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Archives for : June2018

Karnataka -No Aadhaar, no pay: Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike to staff #WTFnews

Circular was issued to bring more transparency and financial discipline.

Aaadhar Card (File Image for representational purpose)

For representational purposes

BENGALURU: In order to bring more transparency and financial discipline, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has issued a circular to all its employees that says that if their biometric attendance system is not linked with Aadhar, they won’t be receiving salary from July.According to the official sources, with no proper monitoring system, salary has been credited to the dead employees too. A few BBMP staff members who do not exist are also getting salary. Nobody knows their whereabouts.

“For contract pourakarmikas, contractor would claim more than the actual number of pourakarmikas and get more salary. To put an end to such issues, Aadhar enabled biometric  system was proposed,’’ said sources.This system will reduce irregularities in BBMP, according to officials. “BBMP has over 35,000 employees including Pourakarmikas. Many of these employees are working on contract, some even on deputation. There is no discipline here. The Cadre and Recruitment Rules are very old. There are many old posts which are not relevant and are still there and at the same time there are some new-era posts under contract system. There are so many irregularities which is resulting in financial loss,’’ sources from the BBMP said.

The Biometric attendance was there in BBMP head office for sometime. However, in November 2017, the then BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad had extended this to all the zones and other offices. This year, in February during the BBMP budget, the Palike announced that they would make Aadhar enabled biometric attendance system mandatory. Since then BBMP authorities had been sending circulars to all the employees in eight zones to link their Aadhar to biometric, but even then, the compliance was low.

On June 20, Additional Commissioner (Administration) Nalini Atul issued an official note to all zonal heads and other concerned officials to implement Aadhar-based biometric attendance system at their offices. His official note states, “Inspite of many circulars and reminders issued to implement, it has been brought to our notice that some employees have not linked their biometric attendance to Aadhar.”

Additional Commissioner also said concerned officials should install Aadhar-based biometric finger authenticator instrument and details have to be sent to the head office on or before June 27, failing which salary of employee will be held from July. Speaking to The New Indian Express, “Like any change in a new system, there will be initial hiccups and resistance, which will eventually be sorted out. Also, under this system, whoever does not use their thumb impression to mark biometric attendance , that particular day will be considered as leave,’’ he said.

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AIPF Fact Finding on Land Grab For Chennai-Salem Corridor #mustshare

Image result for Chennai-Salem Corridor<

A fact finding team comprising of Mr. R. Vidyasagar, AIPF, Tamil Nadu, Mr. Chandra Mohan, All India Kisan Maha Sabha, Mr. Gana Kurinchi, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Mr. Arivazhagan, AIPF,  Advocate Mr. Bhuvaneswaran, Poovulagin Nanbargal- Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry, Advocate Mr. Louis, Democratic Advocates Association, visited Thiruvannamalai, villages of Irulappatti, Erumaiyapatti, Pappampadi, in Pappireddypatty block of Dharmapuri district and villages of Adhigarampatti, Adimalaipudhur, Kuppanur, Poovanur in Salem district to understand the situation of people in relation to land acquisition by the government, for the greenway corridor road between Salem and Chennai, on 20th, 21st and 22nd of June 2018. The team met many people in the above villages who would be directly affected by the new road project.

We also contacted the DRO at Salem over phone to get their opinion about the implementation of the green corridor project. Due to his earlier commitments he is unable to discuss and he directed us to talk to Thasildar and Mr.Murugesan, PA to Thasildar was contacted. On his advice Mr. Mohan, Project director was also contacted.

Facts elicited by the Fact Finding team:


On June 20th 2018, the public consultation to listen the farmers views on the proposed greenway corridor road at Thiruvannamali town in a marriage hall was stopped by police. The district president and the secretary of the Vivasayigal Sanagam were arrested and then those farmers who came from Kalasappakkam near Polur and those farmers who came from Kancheepuram including the van driver were arrested.  25 farmers who came to express their opinion were arrested. The public consultation was conducted in the vivasayigal sangam office in Thiruvannamalai. After the meeting was over all those who assembled marched to the Superindentent of Police office demanding release of all the farmers arrested. Then only they were released.

>2. Dharmapuri and Salem

Farmers from many villages of the district decided to have a public consultation to elicit farmers’ views after they came to know through newspaper advertisements notifying that their lands would be surveyed.  They organized a hall meeting on 24th June 2018, to record their dissent views

They have also acquired formal permission from police to conduct the meeting. While more than 800 farmers assembled to voice their concerns, suddenly the police has cancelled the permission to conduct the meeting. After much argument the meeting was conducted and it is said that the police pput a condition that no outsider should address the meeting other than those farmers whose lands are proposed to be acquired by the government.

People said that they were informed by the Revenue and Police to give their petitions directly to the district collector between 4th and 8th June 2018. Based on this on 4th June 2018, people hired different vehicles to go to the collector’s office to give their petitions. However, a big police force stopped them on their way. They also threatened the drivers of the vehicle and send them away. Many farmers and their families including old people and children walked for about 6 kms to reach the Collector’s office. After waiting for the whole day, the people were told by the Revenue department, that the government cannot accept a common petition from all and instead the people should individually petition. They insisted that people should come back on 6th of June 2018 and send them back without accepting their petition.

On 6th June, 2018, after a long wait the people were told that the District Collector is not available and they were asked to come back on 7th June 2018. When the farmers met the Collector on they were promised that the District Collector would visit the villages on 8th June, 2018.

