB has been visualized in response to the hegemony of west, particularly United Statesover the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)and answer to the growing discontent of the developing countries against these institutions. NDB has been instituted “with the objective of funding infrastructure projects in the developing countries and meet the aspirations of millions through sustainable development.” The bank will have initial authorized capital of $100 billion.
Why civil society intervention?  
Despite the economic slowdown witnessed in some member-states, the formation assumes a lot of significance to its members. With the functioning of NDB, the possible impact of the bloc on its member-states is likely to increase.
The five countries together account for 43 percent of the world’s population, 46 percent of the global labour force, 30 percent of the earth’s landmass and 25 percent of the world’s share of global gross domestic product (GDP) and more importantly almost 50 percent of world’s poor live in BRICS countries.
Given the vastness of the bloc in terms of population and poverty, the civil society feels it appropriate to engage with the formation to influence its agenda. Civil society’s interest is to see that the agenda of BRICS is inclusive of the interest of the poorer and excluded sections in each of its member counties. In the backdrop of jobless growth, and the pattern growth that has led to rising inequality; civil society wants to ensure that the growth visualized by BRICS is sustainable and reckons with the adverse impact of economic growth on environment. It also is anxious to see that the NDB does not end up becoming another international financial institutions (Read IMF and WB), whose role toward the developing countries and the LDCs, so also for the larger benefit of the people has been questioned. It should ensure that the bank invents not only in infrastructure development but also in building social capital.
Engagement of civil society with BRICS  
The first formal engagement of BRICS bloc with the civil society, termed as Civil BRICS, took place in Ufa, Russia during the 7th BRICS Summit. The meeting discussed about the necessity of dialogue of the civil society with the decision makers. It discussed on variety of social issues like heath care, equality, conflict management etc.
In 2013,Brazil took the initiative to hold dialogue with the civil society of Brazil for their inputs into BRICS process. This was an independent decision of Brazil. Later however the information and outcome of the meeting with civil society was shared with other BRICS member states. This was followed by the South Africa to hold several regional consultations with the civil society of South Africa in 2014.These interactions led to formalization of process of engagement of BRICS with civil society.
This year FIDC (Forum for India’s Development Cooperation), a think tank of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) proposes to hold the 2nd Civil BRICS in New Delhi in first week of October. This is a space for interaction with the civil society with agenda like civil society partnership in implementation of SDGs; food security, nutrition and health; inequality, economic growth and job creation; multi-lateral trade and sustainable development and sustainable urbanisation and urban poverty.  This is very good development.
It is also equally heartening that the Ufa declaration of BRICS (declaration on July, 2015 by 7th BRICS summit held in Ufa, Russia) discussed about poverty, income inequality, gender inequality and gaps in international tax regimes as major challenges and reiterates its commitment to act towards them. All these are fulfilling to civil society as these are the agendas which it pushes for.
However, two issues remain. One, if the NDB lives up to its promise towards environmental protections. In the name of funding the mega infrastructure projects it should not destroy environment and undemocratically usurp the land from the tribals and poor. Development has to be democratically accepted and is sustainable to preserve natural resources for the coming generations.
The other concern remains about the “Institutionalisation of Civil BRICS”. Last year in the declaration of the official BRICS, there was only a mention about the interface of civil society. No one knows what happened to the recommendations of the civil society. Amitabh Behar of Wada Na Todo Abhiyan , a conglomeration of civil society in India opines “This year the process interface with the civil society should be institutionalized and the recommendations emerging out of the Civil BRICS should be reflected in the official BRICS process.”
Come October, how seriously outcome of the Civil BRICS meeting is taken by the government, which has a step-sisterly attitude toward NGOs, remains to be seen.
Pradeep Baisakh is a Journalist based in New Delhi.

Have we gained or lost?


ECONOMY / 25 YEARS OF LIBERALISATION

Pradeep Baisakh looks at the effects of the economic reforms started 25 years ago.

