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Can India follow the Philippines P32

The news in proportion

18-Jun-2013

www.indiatogether.org

Fortnightly

Pages 44

‘Pearl of water’ transforming lives P36

No respite from hunger P2 Could spot fixing be our Trojan Horse? P6 Big Brother watching you, but who watches him? P9

Shielding campuses from violence P12 Remembering Rituparno P17 Court battle likely after CIC’s RTI ruling P22

‘Shadow boxing’ to continue: Dr. Sandeep Shastri P25 Why women in this village can’t cook dal P32


ICDS AUDIT REPORT

Findings from the CAG’s audit of India’s flagship nutrition programme show that hunger and malnourishment among children prevail even in the most prosperous of India’s states. Himanshu Upadhyaya reports on the disturbing findings of the ICDS audit.

No respite from hunger O

n 22 April 2013, close on the heels of a new and hard hitting report by UNICEF on child malnutrition, a Conservative member of the British House of Commons expressed his views on child malnutrition and stunting. Even as he expressed hopes that on the threshold of several prominent international meetings on the issue, the moment was opportune to raise the issue of child malnutrition and stunting, a performance audit report on India’s flagship nutrition programme, the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS) was tabled in Parliament in a quiet manner earlier this year. Both media and members of Parliament do not seem to have debated this audit report and its findings enough, with the

exception of a few news stories based on state-specific audit comments on the functioning of ICDS. The ICDS is India’s flagship centrally-sponsored scheme for the nutritional and developmental needs of children below six years and pregnant and lactating mothers. About a decade ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had carried out a performance review of ICDS in the report for the year ending March 31, 1999. That performance review had revealed that the policy to universalise ICDS remained unattained and the scheme could not achieve the desired goals. Among other findings, it was reported that the Supplementary Nutrition component had failed to improve the health status of 2 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

beneficiaries, implementation of the component of health check-up and referral system was found deficient and full coverage under immunization could not be assured due to nonfixation of targets and absence of monitoring mechanism. An “Action Taken Note” on the audit findings reflected thereupon was filed many years later. Another performance review by CAG revisiting the functioning of the scheme has entered the public domain earlier this year on 16 January. It has covered three components of ICDS, namely Supplementary Nutrition, Nonformal Pre-School Education and Health Education for the period 2006-07 to 2011-12. The audit involved scrutiny of records of the five programme divisions in


India Together File illustration.

out to be Rs 40,604 crore and hence there were shortfalls ranging from 15 to 36 per cent. The reasons for shortfalls in expenditure were severally identified as non-assessment of the requirement of funds, short provision of funds in the budget, short release of funds by the ministry, inadequate allocation of state share, release of the funds at the fag end of the financial year, delay in transfer of funds by ICDS directorate, non-finalisation of tenders for procurement of food material and non-availability of targeted number of children in AWCs.

Growth Monitoring

the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWD), Food and Nutrition Board, National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development and the implementing agencies in 13 states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In all, the audit testchecked records in 67 districts, 273 projects and 2730 Anganwadi Centres (AWCs). The audit reports that out of Rs 50587 crore spent on the scheme, Rs 30861 crore (i.e. 61 percent) was spent on Supplementary Nutrition. However, based on the norms on Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and Average Dietary Intake (ADI) the funds required for providing Supplementary Nutrition worked

While the scheme prescribed a maintenance of growth chart/ card for every child by AWCs for assessing their growth, using weight-for-age as an indicator, audit scrutiny revealed that there was a significant shortfall, as 33 to 47 per cent children were not weighed during the period. The data on nutritional status of children also had several discrepancies and were not based on World Health Organisation’s standards. In 11 test-checked states/ UTs the shortfall amounted to more than 50 percent of beneficiaries and only in six states the shortfall on this aspect was less than 25 percent of beneficiaries. To this audit observation, MoWD sought to explain in reply (July 2012) that “shortfall in growth monitoring was on account of non-enrolment of children at AWCs and gaps in their attendance, as ICDS is a self-selecting scheme.” It further stated (November 2012) that it was continuously reviewing with states/ UTs to optimise the coverage of beneficiaries. The CAG notes that the replies 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 3

ICDS AUDIT REPORT

from MoWD suggest the low reach of the ICDS scheme. This also underlines the failure to put in place a robust Information, Education and Communication programme for community mobilisation.