After visiting a few villages and farmers, the district collector categorically told the farmers that she will try to recommend for maximum compensation for the farmers, but there is no chance of that the project would be dropped and went back. Later when the revenue officials came to the villages to survey the land without any prior notice or prior permission from the farmers, people questioned them about how they can enter their fields with boots.

The officials responded saying that all the land belongs to government and they don’t need any permission to enter the lands and no one can prevent them from doing so. They went on with measuring and putting boundary stones.

It is said that the people were also threatened by the officials that if someone remove the boundary stones or put black flags in their fields, they would be arrested under NSA and Goondas Act. It is also said that the police and intelligence visit the village almost every day and meet farmers individually in order to create a moral fear in their mind.

66 years old lady Unnamalai told us that, “I lost my husband 22 years back and single handedly I saved and developed this property. I am struggling in my life with 8 grand children who have attained the marriage age.  My land is so fertile where I cultivate various crops with three bore wells and open well. But the government classified this land just as land fit for cultivating horse gram only.   I was arrested and my land was surveyed. Land adjacent to my land is owned by an individual who is politically influential and his land is not surveyed.

Moreover, nearby private factories, college and quarries are bypassed and the road is proposed to be laid in a zig-zag way avoiding the lands of influential people. Bypass road is meant to be straight and should not be bending”. Various farmers narrated their tearful stories to the fact finding team.

Views of PA to Thasildar: he stated that “the district administration is keen to provide maximum compensation, job opportunities and linking the affected farmers with various other government schemes. We are advised to handle the people in a polite way.  Compensation would be at least three times of the market value. We have issued patta  three beneficiaries in Aachankottapatti yesterday as an alternative”. He also refered us to talk to the Project director of  NHAI. Project of NHAI said that “the project is in the preliminary stage and we have estimated the cost to be Rs. 8500 crores tentatively.

We are still looking at the viabililty of the project, land acquisition cost, civil cost and so on”. When asked then why are surveying and marking the land without knowing the feasibility, he responded that they need to keep the land ready before the tender is called for.
This is done based on the previous experience. Once we mark the project alignment, we will hand over the details to the DRO for further acquisition”.
Thus while acquisition of land has not started, an impression of acquisition being done is created by the DROfficials. The team feels that it is the responsibility of the administrative organs of the government to clearly inform the people above various stages of the project.
Observations of the Fact finding team:

According to Government statistics, only 6400 trees are to be cut for laying the road. But many farmers organizations, forcefully state, with evidence, that several lakhs of trees would be cut.

As per the 2015 Amendment to the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, under section food security, it is stated that it is the responsibility of the government to provide equal amount of alternative land and funds for the land acquired so for the project. It is also stated the acquisition of agricultural land should be of minimum proportion. It is alleged by the people that in the acquisition proposal for the current project, most of the irrigated cultivable lands are classified as dry land instead of wet land.

People are lamenting that while surveying the land for acquisition, politically influential persons, rich people and land belonging to big organizations are left out and the focus is more only on poor and helpless farmers. People also say that the officials are repeatedly discriminating against poorer sections and favoring rich people by not affecting them while acquiring land.

People are not willing to believe the compensation packages offered by the government based on the earlier experiences. They say that the compensation is not paid fairly even after acquiring lands for four way road, Salem Steel Plant, Neyveli Thermal power corportation and so on

Recommendations of the fact finding team:

People are completely rejecting the Salem-Chennai Green way corridor road and hence this project should be dropped from implementation.

People consider the relationship with the land flowing from various generations as their soul and culture and not just an economic entity.

They totally reject the alternative packages and compensation offered.

People say that losing land is not just losing of agricultural land, it is like fish thrown out of water and losing lives. They are apprehensive that they would become refugees in their own state and country.

People allege that the loss estimated by the government does not reflect the real loss of the people and the government has declared wrong information while estimating the value of acquisition.

Government has not followed the legal procedures in announcing the land survey to the people and no meetings were held seeking public opinions are conducted. People say that this is leading to turmoil among people and law and order situation. The administration should consider this and take corrective steps.

People expressed their annoyance that the land survey is forced on them without their permission and the revenue department has put the boundary stones in their fields with police force.

Those who resist this are removed from the place by force and let back after the stones are erected. This has created a panic situation and tremendous frustration among people. This kind of extra-legal activity should be immediately stopped by the administration.

People feel that just widening the existing roads such as Selem-Villupuram highways, Salem- Krishnagiri highways and Salem-Vaniyampadi highways will reduce the distance and travel time between Chennai and Salem. There is no need for a new road. Government should form an expert committee to explore alternative possibilities to Salem-Chennai Green Way corridor road.

The fact finding team want to point out that the government should not violate constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, right to dignified life and right to pursue ones occupation, and right to express their grievances in a peaceful way and also express the injustices meted out to  them.

All India People’s Forum (AIPF)

10, 11th Street, Karunanidhi Nagar, Ayanpuram, Chennai 23.
Phone: 044- 26743384/9710653734

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Mumbai- KEM dean draws first blood against docs’ cut practice #Goodnews

KEM dean draws first blood against docs’ cut practice
No tests at private labs without a go-ahead from chief medical officers; agents barred from hospitals

Dr Avinash Supe issues a list of measures to stop BMC doctors from randomly referring patients to pvt labs

BMC hospitals have begun a clampdown on the nexus between its doctors and privately-run pathological laboratories, following a series of complaints about what is popularly referred to as ‘cut practice’ in medical circles.