This piece came in India Together on September 17, 2016


With the budget presentation by the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh in July 1991, India began its bonhomie with the model of liberalization, privatization and globalization, transforming itself from a closed interventionist economy.
India completed 25 years of liberalization in July 2016. Each successive government have taken ahead the process of economic reforms by reducing the role of state and giving more and more space to the Indian corporate and the multi-national companies to invest in industrial and service sectors.
What has changed in these 25 years
Percentage of persons below poverty line, which stood at 45.3 percent in 1993-94, has declined to 22 percent in 2011-12 as per the Planning Commission’s estimation. Critics may question the official definition of poverty figures, to which I quite agree; but the facts remains that money has flown to the hands of people and there has been visible expansion of opportunities in varied directions.
The children of middle class families are employed as software professionals in Bangalore or Hyderabad and Indian dominate the human resources in the Silicon Valley of United States. India could produce young and new generation entrepreneurs like the owners of Flipkart, the online shopping giant and Ola, an app based taxi service and Micromax, the mobile company.
Most of the macro economic indicators are strong. As the figures stand today, India is one of the fastest growing economy in the world with GDP growth of 8.3 percent from 2004-05 to 2013-14, 7.2 percent in 2014-15 and 7.6 percent in 2015-16 while from 1984-85 to 1994-95 it was 5.9 and earlier it has been lower.
BSE sensex breached the 30,000 mark on March 4, 2015. It stands at 28,078 now (August 6, 2016) in comparison to 714 in 1989 and 781 in 1990!
India received foreign investment of above $70 billion in 2014-15, which was abysmally low before the era of liberalization. The per-capita income has gone up by 13 times in 2016 from 1991. The GDP stands at $2073 billion in 2015, which is 4 times to the GDP in 1991. India is now the seventh largest economy of the world (in nominal GDP). You will get similar whopping figures of forex reserve and the export and import. All these figures show that India is now a clearly established economic power of the world.
With India emerging as the global economic power, the power dynamics has also undergone a change not only with the United States but also with many other nations. India’s claim for a permanent seat in UN is much stronger than ever before. India’s leadership in global trade and climate negotiations and in alternative blocs like BRICS is noteworthy. The pre-1991 India certainly did not enjoy this height in the power ladder.
Now we have more and more social schemes in forms of MGNREGA (Rural Employment Law), Right to Education law, National Health Mission and now the National Food Security Law. The government coffer has now enough resources to fund these schemes.
At what cost
However, it is necessary to analyse the cost at which we have achieved this growth.
There are several pockets of the country witnessing unrest among the local people, threatened by loss of land and livelihood due to industrialization. As many as 182 districts in 9 states (of total of 29 states) of the country are declared to have some activities of Maoist insurgency, of them in 82 districts the scenario is serious (Government data in 2011).
It’s in common knowledge that the Maoist cadres have grown in the most backward areas of the country. There has been visible subversion of democracy while it comes to taking away land by the government from the people against their wishes. The state has trained guns or used forces against its own people in Singur and Nadigram (West Bengal) and in Kalinga Nagar (Odisha) for Tatas and in Jagatsingpur (Odisha) for POSCO, the global steel giant-all to acquire land for them. Several people have been killed in such incidences.
The level of inequality has risen with wealth getting into fewer hands. Instead of trickle down, we have witnessed a trickle up phenomenon. The report by OXFAM, an International development organisation released in 2014 suggests that since 1995 the gap between the bottom 40 percent and the top 10 percent in India is increasing.
Lifestyle has undergone vast change in India during the phase of liberalisation. From a low-cost economy and a cautiously spending population, India has now become a consumerist and to some extent flamboyant economy, particularly for the elite and middle classes. This is gradually creating a class structure where the bottom 40 is fighting to meet daily needs, the top 10 percent lead a life of extravagance. Many may defend it as necessary driver for growth though!
Climate change is a global phenomenon. But we have clearly felt its impact in forms of flood in Mumbai in 2005, flood in Uttarakhand in 2013 and flood in Kashmir in 2014 and 2015. Country also has witnessed severe drought consecutively for three years now leaving the farm sector hi and dry. 
Natural disasters are not new in India but the nature and fury of the aforesaid disasters clearly has established the linkage to the climate change. India now is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in absolute terms though in terms of per-capita emission it’s 10th.
In absolute terms China is the biggest emitter followed by US and European Union. India’s emission constitutes 6.96 percent of the total global emission (Source: World resources Institute 2015). The amount of emission of GHGs by India has almost been doubled from 1994 level to 2010 (data comparison of Ministry of Environment and Forest, Govt of India and World Resource Institute). This is result of pursuing aggressive industrialization and the consumerist life style.
The period of liberalization has witnessed gross negligence of farm sector, which grew at a very abysmal rate since 1991.
Agro sector has become unproductive forcing farmers to leave farming and many have committed suicide. The number stands at 0.27 million (2.7 lakhs) in a period from 1995 to 2014, which is unprecedented. No sane government can defend such mass scale suicide of people in a democratic country due to faulty policies and inability of government to protect its agro-sector, on which nearly 60 percent of population is dependent. The current situation also does not show any signs of revival of situation of farmers.
Therefore, the gain from liberalization has been accrued in terms catapulting India to a near super power. But we have lost by way of creating new class structure on basis of differential income, so also unsustainable use of natural resources. The exploitative development model should be re-looked at to make it sustainable; otherwise next generation will be left with no resources for survival.

