India – Government needs to make amendments to law public


Make amendments to law public, says Aruna Roy

Rahi Gaikwad

Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy

Terming the right to information a fundamental function in democracy, Aruna Roy, RTI pioneer and social activist, who recently quit the National Advisory Council, said here on Sunday that on the last day of her term, NAC had sent a suggestion to the Prime Minister for making public changes in laws.

“If any amendment is made to the new laws and regulations, it should be put in the public domain for scrutiny, before it goes for drafting. The draft law should be put up on the website,” Ms. Roy said. She was delivering the Pradhan Jwala Prasad memorial lecture on “The Challenge of Transparency and Accountability in Indian Democracy.”

Critical of middle class cynicism, Ms. Roy warned against such a “defeatist” attitude. She said the landmark right to information law was born from the distress of the poor. She stressed engaging with the government. In her first term at NAC, important legislation related to forest rights, domestic violence and employment guarantee were brought into force.

Ms. Roy said her departure from NAC had been “sensationalised” in the media.

“I was not against anybody. I only said that there were two thought processes in the country — one that believed that market growth would solve all problems and the other that advocated socialistic measures.”

The Indian government was highly averse to participatory decision-making, she said.

Raising concerns over the harassment faced by information-seekers, Ms. Roy said asking questions had become difficult.

“What is the price of asking a question in this country? IAS and IPS officers can’t ask questions. Students can’t ask questions and these days even journalists can’t. We have been suppressed for long … Those who are asking questions on sensitive issues, like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, are called extremists and Maoists. They are harassed and killed,” she said.

About 30 lakh people in India were asking questions under the RTI, but it had cost the lives of 30 people, from all sections of society, including engineers, intellectuals, and farmers. They paid with their lives because “they had the audacity to ask questions.” Earlier in the day, Ms. Roy attended a meeting of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, where she met RTI activists in Bihar and learnt about the threat and intimidation they faced.

Ms. Roy questioned the Unique Identification project for being ambiguous on the issue of privacy.

 

#India- There is a credibility crisis at all levels of government- Aruna Roy


, TNN | Jun 2, 2013, 05.58 AM IST

This week activist Aruna Roy walked out of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), complaining about this government’s ideological bias and obsession with growth. She talks to Padmaparna Ghosh about the dilution of the social sector focus.This is the second time that you have resigned from the NAC. What brought you back in 2010?

My decisions to join or leave the NAC have been taken collectively by the organization I work with – the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). I left in 2008 because at that time the NAC didn’t have a chairperson and was not playing the role it was supposed to. I returned in 2010 because there were many issues (such as the demand for a Right to Food bill) that needed a stronger policy framework and I felt it would be useful to channel the input that comes from many campaigns. The NAC has sent many important recommendations to the government. The recent NAC recommendations on the pre-legislative process if implemented immediately will provide all citizens an opportunity to participate in the making of laws. The need is to ensure that at least some of these recommendations are enacted and implemented.

How tough was it to find common ground between civil society and the government?

The agenda of the NAC is set by the government’s political commitments. Within that pre-deter mined agenda, the NAC has worked to incorporate civil society opinion to advise the government on how to take its agenda forward. NAC II has evolved detailed procedures such as the formation of working groups, which has allowed a broader consultative process. The NAC has maintained a focus on issues of significance to the poor and the social sector such as the MGNREGA and the Right to Food, and has taken up specific issues such as nomadic tribals and bonded labourers. One of the NAC’s important contributions has been to build the understanding that delivery systems and democratic governance are crucial to the effective implementation of any social sector initiative. Therefore, the RTI, and other transparency and accountability initiatives such as the social audit and recommendations for a pre-legislative process have been taken up.

How do you respond to those that call MGNREGA “demand-driven distress employment” and, therefore, ineligible for minimum wage?

The Minimum Wage Act came into effect in 1948 and has remained the bedrock for workers’ rights. Therefore the importance of payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers extends beyond the MGNREGA itself. If the Government refuses to pay minimum wages to workers on its own programme, it can never enforce the law for the millions of unorganised workers in the agricultural and industrial sectors. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that no one can even opt to work for less than the minimum wage, no employer can use a lack of resources as an excuse and any labour that is paid less should be considered forced.

The argument that the government does not have to pay minimum wages to people in distress only proves the SC’s point. In fact this issue goes straight to the core of the battle around MGNREGA. People who have been profiting from exploitation through payment of distress wages are now reacting because the MGNREGA has given workers the capacity to fight for minimum wages even outside the programme. By violating the Minimum Wages Act, the government is threatening to destroy the most significant labour protection measure in India.

How do you intend to press for its implementation from outside NAC?

The NAC is an advisory body. That is why I feel it necessary to concentrate on advocating in the public domain for the acceptance and implementation of these recommendations. I do not believe that a democratic government can keep refusing to respect the constitutional entitlement of a minimum wage. Public pressure needs to be built up around this issue, as we close in on elections.

What do you believe you have accomplished during your tenure at the NAC?

The NAC gave me an opportunity to raise multiple issues of concern to people’s movements and campaigns. It played a very important role in the passage of landmark legislations such as the RTI and MGNREGA. It was because of the NAC that experience from people’s campaigns was processed into powerful and effective draft laws. Even though this was often whittled down by the bureaucracy it served as a standard. My association with the NAC helped strengthen causes of the poor and marginalized I have been associated with over the last few years.

UPA-2’s credibility has been damaged in the recent past. Would you vote them back in 2014?

The crisis in credibility today is at all levels of government. Effective implementation is as important as the legislations themselves. Our solutions do not lie in thoughts between one election and another but in addressing the lack of transparency and accountability in governance structures. My politics has always been to enhance the participation of people within the democratic frameworks so that their voices are heard not just once in five years but every day

 

Aruna Roy leaves National Advisory Council


May 29, 2013

New DelhiNoted social rights activist Aruna Roy has decided to leave the National Advisory Council (NAC). Her letter of resignation has been accepted by NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who also heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The task of the NAC is to provide inputs in the formulation of policy by the government, and to provide support to the government in legislative business.