Nutrition and hunger The analysis of statewide data on nutritional status of children indicated that the North-eastern states fared better, where the percentage of normal children visa-vis the total number of children weighed was satisfactory. State

% of normal children

Arunachal Pradesh

98

Nagaland

92

Sikkim

89

Mizoram

77

Meghalaya

71

Assam

69

Tripura

63

In five other states/ UTs, the percentage of such normal children exceeded 70 per cent of those weighed: State

% of normal children

Andaman & Nicobar Islands

82

Maharashtra

77

Dadra & Nagar Haveli

75

Uttarakhand

75

Madhya Pradesh

72

The total number of malnourished children (Grade I, II, III and IV) exceeded the 40 per cent mark in 10 states/ UTs:


ICDS AUDIT REPORT State

Malnourished children

Bihar

82%

Delhi

50%

Daman & Diu

50%

Odisha

50%

Andhra Pradesh

49%

Haryana

43%

Rajasthan

43%

Uttar Pradesh

41%

Jharkhand

40%

Lakshadweep

40%

What is surprising in this is that when we try to plot these ten states/ UTs to delineate ‘the hunger map of India,’ it belies our perceptions as it doesn’t throw up to us either what was termed by mainstream media for many years as BIMARU states, or simply the states that have witnessed left wing extremism in recent years. The hunger map of India today also comprises of states that have been boasting about having attracted investments - such as Haryana and Delhi. The number of severely malnourished children exceeded one percent of total weighed children in eight states as per data provided by the MoWD: State

Malnourished children

Bihar

26%

Gujarat

5%

West Bengal

4%

Maharashtra

3%

Karnataka

3%

Chhatisgarh

2%

Madhya Pradesh

2%

Uttarakhand

1%

India Together File illustration.

However, when compared to the data on severely malnourished children reported in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), that showed the status for the year 2005-06, the percentage of severely malnourished children showed a huge difference for almost all states/ UTs except Bihar. While the NFHS-3 identified 15.8 percent children in the age group 0 to 5 to be severely malnourished (2005-06), the data provided by MoWD as per ICDS records put severely malnourished children at 0.55 percent as on 31 March, 2007 and at 3.33 percent children as on 31 March, 2011. When there is such a huge mismatch in the data, researchers need to probe further into the reasons for this mismatch. While the MoWD has decided to implement WHO Growth standards from the year 2008 in place of the Harvard standard that it had been using since the inception of ICDS, the audit scrutiny revealed that even after four years, the same were yet to be introduced in almost 41 percent of operational AWCs. The reply from the MoWD on the audit observation showed that 4 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

in Haryana and Chandigarh, the printing of charts was in progress, while status of introduction of these charts was not known by the ministry in the case of 9 states/ UTs. The audit scrutiny on the coverage of beneficiaries revealed a gap of 33 to 45 per cent between the number of eligible beneficiaries identified and those receiving benefits of Supplementary Nutrition throughout the year during the period 2006-’07 to 2010-’11. The Ministry of Women and Child Development’s records further showed a discrepancy between year-wise data on number of beneficiaries reported by the Ministry and those reported by the States through their Statements of Expenditures. The ministry in its response to this finding on its failure to reconcile the two sets of data (July 2012) states that ICDS is a self-selecting scheme and it was not mandatory to reach an unwilling target group. However, this response fails to clarify the reasons behind such indicated low response of targeted beneficiaries


to the services offered under the scheme. The ministry had provided no information on the reasons for the unwillingness of 33 to 45 percent targeted beneficiaries. Neither had it indicated the measures required to be taken to improve the coverage of the scheme necessary for its universalisation. The audit also noted shortfalls in the implementation of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities aimed to create awareness about the scheme.