2 Years On, Modi Govt Has Stalled On Anti-Corruption Laws, Social Development: Report

The piece came in the Huffington Post on May 25, 2016

Web Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/pradeep-baisakh/2-years-on-modi-govt-has-stalled-on-anti-corruption-laws-socia/


As it completes two years in power on 26 May, 2016, the Modi government has accumulated plenty of criticism and a smattering of praise on its performance from civil society. A report released on Monday by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), a conglomerate of civil society groups, delved deep into several areas of governance and gauged the NDA government's performance against its electoral promises. 
The report criticized the government for faltering on its promise to bring down corruption in the country, noting that there was an attempt to "dilute" the Lokpal and whistleblowers' protection laws by introducing amendments in Parliament. "Instead of putting in place an effective grievance redress mechanism to ensure proper delivery of rights and services to people, the government is seeking to amend the existing Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to make all bribe givers offenders, which would criminalize even those who are forced to pay a bribe to get their legal entitlements," added the report.
The report [noted] that there was an attempt to "dilute" the Lokpal and whistleblowers' protection laws...
In the budgetary allocation in 2015-16, the major thrust for development was on investment in infrastructure. On the other hand, most allocations to the social sector fell short or increased only marginally in comparison to last year, leaving unaddressed critical concerns regarding healthcare, education and civic amenities. The government encourages private investment in the health and education sectors, but this has a debilitating effect on the poor and marginalized. "While India is making its mark at the global level, social and economic inequalities continue to grow and marginalize communities and their quality of life," claimed the report.
Despite the rhetoric on young people as the future of India, the 29% budget cut for children in 2015-16 has been the highest ever. There has even been an attempt by the government to bring in amendments to the child labour law that legitimize certain types of work done by minors.
While the passage of the amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is a welcome step, the continued poor allocation and implementation of economic provisions under the SCSP and TSP (Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan) holds the communities in the grip of poverty and underdevelopment, sayid the report. 
Crop loss, mounting debt and acute drought continue to drive farmers to commit suicide in states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The government could have done better to address the critical situation of rural distress. Rural insurance schemes have not given enough relief to farmers, and agricultural credit, rural electrification and a thrust on increasing the irrigation cover are major challenges that need to be addressed by the government. 
Despite the rhetoric on young people as the future of India, the 29% budget cut for children in 2015-16 has been the highest ever. 
It is reassuring that the MGNREGA programme is being continued. But the question of community say on their land remains unresolved and the final shape of the Land Bill will be known only after the government's stand towards the outcome of its examination by a parliamentary committee. The balancing act that the government eventually does between industrial development and market growth on the one side and the rights of the vulnerable sections on the other has to stand the test of time.
Similarly, the impact assessment of the government's Make in India push -- which intends to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub -- is being eagerly awaited. Despite many commitments, the anticipated foreign investment is not evident. By now, however, there is no doubt that the government has opted for trade and a market-driven economy as its core mantra for development. Concerns, therefore, over livelihood of small landowners, farmers, rural households and economically weaker sections are not misplaced, says the report.
On the human rights front, civil society continues to get strictures from the government. Communal tensions are palpable and there has been a clampdown on the voices of students expressing dissent. Fissures along the lines of caste in universities are evident. 
Communal tensions are palpable and there has been a clampdown on the voices of students expressing dissent. 
Participating in the report release event in New Delhi on 23 May, Brinda Karat, a politburo member of the CPI (M), said, "There has been drought for more than two years. Thus... food security is in peril. There is class bias in the current establishment. There is huge concession to the corporate [sector] in forms of tax benefits, where as the budget allocation is cut in social sectors." She added that civil society has been attacked under the current dispensation. 
Even more scathing was D Raja of the CPI, who said, "This government is also pitting the Lok Sabha vs. Rajya Sabha. How they have [sic] declared the Aadhaar bill as a money bill and presented to the Parliament? This government is full of rhetoric: Skill India, Make in India, Start up India! They should now get to work."
Sandeep Dixit of the Congress said, "There is attack on the very idea of India by NDA government," while the AAP's Raghav Chadha opined, "The government has failed in the foreign policy front, fighting against corruption, bringing back black money to the country, maintaining communal harmony and controlling inflation." 
Amitabh Kundu, a professor at JNU, posited that the government has policy confusion on the Smart City mission given its dilly-dallying on resource allocation and expenditure in the last three budgets. 
Amitabh Behar of WNTA said that the report looks at the government's performance from the prism of Constitutional provisions. Thomas Pallithanam and Annie Namala, the conveners of WNTA added that the report's assessment of the government was intended to highlight its performance on "how it has impacted on the poor and the marginalized."

