Nov 29: Reports on Jan Sansad (Peoples’ Assembly) in Delhi

November 29, 2012

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main54.asp?filename=Ws261112Sansad.asp

‘Forceful acquisition of land for industries must stop’

On Thursday 29 November, the issues discussed on day four of People’s Assembly in New Delhi were those that it felt the Parliament was yet to take up seriously – land acquisition, farmer suicides and food security.

Bhupinder Rawat from National Alliance of People’s Movements talked about the need for a Land Acquisition Bill that acknowledges different forms of displacement and provides compensation accordingly. The shortcomings of the proposed Land Aquisition Bill were also acknowledged by Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress. He said, “No country has a law where the government acquires private property from individuals and hands it over to industrialists. Moreover, the proposed Bill states that the consensus of 80 percent of the population affected by displacement should be acquired, I want to know why 100 percent consensus is not mandatory. This Bill should not be passed without further deliberation.”

MB Rajesh from the CPM said, “Forceful acquisition of land for the capitalists must stop. Compensation must be provided based on the purpose for which land has been acquired.” He also emphasised on the need for land reforms. The only two states to have implemented land reforms have been Kerala and West Bengal. Holding the government responsible for farmer suicides, he said, “Every thirty minutes, a farmer commits suicide in this country due to the governments policies which need to change. The CPM extends its full support to your struggle.”

A delegation consisting of Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, PV Rajagopalan, Anjali Bharadwaj, Kavitha Kuruganti, Nikhil Dey, Baba Adhav and Annie Raja met Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development, and Pulok Chatterji, Principle Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office. Jairam Ramesh gave his assurance that the issue of old age pension would be placed before the Union Cabinet in the forthcoming Budget with recommendation for universalisation with exception of the creamy layer. Anomalies for single women and the disabled would be removed from the Bill, he added. He also said that substantial changes have been made to the Land Aquisition Bill which would be made public in a few days.

Pulok Chatterji gave an assurance that the cash transfer scheme and the Universal Identification (UID) will be heavily deliberated upon. He also said that the UID would not be linked with the NREGA. On anti-corruption laws like the Lokpal Bill, Grievance Redress Bill and Whistleblower Bill, he said that the government was working towards getting them passed.

Professor Dr Prabhat Patnaik presented an engaging lecture on globalisation and capital. Critiquing globalisation, he said, “The distress caused by economic policies is being manipulated. People in Maharashtra are being told that they don’t have jobs because outsiders are taking them. All this only leads to divisive politics of regionalism and communalism.” Pointing out that this threatens our democracy, he said that we need to “delink ourselves.” “ Our nation state must be separate from global capital. It is then that we will have control over our policies. This will require a difficult period of transition but is a necessary sacrifice,” he said.

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Politicians, civil society oppose UID at People’s Assembly

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On the issue of MNREGA, the rousing demand was to prevent linking it with the UID project
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Shazia Nigar
New Delhi

The third day of the Jan Sansad or the People’s Assembly saw resolutions being passed by a majority of the gathering on basic issues. The issues deliberated on Wednesday 28 November were MNREGA, education, health, housing, water privatisation and cash transfers.

“The government’s failure to fulfil the commitment of allocating 6% of GDP to education, which was recommended by the Kothari Commission in 1966, is irrefutable proof of the utter lack of political will on the part of successive governments to take this basic right to communities most in need of it,” said Dr Praveen Jha. The resolution passed on education demanded that 6% of the GDP be allocated to primary education. Emphasising that privatisiation of education must be resisted, the resolution passed demanded, “Centre-state distribution of financial shares for Right to Education should be revised so as to enable the states to meet Constitutional obligation of the 86th Amendment. State, district and school level allocations should be determined through need based decentralised planning rather than be determined on the basis of standardised norms.”

The cash transfer scheme came under severe criticism from academicians, activists and politicians. Condemning the proposal, economist Ritika Khera said, “The government offers Brazil as an example for successful implementation of cash transfers. But the context there is very different. They are more urbanised and people have easy access to banks. Further, the cash enables people to access hospitals, education and other basic necessities. In India, the government wants to transfer cash and dissolve all responsibility for providing these facilities to the people.” The proposal suffers from various shortcomings. Gabriele Dietrich pointed out that cash transfer does not guarantee food security and does not provide protection from fluctuation of market food prices.

CPM leader Brinda Karat emphasised the need for people with similar political goals to come together. Critiquing on the Unique Identification (UID) project she said, “The UID will severely rely on hand prints for recognition. But hand prints change over time. More so for a manual worker. If someone’s hand print changes over time, the government will refuse to provide them with facilities they are entitled to. If you are an MNREGA worker, they might refuse you your salary.” BJP leader Prakash Javdekar, who was also present at the Assembly, condemned the UID project. Usha Ramanathan stated that the UID project is a mechanism for profiling, tracking and controlling people.

On the issue of MNREGA, the rousing demand was to prevent linking it with the UID project. The resolution reasoned that “workers must not be denied employment under the NREGA if they do not possess a post office or bank account. States like Bihar have issued instructions making bank accounts mandatory for employment under NREGA. In states where banking infrastructure is poor, this will only create another hurdle in programme implementation and deny workers of their entitlements under the Act.” The current provision under NREGA provides 100 days of employment for a family. The Assembly demanded that 100 days employment should be provided on an individual basis.