In her letter to Sonia Gandhi, Roy listed differences with the government, specially over the refusal to give minimum wages to beneficiaries under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

The noted social activist said that despite its contribution to changing the lives of the rural poor, implementation of this crucial flagship programme remains a challenge.

“There is a huge group of MGNREGS beneficiaries who are critical, but supportive of the law. They are losing public and political space to a small, vocal, and powerful minority determined to undermine the basic objectives of the MGNREGS,” Roy said in her letter.

“This is in continuation of the conversation we had some time ago, when I had requested that I not be considered for another term in the NAC. I am grateful for your accepting my request, while assuring you continued support to campaigns for social sector causes being taken up outside the NAC,” Roy wrote.

She said that it was “extremely unfortunate” that the prime minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to MGNREGS workers and chose instead to appeal against the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering the payment of minimum wages to MGNREGS workers.

“Even more distressing is the government’s refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny payment of minimum wages and still make claims of inclusive growth,” Roy said.

Listing the achievements of the NAC, Roy said: “It is a matter of great significance that the NAC has approved a pre-legislative consultative process and will send it to government for necessary action. In my opinion, the NAC is itself a kind of pre-legislative body that has benefited immensely from the public consultations it has held.”

The functioning of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, and its celebrated report in the aftermath of the Dec 16 gang-rape in Delhi, were also an outcome of a pre-legislative consultative process, Roy noted, hoping that the process of public consultation would become more robust.

Favouring immediate passage of the food security bill, Roy said: “Given the hunger and malnutrition scenario in the country, a food security bill should have been debated and passed by parliament by now.”

In her letter accepting Roy’s resignation, Sonia Gandhi said: “I respect your decision to move on from the National Advisory Council. I hope that we will continue to have the benefit of your wisdom and thoughts as a friend and supporter of NAC.”

 

IANS

 

UPA-II failed to deliver on its promises: Aruna Roy’s report card


by Pallavi Polanki May 25, 2013
 National Advisory Council (NAC) member and leading social activist Aruna Roy has come down heavily on the government for its poor performance in the social sector.
Roy, an instrumental force behind the Right to Information Act, criticised the government for stalling on essential legislations such as the Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill and the Lokpal Bill.
Roy spoke to Firstpost about UPA-II’s record on inclusive growth, the government’s new advertising campaign and the UPA’s biggest challenge as it goes into polls in 2014.
Excerpts from the Interview:
 
Has UPA-II delivered on its promise of inclusive growth?
While UPA-I delivered on some essential promises in the social sector such as MGNREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and the Forest Rights Act, UPA-II has made promises which it has failed to deliver.
The Food Security Bill lies in Parliament waiting to be passed with little time left for debate on its provisions or to strengthen its framework. In fact, there seems to be a real danger that it may not get passed at all.
The Land Acquisition bill which has been mired in controversy has also not moved beyond the stage of the Standing Committee. Even the much touted UID-based direct benefit transfer has encountered basic problems and is a non-starter.
Roy has said the government failed to deliver on many promises. Image courtesy: Ibnlive
The UPA-II promised a revamping of the National Social Assistance Programme to move towards universal and enhanced pensions for the elderly, single women, and disabled. However, this too remains unfulfilled. The question of money seems to have dominated all decisions related to the social sector, so much so that many states are talking about a cash crunch in MGNREGA.
The Right to Education Act was passed during UPA-II, but the implementation of its progressive provisions remains crippled due to a lack of resources needed to meet commitments.
Corruption scandals have rocked UPA-II with disturbing regularity. How has government fared in bringing more transparency in governance?
An area where the performance of UPA-II has been deeply disappointing is in its inability to deliver on basic governance legislation of critical importance to the country today. The debate around the Lokpal Bill resulted in several pieces of draft legislation which would undoubtedly help citizens ensure accountability of the government and its officials. Apart from the Lokpal Bill, the Grievance Redress Bill, the Whistleblower Protection Bill, the Judicial Accountability Bill are legislations that should be passed immediately.
The Whistleblower Protection Bill and the Grievance Redress Bill actually affect the right to live of the poor in significant ways. An effective Grievance Redress Bill could have been like an RTI part II for UPA-II. Instead, the Government exempted its premier anti-corruption investigating agency – the CBI from scrutiny under the RTI Act, and has now been forced by the Supreme Court to promise independence in investigation of corruption cases.
If the Government has any intent of addressing corruption and arbitrary use of power, anti- corruption agencies must be made independent, transparent, and accountable, and this basket of accountability legislations, which have come to Parliament after much public action over the last two years, must be passed immediately.
What do you make of the publicity campaign released recently by UPA-II to highlight its achievements in the social sector. Is the UPA making the same mistake that the NDA made in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ campaign?
It is true that the “game changer” label given to the UID-based cash transfer/direct benefit transfer seems to resonate with the NDAs ‘India Shining’ campaign. In both cases, there is little that is delivered to the poor in real terms and the triumphant claims only served to rub salt in the wounds of large numbers of suffering and marginalised people.
Does the UID system create more problems for the poor? AFP
The attempt to ensure that money reaches the beneficiary without leakages along the way is laudable, but imposing an impractical and untested centralized delivery platform like the UID on a complex development structure can complicate existing systems and exclude large numbers of people.
The results from the roll out districts speak for themselves. Miniscule numbers of beneficiaries have received money through this platform and even in these cases there has been no additional benefit to them. For the poor as a whole, there has been the added problems and irritants associated with having to acquire a UID number on which all entitlements will be tethered.
If wisdom prevails, UPA-II even in its last year would concentrate on delivering on its social sector promises: ensure that food and pension entitlements are made a reality, enact citizen-centred accountability systems to guarantee delivery of entitlements and fix accountability of officials.
What will be the UPA’s biggest challenge as it goes into polls in 2014?
The challenge for any government is to deliver on its promises and the UPA II will be evaluated on its implementation of promises made. The questions it will have to answer are: what are ways in which it has promoted or vitiated the achievements of UPA-I ,vis-a-vis the Right to Information, MGNREGA, Forest Rights Act, etc?
Two, has it delivered on its promises of inclusive growth in UPA II – Right to Food, Pensions, Education, Health, etc? And three, has it provided a real answer to the widespread frustration of people about the lack of accountability at all levels and numbers of cases of grand corruption that have been regularly coming to light?
I don’t wish to speculate on what the results of a particular election will be. I do, however, believe that a government has a duty to deliver on promises it has made to its electorate.
The India Shining Campaign demonstrated that people are shrewd and respond only when real benefits reach them. Tall claims and slick campaigns do not get votes. Slogans are seen as mere rhetoric. It would be a mistake not to recognize that people can understand political intent through delivery.