How sustainable are the SDGs?

http://indiatogether.org/how-sustainable-are-the-sdgs-government

This piece came in India Together on December 9, 2015

Can we look at ending poverty without looking at the structural reasons and dimensions of poverty and inequality? Pradeep Baisakh looks at this and at other objectives within the UN SDG framework and analyses how realistic their achievement would be.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are a set of development goals framed by the United Nations in 2000, to be achieved by 2015, is now set to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016.
The MDGs aimed at addressing extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, combating various forms of disease, promoting gender equality, protecting the environment and developing global partnership.
The performance of the MDGs so far has been mixed. The United Nations claims that 700 million people have come out of extreme poverty globally between 1990 and 2010, access to education has increased and the gender gap in access to primary education has been substantially reduced. However, on child and reproductive health, the achievement has not been encouraging.
Learnings from the implementation of MDGs and the changing developmental realities have guided the formulation of the SDGs - another set of goals for the next 15 years – that is from 2016 to 2030. It promises a developmental framework, which is ‘sustainable’ and equitable, and one that will ‘leave no one behind’.
The biggest criticism of the MDGs was its exclusivity and the reductionist approach in shaping them. It is alleged that a handful of people sitting in the UN office framed those goals, which were eventually adopted by the member nations. Keeping these criticisms in mind, the formulation of the SDGs involved representation from several sections, including civil society, and saw phases of inter-governmental negotiation before the draft was actually finalised.
A little over two years of consultation resulted in the framing of a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to achieve. The goals were adopted by the heads of states of 193 member nations in a deliberation held from 25-27 September 2015 in the United Nations Summit, which was convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly. It may be pointed out that the SDGs are not legally binding on the member nations though they certainly influence the national laws and policies.
The SDGs cover a range of important issues: socio-economic, political and environmental. They embrace energy and governance, ending poverty and hunger, achievement of food security and of sustainable economic growth and productive employment.
Some of the other objectives encompassed within the set of SDGs are:
  • Promotion of sustainable agriculture
  • Reduction of inequality
  • Provision of quality education
  • Access to universal healthcare
  • Ensuring gender equality and justice
  • Combating climate change
  • Conservation of oceans
  • Protection of wildlife and forest management
  • Increasing the share of renewable energy
  • A peaceful society and global partnership
  • Enhanced infrastructure
  • Addressing issues of migration
  • Respect for ethnicity
  • Promotion of a just trade regime
  • Development assistance and technological transfer from the developed countries to the developing and least developing countries (LDCs), and others
More importantly, SDGs chart out the ways of implementation and participatory monitoring and review of the goals and targets. The global leaders deserve kudos for creating a framework which at least aims to save ‘Mother Earth’!
However, a closer look at the document may raise doubts about the feasibility of converting some of these ambitious goals into an actionable framework. More fundamentally, while in a way it acknowledges that economic growth has been accompanied by rising inequality in the past few years, it conspicuously avoids discussing the structural aspects of poverty and inequality.
The first goal of the SDGs is to ‘end poverty in all forms and everywhere’. But poverty is defined as ‘people living on less than $1.25 a day’ – which has been the global poverty line since 2005. With the cost of living rising in many countries, ‘ending poverty’ is a pretentious promise to make.
In the same breath, the draft promises to provide equal rights to economic resources, ownership and control over land and natural resources. This is a welcome statement but open to debate and interpretation. Does it refer to ownership of people within the overarching definition of ‘eminent domain’ or does it stand for real ownership by the community?
The last few years have witnessed large scale transfer of various means of peoples’ livelihood to the big industries in the form of control over land, forest, water. How the conflict between a development paradigm based on industry-fuelled GDP growth and community ownership of natural resources can be resolved in the best interest of all, could be an interesting subject for discussion in the coming days.