Shiv Sena leader Bhuasaheb Wakchaure, Congress leader Hussain Dalwai and Raju Shetty of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana also extended their support to the concerns raised.

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People’s Assembly roots for reforms and their implementation

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The Assembly pushed for the strengthening and passing of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill, as politicians assured better governance
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In the absence of a functional Parliament, the five-day Jan Sansad or People’s Assembly on Tuesday 27 November took matters into its own hands and passed resolutions on issues ranging from the Lokpal Bill to police reforms at the Jantar Mantar. Hundreds of people from across the country who have gathered in the capital for the assembly deliberated over these matters and passed resolutions with a show of hand.

Dharam Chand Kher, 30, from Rajasthan participated actively in the sessions. “We need a Lokpal Bill that is stronger than the one proposed by Anna Hazare,” he said commenting on his decision to favour the resolution on the Lokpal passed by the Assembly. Clarifying his stand on development he explained, “We want development but with adequate rehabilitation. Our people are displaced for projects that are city oriented. We end up losing our land and get negligible compensation. Losing our land is not just a loss of livelihood but a matter of life.” He fiercely advocated an introduction of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill.

Echoing Dharam Chand’s sentiments was Dhananjay Dubey. His brother Satyendra Dubey, former Project Director, National Highway Authority of India, had been murdered in 2003 for exposing corruption in the Golden Quadlilateral Highway Project in Bihar. He said, “Though the present draft of the Whistle Blowers’ Bill isn’t perfect, we should try to push it through. At least we will have some protection then. We can continue to work on improving the Bill later.” Tuesday marked the ninth death anniversary of Satyendra Dubey. The gathering welcomed the resolution to pass the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill.

Prakash Javadekar from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed himself to the cause of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill. Admitting to the existent nexus between corporate houses and politicians, he said, “Earlier party workers used to be farmers and small shop owners. Today out of 25 workers 10 are real estate agents.”

The other politician to extend his support was D.Raja from the CPI. Critiquing the Congress-led UPA government he said, “The Left parties realise that Foreign Direct Investment is not in the interest of the people. It will only lead to corporate loot. There are so many important Bills related to land and food security that the government has not tabled for this session. Like Ambedkar has said we must build effective public pressure so that the government is pressured to act.”

A demand was placed for a Grievance Redressal Bill and Private Sector Reform. Shanta Bai, 50, from Rajasthan elucidating on the need for strengthening the Right to Information Act said, “The Act is very important and allows people to demand accountability from those in power. But there have been issues in implementation which is why I am in favour of the resolution passed by the Assemble today.” She said, “We are deliberating on issues that impact our daily lives — land rights, forest and pension. I will go back to my village and spread the message.”

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People’s Assembly highlights issues of education, land and rights

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The five-day assembly has attracted people all over the country to draw Parliamentarians’ attention to pressing issues
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“Nyay, samanta ko aadhar, humein chahiye aisa sansar” (We want a world that would have justice and equality as its principles), said Aruna Roy opening the Jan Sansad or People’s Assembly at Constitutional Club, New Delhi on Monday, 26 November. A five day event, it has gathered people from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana amongst others. The motivation of the assembly is to highlight basic issues such as that of education, land and women’s rights before the Parliament. A people’s manifesto for the 2014 elections is also expected to emerge from these deliberations.

The first session of the day saw activists from various social movements taking to the stage. Reflecting on the relevance of the Jan Sansad they threw light on the struggles they have been persisting on. On an optimistic note Kamala Bhasin, academician and women’s rights activist said, “Today the biggest fight is between people and profit. And there are three reasons why people will win. We have the strength of numbers, our people’s value and sensitivity to nature is better and because we are united.” Talking about the need to strengthen the struggle for equality of women she said, “While we are waging struggles in the public sphere, we also need to be sensitive to the domestic. We talk about democracy and become hypocritical when it comes to our own house.” While world over 100 crore women suffer from domestic violence, in India 40% women are subjected to it.

Critiquing increased privatisation and the withdrawal of the state from sectors of health, education and infrastructure activist Medha Patkar said, “The laws that are being introduced in the country are only increasing inequalities.” Dr. Binayak Sen, Ashok Chowdhury from National Federation for Indian Forest Workers, human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, activist Harsh Mander and Annie Raja from National Federation of Indian Women were among those present. Advocate Soli Sorabjee, Justice Rajendra Sachar, Leela Seth and Usha Ramanathan also attended the meet.

The sessions also consisted of depositions from local activists reflecting upon the conditions in their area. “One of the major reasons for domestic violence is alcohol. It affects not just the women but impacts the children’s future as well,” said Manjula Sharma from Mahila Manch.

The Indian Constitution and an emphasis of its core values played a significant role in the session. It included participants pledging to practise and abide by the spirit, which the Constitution upholds. The last session ended with academic deliberations. Historian Romilia Thapar presenting on education, provided practical suggestions to improve the status of primary education. “Schools should be located in areas that are not well off. They should be built in lower caste localities and people should not get intimidated by upper caste attitudes,” she said. Chaired by academician Kapila Vatsyayan the other speakers were Asgar Ali Engineer and Fali Nariman.

Pointing towards the need for building a theoretical and ideological understanding of contemporary politics, Aruna Roy said, “We need to work towards frameworks that explain the structural changes and ideological positions which drive politics today. This Jan Sansad will be a start towards such an understanding.”