Foods Pvt Ltd continued to supply these mixes till November 2011. Audit teams were shocked to notice that there was no system of watching the expiry date of food items. Thus similarly in Gujarat, audit came across instances of supply of flour after expiry. What is worse, it was noticed that when this was returned, the supplier merely reprocessed it, changed the gunny bags and resupplied the same. In Gujarat, instances of supply of sub-standard flour having 15 grams of insects per 100

ICDS AUDIT REPORT

namely the number of operational AWCs/ projects, the number of staff engaged under the scheme, the number of children suffering from malnutrition and severe malnutrition respectively. Even as civil society in India debates the proposed Food Security Bill, the state of affairs on the implementation of ICDS stares us in the face shockingly. We need to engage not only with the latest CAG audit report but also look at the state-specific audit findings in order to get an in-depth picture

In Gujarat, auditors came across instances of supply of flour after expiry. What is worse, it was noticed that when this was returned, the supplier reprocessed it, changed the gunny bags and resupplied the same. In Gujarat, instances of supply of sub-standard flour having 15 grams of insects per 100 grams of flour were also noticed. Quality of food

Audit scrutiny also brought to light the shocking supply of substandard food by AWCs in several states. In Andhra Pradesh, a social audit of 154 AWCs in Anantpur district conducted by the Council for Social Development (CSD), New Delhi pointed out that the ‘ready to cook’ mixes were unpalatable. It also carried out physical inspection and found that some of these items had a sticky texture and became inedible within minutes after preparation. There had been reports of children falling ill from 18 AWCs after consuming it. What is all the more shocking is the fact that even after the CSD’s social audit observation was made available to the state government, the supplier A. P.

grams of flour were also noticed. The expenditure per beneficiary per day on providing supplementary nutrition to children remained consistently low compared to stipulated norms. The inadequate quantity and quality of nutrition provided at many AWCs was evident from the gaps in calories/micronutrients as recommended under the norms of the scheme and those actually provided to beneficiaries, not to mention the disruption in services. The inadequate monitoring of the scheme by the MoWD is a major bottleneck. The newly set up Central Monitoring Unit has failed to deliver on any of the assigned tasks. The Monitoring and Evaluation department of the MoWD did not have fully reliable data on any of the indicators, 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 5

and to be able to go to the bottom of the problem. Meanwhile, there is also a need for media to remodel the hunger map of India by breaking free from the stereotypes constructed earlier. It is time we found an answer to why states boasting economic growth and trumpeting achievements at Global Investor Summits continue to have a significant percentage of children living in severe malnourishment. Himanshu Upadhyaya is a researcher working at the Azim Premji Foundation, Bangalore.


IPL SCAM

Could spot fixing be our Trojan Horse? Corruption in India has attained humongous proportions despite continual but largely erratic movements since independence to tackle this menace. Shankar Jaganathan ponders on whether the recent betting scandal in cricket could catalyse an effective outcome in the fight against political corruption.

S

pot fixing in cricket, sexual harassment in the political and corporate world, doctored investigation reports in politics and lucrative jobs sold for money are some of the recently leveled allegations against various individuals and institutions that are making headlines. Misuse of privileged position for personal gain - to use a single world, corruption - is what links these different accusations across unrelated fields. Does this frequent eruption of corruption cases reflect a new social disease or is it only a case of higher visibility due to larger media presence? A cynical view looks at corruption as an essential byproduct of civilized human life. In India, too, corruption may be traced to ancient times. A proof for this claim is shown in the listing of forty ways to embezzlement found in Arthasastra, a treatise written around 2300 BCE. The presence of a rich Indian vocabulary with words

like shukrana (thanksgiving), jabrana (levies - virtual extraction), dastoor (customary gifts), mamool (normal presents) and hafta (weekly levies) is cited to reinforce their continuing presence. Cynics further assert 6 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

that corruption in society can never be eliminated and at best can only be minimized. In contrast to the cynics are idealists who believe that corruption can be eliminated in our society. While it is debatable as to


which among the two groups is correct, what is undeniable are the persistent efforts made in the past to fight corruption. Looking back seven decades to our independence, we see anticorruption movements emerge every decade. Despite this, however, corruption has thrived. Does this prove the cynics right or is there an alternative explanation? Laws to fight corruption in India were triggered by World War II procurements. The need to build buffer stocks in quick time led to decentralizing purchases. In turn it opened up avenues for corrupt practices. Delhi Special Police Establishment, an investigative agency was set up in 1941 to combat the resulting