Reading goal 8 (promoting sustainable economic growth and productive employment), goal 9 (sustainable industrialization) and goal 10 (reducing inequality within and among countries) together will be helpful in deconstructing the SDG-driven approach to development. Let us consider these one by one.
SDGs aim for at least 7 percent GDP growth in the least developed countries and generally sustained per capita-growth globally. This is apparently a pre-condition for achieving full employment. However it has been witnessed globally that growth always does not lead to proportionate employment generation.
In goal 9, it aims at significantly raising the share of industry in employment and GDP. Generally, movement of workforce from agriculture to industry may appear to be a good thing, given that it defines the trajectory of growth that the world has been following so far. However, in India we have witnessed that the thrust in industrial development has been accompanied by negligence of the agro-sector to an extent where the country has witnessed massive socio-economic problems, the most alarming being the widespread suicide of farmers (more than a quarter of a million) in the last twenty years.
In South Africa, where mining-based industries have flourished in the last 100 years, people were forced to leave farming to serve as cheap labour in mining industries. Mining based industries have their own limitations. Today, the rate of unemployment is as high as, or more than 25 percent and almost as many live in hunger.
Consumption for self-production is almost invisible. Barely two percent of households grow their own food. There has been complete corporatization of agro and food produce. People are completely dependent on the markets for purchase of food. Snatching and other criminal activities by unemployed youth are a menace here. Hence, the proposition that growth of industry will automatically increase productive employment is no more a sacrosanct proposition. 

On the issue of inequality, the draft SDG promises income growth of the bottom 40 percent people. It stresses official development assistance from developed to developing countries and increased foreign direct investment in these countries. The irony is that inequality has gone up to the extent where the richest one percent owned 48 percent of the total global wealth in 2014. But there is no discussion in the document about the mechanism for downward flow of wealth, which is necessary for bringing about equality.
Given the rise in global temperatures and the evident destructive impact of climate change, which in turn is the result of industrial activities and lavish consumerism of a section of the people, world leaders have to seriously think about how much natural resources this generation could afford to exhaust to make the rich richer, even if it means the eventual flow of wealth to the poor.
This document speaks about noble intentions of ‘sustainable consumption and production’ but all these will depend on how willing and able the affluent are in adjusting their lifestyles in metro cities across the globe, especially in the western countries.
Another aspect missed out in the discussion on inequality pertains to the more nuanced forms of inequality in different local communities, such as inequality arising out of caste-based discrimination. As many as 260 million ‘Dalits’ spread across Asia, Africa and European countries are facing caste-based discrimination and are treated as untouchables.
Ending hunger, promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring food security – all of these essentially require deliberation on food sovereignty, which again is missing within the SDG framework.
SDGs aim to correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in the world agricultural market in accordance with the Doha development round under the WTO framework, whereas it is now common knowledge that import restrictions could in fact adversely affect small farmers while enabling large subsidised agri-businesses to capture markets in impoverished countries.
If, alongside the SDGs, one should read the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development adopted by global leaders in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it will be seen that overwhelming importance has been attached to private capital for financing development. In a way, the Agenda has legitimised the ongoing withdrawal of the state from providing essential services like education, health, water and sanitation and other sectors. This could be dangerous as the public-private partnership model has placed quality education and health care almost out of reach for the people living in poverty and socially excluded groups.
Therefore, while SDGs look quite good on the surface, their implementation will remain a challenge as the fundamental reasons for unsustainable development have not been reckoned with in the document.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Checking dissent