 

#India- Do you know why #Aadhaar – #UID is NOT compulsory #mustread


 

Ram Krishnaswamy

APRIL 15, 2013

This is a guest post by Ram Krishnaswamy For the last three years activists opposing Aadhaar/UID have argued that it can lead to communal targeting, can aid illegal migrants, can invade privacy, is unconstitutional, does not have parliamentary approval, is illegal, etc. Yet all such objections and more have been successfully stonewalled by UIDAI and UPA leaders.

Further, Aadhaar is not compulsory and so such allegations are considered invalid. The middle and upper class Indians have remained silent about the UID debate, as it does not affect them in the least. The long lines of persons stretching before UID enrollment centers must be proof, then, of the popularity of this concept.

Nandan Nilekani and UIDAI Director General R.S Sharma have repeatedly told the nation that UID, now called Aadhaar, is not mandatory. Yet, over a period of time, they say, it could become ubiquitous, if service providers insist upon it compulsorily, in order to receive their services. To quote UIDAI Chairman, Nandan Nilekani, “Yes, it is voluntary. But the service providers might make it mandatory. In the long run I wouldn’t call it compulsory. I’d rather say it will be come ubiquitous.”

From the time GOI toyed with the idea of a Unique Identity number for the poor and the marginalized Indian population, the nation has been told Aadhaar is not compulsory.

Ever wondered why?

One question activists have never asked is, “Why is Aadhaar not compulsory?”

The reason is so obvious, and staring us in the face all along, yet no one seems to have picked it up. This question throws more light on what is going on and why.

On the very face of it, both these schemes “UID/NPR and Cash Transfers” echo Mohammad Bin Tughlaq – the wisest fool in India’s history so far. Schemes like these are not the way to build a great nation; indeed they may be exactly the way to create a generation of paupers. Poverty was “good” until the time the poor had the dignity to fight it out and move up the ladder. Pauperization however, would kill the very consciousness and self-dignity critical for a nation of 1 billion plus to survive and march forward.

The history of the human race suggests that master position-holders always wanted some form of identification of their slaves. The slave’s name and family links were not adequate. Galley slaves had the letters GAL burnt into their arms. In imperial Russia the Katorshniki (public slaves) were branded in a grisly manner – the letters KAT being punctured on their cheeks and forehead; and gunpowder rubbed into their wounds. In several countries, slaves had their heads shorn, except for a pigtail from the crown. The shorn head was symbolic of castration, loss of manliness, power and freedom. Slavery is one of the most extreme forms of the relation of domination approaching the limits of total power from the view point of the master and the total powerlessness from the view point of the slave. All power strives for authority.

In the current context in India, the “Master” is the State, which suggests that the poor need just Rs 32 a day to survive, while the bourgeois masters can afford to spend Rs 500 for a meal. The “slaves” are the Indian population living below poverty levels, who are told that, unless you have a number linked to finger prints, you will not be allowed to avail subsidised grain at Rupees 3 a kilo. A slave in India today is a socially dead person who can be identified only by a number issued by the master, and not his/her  paternity, or maternity, or other social links to the world.

The question that many activists have often been asked is, “Why should you worry about privacy, if you do not have anything to hide?” The corollary to this question just hit me today, “People who have something to hide certainly do not want a Unique Identity number which is linked to their biometrics, meaning their fingerprints and iris scan.”

Recent sting operations suggest that many banks in India facilitate money laundering allowing corrupt individuals with black money to convert them into white money without the person’s identity being questioned. It is amazing how easily the bankers assist in converting unaccounted black money to white. Now imagine how the corrupt in India would react to Aadhaar being compulsory. The Aadhaar number and associated biometrics can be used by law enforcement agencies to link and expose all hidden stashes, not only in India but even in Swiss banks and Singapore banks, now that Singapore is the haven for parking illegal funds.

If Aadhaar is made compulsory over time, the associated biometrics could be used to expose all corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen, making them all vulnerable.  Surely the government does not want to facilitate such a monster. That is why Aadhaar is not compulsory. It is time for all activists to challenge UIDAI Chairman and UPA II government to make Aadhaar compulsory, and help flush out the cancer that is eating the nation from within.

Mr Nilekani, once you asked the question, “What am I? A virus?”

Prove to us you are not a virus, by making Aadhaar compulsory for all Indians, rich and poor, and show us that your Imagining India was a genuine attempt to serve the nation.

Surely you do not want to facilitate a system where all people are equal, except some people are more equal than others, and have the right to decline an Aadhaar. But rest assured, the day UIDAI and GOI make Aadhaar compulsory, the nation, meaning the rich and powerful, will show you their true colours regarding UID.

As a Nation we should join hands and ask UPA II the question:

“Why is Aadhaar not compulsory ?”

Why does Aadhaar discriminate the haves and have-nots creating a new caste system that will further divide an all ready fragmented country?

Aadhaar is not compulsory so that low life criminal elements like murderers, rapists, embezzlers, tax avoiders, income tax fraudsters, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians and even potential terrorists can continue fearlessly, without  Aadhaar & biometrics to elude law enforcement.

