“Aadhaar” of Direct Cash Transfer is more of assumptions, less of ground-level realities #UID #MUSTREAD


14 DEC, 2012,

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The government announced that from January 2013, 51 districts of the country would be subjected to Aadhaar- based direct cash transfers (DCT). We need some basic answers before we get to term the initiative as a game-changer.
Quick-fix solutions?: The latest fix is through the new improved micro ATM architecture where BCs sort out the last mile. Technology provides a fix on authentication and transaction recording. This assumes that the physical connectivity between the branch and the customer through the intervention of a human being fixes the issue.But the cash has to be delivered physically. With 1,50,000 post offices, and postmen visiting all the habitations regularly, with an instrument of money order, we have not been able to sort out the problem of transferring the cash from the coffers to the beneficiaries.

The finance ministry has not convincingly established the business case for a BC. Do we have an idea how a BC would do it better? The answer would be in commissions and incentives. Agreed.

But where is the business case to the banking institutions if these costs are loaded? Does it work at scale?

Too much is loaded on to a single intervention, involving commercial institutions, without a strong business case.

The approach of the government is worrisome. It may be a part of the measures in the run up to the 2014 election is the simplicity with which the solutions are offered. That the entire country can take a single solution; that the solution can be offered through the banking system; that the only impending problem was establishing identity; and that Aadhaar will sort out issues much more than identity and fix leakages and petty corruption.

The commercial sector would have looked at this through the lens of segmentation, test marketing and local strategies. The government believes in standardisation and scale.

Even if Aadhaar number is subjected to multiple pilots in several locations, it is difficult to imagine how these pilots have informed this aggressive rollout of cash. This space is getting to be interesting and we need to watch for more action.

Call for action: Kick #Vedanta out of London for it’s corporate crimes, murder and destruction. @Jan 11, 2013


Declare solidarity with grassroots movements fighting Vedanta in India, Africa and elsewhere!

Kick Vedanta out of London for it’s corporate crimes, murder and destruction.

Noise demonstration and picket at Vedanta headquarters, 16 Berkeley Street.
Mayfair, W1J 8DZ . Green Park tube.

1 – 3pm. Friday 11th January., 2013 


On Friday 11th January the Supreme Court will finally announce its historical decision on whether to allow the mining of the threatened Niyamgiri mountain in Odisha, India(1). Simultaneously tribals and farmers from a number of grassroots organisations(2) will hold a rally of defiance in Bhawanipatna, near the mountain. They will call for closure of the sinking Lanjigarh refinery and an absolute ban on the so-far-unsuccessful attempt to mine bauxite on their sacred hills(3).

On 10th of January activists in New York will rally outside the United Nations Headquarters pointing out Vedanta’s clear violations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including right to participate in decision making, right to water and cultural and religious rights. They will call for the Indian Government to put a final stop to this contested project, and for the state owned Orissa Mining Corporation to be pulled out of dodgy deals it has made with Vedanta in an attempt to force the mine through the courts on Vedanta’s behalf.

Here in London we will draw attention to Vedanta’s nominal Mayfair headquarters from which they gain a cloak of respectability and easy access to capital. We will call for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange and thrown out of its cosy position in the London corporate elite for proven human rights and environmental abuses, corruption and poor corporate governance(4).

Please join us and bring drums, pots and pans and anything that makes noise!
Our solidarity demo on 6th Dec was covered in all the Indian papers and our solidarity was felt directly. Let us do it again!
See you there! More information below.

More information:

(1) The Supreme Court is due to make a final decision on the challenge posed to the Environment Ministry’s stop to the Niyamgiri mine on 11th January. In its December 6th hearing the Supreme Court concluded that the case rested on whether the rights of the indigenous Dongia Kond’s – who live exclusively on that mountain – could be considered ‘inalienable or compensatory’. The previous ruling by Environment and Forests minister Jairam Ramesh in August 2010 prevented Vedanta from mining the mountain due to violations of environment and forestry acts. The challenge to this ruling has been mounted by the Orissa Mining Corporation, a state owned company with 24% shares in the joint venture to mine Niyamgiri with Vedanta, begging questions about why a state company is lobbying so hard for a British mining company in whom it has only minority shares in this small project. (see http://infochangeindia.org/environment/features/niyamgiri-a-temporary-reprieve.html)

On 6th December, in anticipation of a final Supreme Court ruling, more than 5000 tribals and farmers rallied on the Niyamgiri mountain and around the Lanjigarh refinery sending a message that they would not tolerate the mine or the refinery. In London Foil Vedanta held a noise demo outside the Indian High Commission in which a pile of mud was dumped in the entrance. This news was carried all over India by major papers and TV and had a significant impact (see London protesters join 5000 in India to stop mine).

(2) Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti, Sachetana Nagarika Mancha, Loka Sangram Mancha, Communist Party of India and Samajwadi Jan Parishad will coordinate the rally in Odisha on the 11th Jan.

(3) The Lanjigargh refinery was built at the base of Niyamgiri and assessed for environmental and social impact without taking into account the intention to mine the hill above for bauxite to run the plant. However, obtaining permission to mine the mountain has been much more difficult than Vedanta supposed and has left them running Lanjigarh at a loss, leaving Vedanta Aluminium with accumulated debt of $3.65 billion. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-27/vedanta-awaits-bauxite-to-revive-9-billion-aluminum-project.html)

(4) Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’. Similarly City of London researchers from ‘Trusted Sources’ have noted Vedanta’s reasons for registering in London:

“A London listing allows access to an enormous pool of capital. If you are in the FTSE Index, tracker funds have got to own you and others will follow.” Both Vedanta Resources and Essar Energy are members of the FTSE 100. London’s reputation as a market with high standards of transparency and corporate governance is another draw for Indian companies. Both Vedanta and Essar have faced criticism on corporate governance grounds in India, and a foreign listing is seen as one way to signal to investors that the company does maintain high standards.

We are joining the calls of parliamentarians and financiers in pointing out how the London listing is used for legal immunity and to hide Vedanta’s corporate crimes. We are calling for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange and taken to court for Human Rights abuses here in London.

Posted: December 14th, 2012 , http://www.foilvedanta.org/

Amnesty asks India to commute Guru’s death sentence #deathpenalty


BJP wants Afzal Guru hanged next

 

London, December 14 (KMS: The human rights watchdog, Amnesty International has expressed concern over the fate of mercy petitions including that of a Kashmir youth, Afzal Guru whose sentence, according to the Amnesty, by a special court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act does not conform with India’s obligations under international human rights law.