In an order issued on Wednesday, Dr Avinash Supe, medical director and dean, KEMHospital, said that BMC hospitals’ own labs are equipped to handle all sorts of pathological investigations and there should be no need to involve a private laboratory, barring a few exceptional cases.

The order listed a series of measures to stop the practice of BMC doctors randomly referring patients to private labs. The list includes prominently displaying a list of all the tests available in-house and barring entry of agents representing private labs in civic hospitals.

Dr Supe has also ordered that no sample be sent to a private lab without the clearance of a senior lecturer and the chief medical officer. “The signatories must then put a note in hospital’s records justifying the need to send this particular sample out,” the order said.

Each of the three major BMC-run hospitals — KEM, Sion and Nair — generates around 10,000 test slips every day. Of these, according to an estimate, 70 per cent tests are carried out in private laboratories. “Each of these hospitals generates a business of Rs 5 lakh to 7 lakh a day for private laboratories,” said a senior doctor who did not wish to be identified. The doctor said a part of this money flows back to the doctors and lab assistants writing the test as their ‘cut’.

Talking exclusively to Mumbai Mirror on Thursday, Dr Supe said he issued the directive after receiving a series of complaints from patients and people’s representatives. “I don’t understand why blood samples are sent to private labs despite 90 per cent of the tests being available in-house. I have noticed that even routine tests are referred to private laboratories,” he said.

While some years ago, doctors at BMC-run hospitals were barred from using prescription slips provided by private laboratories, the agents circumvented this ban by using plain, colourcoded slips, each colour representing a particular lab.

All BMC-run hospitals will now have to maintain a log of patients referred to private labs. “Doctors and hospitals’ administrators will be held accountable if patients are unnecessarily referred to private labs,” Dr Supe said.

Just recently, the Directorate of Medical Education and Research too drafted rules against cut practice. The draft submitted to the state’s Medical Education Department titled ‘Prevention of Cut Practices in Healthcare Services Act, 2017,’ proposes a five-year jail term and a penalty of Rs 50,000 for a doctor caught indulging in cut practice.

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Lot of natak over Sangeet Akademi’s decision to honour director Sunil Shanbag

Amid the raging row, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, an autonomous body of the culture ministry, put on hold announcement of the list of 42 award winners for 2017 including Shanbag till June 20.
Unseen by audiences at large, a tense drama erupted behind the scenes over the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s decision to honour theatre director Sunil Shanbag with its prestigious award this year.

Senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as well as the ruling BJP sought to prevail upon the national academy for performing arts to withdraw Shanbag’s name from the list of awardees because they felt honouring such an artiste would defeat the purpose of “building a strong ecosystem based on ideals of nationalism and Hindu values”.

Shanbag, according to many people in the RSS’ cultural wing, Sanskar Bharti, was part of the ‘award wapsi’ campaign in late 2015 to return government awards to protest against alleged growth in intolerance under the BJP regime. They said Shanbag had also publicly criticised the government’s hold over cultural institutions. Some people even complained that Shanbag was related to Maoist leaders Anuradha and Kobad Ghandy, ET has learnt.

Amid the raging row, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, an autonomous body of the culture ministry, put on hold announcement of the list of 42 award winners for 2017 including Shanbag till June 20, although the winners had been decided by its general council in a meeting in Imphal on June 8, said people aware of the matter.

Shekhar Sen, the president of Sangeet Natak Akademi, told ET that national awards once decided cannot be announced immediately as certain checks have to be made first. “In this case, there were allegations against a particular (Shanbag’s) name, all of which were found to be false. Hence we decided to go ahead with the council’s decision and make the announcement,” he said.

The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award is the highest national recognition given to practising artistes, gurus and scholars, and it carries a purse money of Rs 1 lakh, a shawl, and a tamrapatra (a brass plaque). One of the two representatives of the Akademi on the council, theatre director and playwright Bhanu Bharti, said that “every award at the Imphal meeting was decided after much discussion and thought and was given only to deserving candidates”.

She said, “In theatre especially, Shanbag is a fine artist who has been on the shortlist for several years. He should have been honoured much earlier.” Theatre director, screenwriter and filmmaker Shanbag, 61, has worked extensively with theatre icon Satyadev Dubey and with celebrated film director Shyam Benegal and was a co-author for the television serials Yatra and Bharat Ek Khoj. He directed plays criticising censorship even under the previous UPA government.

Shanbag could not be reached for comment on the controversy over the award. The general council of the Sangeet Natak Akademi comprises more than 68 members including representatives from ministries, one nominated artist representing every state in the country and one person from every institution that comes under the culture ministry. Sanskar Bharti members said that the RSS and BJP could not prevail upon the Sangeet Natak Akademi in this instance because the council is largely filled with old members who are “heavily leftleaning” and hence when it comes to voting, the interests of the government never get heard.

Pranjal Saikia, a member of the council from Assam, said that the process of selection of winners is skewed since it depends on how the general council members vote. “There was argument over this (Shanbag’s) name too. Sadly, the process is such that many deserving artists from the hinterlands of India never make it even to the discussion table as voices of artists in states such as Punjab, Delhi and Maharashtra are very strong. The other voices are not heard in that din,” he said.

Shanbag had recently boycotted the ‘theatre olympics’ organised by the National School of Drama, which comes under the culture ministry, calling it “a grand ceremony dominated by politicians calling it an extravaganza”. The theatre festival was held in 17 Indian cities with 450-odd performances, seminars and youth forums in which 25,000 artists from 31countries participated.

Saying artists such as him were staying away from the government festival on principle, Shanbag had said that while some theatre practitioners had not been invited to the event, others had found the organisers unwilling to work outside a one-budget-fits-all template.