Here are a few notable quotes from people opposing Aadhaar: 

  • “NPR & UID aiding Aliens” – Narendra Modi
  • “UID may aid Communal Targetting” – Aruna Roy & Nikhil Dey, NAC Members
  • “Unique Identity Scheme will take away the Privacy of Indian Citizens” – Mathew Thomas
  • “UID Project Will Make Constitution Of India A Dead Document” – S.G.Vombatkere
  • “Aadhaar will institutionalise Poverty” – Ram Krishnaswamy
  • “UID project is full of ambiguity, confusions and suspicions, but no answers” – Usha Ramanathan
  • “Aadhaar is UIDAI’s unsolicited Testimonials to the Biometric Industry” – David Moss, UK
  • “It is a Bad Idea to Marry UID with NREGA” – Reetika Khera
  • “Nilekani’s reporting structure is unprecedented in history; he reports directly to the Prime Minister, thus bypassing all checks and balances in government” – Home Minister Chidambaram
  • “Aadhaar is not compulsory — it is just a voluntary “facility.” UIDAI’s concept note stresses that “enrolment will not be mandated.” But there is a catch: “… benefits and services that are linked to the UID will ensure demand for the number.” This is like selling bottled water in a village after poisoning the well, and claiming that people are buying water voluntarily. The next sentence is also ominous: “This will not, however, preclude governments or registrars from mandating enrollment.” – Jean Dreze, Visiting Prof of Economics, Uni of Allahabad, Ex-NAC Member
  • “Aadhaar was meant to deduplicate peoples ID’s and Aadhaar itself is a Duplicate of NPR and needs deduplication” – Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) headed by Secretary Sumit Bose.
  • “Nilekani’s technocratic obsession with gathering data is consistent with that of Bill Gates as though lack of information is what is causing world hunger” – Arundhati Roy
  • “Which is the bigger crime, a poor family double dipping on PDS to stay alive, or Govt wasting mega bucks on a white elephant called Aadhaar?” – Ram Krishnaswamy
  • “In Reality, Aadhaar intrudes into peoples privacy that is hidden under the guise of reaching out” – Srijit Misra
  • “Privacy is not something that people feel, except in its absence. Remove it and you destroy something at the heart of being human” –  Phil Booth, No2ID
  • “The UID is a corporate scam which funnels billions of dollars into the IT sector” – Arundhati Roy
  • “Aadhaar is Built on a Platform of Myths” – R. RamaKumar
  • “If our Government is selling the Country, then we should know at least who they are selling it to” – Veeresh Malik
  • “UID is a ‘Unique Indian Donkey’ that will collapse under the load” – Ram Krishnaswamy
  • The strongest voice opposing finger printing was raised by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation who said, “Let us begin by being clear… about General Smuts’ new law. All Indians must now be fingerprinted… like criminals. Men and women. No marriage other than a Christian marriage is considered valid. Under this act our wives and mothers are whores. And every man here is a bastard.”


But then, who in UPA II even remembers Mahatma Gandhi today, leave alone what he said in South Africa?

 

Ram Krishnaswamy is an IIT Madras alumnus living in Sydney who has opposed UID/Aadhaar since 2009 and hosts Aadhaar Articles Blog Spot (http://aadhararticles.blogspot.com.au/)

 

#India – Children of Koodankulam: Growing Up With The Struggle #mustread


dianuke.org

Anitha S.

We are the children of the Porattam ( struggle) against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. As we write this it will be 588 days since we have been holding the porattam in the stage of the Lourde Matha church in the Idinthakarai village.

We have gone through many phases in the past one and a half years. The Fukushima disaster and the terrible sound of the trial run in the Nuclear power plant so close is what made all of us really think about the disaster which might befall us. Since then we have been asking the Government many questions regarding the impact of the Nuclear Power plant on our health, on the ocean life, air and soil that sustain us, on our livelihoods, on the safety of the region which has been areas with tremors, subsidence and tsunami… all to no avail! We have stood in the sea, walked the beaches, held press conferences, buried in the sand, danced, sung and shouted slogans, travelled to many places and spoken but there has been no answer.

koodankulamchildren1We have been chased, beaten and injured by tear gas shells. We have been held captive in our own villages with no bus or regular transport facilities. We have stayed for days either in our own homes or unable to go home as Police surrounded us. We have had Section 144 declared for months on end- now too it is on till April 9th after we had the siege on March 11 when more than 1000 boats went to sea. Our dear Uncle Ganeshan has been taken away ten days back from his village Koodankulam and locked up. Our fathers and brothers have stayed away from fishing for days. We have stayed away from school for weeks. Our mothers and aunts have been locked up for months in jail.

All because we asked some questions and questioned the Nuclear Power Plant. We raised many doubts about the intense and cruel suppression of our democratic rights to pursue our own lives in the homeland that belongs to us. We proclaimed we are not illiterate and stupid, but capable of understanding the hideous and unjust face of the representatives of people ( as they are called).

It has been a great learning experience growing up with the Porattam. We have met so many interesting people involve in true life struggles from all over the country. We have had activists, journalists, poets and film makers from Japan, Australia and UK visiting us with stories from their own country. We have seen so many films and pictures of the disasters connected to Nuclear Energy. We have been supported by students from various schools and colleges. We have met great people like Mahasveta Devi and V.R.Krishna Iyer, Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar all of whom have spoken for us and about us.

Today has been a happy day for us. We realize more than ever that Knowledge is the greatest power in the world. The fact that each one of us in the struggle have been made aware of the various details of the Nuclear lobby is what has gained us the true strength to pursue our goal. From the 8 year old to the 80 year old, we speak with clarity about why we are staying steadfast with the movement against Nuclear Energy.

Today we sat in the new Reading space that has been created in the stage – the real stage of our simple lives. The Reading space was formed with contributions that was made by people towards the book No: Echoes Koodankulam. We know that many of us are characters in the book and it has taken the message of our porattam far and wide. We are so thankful to all who gave their contributions so that this space was made possible. On the day the book was released, 2 of our close friends, Labika and Ignesh travelled all the way to Kochi to receive the book from Mahasveta Devi. She told them that is easy to say Yes, but we should learn to say No. The porattam has shown us the way to say No boldly and non-violently, persistently and continuously. We have heard that there has been small but very intense discussions about the anti-nuclear movement in our village in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and many parts of Kerala centering around No: Echoes Koodankulam. It has been heartening to hear about travels with the book.