Amnesty International Chief Executive, G Anantha Padmanabhan in a letter to the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, on Thursday asked New Delhi to abolish death penalty and stop further executions after Ajmal Kasab and commute death sentences to imprisonments.

Referring to the execution of Ajmal Kasab, the Amnesty chief executive said that “by executing him, the Indian government has violated the internationally recognized right to life and signalled a step away from the regional and global trends towards abolition of the death penalty.”

Anantha Padmanabhan said Amnesty is concerned about the manner in which Indian authorities carried out Kasab’s execution on 21 November, 2012. “A notification by Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, published on the same day, stated that you had rejected his petition for mercy on 5 November”.

“According to reports, Ajmal Kasab himself was only informed of this rejection on 12 November. It is unclear whether he was aware of possibility of seeking a review of the decision. Information about the rejection of the petition for mercy and the date of execution was not made available to the public until after the execution had been carried out. Authorities in India have made public claims that this lack of public announcement and secrecy surrounding the execution were to avoid intervention by human rights activists,” he said.

“Transparency on use of death penalty is among fundamental safeguards of due process that prevent the arbitrary deprivation of life. Making information public with regard to legislation providing for the death penalty as well as its implementation allows for an assessment of whether fair trial and other international standards are being respected. In resolution 2005/59, adopted on 20 April 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights called upon all states that still maintain the death penalty “to make available to the public information with regard to the imposition of the death penalty and to any scheduled execution,” the Amnesty official added.

“Amnesty is disappointing that the Indian State has chosen to carry out Ajmal Kasab’s execution in this manner,” he said.

“Amnesty is concerned about a further nine petitions for mercy involving 14 individuals that have been sent to the (Indian) Ministry of Home Affairs for consideration for a second time, which we understand is usual practice when there is a new minister in office. On December 10, 2012, Indian Home Minister told reporters he will review the petitions before him after the end of the winter session of Parliament. One of these petitions concerns Mohammad Afzal Guru who was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack. Mohammad Afzal Guru was tried by a special court under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Amnesty has found that these trials did not conform with India’s obligations under international human rights law,” Anantha Padmanabhan said.

He said Amnesty opposes death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. “It opposes it as a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

He said the use of death penalty in India is riddled with systemic flaws. Of particular concern are: the broad definition of “terrorist acts” for which the death penalty can be imposed; insufficient safeguards on arrest; obstacles to confidential communication with counsel; insufficient independence of special courts from executive power; insufficient safeguards for the presumption of innocence; provisions for discretionary closed trials; sweeping provisions to keep secret the identity of witnesses; and limits on the right to review by a higher tribunal.

“On behalf of Amnesty International, I urge Indian president to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment Immediately halt plans to carry out further executions, and establish an official moratorium on executions as the first step to abolishing the death penalty,” Anantha Padmanabhan said.

He said wherever mercy petitions have been rejected, the government should respect the practice of promptly informing the individual, his/ her lawyers, his/ her family, of the decision, reasons for the decision, and proposed date of execution, as well as the public, of any scheduled execution.

#India- Gadchiroli where 16 panchayat leaders killed, and over 200 others forced to quit


Inside the republic of fear

With at least 16 panchayat leaders killed, and over 200 others forced to quit this year, TEHELKA travels to Gadchiroli to gauge the stranglehold of the Naxals on the region
Revati Laul

December 13, 2012, Issue 51 Volume 9

Where is the government? Less than 10 km from Jimalgatta police station, panchayat leaders were shamed at a Naxal-led Jan SunwaiWhere is the government? Less than 10 km from Jimalgatta police station, panchayat leaders were shamed at a Naxal-led Jan Sunwai

“If they say it’s 4 o’clock, you can’t argue and tell them it’s 5. If they say the sun rises from the west, you have to say it does.”

PULLAYA ERRA Veladi knew exactly what he was talking about. He had spent five days and nights in captivity, a blindfold around his eyes. Kidnapped by the Naxals from his village — Jimalgatta in Aheri, a tiny block in the south of Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, the heart of Naxal country. Flanked by the Naxal ‘headquarters’ in Chhattisgarh on one side and their stronghold in Andhra Pradesh on the other. Veladi was kidnapped for being the sarpanch of the Jimalgatta gram panchayat for 20 years. It was part of the Naxal’s new game plan for Gadchiroli in 2012. A year when local elections were to be held in the district was a chance for the Naxals to turn what had been their ‘safe zone’ into a ‘liberated zone’. An extension of their own Jantana sarkar from one side of the Dandakaranya forest in Chhattisgarh, to the other side in Maharashtra. By capturing and killing some panchayat and zila parishad leaders so that the rest resign in fear.

It has been a bad year for Gadchiroli. The killing of sarpanches and other panchayat leaders had begun in January. On the 28th of the month, in Bhamragarh block, three members of the CPI(Maoist)’s quick action team shot dead Panchayat Samiti Chairman Bahadurshah Alam while he was sipping his morning chai at a tea stall in the town square. Eyewitnesses told the local media that they shouted “Alam Murdabad, Lal Salaam Zindabad” as they fled.

At least 16 other district- and village-level leaders were killed across Gadchiroli this year. By 15 July, over 200 elected members had resigned from panchayat and zila parishad posts. The last to be killed was a former sarpanch — Narayan Srirangi from the Sironcha taluka. Killed on 20 November, just a few days before TEHELKA visited the district.

“Thirty years ago, the first incident of Naxal violence took place in Gadchiroli when they chopped off the hands of a schoolteacher named Raju. Now they chop off heads,” says our guide Arvind Sovani, who teaches at Nagpur University and has surveyed the gram panchayats in Gadchiroli for the Central government’s Backward Regions Grant Fund programme. Sovani has a keen academic interest in issues of tribal rights, violence and the State.

ZOOMING OUT from the villages racked with fear, Gadchiroli’s violence may look like a small blip on the Naxal radar. But it represents a paralysis at the local level, spread over eight of the 12 blocks of the district, affecting 4 lakh people for whom the weakening of the local administration is a tangible loss. A sharp spike in Naxal violence in one of India’s most prosperous states is alarming even if its geographical extent seems small. That’s why the state’s Home Minister RR Patil and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan have made frequent statements about attempts to contain Naxal violence. Most of those statements refer to this hotbed — Gadchiroli. That’s also why this district alone has 15,000 troops on patrol — CRPF, state police and Special Forces working on the ground to fight the Naxals. In March this year, the Naxals blew up a bus carrying a group of CRPF jawans, killing 12. But to tell that part of the story just yet would be to jump too far ahead.