He had said that Indian governments had done nothing to improve the cultural ecosystem in the country and that artists such as him did not wish to be part of an effort by the government to appropriate cultural capital built by individual and groups of theatre producers against great odds. He had also taken a dig at the goods and services tax of 15% slapped on tickets above Rs 250, saying this was a blow to the economics of theatre.

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In A First, This Opposition Politician Is Actually Trying To Stop The Modi Govt From Snooping On Your Social Feeds

Meet Mahua Moitra

Representational image

Earlier this month, the Modi government put out a tender for a tool to monitor every thing that citizens are saying about the establishment online — ostensibly to understand the sentiments of the people on social media.

Now, the legal challenge to this intrusive snooping is shaping up as well. Mahua Moitra, a former investment banker who is now a Trinamool Congress MLA from Karimpur in West Bengal, has filed a Public Interest Litigation against the proposed Social Media Communications Hub, making her one of handful of politicians to speak up about the dangers that this kind of untrammelled surveillance poses to us all.

“We’ve just filed a writ in the Supreme Court alleging the violation of the Freedom of Speech and Expression, the Right to Privacy, and the violation of Article 14 of the Constitution,” Moitra’s advocate Nizam Pasha told HuffPost. “If you look at the scope of work, the plan is to create 360-degree profiles of people making a buzz,” Pasha added. “It calls for an interactive interface to spread nationalism. These are areas of great concern, because the language is very vague, and could easily be misused to target the opposition, and curb dissent.”

The implications of a tool that allows the government to monitor every single Facebook post, tweet, or stupid joke that you’ve put up over the years, are clear: particularly at a time when scores of people are routinely arrested for making fun of Prime Minister Modi in their private Whatsapp groups.

Monitoring Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and more

The Ministry of Information has put up a Request For Proposals (RFP) to hire an agency for the creation of a “Social Media Communication Hub” through which it can create “360 degree profiles” and gather “personal data from social media and emails”.

To make this possible, it will fork out a budget of Rs 42 crores to hire people in all 716 districts to monitor social media accounts. According to the tender request, the solution should be able to monitor a wide variety of sources, including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and blogs, and also interestingly, to be able to listen to email, though what that means is not made clear. Unlike all the other accounts above, emails are not public, and how these would be accessed is not clear.

Pasha said there are no laws backing the creation of this kind of a surveillance hub, as it impinges on free speech.

“If someone knows they are being monitored, they cannot speak freely, this is a restriction,” said Pasha. “Only some limited restrictions on speech are allowed. Because of this, we wished to bring up the matter in the Supreme Court urgently, before anyone could be selected for the tender, but the court decided that it will hear the matter after the vacation, which will be from July 2 onwards.”

Few voices in opposition

Although a few other politicians have spoken out against the social media hub, none have gone as far as to actually do anything about it.

“They will misuse this tool to shape the narrative, influence the voters, to adopt unethical and unfair means to grab democracy rather than earn the trust,” Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said in May.

DMK Working President MK Stalin tweeted that the government’s plan “raises serious issues of illegal surveillance and marks the beginning of a totalitarian regime”. He urged the Centre to “stop all such unconstitutional endeavours”.

Moitra too has filed the petition as an individual, rather than as a representative of the TMC.

“Please judge the petition on its merits, I don’t want to make this about myself in the press,” Moitra said. “This is an important issue, please focus on that.”

A long-standing plan

The last date for this RFP was earlier May 31, but it was extended to June 18. The RFP has earlier floated in the past too – in 2017, and in 2016, the government had already shared plans to track social media – as an “early warning signal for possible flashpoints”.

When the Union Budget was released earlier this year, the I&B Ministry under Smriti Irani carried out social media analysis with a team of six people to track people’s reactions as the budget was read out.

Free speech activists are worried about how such a system could be misused. The Internet Freedom Foundation, a non-profit that advocates a free and open Internet, has sent a legal notice to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, asking for this tender to be cancelled.

A mass surveillance state

Privacy experts caution that monitoring tools like the Social Media Communication Hub are part of a broader shift towards the continuos surverillance of the citizenry.

“In China, a Social Credit Scheme builds off capacity for mass surveillance and uses big data analysis. It relies on detailed profiles of all its residents which are aggregated, analysed and stored on multiple data points.” notes Apar Gupta, co-founder and volunteer at IFF.

“It is not out of place to remember that China also heavily censors its Internet. Reading the tender document one feels it comes from a heavy inspiration of the Chinese model,” Gupta said in an interview. “Thankfully we have constitutional text and culture to protect us. Specifically, the Social Media Communication Hub is contrary to our fundamental rights to privacy and free expression. It is an insult to the nine-judge bench judgement that unanimously reaffirmed our fundamental right to privacy. We hope that the tender is recalled and cancelled failing which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will imperil the aspiration of a digital India, converting it into a digital panopticon.”

China’s social credit scheme promises to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

You can lose points for traffic violations, or gain points by committing heroic acts that earn you an award. It becomes an extra document that people need to prove they are allowed to take loans to buy a house, for example, while others have talked about being unable to buy plane tickets even during emergencies.

India’s Social Media Communication Hub may appear benign at first, but once such tools are in place, it is trivially easy to implement a system that can identify “anti-national” people online, and encourage them to be more “positive” instead.