widespread corruption. Five years later, an act was passed giving this agency statutory backing. Soon thereafter months before Indian Independence, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, was passed which explicitly defined

corruption, public servants and mandated penalty for the corrupt. With these two acts, independent India at birth acquired both the legislation and the investigative mechanism to prevent corruption. If legislations alone could prevent corruption, as it earned political freedom India would have been born corruption free as well. So if laws alone are inadequate, what more is needed? At a tactical level, traditional wisdom identifies three anticorruption steps—harsh punishment for the corrupt, simple rules in administration and transparent decision making. With punishments being clearly defined in the Prevention of Corruption Act passed prior to independence, the first post-independence initiative was to take stock of existing rules, especially those used to deliver government development programs. The newly constituted Planning Commission in 1951 asked for an independent assessment of the administrative machinery. A.D. Gorwala, a respected ICS officer who had resigned from the administrative service was appointed the honorary Chair of this Committee. Given a threemonth mandate for undertaking this exercise, in what should be a matter of surprise to the present generation, Gorwala completed the exercise one month ahead of schedule. Speed was not at the cost of depth, as the committee visited nine states and met with the members of two other states in Delhi for consultation. Probably reflecting his extensive work experience as ICS officer, the Gorwala Committee devoted an entire chapter to integrity in the nine-chapter Report on Public Administration. The chapter on integrity is 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 7

IPL SCAM

timeless. Reading it today, nothing seems to have changed since it was written in 1951. One extract from this chapter will illustrate its present relevance: During the past few years there have been various instances in which grave allegations of a specific nature have been made by responsible parties against persons occupying the position of Ministers of Governments. Such allegations have on occasion been the subject of debates in the Legislature. The Ministry as a whole and the party which has put it in power has thrown their weight behind the Minister complained against; the debates have either been inconclusive or have ended in a vote in his favour. Thereafter, the matter has generally been ended. (p15) There are many more nuggets in this chapter, all of which withstand the test of time. Given this bleak state of affairs, it is worth listing the major efforts made to combat corruption in the last sixty years to take stock of what has gone wrong. As corruption episodes continued unabated in the post-independence era, in 1961 the Santhanam committee was set up to examine means to prevent corruption. Their findings resulted in the creation of the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation, by repackaging the Delhi Special Police Establishment. Immediately following this in 1966 the Administrative Reforms Committee recommended the setting up of Lok Pal to deal with corruption cases against Ministers and Lok Ayukta for cases against administrative officers. Since then it has been an unfinished battle to get this law enacted and enforced. With anti-corruption laws not getting beyond the debating


IPL SCAM

Looking back, one is reminded of the foolishness of the mice’s plan to bell a cat. For a plan is only as good as its execution. Can the plan to fight corruption be any different? While Lok Pal is a commendable idea, can we expect the cats to bell themselves?

forum in the last fifty years, India made rapid progress. Corruption allegations grew from a single digit of Rs.1 crore in the case of Punjab Chief Minister in 1960s, to double digits in the case of Maharashtra Chief Minister Antulay in 1980s to the current estimates of losses in crores running into six digits. Commensurate with this malignant growth, popular anti-corruption movements too evolved. Total Revolution in 1970s led by Jaya Prakash Narayan drew its strong support base from the anti-corruption plank. 1980s saw VP Singh lead a popular movement in the face of the Bofors scandal. Both these movements succeeded in their primary aim of gaining political power; however the job of enacting the Lok Pal law remained incomplete. Post liberalization, 1990s saw stock market scandals engage the attention of public imagination, not once but twice, when Ketan Parekh emerged as the second avatar of Harshad Mehta. Here, too, following the practice initiated in the Bofors case, two Joint Parliamentary Committees was appointed to get to the bottom. But nothing useful