First, it’s important to see how the kidnapping of former sarpanch Veladi finally unfolded. He and his other companions-in-captivity were released as part of a grand and very public ceremony by the Naxals in Jimalgatta village. More than 100 Naxals, including senior cadre and a charismatic leader with the code name ‘Madhu’, called their own kangaroo court — a Jan Sunwai at a public gathering of a clutch of villages. Many sarpanches — both former and current — were invited and made to stand in front of the gathering. It was a political show that went on for eight hours in broad daylight, less than 10 km from the Jimalgatta police station. The media, too, was invited. More than 2,000 villagers gathered to hear the Naxal leaders speak. One of them told TEHELKA, “It was a riveting experience. I took my wife along. People had even brought their kids. Their leader Madhu was a brilliant speaker. We wish our elected leaders were even half as charismatic.”

Before Veladi and his companions were released at the meeting, all the panchayat leaders present were asked to line up in front of the crowd and a Naxal leader asked them: “Tell us, as local representatives of the people, can you say, hands to your hearts, that you can wipe out the scourge of corruption in this country? Swear to your people that you can do that, or step down from your posts.”

It was a political masterstroke. Fear had forced many leaders to resign anyway. But to shame them in front of a crowd was to mop up massive political capital that the Naxals had been losing in other states.

A spate of resignations by local leaders followed. In Korchi block, nearly 60 officials resigned in one day. So great was the fear that not even one dared admit why they resigned; instead, they stated reasons like their demands not being met by the State.

Except for one panchayat leader, Rushi Portet, who in one brave and indignant act, turned his resignation into a political counter-manoeuvre. He wrote a letter that ended up cleverly to win him back his approval with the people. Portet, a tribal leader, had been working as the sarpanch of Dechli Petha for 10 years. He wrote: “A Jan Adalat was conducted where the Naxals asked all the assembled leaders if they could stop corruption… I said it is impossible for me to stop corruption as I belong to the smallest rung in the system. Therefore, I promised I would resign.” In so doing, Portet had admitted publicly what the other leaders had been too scared to do. That it was under fear of the Naxals that the resignations had taken place and that there had been a mass kangaroo court were now part of official lexicon. It was his way of fighting back.

In the neighbouring Etapalli block, however, a sarpanch who had quit, requested TEHELKA not to reveal his name or the village he was from. There was fear in his eyes as he listed the many ways in which the Naxals exercised control. “We cannot avail of insurance when someone dies, we can’t have roads built, and we can’t avail of agricultural or other government schemes.” In his village, the Naxals have replaced government schemes with some of their own. For a local pond to be dug, they gave the village some money. “But they don’t give as much as the equivalent government scheme,” he says. In Bhamragarh block, the Naxals had even held a cricket tournament in 2011 for school children with one of their commanders giving away prizes.

In Etapalli block, we also met Rama Raoji Naroti as she sifted some very lowgrade rice in her field. The rice looked more like a brownish gruel. It came from a farm that, our source informed us, was part of a scheme devised by the Naxals. Farming in the village was organised as if it were a commune. One part of the week is dedicated to tending to your own crop. The second part, to working your neighbour’s crop, and a third part, to looking after a patch reserved exclusively for the Naxals. In the block where Naroti’s village practised the Naxal way of farming, several local leaders had been killed. In April, a sarpanch, Chamru Kulle Joi, was kidnapped and killed by the Naxals. Two days later, the deputy sarpanch, and then a zila parishad member, were also killed.

As we entered Etapalli, we saw evidence of Naxal violence that had taken place just the previous night. Two large yellow JCB earth-moving machines had been burnt down to stop a road from being built.

On a signboard we passed in the block was emblazoned in red a message from the Naxals urging everyone to support the “people’s war” for Telangana — a clear indication that this was their turf.

GADCHIROLI HAS been on the Naxal radar since at least 1982. Thirty years on, the ‘people’s war’ is less and less about the people. But its sympathisers in universities in Nagpur and Mumbai still draw on the original idealism embodied by its leaders like Kobad Ghandy and his wife Anuradha, who had moved to Nagpur in 1982 to expand the Naxal movement in Maharashtra. Kobad, a Doon school and St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, alumnus, and Anuradha, an Elphinstone College, Mumbai, graduate with an MPhil in sociology, were magnets that attracted many to Naxalism. Two people who dropped out of their comfortable, city lives for a punishingly harsh guerrilla life in the forest.

With Kobad now in Tihar jail in Delhi and Anuradha having died of cerebral malaria contracted in the jungles, the next generation of intellectuals is far less mesmerised by ideas of forming a dictatorship of the people. But, in some loose sense, those ideas still drive an older generation of tribals, mainly because of local-level corruption and the indifference of the State.

“Most of the panchayat leaders in Gadchiroli operate as contractors,” says Sovani. With Gadchiroli listed as one of the 29 “most affected Naxal zones” in the country, for the local government, it’s raining money. The Centre pumps Rs 25 crore every year into the district. But this money goes into a peculiar loop that Devendra Gawande, the writer of a Marathi book Naxalwaadache Aahvaan, describes. He writes: “The total population of Gadchiroli is 9 lakh. Of that, one half — 4 lakh people — are in the Naxal zone. But whatever government funds come in, it all ends up benefiting the other half because no one dares to go into the Naxal areas.”

‘Because of Naxals, we can’t have roads built, or avail of government schemes,’ says a sarpanch who quit

If the local government is lining its pockets with money, so are the Naxals, whose tall speeches against local-level corruption come completely unstuck when we look at their track record. Gawande claims that after scaring sarpanches into resigning, the Naxals turned into extortionists. He describes how they knocked on the doors of scared local leaders, asking them to pay a fine for having contested elections. The fines collected this year alone amounted to Rs 4 crore, he says.

To make matters worse, the Naxals’ claim of being the protectors of the forests also has its sinister flip side. They have a tacit understanding with paper mills in the area, allowing them to cut bamboo from the forest for as much as 3 crore in a year. In return, the locals are terrorised by the Naxals into not cutting the bamboo. It’s a reality the local administration corroborated for TEHELKA, albeit off the record. Such is the fear of the Naxals in Gadchiroli that even the administration is guarded about the official statements they make.

Typifying the pathetic irony of a war zone, in Gadchiroli there is now an abundance of wealth. And it’s all being collected in the name of the impoverished, forgotten tribals. The local arm of the State collects it and spends some of it on itself, and so do the Naxal leaders. While the tribals remain ‘backward’ and poor.