This piece came in Himalmag, a Nepal based journal on February 16, 2015

Web link: http://himalmag.com/checking-dissent/

In September 2006, during the release of NGOs, Activists & Foreign Funds: Anti-Nation Industry, edited by Radha Rajan and Krishen Kakbook, the then-Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi criticised the “wealthy” and “influential” class of NGOs, accusing them of hiring public-relations (PR) firms to build their image with money coming from abroad. The leaked Intelligence Bureau (IB) report submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office in June last year echoed that sentiment quite closely. In an almost word-to-word rendition of some portions of the speech, which was included in the second edition of the book, the IB report went on to add, “in some cases it is observed that in a cyclical process, an NGO is set up, funds are obtained from abroad, a few articles are commissioned, a PR firm is recruited and, slowly, with the help of the media an image is created. And then awards are procured from foreign countries to enhance the image, after which Government machinery finds it more difficult to act against the awardee.”
The 21-page classified report, titled ‘NGO activism against development projects in India’, generated considerable debate in the civil society and media. The conclusion of the report was clear enough: “A significant number of Indian NGOs (funded by some donors based in US, UK, Germany or the Netherlands) have been noticed to be using people centric issues to create and environment, which lends itself to stalling development projects.” Without much in the way of economic analysis, the report later added that activism against various projects, ranging from use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to mega industrial projects from Vedanta and POSCO, had negatively impacted the national GDP by 3 percent.
Activist groups condemned the report in unequivocal terms, arguing that it was essentially an attempt to intimidate the groups and muzzle dissent. The report had accused certain NGOs – like Greenpeace International, Action Aid, Amnesty International ­­– of using foreign funds and scuttling India’s economic development. Some thought that IB had overstepped its jurisdiction by focusing on ‘development’. Clearly, the IB report was promoting a certain model of development, one driven by extractive industries and GDP growth – a view that closely parallels the agenda of the current political dispensation.
The IB’s probe into foreign funding of NGOs started during the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) regime. In 2012, the UPA government had ordered a probe into the activities of the NGOs during the heightened protest against the Russian-built Kundankalam nuclear plant. Publicly citing the role of ‘foreign hands’ behind the protests, the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “The atomic programme has run into difficulties because these NGOs, mostly I think based in United States, don’t appreciate the need for our country to increase energy supply.” In a similar vein, he noted the role of NGOs funded by the US and Scandinavian countries in opposing GM crops and food.
The submission of this report and its leak to the media is interestingly timed, as it occurred a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. Unsurprisingly, based on the report, the government started issuing notices to some NGOs, including one to Greenpeace asking why its permission to receive funds under FCRA (Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act) should not be withdrawn.
Undermining democracy
The leaked report is clearly aimed at reinforcing suspicion towards NGOs, and one way it tries to achieve this is by ignoring the deliberations of the legislature and the judiciary. In 2010, when the environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a moratorium on the field testing of Bt transgenic, a genetically modified breed of Brinjal, he added that the moratorium would continue “till such time independent scientific studies establish… the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment.” Two years later, both the Parliamentary Standing Committee (2012) and the Technical Expert Committee (2012), appointed by the Supreme Court, went on to recommend a moratorium on all open-field testing of transgenic crops.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee in its 2012 report on ‘Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects’ found that (in agreement with past findings of activists and journalists) Bt cotton cultivation had also contributed to farmers’ suicides. The standing committee members visited Vidarbha, Maharashtra, and found that despite the initial rise in production due to the use of Bt cotton seeds, small and marginal farmers eventually suffered losses due to the high input costs and yield loss. It also caused the wiping out of traditional local cotton varieties. These factors, combined with farmers’ debts, led to 7992 suicides in the region between 2006 and 2011. The committee also recommended the complete overhaul of the existing regulatory systems, which it noted had a pro-industry tilt.