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In India, narratives are manufactured with an eye on power; there is a need to document history: Aruna Roy 

Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy

One of India’s leading political and social activists Aruna Roy’s seminal book The RTI Story: Power to the People (TRS) is having its Mumbai launch as a part of a Literature Live! The Magsaysay awardee was spoke to Yogesh Pawar about the book, the movement that inspired it and the current sociopolitical climate

In a country where collectives, issues and principles get their due, the small granite slab in the market square at Beawar, Rajasthan, installed in 2016, was for the longest time the only tribute to the Right to Information Act (RTI) of its kind. Is The RTI Story (TRS)… going to change that?

The RTI Story (TRS) only adds to the 60-80 lakh voices raised in tribute every year! Often English-speaking, middle-class voices are the only ones amplified. Many who struggle patiently, persistently and imaginatively are forgotten. These are stories that live in a fast diminishing oral history, which, for the most part, provided colour and inspiration for action and reflection. This book is an attempt to collate such untold stories.

As unique as the book and the RTI movement which inspired it have been the launches. Tell us more.

I was always asked, “Why don’t you do something more creative?” I’ve tried to tell people that creativity is not boxed into “art” alone. A dharna/protest is creative, and has to be able to sustain energies and communicate with multiple expressions, with seriousness and fun. The first launch in Beawar was “Guru Dakshina,” a tribute to the people in the villages around Beawar and Bhim, and those in the town of Beawar, who lived the dharna through for 40 days with us in 1996. The launch was a tribute to the people of the city who watched , made tentative gestures and finally became a part of the RTI struggle. Our editor said that she’d never been to such a book launch before. “I’ve seen book launches with cocktails. But this beats them all – a launch with a dharna.”

The launches have created space to return to the history of the movement, to celebrate it, and think of the “achche din” that were, and to discuss and reflect on the current political climate, the challenges and the path ahead.

Do you see TRS… primarily as course content for social work/ public administration schools or as a template for other national movements to take a cue from?

TRS… could be both or neither. The RTI movement is one movement in the rainbow of various different people’s movements fighting for social justice and equality. But some people see it as a manual, because of the causality recorded, explained and shared.

Was the use of the third person deliberate in the way you chose to write the book?

The third person is intended to make the narrator like the Indian sutradhar or the Greek chorus, a narrator and no more; to focus on story tellers and the movement’s narrative. It was a device, politically and in form, to give “correctness” to the perspective to the history of the RTI movement – to highlight its collective and collaborative nature.

How long have you been working on the book? Does its release in the current socio-political climate make it more significant?

Work on the book in this form has gone on for about three years. It became more and more imperative to write the narrative. We are oral historians. Oral history had a moral context. In contemporary India, narratives are manufactured with an eye on power and electoral processes. The current political climate created the need to write. To challenge the dominant narrative of sectarian politics and centralised power. For instance in 2016, the history of the RTI Act, including its emergence from the MKSS and the village of Devdungri, was erased and removed from the textbooks in Rajasthan.

This book presents peoples’ history, in the living memory of many, which can’t be erased so easily, and which bears testimony to decentralisation in creating policy, legislation and finally in a dialectic between implementation and law making. It is a statement with source and context of the contribution of people; in particular the rural people of Rajasthan and their interaction with many others, to make one of its greatest laws. Centralised and unaccountable power requires the creation of a dominant narrative in an attempt to control a people and a nation. This book will hopefully be a small assertion of the opposite; that contribution of peoples’ struggles make decentralisation a creative reality, and has depths of theory and policy built into it.

The RTI movement led by you has had a very long and difficult journey. What were the biggest challenges in putting the book together?

A huge collection of old records and dusty files and gathering together the history of the MKSS and the RTI struggle involved dozens of people. The biggest challenge was condensing and transforming this wealth of information into a simple and readable story that anyone could read.

Can you give us a sense of how activism in rural Rajasthan centeredaround minimum wages and land distribution paved the way for the RTI movement?

In the pre-sanghathan days in Devdungri, one of the early protests was at Dadi Rapat, over minimum wages for the villagers in a season of drought. People wanted work in public works and were traditionally denied fair payment. Workers who chose honesty were penalised. Lack of transparency led to questions, and the right to seek records and proof. It grew into rallies and hunger strikes in Bhim a small town. Strategies to get public space to voice the demand for justice, culminated in a new tool which was the jan sunwai or people’s hearings . In these hearings, records obtained from government officials, were read out to prople. The records revealed massive corruption in the works programmes and the Right to Information movement began to gain momentum after the first public hearing in Kukarkheda, 1994.

The movement for a national Right to Information and for the Right to Work (enshrined in the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act) have always walked hand in hand, as the initial demands for the RTI were embedded in the demand for work, wages and livelihood.

The RTI movement brought together many streams of thought. Was it difficult at times to bring inherent contradictions/differences together on the same platform?

Any movement contains multitudes of thought, philosophies, voices and people. The MKSS solved this with locating the RTI within the Constitution and those who cherished the promises we made to ourselves in its Preamble. Those who didn’t support those basic values got pushed out. Others learned to work with dissent/differences, within the non-negotiable. Today there are still multitudes who own, use and shape the RTI and our understanding of it; giving it new meaning and depth every day.

While some say RTI equally empowers and liberates bureaucrats from the stranglehold of those in power, others see bureaucrats stonewalling attempts to access information. Your view.

There are different sides to this as you say. For many bureaucrats, RTI has become an important way in which they themselves can legally and safely share information with citizens and remain accountable to people they’re bound to serve. There are those still afraid though they are protected and in fact required to by the law. And there are still others who see information as power, privilege and control. RTI is a both personal and political tool. It retains individual interpretations within the larger common good.