THE NAXAL’s own record of protecting the tribals in these parts has a somewhat mixed legacy. On the one hand, they have traditionally supported tribals in all their agitations against mining companies that have displaced them. Such as a large mine proposed in the Surajgarh area. Things are somewhat blurred, however, in the mobilisation around another, much smaller mine of 65 hectares – in the Korchi block. People like Sovani claim that there is only sketchy evidence on the ground of potential tribal displacement in this case. However, the State’s track record in protecting the forests has been so poor that the Naxals are seen as the alternative force supporting the tribal agitations against displacement.

The Naxals knocked on the doors of scared local leaders, asking them to pay a fine for having contested elections

At least two sarpanches, in strict confidence, confessed to TEHELKA that they believe “if the Naxals go, the forests in these parts will disappear completely”. This is what had prompted the Gadchiroli Deputy Collector Rajendra Kanphade to make a rare admission during his visit to a Naxal-affected village. He said, “There is legalised violence committed by the State and illegal violence committed by the Maoists. I do not agree with the violence of any party, especially the Maoists, but I personally feel that the legalised violence of the State is far more destructive.”

Anecdotal evidence of State repression can be found all over the district.

Danshul Hallami from Dholdongri village in Korchi had just finished watching an exhilarating kabaddi match in his village. But the blood-rush soon turned to anger when he described how he is fighting as many as nine cases against the State, where he is accused of being a Naxal. Three years ago, he was picked up by the police for allegedly putting up Naxal posters and banners in his village. He spent eight months in jail and has since then fallen into a disturbingly familiar pattern. Where an accused in one case is also charged in many other cases, since s/he now appears on the State’s Naxal radar.

“If the Naxals come to your house asking for food and water, we are hardly in a position to refuse them,” Hallami pleaded. “The police come with their weapons and the Naxals, with theirs,” he says emphatically. He was arrested briefly again in April this year.

And then again, repression runs the other side as well. It’s perhaps the reason why the next generation of tribals isn’t buying into the Naxals’ Robin Hood rhetoric. After much coaxing, a frank opinion emerged from Bhimpur village in Korchi block. “Neither the government nor the Naxals have done anything for us,” said a brave girl from the village dressed in a black t-shirt and rolled up half pants. “The tribals want roads, factories, jobs and cellphones,” she continued. It was a lone voice in a crowd where, we were later informed, the Naxals were also present, watching. But it underlined the analysis that this is indeed the land of diminishing support and expanding fear.

We drove through Korchi on the first day of a bandh declared by the Naxals. Not a single shop was open in the three blocks we visited. On the way to a Naxal hideout in Tipagarh village, we saw a large red memorial dedicated to “Comrade Shrikant”. Signposting the fact that we were deep in Naxal-controlled territory. In Tipagarh, it was as if we were suddenly enveloped by a sheet of glass. Not a single villager was willing to speak to us. Or even show us the way up the hill. Finally, 17- year-old Ripesh Mangal Singh Durve admitted they had strict instructions from the Naxals not to talk to any outsiders.

Gadchiroli has been on the Naxal radar since at least 1982. Thirty years on, the ‘people’s war’ is less and less about the people

For the district administration, working a way into this closed circle of fear is a daunting task. But District Collector Abhishek Krishna believes that “you cannot just sit back and let fear dictate you”. As sarpanch after sarpanch resigned, he and the district police went in and got quite a few of the local leaders to take their resignations back. The CRPF also had their share of successes, the attack on their convoy in March notwithstanding; several Naxal commanders were caught by them this year, and many cadres made to surrender.

Turning Gadchiroli around has also become the pet project of Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, attracting much attention in the national media. Ramesh has zoned in on a village called Lekha Mendha that he is promoting as a model. The Naxal presence in this village is said to have become very weak. Many in the district administration, however, feel this village has been able to turn its economy around because it has access to an unusually large tract of forest — 1,800 hectares. And, crucially, the villagers are led by an able leader — Devaji Tofa. Either way, the results have been staggering. The village earned Rs 1 crore in sales of bamboo last year, Rs 2 crore this year, and is aiming for Rs 3 crore next year. Observers and state officials have used this to argue that Ramesh’s model village is more of an exception that proves the rule. Other villages do not have Devaji Tofas or access to large tracts of forest or the intensive attention from the Centre to protect them from the Naxals so they can go into the forests and cut bamboo.

For the rest of Gadchiroli, there may be no overarching solutions. Much will depend on small, sure-footed and bold steps taken by individuals in villages. For now, large parts of the district have slid out of the State’s control as the Naxals’ twin approach of violence and patronage has worked. Caught in its red hot snare are inhabitants of a growing republic of fear.

Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
revati@tehelka.com

 

#India- #Dalit teacher denied housing, #Gujarat HC steps in #discrimination #gender #caste


TNN | Dec 14, 2012, 05.59 AM IST

AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat high court has taken suo motu cognizance of the scourge of untouchability because of which a female teacher from the dalit community was denied residence inKutch. The local residents’ prejudice and the government’s apathy forced her to quit her job.Jetal Rushi from Bharuch was appointed as Vidhya Sahayak in Gelda village near Bhuj. But since she belonged to the Valmiki community, villagers in and around Gelda refused to give her accommodation. The girl made a representation to the state government and requested that she be transferred to another place.

Since the government did not respond, Jetal resigned and went back to Bharuch. Perturbed by the girl’s agony, her grandfather wrote a letter to the high court narrating how the girl was forced to give up her job. He complained that the girl was posted in a village where she could not secure help from any government office because none existed there. A bench of Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala filed a public interest litigation on its own on perusal of the letter. Advocate Hemang Shah, who is part of this proceeding, said that the Article 17 of the Constitution provides for the eradication of the practice of untouchability and denying residence to a member of the Valmiki community — which is in the profession of scavenging — was nothing but violation of the constitutional provision.

Shah said that in 2008, a PIL was filed on the problems faced by the Valmiki community — people do not allow them to live in their vicinity.

The state government then took a stand that it would give priority to the community in providing housing facilities and a resolution too was passed. The high court has sought explanation from home secretary, director of primary education and the secretary of social justice and empowerment department asking them to file answers by December 27.

#India-State sponsored competition works -Pharmacies to sell medicines at 60% less #goodnews



11 December 2012
statesman news service

SILIGURI, 11 DEC: All medicine-shop owners around North Bengal Medical College and Hospital (NBMCH) have decided to sell generic drugs at 60 per cent less than the maximum retail print price.
The shops’ owners displayed a notice in this regard in front of their shops today. The medicine shop owners’ association affiliated to the Bengal Chemists and Druggist Association, Darjeeling district, adopted the resolution on Sunday after they came to know that NBMCH would open a fair price medicine shop.
The Zonal Secretary of the association in Siliguri, Mr Atul Roy, said: “In order to survive in competition with the government’s fair price shop, the medicine sellers have decided to sell generic drugs at 60 per cent less than the printed price.”
Mr Roy also said: “Several companies supply generic products to us at 80 per cent less than the printed price. If we deduct 60 per cent, the profit of margin would be 20 per cent. People will be able to buy medicines at even lesser price from us than the state-run outlet.”