came of it. It was not long before political actors resumed their pivot position on the corruption center-stage to ignite the India Against Corruption movement, a movement that promised a lot only to disappoint. Looking back, one is reminded of the foolishness of the mice's plan to bell a cat. For a plan is only as good as its execution. Can the plan to fight corruption be any different? While Lok Pal is a commendable idea, can we expect the cats to bell themselves? Looking at the speed at which our legislators have moved, the answer is a definite no. In contrast compare the urgency with which the same actors are moving in the IPL spot fixing scandal that erupted last week. Overnight the Union Law minister called up the Sports minister to discuss an ordinance to curb this menace. The matter is being pursued almost on a daily basis to enact a law to prevent match fixing. While this is not the first time that a cricket match fixing scandal has erupted, I do believe that this could be the time when a new law is enacted to fix it. With elections around the corner, it is a God-sent 8 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

opportunity for the present Union Government to act firmly against the corrupt, on a matter that has got the entire nation emotionally aroused and show that it means business and turn the tide of public perception. Though I am not a betting person, I am willing to wager my last rupee that a law to address match fixing in sports, triggered by the cricket scandal, will be in place much before Lok Pal becomes a law In India. If this turns out to be true, are the cynics right about political corruption being omnipresent? The idealist in me refuses to accept this cynical view. I believe the legislation to prevent match fixing can be a Trojan horse to get the Lok Pal law in place. For the rules of the game are the same, when we look at the nature of deals and the evidence needed to punish the guilty, with only the players and turf being different. Do you also see the same similarities between the two "games" that I see? Please do share your thoughts for me to explore this angle further. Shankar Jaganathan is passionate about corporate governance, sustainability practices and economic history. His second book The Wisdom of Ants, A Short History of Economics was recently published in November 2012.


INTERNET CENSORSHIP

Big Brother watching you, but who watches him? Internet monitoring, surveillance and censorship by the Government has become a norm in the country today, even while users are kept completely in the dark about it. Snehashish Ghosh argues why more transparency is critical to upholding the very basic tenets of democracy.

W

hat is the State filtering? What is it blocking on the internet? What is it monitoring? What procedure is the Government putting in place to ensure transparency and accountability? There is no transparency in India as to what the Government is blocking, censoring, filtering or monitoring. The lack of accountability on the part of the Government of India as well as the telecom and Internet Service Providers is a matter of concern which needs immediate attention. With the rise in block orders, surveillance orders and interception requests, it has become imperative to call for greater transparency as to such activities of the Government, which might be, more than often, inconsistent with the Constitution of India. It is well within the right of the government to block,

filter, monitor, and intercept communication or content, whenever there is a justifiable ground or reason to undertake such an act. But the Constitutional boundaries are sometimes blurred due to the failure on the part of the executive machinery to follow the procedures established by law for tapping phones or blocking websites. The important question here is not whether such activities ought to be carried out by the Government or not but whether it should adopt a certain level of transparency while conducting such operations. The intrusive activities carried out by the State can be considered a violation of the fundamental right to 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 9

privacy and free speech: that is a substantive question of law and can only be explored through a separate piece. However, it is also essential to explore the role of transparency in such a mechanism, as it is a prerequisite to privacy. Privacy in turn has an impact on freedom of speech as anonymity or the assurance that individuals will not be tracked down and persecuted for their expressions is an integral part of free speech.

Surveillance Surveillance has rapidly increased in India in the last five years. Last year, replies to right to information (RTI) requests indicated that, on an average, 9000 interception orders are issued by the Government every month. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are targeting users for downloading or uploading copyright protected material.


INTERNET CENSORSHIP

The Internet Service Providers (ISP) and the Telecom Service Providers (TSP) have a major role to play in the process of identifying the users involved in such activities. The ISP or TSP, in the past, has not only provided access to personal information to the law enforcement agencies but also to private companies which are hired by these law enforcing agencies. For example, the Kerala Police with the help of a private company ‘Jadoo Infotech’, was able to track down 1010 Internet users who had allegedly uploaded or downloaded the film ‘Bachelor Party’. User data requests, communication data requests from the law enforcement agencies have become a daily affair for the service providers. In 2011, while hearing a case of illegal tapping, the Supreme Court asked the Counsel for Reliance Infocomm, “were such orders being issued regularly?” The Counsel replied, “On some days, there were as many as 100 requests”. These requests or orders are