Many fear the attempts afoot to water down the RTI…

Each government, including the very government that passed the RTI Act has feared it, and tried to amend/water down its provisions within six months. The RTI is one of our only laws that directly, efficiently and simply decentralises power, to place it in the hands of citizens themselves.

Some criticism has come the way of RTI over its abuse in political and corporate rivalries. How do we ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Every year 40-60 lakh RTI applications are filed across the country. It is one of the most widely used information laws in the world. Criticism of misuse for corporate and political rivalries is a red herring. Two national studies carried out in 2008 and 2014 by Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS) and RaaG gave statistical proof that less than 1% of the RTI applications analysed could be termed frivolous or vexatious. The study analysed orders of the Supreme Court and of various High Courts and information commissions. It also stated that the PMO acknowledged, twice, in response to RTI applications, that it had no actual evidence of misuse.

The current sociopolitical climate has shut the voluntary sector out of all dialogue. How does this affect public discourse?

The current regime practices obfuscation and misinformation. It loves power over citizens and can’t allow something like an independent, dissenting civil society to function. Public discourse has become overrun by the ideology of those in power who can’t bear to hear any voices other than their own.

If I ask you to pick one success story close to your heart of how RTI has touched lives which will it be?

The poor person forcing the privileged to cower in front of the typical Indian personified by RK Laxman’s Common Man in a generic sense. There are so many that a selection will betray the spirit of the book!

Book: The RTI Story: Power to the PeopleAuthor: Aruna RoyPublisher: Roli Books Pages 424Price: Rs 495

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NABARD figures misleading: Gujarat DCCBs collected highest average banned notes among states

By Quaid Najmi

*Mumbai, June 23 (IANS)* The National Bank for Agiculture & Rural Development (NABARD) had said in a statement on Friday that demonetised notes presented to district cooperative central banks (DCCBs) in Maharashtra were higher than those deposited in Gujarat, followed by Kerala. This statement, in essence, may be misleading.

According to RTI information secured by Mumbai activist Manoranjan S. Roy, Maharashtra’s 30 DCCBs (out of total 370) secured deposits of Rs 3,985 crore worth of banned notes averaging to Rs 132.83 crore per bank.But, neighbouring Gujarat’s 18 DCCBs were way ahead in average terms in securing deposits of old notes worth Rs 3,640 crore — or an average of Rs 202 crore per DCCB.

What is important is the average amount garnered by each DCCB, not the total amount in the state. In average terms, Gujarat tops the list followed by Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India, as per the RTI documents released earlier by NABARD.

Next to Gujarat in the list is Kerala with 13 DCCBs getting deposits of Rs 2,094 crore, averaging to Rs 161 crore per DCCB.

It is followed by Karnataka’s 20 DCCBs which got deposits of Rs 1,849 crore, averaging to Rs 92 crore per DCCB.

Tamil Nadu’s 22 DCCBs collected total deposits of Rs 1,514 crore, averaging to Rs 69 crore per DCCB.

On Thursday, IANS had released a story, based on RTI replies to Roy, on how the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) — which has BJP President Amit Shah as one of its directors — collected the highest amount of Rs 745.59 crore among DCCBs in the country.

This amount was collected within five days after the prime minister announced demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes on November 8, 2016. The DCCBs were banned from depositing or changing old notes after the initial five-day window on fears that black money may be laundered through this route.

On Friday, the NABARD had defended ADCB saying that only 9.37 per cent or 1.6 lakh customers of the bank had deposited the total amount and the average deposit amounted to Rs 46,795 crore.

Roy and others have expressed surprise at why NABARD was acting as “a spokesperson” for the Ahmedabad DCCB. “At this rate, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may be compelled to justify objectionable goings-on in big banks like Punjab National Bank or ICICI Bank. This is not a healthy trend for the country,” Roy said.

The RTI replies to queries by Roy were send by NABARD.

On Saturday, the Congress accused Finance Minister Piyush Goyal of “forcing” NABARD to issue the statement on Friday, which the party alleged was “intended to hide the demonetisation scam perpetrated by the BJP chief”. The party demanded a thorough probe.

On Saturday, BJP ally Shiv Sena came down heavily on the government and sought a probe into how the DCCBs in Gujarat could managed to secure huge deposits within five days after demonetisation.

“How many bank chairmen who gave fraudulent loans have been sent to jail?” it asked adding “how could so much money be deposited in just one (ADCB) bank? This is a serious issue and must be probed in depth,” the Sena said in editorial comments in the party mouthpieces ‘Saamana’ and ‘Dopahar Ka Saamana’.

While the DCCBs raked in huge amounts of cash, in sharp contrast a majority of the 32 apex state cooperative banks have come across as their poor cousins for the meager deposits of old notes they collected.

The Maharashtra SCB got Rs 1,128.44 crore, Tamil Nadu (Rs 382 crore), Delhi (Rs 375.28 crore), Karnataka (Rs 371.22 crore), Goa (Rs 344.62 crore), Kerala (Rs 349.63 crore), Meghalaya (Rs 335.15 crore), Assam (Rs 301.47 crore) and the apex Gujarat SCB at Rs 110.85 crore (earlier wrongly mentioned as Rs 1.10 crore), according to the NABARD figures.

*(Quaid Najmi can be reached at [email protected])*

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40 years after the Alma Ata Declaration, let’s remember that healthcare is a global right

Matthew Bramall recounts the radical goals of the Alma Ata declaration on global health – and how they were undermined by neoliberalism and structural adjustment policies.