 

(The tussle between NBMCH and Chemists’ and > Druggists’Association is providing medicines at cheaper rates. Is it going
to be for a short time or would it be continued continuously. Any how patients have  benefited.

 

#India has 477 people on death row- shocker ? #deathpenalty


Rope
Dec13, BBC
India allows the death penalty for the ‘rarest of rare’ crimes

There are 477 convicts on death row in India, the government says.

The information was revealed in the Rajya Sabha [the upper house of the parliament] in response to a question on the number of convicts on death row in Indian jails.

Indian courts hand out capital punishment in the “rarest of rare” cases, but it is rarely carried out.

Last month, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was hanged.

The Pakistani national was executed in the Yerawada prison in Pune on 21 November after his plea for mercy to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee was rejected.

He became the second person to be executed since 1995 through death by hanging. A man convicted of raping and killing a schoolgirl was hanged in the eastern city of Calcutta in 2004.

According to the latest data revealed by the Indian government on Wednesday, with 174 people on death row, the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of prisoners awaiting death sentence.

The southern state of Karnataka with 61 convicts awaiting hanging is the second on the list.

At number three is the western state of Maharashtra with 50 convicts while Bihar is at the fourth place with 37 awaiting their death sentences.

Racked by protests, Kudankulam commissioning put-off to new year


 

 

Controversy-embroiled Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project will once again miss the target as the time frame of commissioning of the first unit has now been revised to the new year.

Commercial operation of the 1,000 MW first unit, where 99.65 per cent of the physical progress has been completed, is expected to take place in January next, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said.

Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy, who has been monitoring the progress of the Indo-Russian project, hit by protests over safety concerns,had informed Lok Sabha last week that Unit-I was likely to be commissioned by this month end.

Similarly, commercial operation of the second unit has also been fixed for August next year.

“Preparatory works are going on. Each and every step of ours is being monitored by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. We are doing our best to commission it as soon as possible,” sources in the Plant said.

M Pushparayan, a leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, spearheading the over year-long stir demanding scrapping of the KNPP, said though it has been said the commissioning would take place some time this month “now, we heard that they have given a date on January 15″.

After resorting to a series of protests including “sea siege” of the plant, located in Tamil Nadu‘s Tirunelveli district, PMANE now wants a national debate on the Centre’s “ambitious and aggressive” nuclear power programme and intends to make it an issue in the Lok Sabha elections.

“If the Congress Party or BJP or any other party for that matter manages to convince the Indian voters about this full-scale nuclearisation of the country and obtains absolute majority in the next Parliament, we will call off the ongoing struggle against the Project immediately”, PMANE said.

The long-delayed project moved a step towards commissioning with AERB granting permission last week for the ‘second heat up’, under which all systems of the entire nuclear power plant will be put to test to demonstrate its operability and safety.

Following these tests, AERB would evaluate the reports of the tests and then give the go-ahead to the first approach to criticality.

After the reactor goes critical, power generation would be stepped up gradually and when it reaches a certain level, the plant would be connected to the grid.

AERB had granted permission to load fuel in the first unit on August 10 after NPCIL complied with all the conditions laid by it.

A specially-designed robotic arm then began loading 163 bundles of enriched uranium fuel on September 18 and the process was completed on October 2.

A strong demand was made by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee and a host of others to allocate the entire output of 1,000 MW from Unit-I for the power-starved state.

Narayanasamy said in Tirunelveli last week that Tamil Nadu was entitled to get 465 MW from Unit-1 and Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh about 235 MW, leaving the remaining 300 MW for the Central grid.

He had said it was upto Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take the final call on allocating the entire Central share of 300 MW to Tamil Nadu.

Commissioning of the first unit of the Indo-Russian project was originally scheduled for December last year but has been delayed due to protests.

 

 

#India-Critique of Lok Satta party’s views on #FDI


 

 

Lok Satta is a political party in India founded by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan It was launched on October 2, 2006 by the Lok Satta Movement. From 1996 to 2006, the Lok Satta Movement fought for administrative and political reforms, including constitutional amendments regarding elimination of defections, reduction in the size of the cabinet, the Right to Information Act (RTI), disclosure of criminal records and assets by all candidates and others

 

English: Portrait photo of Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan

English: Portrait photo of Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Champions of Farmers

 

 

 

In recent past, two articles appeared in “Andhra Jyothi” by Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan (or JP as he is known), the chief of Loksatta Party. These were two part articles that talked about two major issues, failure of governments to protect the interests of farmers and the need to bring in access to foreign / export markets for the farmers and also the know how in post-harvest technologies. His as well as his “farmers group” leader Mr. Chengal Reddy’s argument is that farmers are unable to access export markets and are losing out on making big profits as they don’t have the necessary infrastructure – like cold storages, post harvest technologies etc.

 

 

Their view point is that by inviting FDI in retail it shall be a win-win situation for the farmers of India as they will have access to good storage facilities, infrastructure for post harvest technologies, processing industry and finally have greater access to export markets. In one television debate on DD some days ago, Mr. Chengal Reddy says, “Now “we farmers”, have huge stocks lying idle in the godowns, if we get FDI we will have access to cold storages and export markets and we will be able to sell at a better price. Therefore, “we farmers” are inviting FDI. See, you have allowed competition in TV and have so many channels as opposed to DD, and then due to private enterprise we have so many varieties of gadgets, why do you deny the farmer to have access to a variety of traders?”  It is another matter that this spokesperson of “farmers”, has given up on agriculture as a profession a long time ago. When questioned as to why this huge produce lying idle can’t be made affordable / accessible to the millions that die of hunger everyday, which will solve the issue of the farmers and the poor, he had no response.

 

 

And the other champion of farmers Dr. JP somehow never talks about the other issues that are plaguing the farmers of this country. For example, it’s a well known fact that climate change has become the greatest enemy of agriculturists. And one of the major arguments is that there is a need for reduction in energy usage for restoring stability in the environment. And it is precisely for this reason and also for the reason that the pollution and radiation from Thermal power projects adversely impacts agricultural production besides hugely increasing local temperatures that we (NAPM) have been arguing against these projects. However, Dr.JP has critiqued our stand in a public meeting in Naguluppalapadu mandal in Prakasam district, in Aug.2010, where the local people had been campaigning against a thermal power project being set up there. His stand was that setting up a Thermal plant in that area was not good as it was an agriculturally productive area with good irrigation from the Lift Irrigation project that he was instrumental in setting up, when he was a collector. But then, he added that while setting up thermal plants in that area should not be allowed, our opposing thermal plants all over is foolish. And asked that if we oppose Thermal Projects everywhere, then where should one establish these industries? “In the sky?”