We love to read and write. Today Melrit auntie who is in charge of the library gave us each a book and we all sat out in the sand and read. It was nice to see that many of the books had writings in both Tamil and English. Some of the mothers in the courtyard were reading it out to the younger ones. Many of the books had colourful illustrations that attracted the attention of the tiny tots. While reading and imagining the stories, many of us forgot the tension that has been pervading our lives for 580 days. We became children, with fantasies and dreams, with free thoughts and wild imaginations. This is real childhood. But some of us also know that we have to gain knowledge and excel in our studies so that the message of our dear porattam days will be always a source of inspiration. We have been tempered and seasoned by its power. We want to give back to these villages what it has given us- the sense of belonging and space, the self esteem and independence that our hard working forefathers have left us, the power of honesty and dedication that this coming together has taught us. For this we all are glad today- for the diverse spaces, including the Reading space this Porattam has given us.

Anitha.S ( catastrophe64@gmail.com) after travelling to Idinthakarai with second set of books for Reading space bought with Contributions to NO: Echoes Koodankulam. Conversations with Ignesh, Labisha, Labika, Shobhana, Selja, Shyamili, Pinochio, Anselvam, Sundari, Chellamma, Mary, Leela ,Rani, Meera ,Udayakumar, Milton, Pushparayan, Kebiston.

Thanks to Tulika team ( Chennai ) and the Sudarshan Book Centre, Nagercoil for their help and support.

 

 

#India- Growing Up With The Struggle #Koodankulam #mustread


 

By Anitha S

05 April, 2013
Countercurrents.org

We are the children of the Porattam ( struggle) against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Thirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. As we write this it will be 588 days since we have been holding the porattam in the stage of the Lourde Matha church in the Idinthakarai village.

We have gone through many phases in the past one and a half years. The Fukushima disaster and the terrible sound of the trial run in the Nuclear power plant so close is what made all of us really think about the disaster which might befall us. Since then we have been asking the Government many questions regarding the impact of the Nuclear Power plant on our health, on the ocean life, air and soil that sustain us, on our livelihoods, on the safety of the region which has been areas with tremors, subsidence and tsunami… all to no avail! We have stood in the sea, walked the beaches, held press conferences, buried in the sand, danced, sung and shouted slogans, travelled to many places and spoken but there has been no answer.

We have been chased, beaten and injured by tear gas shells. We have been held captive in our own villages with no bus or regular transport facilities. We have stayed for days either in our own homes or unable to go home as Police surrounded us. We have had Section 144 declared for months on end- now too it is on till April 9th after we had the siege on March 11 when more than 1000 boats went to sea. Our dear Uncle Ganeshan has been taken away ten days back from his village Koodankulam and locked up. Our fathers and brothers have stayed away from fishing for days. We have stayed away from school for weeks. Our mothers and aunts have been locked up for months in jail.

All because we asked some questions and questioned the Nuclear Power Plant. We raised many doubts about the intense and cruel suppression of our democratic rights to pursue our own lives in the homeland that belongs to us. We proclaimed we are not illiterate and stupid, but capable of understanding the hideous and unjust face of the representatives of people ( as they are called).

It has been a great learning experience growing up with the Porattam. We have met so many interesting people involve in true life struggles from all over the country. We have had activists, journalists, poets and film makers from Japan, Australia and UK visiting us with stories from their own country. We have seen so many films and pictures of the disasters connected to Nuclear Energy. We have been supported by students from various schools and colleges. We have met great people like Mahasveta Devi and V.R.Krishna Iyer, Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar all of whom have spoken for us and about us.

Today has been a happy day for us. We realize more than ever that Knowledge is the greatest power in the world. The fact that each one of us in the struggle have been made aware of the various details of the Nuclear lobby is what has gained us the true strength to pursue our goal. From the 8 year old to the 80 year old, we speak with clarity about why we are staying steadfast with the movement against Nuclear Energy.

Today we sat in the new Reading space that has been created in the stage – the real stage of our simple lives. The Reading space was formed with contributions that was made by people towards the book No: Echoes Koodankulam. We know that many of us are characters in the book and it has taken the message of our porattam far and wide. We are so thankful to all who gave their contributions so that this space was made possible. On the day the book was released, 2 of our close friends, Labika and Ignesh travelled all the way to Kochi to receive the book from Mahasveta Devi. She told them that is easy to say Yes, but we should learn to say No. The porattam has shown us the way to say No boldly and non-violently, persistently and continuously. We have heard that there has been small but very intense discussions about the anti-nuclear movement in our village in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and many parts of Kerala centering around No: Echoes Koodankulam. It has been heartening to hear about travels with the book.

We love to read and write. Today Melrit auntie who is in charge of the library gave us each a book and we all sat out in the sand and read. It was nice to see that many of the books had writings in both Tamil and English. Some of the mothers in the courtyard were reading it out to the younger ones. Many of the books had colourful illustrations that attracted the attention of the tiny tots. While reading and imagining the stories, many of us forgot the tension that has been pervading our lives for 580 days. We became children, with fantasies and dreams, with free thoughts and wild imaginations. This is real childhood. But some of us also know that we have to gain knowledge and excel in our studies so that the message of our dear porattam days will be always a source of inspiration. We have been tempered and seasoned by its power. We want to give back to these villages what it has given us- the sense of belonging and space, the self esteem and independence that our hard working forefathers have left us, the power of honesty and dedication that this coming together has taught us. For this we all are glad today- for the diverse spaces, including the Reading space this Porattam has given us.

Anitha.S ( catastrophe64@gmail.com) after travelling to Idinthakarai with second set of books for Reading space bought with Contributions to NO: Echoes Koodankulam. Conversations with Ignesh, Labisha, Labika, Shobhana, Selja, Shyamili, Pinochio, Anselvam, Sundari, Chellamma, Mary, Leela ,Rani, Meera ,Udayakumar, Milton, Pushparayan, Kebiston.