But the report doesn’t engage with such findings or recommendations of these committees beyond casually inferring that the “NGOs were active facilitators of news articles… and social media activism, which contributed to the three-year old moratorium on Bt Brinjal and the ban/moratorium regimes” recommended by them. Along similar lines, the report uncritically assumes that the findings of the pro-GM lobby and the GM companies is accurate, without adequate explanation or verification. It ignores the specifics behind the death of hundreds of cattle after ingesting Bt cotton leaves in Warangal district in 2006 and 2007. However, the report mentions accusations made against anti-GM-food activists by Dr Ronald Herring of Cornell University, who has consistently taken a pro-GM position in the past. The report adds, “Pro-GM researchers, bio-tech companies and other filed enquiries have not been able to verify any such deaths, raising questions on the credibility and integrity of the reports generated by these activists.”
‘Foreign funding’
Another important concern for the IB report is the activism against projects of steel giant Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) and mining group Vedanta in Odisha. Ever since POSCO signed a USD 12 billion agreement with the Odisha government in 2005 for a steel plant which requires 2900 acres of forest land, there has been a popular grassroots movement against it. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF, based on the works of the N C Saxena and Meena Gupta committee, appointed by the central government, had recommended a temporary withdrawal of clearances for the project. Despite this, and local protests, the project eventually got all the necessary clearances in 2011.
Not only this, central and state governments have unleashed police brutality on people peacefully protesting in Odisha. The criminalisation of dissent has been appalling: about 360 police cases have been clamped against 2500 people, including 500 women in the area. About 400 people have been arrested in last nine years of struggle, though courts eventually granted them bail. Several people have not ventured out of village for years now due to fear of arrest.
None of this is made clear in the IB report, however, which only looks at the funding of groups like Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) and attempts to portray them as purveyors of foreign interest that attempt to “internationalize” cases of human-rights violations. Similarly, the report also names NGOs and activists who purportedly campaigned against the Vedanta alumina project in Lanjigarh, Odisha, and took the issue to international level. Here too several government and Supreme Court-appointed committees and commissions have pointed out that the mining of the area will not only destroy the unique flora and fauna of the Niyamgiri hills but also affect the lives and livelihood of the local Dongria Kondhs people. The expert committee headed by Dr N C Saxena made important observations in 2010 regarding the violation of environment protection acts and the Forest Rights Act. Based on the report the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which is a statutory committee affiliated to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), recommended the withdrawal of all clearances given to Vedanta for mining in Niyamgiri. Eventually, MoEF withdrew the forest clearance given for mining the hill in 2010, a project worth USD 1.7 billion worth in FDI from the UK-based Vedanta group.
Yet the report ignores one of the most dubious areas of foreign funding: undisclosed donations to political parties. For instance, the Vedanta Company in its annual report in 2011-12 has admitted to have donated about USD 8.3 million to political parties in India since 2003-04. But it hasn’t disclosed the names of the recipient parties. In March 2014, the High Court of Delhi ruled that foreign funds received by Congress and BJP were illegal. Interestingly, this line of thought is completely absent from the report whose sole focus is in maligning NGOs for their ‘anti-developmental’ and ‘anti-national’ activities, without establishing either of these. Its antipathy towards foreign funding to NGOs is untenable but perfectly in line with the current government’s economic agenda. Evidently, the intelligence agency has been used by the government to make a case against the NGOs.
~Pradeep Baisakh is a journalist based in New Delhi.
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The piece came in OpenDemocracy, a UK based journal on October, 10, 2014.