 

 

Dr. JP was addressing a public meeting in a constituency where he was an erstwhile collector. But if his concern for farmers is so strong then why is it that he doesn’t speak of the farmers who are losing their agricultural produce due to the pollution of NTPC in Parawada, another project that he was instrumental in establishing? When he is questioned on this, he says that it’s the fault of the NTPC which is not controlling the pollution. But then, as he has claimed to champion the cause of the farmers, why has he not campaigned/ protested on the issues of the pollution that is destroying the lives of people in Parawada? Why has he not taken up the cause of the farmers of Nellore, who are going to suffer total destruction due to the cumulative impact of 35,000 MW of thermal power projects? By his own definition, thermal plants should not be established in fertile agricultural areas. Therefore, these projects should not be set up in Nellore district which too is a rich agricultural, productive zone as also most of the coastal areas, where thermal plants by the dozens are being established.  Why oppose in Prakasam and not talk about it elsewhere? What are the dynamics that are preventing his taking a stand on this issue?  Forget about the pollution, in most places farmers have to fight to save their lands from Land acquisition, for SEZs, mining projects and various other industries. And this is no small number, why has he been silent on this issue?  In fact, his take on SEZs is that farmers lands have to be consolidated in the SEZs and out of the developmental profits, farmers should be given a share! Seems fine to hear, but who will ensure that it is followed inside these “deemed foreign territories” where the Indian Constitution has not teeth? And what if the farmers don’t wish to give away their lands? What about the state repression regarding the various projects and the land acquisition process? Without referring to any of these, he has presented a beautiful, idyllic picture of Indian agricultural conditions, with “large areas of cultivable land, plenty of sun light, and good rainfall” etc, which goes to show that either he is not living in reality or simply trying to brush the truths under a carpet. In the past years what we had was erratic climate, and not good rainfall – it was either less or excess. But if he accepts these, then he has to come into the climate debate and then has to defend his stand on thermal power projects. Of course, he has a solution for climate change which he mentioned in a Kisan Swaraj Yatra meeting held in Hyderabad on 8thNovember 2010: “Indian agriculture contributes hugely to global warming, because the dung of our cattle emits methane. To over come this we have a solution. The gene in the stomach of Kangaroos controls this aspect. That is why the dung of kangaroos doesn’t emit methane. So, if we can use this gene and genetically modify our cattle so that their dung doesn’t emit methane, it would be a win-win situation”. He mentioned this in support of his argument that GM technology is “Oh! so good for us!”

 

 

Dr.J.P’s articles in Andhra Jyothi sound very concerned for the farmers and seem to be providing pragmatic and practical solutions, but look beneath the surface and his idea is to promote FDI in retail and leave the farmers to the mercy of private investors. True, the government mechanisms have failed to deliver to the farmers – a proper system of input supply and robust marketing support. True also that the entire government machinery is rife with corruption, but will this be solved by the entry of foreign / retail players? Are they holier than the government agencies?  Have we not seen in the recent past post liberalization, the kind of corruption that ran into lakhs of crores of rupees which involved major corporate bigwigs in this country? Have we not seen how the US government involved itself in the way the then Petroleum Minister Manishankar Iyer was removed from his ministry? And the way Reliance played its role in the ousting of Jaipal Reddy just a few weeks ago? Are we not seeing how big corporations are arm twisting governments to suit their demands? In this context, assuming that Big Retail chains armed with their colossal money bags who have ruined small traders and small farmers with their predatory practices elsewhere, and who are instrumental in the framing of policies not just in the US but also in other countries, would work in the interest of  small farmers; is either naïve or deliberate. Knowing that Dr.JP is an intelligent person, his solution of bringing in big retail into the country and to remove all protection in trading commodities, seems more like a deliberate act to promote the interests of big corporations rather than a real concern for the farmers.

 

 

In the same vein he champions that farmers elsewhere have benefited from GM seeds, but the farmers in India are being deprived of this benefit, due to unscientific claims by activists. In his third article, he claims that India has benefited hugely by using Bt Seeds. And that pesticide usage has reduced very much and thus protected the environment. (Which itself is not true, because there has been an increase in various other pests which were hitherto dormant, after the use of bt cotton targeted for Bollworm. In many places the bt cotton was not effective even on the Bollworm). He also claims that people have been feeding animals on cotton crops and that they have been using cotton seed oil and their health has been perfect and this has been proven ‘world over”. And he says the way forward is to promote GM technology in India. In his article while he talks about the farmers suicides pre-bt cotton, he doesn’t speak of the continuing suicides of farmers, especially cotton farmers, post Bt Cotton. Has he not seen the reports that it was Bt Cotton that has resulted in the increasing number of farmers suicides? Or the reports of the AP Animal Husbandry Department which has linked the death of animals to grazing on bt cotton fields? Or the fact that farm labourers end up with rashes on their skin and faces when they are working in the Bt Cotton fields? He and his dear friend Mr. Chengal Reddy claim that there have been no adverse effects on people consuming GM food and cotton seed oil (in Indian Context). I had asked this question earlier to Mr. Chengal Reddy and I am asking this question now to JP, “Have they done any epidemiological studies in India, regarding the consumption of GM food?” On what basis are they saying that there have been no harmful effects? There have been studies conducted in many universities abroad, and it has been found that there have been harmful effects on health including damage of internal organs and in a recent study that was done on rats over a span of 2 years, it was found that regular consumption GM food was even causing cancer. Like nuclear radiation the impacts of this technology on health may not happen over night, but it takes time for its effects to show up.

 

 

But whatever may be the facts, people like Dr. JP conveniently overlook these facts. The way he overlooks the fact that while the production of the grains due to green revolution may have increased, but the impacts on the soil and people’s health has been enormous. Also the increase in the cost of inputs, the use of chemicals has consistently increased over a period of time resulting in catastrophic effects on human health. Has he ever heard of the “Cancer Express” that takes cancer patients from the “hub of green revolution” Punjab, to a free cancer hospital in Rajasthan? While talking high about Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution it would have been good if he considered these facts also. But Dr.JP conveniently keeps these facts out and paints a rosy picture about green revolution the way he now does about GM technology. I want to ask whether he eats GM food daily or does he eat organic food? I want to also suggest him to be on a special diet of GM food for the next two years and if after that he still wants to claim that this is absolutely safe, and then we will look into the matter. But for now, we rather trust the various scientists who have been cautioning people about the harmful effects of GMO’s.