Thanks to Tulika team ( Chennai ) and the Sudarshan Book Centre, Nagercoil for their help and support.

 

 

Linking #Aadhaar to Direct Benefit Transfer scheme a mistake, says Aruna Roy #UID #biometrics


Aruna Roy at RTI Activist's National Conventio...

Politics news, Updated Feb 28, 2013

 

The Direct Benefit Transfer initiative of the government came in for discussion and scrutiny in Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council on February 26. Nandan Nilekani, Chairperson of UIDAI, sought to assure members that Aadhar will not become a tool for exclusion. After the meeting Aruna Roy, one of the foremost critics of the Direct Benefit Transfer initiative said, “We think it is one of the biggest mistakes this country is making i.e. linking Aadhar to welfare delivery”. Mihir Shah, who also participated in the meeting said, “The same concerns seem to be reflected on both sides about managing the transition which is the real problem that is coming in”.

Following are the issues raised by Aruna Roy at the meeting:

– The UID must not be compulsory:

The UID claims to be voluntary method of proving identity but has now become compulsory for anyone seeking government services or social sector entitlements.

– Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) only adds more hassles without providing benefits to the beneficiary:

The new architecture of using the UID to access existing cash benefits through the bank has only added an extra layer of complicated and complex procedures and has burdened both the programme as well as the beneficiary with little apparent advantage. As of now, this is being tested out in a miniscule number of schemes but plans clearly exist to impose it on the large delivery schemes such as MGNREGA, Rations and Pensions where it will never work and cause complete havoc. Beneficiaries are not receiving anything new through DBTs. The difference from before is the requirement of a mandatory UID number and biometric authentication for both the application process and for use each time they receive a benefit. Any shortcoming in the process can result in beneficiaries losing their entitlement.

– Dismal performance in two months of roll out:

Despite the effort to depict it as a game changer, and deployment of huge resources and government machinery, the success rate has been dismal and pathetic. Two months after the roll out in 20 pilot districts, the total amount of money transferred nationally has been just 5.5 crores through the Aadhar based payment network. In Ajmer district for instance, out of approximately 20,000 potential beneficiaries, only approximately 220 beneficiaries have so far received money in the bank through the Aadhar based Payment Bridge. None of them as yet have received money through a biometric identification system. Therefore, in fact the Aadhar system has had zero success till date. This is despite the fact that the number of schemes taken up initially have been small and therefore should have been manageable. In the Janani Suraksha Yojna for instance, only a 139 women, out of approximately 1400 who have delivered children in the hospital have received money in the bank through Aadhar. Even their payment has been made without biometrics.

Even if biometrics were a 100 per cent efficient and workable the Aadhar based payment network will clearly take decades before it will cover its targeted beneficiaries. This is because enrollment is very slow, banking infrastructure is very poor and the existing short-comings of the scheme are only compounded by the complications created by this new requirement. When DBT is expanded to cover programmes with a large number of beneficiaries such as NREGA and pensions, it is likely to result in huge exclusions and delays. This anticipated problem is now sought to be overcome through the appointment of 1 million banking/ business correspondents (BC) to reach the money to the poor. The BC can by design be anyone for example, a kirana storekeeper, a selfhelp group, or any individual who manages to get selected. To the extent that these are tried systems, they have not worked. It is a system that will create middlemen and agents with very poor accountability. However, by rolling it out in order to make the UID based payment system viable, there will be huge costs to the state exchequer as well as the poor of this country.

Add to this the problems of biometric identification and it becomes clear that it must be immediately dismantled if the poor are to receive their benefits

– Serious problems with the BC model (micro-ATMs)

1. The complete lack of accountability of the BC

2. The technical problems with biometric authentication to cover a 100 per cent of the beneficiary population.

3. The need for online authentication where every transaction is sent in real time and an authentication received even in some of the most remote parts.

4. Because this is a closed system which requires 100 per cent efficiency and verification – in the enumerable cases where the system fails, the solution has been to offer manual override through a variety of means. The fact is as soon as you use manual override in such a closed system, it institutionalises potential leakage and fraud. You get the worst of both worlds – the huge harm, cost, and burden of new all encompassing authentication system and the inability to properly monitor the programme itself.

– Net result is exclusion:

Making access to entitlements for the poor that much more difficult, and in certain cases, excluding them all together.

– Experiment on the poor:

This technology is untried and to experiment on the poor is unjustifiable and because it is de-facto compulsory it is also unconstitutional.

– Failed experiment being pushed through:

The roll out is clearly beyond the stage of experimentation, and is being continued despite abject failures.

– Facilitating Cash transfer, abdication of responsibility of government to deliver:

One possible motive for doing this in the welfare sector is to allow the provision of goods and services to be replaced with cash. In many spheres, including the PDS, people in government have been saying that they are unable to deliver efficiently, without corruption and they would prefer to transfer the cash rather than provide the goods or service. If the government were to replace goods and services with cash, it would clearly be abdicating its fundamental responsibility to deliver.

– Feasibility:

No standards have been set to determine feasibility. Current proofs of concept studies are being conducted by the departments themselves.

– Functioning outside of a legal framework:

Recommendation of standing committee has been ignored, and the UID system pushed through at an alarming speed and scale in a legal vacuum despite objections from parliament.

The potential for people and communities to be profiled: Eventually, whether or not this helps in being an efficient delivery system, the aadhar biometric identification will open up the possibility of profiling individuals and communities in an unacceptable manner. Separate silos of information can now easily be merged, and the information misused. This would also pose a fundamental threat to our democratic fabric and affect the fundamental rights of citizens.

Monitoring in the hands of machines and not local communities: Even the de-duplication being claimed has to be examined. So far, no action seems to have been taken against anyone who has used duplicate identities to pilfer benefits. This method of monitoring does not allow immediate local action and it takes places the entire system in a mode of monitoring far removed from the beneficiaries themselves.

Only UID technology being used to the exclusion of other alternative technologies: This is not to say that technology is not useful if used appropriately and wisely. However, the Aadhar system has no place for any alternative technologies like smart cards or localised biometrics. In many cases these maybe more appropriate and better but the centralized Aadhar monolith cannot make space for such innovation or practice.