A young girl waits outside the registration centre at Tante Health Post located in Bajura District of Nepal.

2018 is an incredibly important year for health: the NHS turns 70 years old. This is both an opportunity to celebrate “the most civilised step any country had ever taken” and renew our attention on the overcoming the problems – underfunding, privatisation, PFI – that threaten its existence.

At the same time, but with less fanfare, the World Health Organisation is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Alma Ata declaration. Like the founding of the NHS, the Alma Ata declaration was a watershed moment in (global) health – and it continues to nourish and inspire social movements around the world due to its positive, holistic and radical approach to health.

The Alma Ata declaration came out of the first International Conference on Primary Health Care in 1978. It was a watershed moment that called for ‘Health for All by the year 2000’ – and it is worth revisiting for a whole variety of reasons. Firstly, it signalled a shift towards a social model of health. This meant promoting primary health care as the means for achieving ‘health for all’, for all countries. Primary health care sounds familiar, but it’s much more radical than the name suggests, putting community involvement at the heart of health services. This framework recognises the need for culturally and technologically appropriate health services, and focuses on the social and economic determinants of poor health – water, food, nutrition – and placing health central to social and economic development. It’s a far cry from top-down vertical, technological fixes that dominated the global health agenda in the 1950s and 60s, and which continue to dominate today. Quick, cost-effective, public health interventions because the norm as they are an easier sell than building health systems and empowering communities, and taking the necessary preventative measures to ensure health for all.

Secondly, Alma Ata called for a political response to ensure the goal of achieving health for all was realised. To achieve this the official declaration, signed off unanimously by all members of the WHO, it explicitly recommends a shift from militarisation to peace, and a redistribution of power from the global north to the global south, lending its support to, and drawing inspiration from, the calls for a New International Economic Order (NIEO). It’s a staggeringly utopian and powerful document, built on years of research that had demonstrated that primary health care approaches were the best way to improve health. And like the founding documents of the NHS, a reminder of how far we have been blown off course over the last 40 years.

But in the same way that the NHS vision of universal public healthcare has been progressively undermined, so has the inspiring vision of the Alma Ata declaration. Both have been progressively weakened by neoliberalism – backed into a more corporate and less ambitious model of healthcare. As we rightly renew our calls for the NHS to be restored, we must renew our commitment to the same lofty ambitions for global health too.

Almost immediately after it was signed off, the Alma Ata declaration and the commitment to primary health care were attacked. A year later, at a meeting of international donors and aid agencies, the concept of ‘selective’ primary health care appeared– reintroducing top-down, technologically driven health programmes and public health interventions. These could be measured, evaluated – and controlled – by donor governments and agencies much more easily than the more nebulous primary health care approach which insisted on community participation and intersectoral approaches. And whilst the rhetorical commitment to PHC was arguably never matched with funding commitments and reforms, it never really had the chance to get off the ground.

Not long after this, the idealism of the Alma Ata declaration was subsumed as rising inflation, debt crises and recessions across the global South resulted in the imposition of structural adjustment policies. This reduced health budgets and forced governments to adopt an approach to health care that was a far cry from the Alma Ata’s commitment to social justice. It’s a story familiar to most of us: the crisis of US hegemony was quickly averted and neoliberalism won out, to the detriment of the world’s poor and the prospects of genuine human development.

The triumph of neoliberalism in global health governance becomes clear when we compare the draft Alma Ata 40 declaration due to be presented later this year and the original declaration. Gone are the calls for a New International Economic Order and reducing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and gone are the calls for reduced spending on military. Whilst the draft Alma Ata 40 does reaffirm its commitment to primary health care, which is to be applauded, it does so in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) 2030 agenda, which themselves have been subject to criticism for failing to take account of the very imbalances of power that are fundamental to the analysis underpinning the original Alma Ata declaration.

Whilst the draft Alma Ata 40 document commits to reversing the ‘unregulated expansion’ of the private sector and rising costs, it’s highly unlikely that this will translate into action when UHC2030 agenda is dominated by the likes of the World Bank who have promoted ‘health sector reform’ and the role of the private sector in health for decades. The parallels with the UK are obvious. Whilst politicians commit to maintaining the NHS, utilising its spirit for political gain, they often fail to challenge the fundamental ideologies that undermine it.

Fortunately, there are activists around the world keeping the spirit of Alma Ata alive. This year, the People’s Health Movement (PHM) with convene in Bangladesh, for the 4thPeople’s Health Assembly. There, activists will again reaffirm the words of Halfdan Mahler, the Director General of the World Health Organisation responsible for the radical Alma Ata declaration, who continued to insist “that unless we all become partisans in renewed local and global battles for social and economic equity in the spirit of distributive justice, we shall indeed betray the future of our children and grandchildren.”

So whilst the NHS celebrations get the headlines in the UK we should join the activists at the People’s Health Assembly and learn from them as they continue the struggle to achieve health for all, recognising that this is impossible without tackling the biggest obstacle to health justice – neoliberalism and unjust global power imbalances that create and recreate poverty and poor health.

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India – How The Budget Could’ve Been Better For Women Farmers

By- Soma K P

The Union Finance Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, presented the Union Budget on February 1, 2018. On the surface, it includes provisions that not just focus on women farmers, but seek to actively uplift them.

However, many, including The Times of India, argue that the budget doesn’t do much uplift the standing of farming women because of the issue of landlessness.