 

 

Talking about the issue of monopoly by seed companies, he says, that we should not say no to this brilliant new technology, just out of fear of monopoly by MNCs. He says we are confusing the two things. But the real reason why the seed companies have brought in GM seeds and GM organisms is to Control the entire “food market and seed market of the world”. He suggests that in order to contain the seed companies, we should put in place control mechanisms that will ensure that farmers are provided seeds at reasonable rates while the “seed producers” get fair remuneration. Citing the example of how Loksatta fought to get the seed prices reduced in 2006, he says we should be doing similar things but not say no to the Technology. It took 3 years for the decision to reduce the prices to come about in 2009. What happened to farmers in these 3 years? Should then the farmers who are victims of these companies continuously run after courts to do this? Or will he (JP) be able to fight the cases of all the farmers in the entire country? For surely farmers don’t have either the time or the means to be running after courts for fair trade practices or compensations. On patents, he says we should amend our law in order to control the monopoly practices of the seed companies. I wish to ask if Dr.JP will he demand for scrapping the Patents on living organisms? Because it is the patents on seeds and living organisms that is encouraging companies like Monsanto to control seed markets. However, he specifies no clarity on this matter.

 

 

He seems to overlook the fact that once the seed is contaminated with a GMO then the farmer has lost his choice to use the seed that he wants to use. Further, he will be forever paying to the company for the use of the seeds, because almost every other seed would be contaminated by the patented gene and thus the companies claim royalties. He also seems to forget that once the biological contamination happens we cannot call it back from the ecosystem. Nor can it be controlled by putting up borders – wind, insects, birds – none of these know the physical borders or the buffer zones! They would go for hundreds of kilometers taking the contaminated pollen, contaminating the fields of unsuspecting farmers, as happened with Bt cotton in India, GM Canola in Canada, GM maize in Mexico to cite a few examples. Dr. JP seems to be unaware of the fact that companies like Monsanto slapped multi million dollar cases against ordinary farmers in North America, claiming that they have used Monsanto’s seeds without the company’s permission; while their only fault was that the pollen from their neighbouring farmers fields’ contaminated their crops due to the wind. Or that there is a big movement across the US demanding for GM Labelling, as it has been proven to cause various diseases.  And consumers now feel cheated and want to know what they are eating.

 

 

Saying that GM technology and Big Retail helps farmers’ interests is the most vulgar lie ever told! In this country, farmers who have been left high and dry at the mercy of fluctuating international prices and who have been made dependent upon the private fertilizer, pesticide and seed companies, are committing suicides in thousands of numbers and the situation will only get even worse with the entry of both Big retail and GM seeds in other crops. The hitherto self-reliant farmer has been turned into a beggar by making him/her dependant on these companies. While in earlier times the demand and supply was based on local demands, now the farmers have to contest with the rapid changes in international markets. The problems started more because of this opening up of markets which has brought in cheap imports. It is thus, the commercial crop farmers like tobacco, cotton and other such crops, who are directly dependent on the “commodity trading international markets”, are the ones who commit suicides. Those who grow food crops meant for the local consumption in their nearby towns and villages are the ones who are in a better situation. Instead of asking for FDI in retail would Dr.JP demand for a ban on futures trading in commodities?

 

 

Farming and small trading / retail have been the largest private enterprise in this country and also the largest employment generating occupations of this country. But these are not seen as such and have no access to the kind of “red carpet” facilities including access to land and credit which an ITC or a Walmart would receive. While farmers have to run around for loan waivers and compensations from pillar to post, big time defaulters like big corporations are given waivers to the tune of hundreds of crores of rupees. Small landless poor have to struggle for decades to get access to some land, and governments don’t have land to give to farmers’ markets, but big retailers like Reliance and Walmart will be given access to land of their choice and given all facilities – even if it means to oust the existing farmers. Why doesn’t Dr. JP talk of this?

 

 

What our farmers need is access to credit, allowing them to use their own wisdom and making them more and more self-reliant. We need not go any further than see the experience of Gujarat where the farmer’s co-operatives own everything from godowns to fertilizer companies (Kribhco). And for a change I saw farmers with as little land as 5 acres being prosperous, because they fight with their collective strength and also have the protection of their collective wisdom. Promoting local procurement for local Public Distribution System managed by community groups was successfully demonstrated in Medak District. Also successful was the Dairy co-operative of Mulkanoor in Karimnagar, run by women’s groups. This protects not only the farmer but also the consumer. However, people like Dr. MMS and Dr. JP will always feel that our people are incapable of solving their own problems. They always feel the need to beg foreigners to lift us out of our misery. And we have seen where this begging and dependency on “foreign wisdom” has led us to. The need of the day is to strengthen the local communities – farmers’ co-operatives and farmers markets where the farmers can sell their produce directly to consumers and it is the real solution to remove middle men. And Big retail is nothing more than that – A big middleman.

 

 

At present, the farmer at least has the choice of either selling in his own village, town or to a wholesaler or retailer. When once these big retail chains come in with their big money, small traders will be wiped out and the farmer will have only one choice – to sell to these hegemonic powers. In many situations too, small farmers sell their produce directly also. Will these people be able to compete with the low prices of big chain stores? Dr. JP and Mr. Chengal Reddy feel that as we need cold storages and infrastructure facilities, we need to bring in big money. But my question is why can’t these infrastructures be built by the government agencies and give the management responsibilities to local communities or at least give them the right to question any kind of mal-functioning? Where is the guarantee that these private owned cold storage and other such infrastructures be easily accessible to farmers? Like the Toll Gates that have now made ordinary travel from one district to another exorbitantly high and like the private health care and private education, wherein, all the public utilities have become exorbitantly out of reach of the common person, these infrastructures too will not be open to farmers unless they pay through their nose or become a part of the contract farming system and live according to the dictates of these companies.

 

 

All this is assuming that these retail chains in true spirit buy the produce from our farmers. In one of its clauses the FDI Decision says the companies are obliged to source only 30% of the produce from local farmers. And that it will be under self-monitoring system. Who will check these guys whether they are purchasing that 30% at least? The corrupt govt. officials who can easily be bribed? And what about the rest of the 70%, that could easily be a way for cheap imports from other countries? In that case what happens to the 70% produce of our farmers here? We have seen what has happened to small industry and weavers across the country, due to cheap imports and products by highly subsidized big industry. Now it’s the turn of the farmers and small traders. As I write this article the decision on FDI has already been made. Only time shall tell us what is in store for us. And how far will Dr.JP ensure that fair practices are enforced in this country!