After the meeting, Aruna Roy and Mihir Shah spoke briefly to CNN-IBN. Here is the transcript of the interview:

CNN-IBN: Why was Nandan Nilekani present at the NAC meet?

Aruna Roy: Nandan Nilekani came to brainstorm with the NAC. He was supposed to meet us long ago and he hadn’t. We all expressed our diverse, different opinions as usual. Many agreed on some issues, many did not agree on some issues. There were all issues about implementation which were expressed. Some approved, some disapproved but this was not an NAC meeting.

CNN-IBN: What is your position?

Aruna Roy: You know my position very well. We think it is one of the biggest mistakes this country is making i.e. linking Aadhar to welfare delivery. So many of us have written about it, have talked about it.

CNN-IBN: Is the NAC divided on this?

Aruna Roy: This was not an NAC meeting. As individuals we have different opinions, some of us agree, some of us don’t agree.

CNN-IBN: What was Nilekani’s presentation about?

Mihir Shah: Nilekani’s presentation was on the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme and the use of Aadhar in it. And he was very responsive to the concerns of NAC members. The essential concern, I believe is that we need to manage the transition well. There is a situation today when not all beneficiaries of government programmes have Aadhar numbers. There is no internet connectivity in large parts of the country. The other concern was people should not be denied benefits if they do not have Aadhar numbers. The transition to a situation where everyone has Aadhar numbers, bank accounts, and internet enabled bank accounts has to be managed very carefully. This could become means of exclusion rather than inclusion. I must tell you that the chairperson of UIDAI, Nandan Nilekani was very clear in his mind there should be no denial of benefits of anyone who does not have an Aadhar number. In fact, he went to the extent to say that if a person does not have fingers or irises there will be what he called a manual override. Given that that is also a possibility, I don’t think we should be apprehensive about the problems caused by Aadhar in the direct benefit transfer by the government.

CNN-IBN: There are questions about the fact that Aadhar now exists in a legal vacuum?

Mihir Shah: What Nilekani said was that the present legal status of the UID does not prevent it from doing what it is doing today. The legal part of it which is yet to be enacted in Parliament (in fact he asked the NAC to help him expedite the process) does not actually come in the way of doing the work that the UIDAI authority is doing today.

CNN-IBN: Is the NAC divided?

Mihir Shah: At least from the meeting today, I got the impression that there is far greater unanimity than I had imagined myself. Because, I think the concerns are shared. And the concerns are also shared by the UID. I think the same concerns seem to be reflected on both sides about managing the transition which is the real problem that is coming in from Kotkasim and all other examples that are being cited. The problem is that if people don’t have bank accounts, if they don’t have Aadhar numbers obviously you cannot use this architecture to use this scheme. But once you do, a large number of NAC members feel that it is a good initiative

 

NAC members raise concerns over direct benefit transfer scheme #Aadhaar #UID


Concerns raised over the efficiency of banking networks and on-the-ground preparations for the schemeAnuja & Liz Mathew   Liz Mathew , livemint.com
First Published: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 52 PM IST
NAC members argue that public services should not be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
NAC members argue that public services should not be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number.
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

ALSO READ

Updated: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 59 PM IST
New DelhiA section of the Sonia Gandhi -led National Advisory Council (NAC) is not happy with the government “rushing into” the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme, expected to be the flagship programme of the ruling Congress party in the national election scheduled for next year.
At a meeting of the NAC on Tuesday, where Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairmanNandan Nilekani made a presentation on Aadhaar and DBT, some members flagged concerns on the efficiency of banking networks and on-the-ground preparations for the scheme. They argued that no public services should be denied to those who do not have an Aadhaar number.
According to five members in the 11-member committee, the members warned the scheme cannot be implemented in a hurried manner without proper mechanism and preparations.
State governments, ministries and departments should not rush into direct cash transfers without assessing whether or not they are appropriate and whether the preconditions are in place,” said A.K. Shivakumar, NAC member, adding that a legal framework within which the identity numbers are being issued needs to be in place.
The United Progressive Alliance government, which has been in election mode for some time now, recently launched the DBT, which aims to directly transfer cash subsidies using Aadhaar to beneficiaries of several government welfare schemes. A pilot was rolled out in 20 districts for 26 schemes on 1 January. Finance minister P. Chidambaram and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh announced that programme from a party platform, which indicated the Congress’ intention to use it as an election plank. Party leaders also coined a slogan for the scheme, “Aapka paisa aapke haath” (your money in your hands), an indirect reference to Congress’ election symbol.
Nilekani told the members that 280 million Aadhaar numbers have been issued so far and by 2014, the authority expects to enrol 600 million people. DBT is expected to plug leakages, reduce wastage and bring down discrepancies in the beneficiary list. However, the members also raised questions about making Aadhaar compulsory. “The council appreciated UID as a concept but some issues were raised. The main concern was that while UID was voluntary, the interpretation made at the state level was that it was mandatory for access to certain social service schemes. While it is not intentional, it is playing out differently on the ground,” said Mirai Chatterjee, member of the council.
Another NAC member N.C. Saxena said that while in general there was a view that Aadhaar was a “good scheme”, there were transition problems and the ministries should not be in a hurry to make it compulsory.
Another member who did not want to be identified said that concerns over the banking network and linkages to it were also raised.
NAC member Aruna Roy was critical of the scheme, saying in the meeting that the idea of DBT was an “experiment on the poor” and a “failed experiment being pushed through”. “The new architecture of using the UID to access existing cash benefits through the bank has only added an extra layer of complicated and complex procedures and has burdened both the programme as well as the beneficiary with little apparent advantage,” a release from Roy’s office quoted her as saying.
In response to concerns that UIDAI had not been given legal sanction by Parliament, Nilekani’s presentation highlighted that the authority has been functioning under executive notification issued by the Planning Commission in 2009, which is valid under law, the same member said. The Bill pending before Parliament is just to strengthen the authority by giving it statutory status in order to impose obligations and penalties, Nilekani said in his presentation.
A senior government official aware of the development, who did not want to be identified, said most of the NAC members were supportive. However, concerns raised by some on operational issues related to cash transfer were legitimate. “They are being addressed,” the official said.
The Congress is pushing the DBT scheme as one of its key achievements. In the presidential address last week listing the government’s agenda for the coming year, Pranab Mukherjee said it will be a “trendsetter” and will “cut leakages, bring millions of people into the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries”.
Surabhi Agarwal contributed to this story.
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First Published: Tue, Feb 26 2013. 09 52 PM IST

 

Aruna Roy to FM-on pre-budget consultations on social issues #UID


Aruna Roy at RTI Activist's National Conventio...