Landlessness among Female Farmers

The issue of landlessness among women farmers isn’t well documented. So much so that when the Economic Survey of 2018, spoke about the feminization of Indian Agriculture, with as much as two-thirds of farm labour comprising of women, it failed to take into account that most of this labour is landless. While women provide services for farming activities such as land preparation, seed selection, and production, sowing, etc., they are often considered family members doing their duty or farm help. This is because land is often owned by the “head of the household”, which in rural India almost always means the husband or the father. So even as the share of women working in agriculture grows, their rights over land remain marginalized. Only about 35% of female farmers have any claim to the land they toil.

Take an average female farmer, who works on either her father’s or husband’s field (in terms of ownership). After years of working hard on the field doing a majority of the work, she is removed from the inheritance of said land. Often by in-laws, sometimes due to shoddy laws or an uncertain bureaucracy. Now, this farmer is left with little to no assets and perhaps children to take care of. Now she will either have to migrate to urban areas to look for work or serve as farm help on a farm that is her own. Even though the Hindu Succession Act had given a lot of women rights over their husband’s or father’s property, it had a loophole that allowed in-laws to simply create a will that bypasses these women entirely.

This is a chronic issue that is plaguing female farmers of India. However, a few organisations are working hard to ensure women farmers are able to reclaim their rights. Two such organizations are the Working Group for Women and Land Ownership or WGWLO and Mahila Kissan Adhikar Manch or MAKKAM. The organizations have been hard at work to ensure, what Dr Itishree Pattnaik calls, “The Feminisation of Agrarian Distress,” doesn’t occur. I had a conversation with one of the founders of MAKAAM, Ms Soma KP. A JNU and IIT alum, she is working tirelessly to enable more women farmers to gain access to land. Excerpts:

Women Farmers

How chronic is the problem of landless labour in the women of Gujarat and India?

In rural India, land ownership among women is low. Some might argue that the situation has been improving in the past few decades, but that improvement has been much too slow. Despite the passage of some important legislation in 2005, land ownership, particularly, private land, has remained low. While the speed at which women are being displaced and their claims discredited is much higher.

The situation with communal land is worse. Because communal land supports primarily Adivasi and Dalit women. They use that land for everything from fodder to food. But, in the push to industrialise, this communal land is given to industries or mines. Which means the sole source of livelihood for the women is being taken away. This is a very chronic problem, not just in Gujarat but across India. It is a threat to the safety and food security of the most vulnerable women in our society.

What are some of the most common issues faced by women who are not allowed claim over inheritance?

The whole issue of autonomy in decision making gets compromised. That is an often overlooked but essential, everyday problem. We can talk all about the Feminisation of Agriculture but the fact remains that though women farm, they don’t own land. Because of this lack of ownership, they cannot gain access to the Kisaan Card or formal credit or any other social welfare scheme. Their labour becomes marginalised. The Woman Farmer is the backbone of the Indian rural economy, but she’s never given that respect.

Why hasn’t any government been able to take up measures to ensure women their right to property?

I believe it has to fundamentally do with a lack of political will. Let’s face it, all political parties have a patriarchal bent and mindset. Add to that the recent surge of capitalism and neo-liberalism that have become key talking points. The combination of the two has ensured the rights and entitlements of the women are kept at bay. The powerful seldom allow the marginalised to exercise their rights. While there have certainly been progressive steps taken by all governments, take the Hindu Succession Act for instance. It has been too slow and too little. We’re potentially looking at the next agriculture crisis. We need more than mere rhetoric.

Speaking of rhetoric, how do you see the budget’s 30% allocation to women farmers in the context of landlessness?

A large chunk of this money allocated is to increase credit for women farmers. Which means they have to borrow from banking organizations and affiliates. This neglects the masses of women farmers who are not land-owners. At the end of the day, women are being recognized as mere borrowers and not producers. The budget doesn’t talk about investment in assets. Under all the gloss, it is a deal with corporate India. The Banking and Financial Sector stands to benefit massively as women farmers are considered a low credit risk.

This is only going to deepen the indebtedness of the farming community on the whole, while ensuring a growth in profits for Banks.

How do you think the budget could’ve been better allocated to actually help women farmers?

There have been small experiments conducted across India that could prove a better model for the distribution of funds. Take for instance the Land Lease model in Kerala, where women farmers and landless labour is given land on long-term lease. So they can claim the entitlements and benefits of a landowner. We need more such experiments to be funded. The government could use the funding to empower more grass-roots level organisations like MAKAAM, which work on a local level. Because the needs of every district are different and distinct. They could also set up a commission that brings together different organisations from different parts of the country to work on this issue.

However, primarily I feel the mere acknowledgment of women farmers as producers and not just borrowers, would’ve gone a long way. I mean credit has its importance but it is not the only aspect.

How has the work you’ve been doing through MAKAM helped women to reclaim their rights over land?

We’ve been working to build an informal forum. We are building alliances and affiliates to negotiate with states and central authorities to bring about changes in the issue of Land Ownership for women. We intend to create better access to entitlements for women. We have National Consultation programmes with different departments of the government on multiple fronts. This includes pushing for Gender segregated data to target women farmers with specificity.

We attempt to help women farmers get a better status. Use technology to advance issues and counter problems they care about. For instance, farmers often say that capital-intensive technology often replaces their labour-intensive work. They argue for the need for Sustainable Agriculture. We work with them to help achieve these noble goals.

The intentions with which MAKAAM and WGWLO are working are certainly appreciable. You can visit their respective websites and read some of their heart-warming success stories.

Stay tuned for an extensive coverage on the issue of landless women farmers in the coming few days.

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