 

 

But one thing has become clear: it is easier to deal with loud, uncultured, corrupt politicians for we know what they are. The soft spoken, seemingly people-friendly and “intellectual” politicians who hide their true intentions behind the façade of honesty are the real danger, due to their capacity to influence the educated classes’ perceptions by their seemingly authentic arguments. We have already seen what happened to this country for having trusted one such predecessor – Dr. Manmohan Singh (Dr.MMS)!

 

 

Saraswati Kavula

 

National Alliance of People’s Movements

 

06/12/2012

 

 

 

 

#India- Legal provisions protecting the walkers in urban ares


The roads are arguably the most important public spaces in cities and pedestrians are its largest users,but less than 30% of urban roads in India have footpaths.[1]In the last few years, pedestrian fatalities have accounted for 30-40% of all road accident deaths in urban areas. With an increasing number of motor vehicles and diminishing pedestrian spaces, we need to ensure the protection and rights of pedestrians on roads in India. There are severalacts that safeguard pedestrian rights indirectly. Following are the legal clauses protecting pedestrian rights on the road:

    1. 1. The Indian Penal Code (1860)sections 279, 304, and 336/37/38 protects the public, which includes pedestrians, against rash driving and negligence by motorists.

 

    1. 2. The Motor Vehicles Act (1988), sections 7-38 talks about penalisingthe motorists exceeding speed limits and license regulationetc, indirectly protecting vulnerable road users. Furthermore section 138 clause (h &i) empowers the state government to prevent motor vehicles from using the pavements for driving or parking.

 

    1. 3. The Rules of the Road Regulation (1989)has only three rules mentioning pedestriansor their right of way which are:
        • - the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing (Rule 8)

       

        • - that no driver can park a motor vehicle near a traffic light or on a pedestrian crossing or a footpath (Rule 15)

       

        • - that motor vehicles are not allowed to drive on the footpaths or cycle lane except with permission from the police officer on duty (Rule 11)

       

 

    1. 4. The Municipal Corporation Acts also protect public roads and streets by terming all obstructions illegal unless theyare made with the prior permission of the collector. They are entitled to ascertain the footpath width based on width of the public roads.

 

    1. 5. Under the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act (1995), the government must provide for auditory signals, engraving on the zebra crossings, slopes in pavements for easy access of wheel chair, and warning signals at appropriate places.

 

Additionally, in India, agencies like the Indian Road Congress (1988) and documents like the Urban Design Plan Formulation and Implementation (UDPFI) (1996) have suggested standardizing pedestrian infrastructure based on traffic patterns, but these guidelines have largely been ignored by the implementing agencies.

Although the legislations recognising the pedestrian’s interest are fragmented, clearly, they do exist. However, their lack of implementation makes these minor provisions for pedestrian protection futile. The Law Commission in its consultation paper on “Legal Reforms to Combat Road Accidents” in 2008 mentions that there are no appropriate legislations to govern the behaviour of pedestrians and non-motorized traffic on the roads. But will it be enough to have a legislation defining the appropriate behaviour for pedestrians while the laws on protecting pedestrians and pedestrian spaces from motorized vehicles are not being enforced?

Besides these laws, the National Urban Transport Policy (2006) also suggests provisions for pedestrians but has not made it mandatory. The Draft Bill of the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Act has also suggested a separate board at the national and state level to look into road safety and provide and promote special requirements for pedestrians and the other vulnerable road users, something which has not been constituted. In spite of this, there are no considerations made for pedestrian infrastructure in the JnNURM, the country’s biggest urban infrastructure program till date. This is a glaring omission.

Actually, pedestrian rights were first mentioned in international law relevant for India in the late 1940s, but international law also seems to provide limited support for pedestrian rights. The earliest attempt by the United Nations was the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, 1949, which made a passing mention on pedestrians in Articles7 and 11. India ratified this convention. This was replaced by the Vienna Convention in 1968,[2] which gives pedestrians the right to walk on the carriageway in the absence of a pavement or on satisfying other conditions under Article 20, Para 2 &3. But the Vienna Convention also does not mandate the government to construct pavements or apportion a part of carriageway only to pedestrians, perhaps because of which the state tends to ignore the building of pavements. Article 20, para 6c& d suggests that pedestrians should not impede traffic while crossing the road, thus restricting their right to the road. On the whole, the convention fails to recognise the pedestrian as an important road user and has indirectly suggested participating countries to impose stricter rules on the pedestrian while crossing.The International Transport Forum at the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their recent report on pedestrian safety, urban space and health has analysed the issues that pedestrians face and has strongly recommended concerned authorities to strategize and improve pedestrian infrastructure and create guidelines to facilitate pedestrian and non motorised movement.[3]

The International Federation of Pedestrians has been explicitly advocating the right to walk in public spaces as a basic human right, and has been pro-actively working with the UN-ECE (European regional organisation of the United Nations)to enhance pedestrian safety.[4] Besides this, there are many reports on road safety by several organisations suggesting safer pedestrian routes, traffic calming measures, low cost remedial measures, construction of central refuges, and creating basic pedestrian infrastructure. The World Health Organization recently took up a campaign to recognize the impact of road accidents on mortality and morbidity rates in the world, especially in developing countries, and attempted to push countries to taking action to prevent pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Mounting motor vehicle traffic in all cities has put pressureon the Indian government to increase narrow road spaces by creating flyovers, declaring roads as one-ways, and widening the carriageway,actions that eat into the already limited footpath. Europe and the United States of America have seen similar problems and have reacted by slowly prioritizing people over motor vehicles. For example, the European Parliament in their 1988 Charter of Pedestrian Rights acknowledged the right of pedestrians to live in a healthy environment and passed a regulation proposing changes in the design of motor vehicles to ensure more safety to pedestrians. Withsuch changes, developed nations have made their roads not just pedestrian friendly but also more liveable. Since every journey begins and ends with a walk, we as pedestrians should demand and exercise our rights on the road in India as well.


[1]Traffic and transportation policies and strategies in Urban areas in India, Wilbur Smith and Ministry of Urban Development.
[2]http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/conventn/crt1968e.pdf
[3]http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/Pub/pdf/11PedestrianSum.pdf
[4]http://www.pedestrians-int.org/main.php?id=16

 

Written by Roshan Toshniwal, Researcher, Transparent Chennai