Aruna Roy at RTI Activist’s National Convention 12-13 May, 2007, Pune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shri.H.A.C.Prasad
Senior Economic Adviser( Additional Secretary)
Ministry of Finance
Government of India                                           
Januray 2013
 
Dear Shri.Chidambaram,
 
Thank you for your invitation to the Consultation on Social Sector issues with reference to the Budget -2013  I tried to call the Additional Secretary’s office yesterday to let you know, that despite my best efforts, I will not be able to attend the meeting you have scheduled for 11 am today .I will be sending a note separately covering important concerns, which I
hope you will consider seriously.
 
The issues that need financial allocations as top priority, concern the extremely vulnerable unorganised sector whose contribution to the country is not recognised and who continue to be citizens only in name. The bulk of the working population is bereft of security of food, health, education and pension in old age. Even the MGNREGA, that has been such a lifeline for the rural poor is being deliberately undermined through poor implementation by a class that wants to live off the benefits of inhuman exploitation. The current “magic” of aadhar based cash payments as a substitute for resources
and misgovernance, might seem attractive to some people for whom it is an academic exercise. It will not fool those who are beginning to face the vagaries of this technocratic dictatorship.
 
I come from a sector that is shocked and baffled that you talk about the need to cut subsidies for the poor, but have no hesitation in funding a programme like Aadhaar that functions in a legislative vacuum; where the parliamentary standing committee has raised a series of fundamental objections. We also do not accept your contention that there isn’t enough money to look after the basic needs of people. In a country that has fuelled its economic growth through exploitation of common property resources and the labour of the poor, to not have a tax to GDP ratio that is substantially higher only makes it clear that for India’s unorganised sector the candle is burning on both ends. Enough has already been said about the undiminished tax subsidies to the corporate sector, which will I am sure be meeting you with increased demands.
 
My first suggestion to you is that these consultations be organised where these so called sectors hear each other, rather than be pigeon holed into unequal consultations. We would like to understand and listen to the demands of the corporate sector, and we would like them to hear our demands. Open consultations are surely the minimum democratic standard for
budget formulation.
 
I enclose a petition from the Pension Parishad on Universalisation of old age pensions. We feel that the elderly having to lead a life of destitution without even a bare minimum income, is a crime against humanity. They are a segment who have no alternative and are suffering and dying. Universalising old age pensions (with a rational exclusion criteria for those who have adequate income) is not a matter that can wait, and must be provided for in the budget for 2013-14. Petitions related to Universal Pensions for the elderly in the informal sector – and pensions  for widows, single women, the disabled etc,have  already been handed over in detail to your Ministry.
 
The former MOF Shri Pranab Mukherjea had this examined by a joint team of representatives of the MoRD, Ministry of Law, Social Welfare and Finance, in his room in May 2012. Some assurances were also made by a spate of Ministries that BPL targeting would not be part of the criteria. The Minister for Rural Development sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the time of an agitation of the Pension Parishad that is attached.
 
We are also extremely distressed that the  food security bill has been pushed into cold storage and the contrary path of cash transfers is being relentlessly pursued. Your assurances that the so called DBT is only being implemented in cash transfer schemes “for now” only makes us more apprehensive of what will follow.
 
The Government is making a huge mistake in pushing Aadhaar and making it mandatory, without ensuring its viability. Glaring mismatches have already begun at the grass root level and the system being imposed is  undemocratic and injudicious.  Any further investment without proper and complete examination will undoubtedly lead to confirmed disaster.
 
We are also in complete disagreement with the understanding that technology can be a substitute for failures in Governance. We strongly feel that you should hold an open consultation on the aadhar based cash transfer campaign of the government not just to discuss its potential applicability in social sector programmes, but also as a mechanism of governance reform. Yours was a government that empowered people to monitor government through the right to information act. Instead of showing the political will to act on demands for accountability, this government is proceeding on the assumption that technology will be the “game changer.” It is not that we oppose technology or even blindly oppose the use of technology for monitoring of welfare programmes.Many of us feel that it it not been adequately discussed, or rationally evaluated; instead all opposition and even questions are being steam rolled.
 
There is no substitute for political will, and we want to register our fundamental objection to this commercial and centralised mode of governance. As grassroot activists, we also want to register the fact that our voices based on the experience so far are being pushed aside and ignored. Instead of pursuing people based monitoring like social audits,
controls are being taken away from the people through technological “fixes”
 
In so far as the MGNREGA is concerned, the sorry implementation of the programme through a reluctant bureaucracy, cannot be used as an excuse to reduce the effectiveness of the programme. We think that there can be no reduction in budgetary provisions for this programme. Despite it having shown it is a lifeline for the poor in areas where it is properly
implemented, basic entitlements are still to be effectively put into place in many parts of the country. The government has taken an untenable stand on issues like payment of minimum wages, where even the Supreme Court has expressed surprise that people have to come to court against government on an issue that violates both law and constitution.We hope you will sort this matter out in compliance with the minimum wages act before the next budget. 
 
 I would like to re-emphasise the need for a series of joint and open consultations organised in a fashion where we understand what the government is doing to implement or reject suggestions made from every “sector”. 
 
We hope you will accept this demand for minimum democratic standards in pre- budget consultations and democratic decision making.
 
Looking forward to hearing from you.
 
With regards,
 
Aruna Roy

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