generally under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 (in short, “Interception Rules”) under Section 69 of the Information Te c h n o l o g y Act, 2000 or Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Code or Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Rules, which give unbridled power to the police officers to request for information from the Internet intermediaries. There are certain checks and balances on these powers but those have faded away due to the clandestine manner in which these orders and directions are executed. Under the Interception Rules, the intermediary or ISP is mandated to keep such requests/orders confidential, which implies that the law enforcement agencies have a free getaway card even if such requests are beyond the procedure established by law. It may be argued that making

such information public may hamper the ongoing investigations for which information is sought and may also pose a threat to national security. However, a possible solution is to release aggregated data instead of raw datasets. It may release data sets which indicate the interception orders or requests that were sent out under each law which allows surveillance, along with the reason for conducting such surveillance. For example, the government could release the data set for the number of interception orders issued for the purpose of protecting national security. This function can be also undertaken by the ISPs because while Interception Rules and such law only prohibit the ISPs from revealing the original request, there is no law which restrains them from revealing aggregated data sets. A good example of this ‘best practice’ would be the Google Transparency Report which releases country-wise data on the basis of the types of requests they have received from

Lack of notification and the lack of reasons do not only hamper due process of law but also violate the fundamental right to freedom of speech. It also violates the fundamental right to a remedy, as the aggrieved user who cannot access the webpage cannot approach the Court because there is no information: Who has blocked the content? Why has the content been blocked? Whom should the user approach for a remedy? 10 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


the Government and the grounds for such requests. A similar practice can be adopted by the TSPs and ISPs in India.

Central Monitoring System India is gradually turning into a Surveillance State, where interception and monitoring of communication is becoming the norm and not the exception. In PUCL v. Union of India (1996) the Supreme Court heavily criticized the Government for conducting indiscriminate surveillance and also noted there was a lack of ‘procedures and safeguards’ which would ensure the right to privacy of an individual. The court also issued guidelines for conducting surveillance. The Government of India has been putting in place a Central Monitoring System (CMS). It has been in the works since August, 2011. The CMS would assist law enforcement agencies to conduct law interception and monitoring. The issue which is worrisome is that a machine would be running algorithms to filter and intercept communications which would completely bypass the procedures and safeguards which are in place by doing away with human discretion. Having a big brother like the CMS, is indeed heavily intrusive on an individual’s privacy but it may be justified to be lawful, in the name of national security. Given that CMS is in the works and might have already been deployed, the pillars of transparency and accountability have to be further fortified and citizens should have the right

to know what content is being blocked, filtered, intercepted or monitored.

Censorship Blocking and filtering of content online has grown over the past few years. There is no clear picture as to how many websites have been blocked in India. The leaked block orders and replies to a few RTI requests is all we can rely upon, which in fact does not really give a clear picture as to the number of websites which are blocked even as of today. Some websites which had been blocked during public emergencies, such as the North East exodus from Bangalore still remain blocked, whereas other websites have been freed from the order. In the past, websites have been blocked without any notice being given to the user. When the user reaches a webpage which does not open and is inactive, s/ he gets the perception that the website or the URL must be down, totally oblivious to the fact that it might have been blocked by a Government Agency. Lack of notification and the lack of reasons do not only hamper due process of law but also violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech. It also violates the fundamental right to a remedy, as the aggrieved user who cannot access the webpage cannot approach the Court because there is no information: Who has blocked the content? Why has the content been blocked? Whom should the user approach for a remedy? Again, the principle which has to be underlined here is ‘transparency’. With transparency, 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 11

INTERNET CENSORSHIP

it would be possible to hold the State accountable for blocking of websites and filtering of content and the issue can be contested in Court. A move towards accountability and transparency with respect to State action in the context of surveillance and censorship is therefore critical and would go a long way in maintaining the sanctity of our Constitution and the democracy. Snehashish Ghosh is a lawyer with specific interest in copyright law, telecom law and policy and Internet governance. He works with the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore.


STUDENT POLITICS IN WB

Shielding campuse Violence during college union elections, the death of a protesting 22-year-old student in police custody and a resultant chain of events have led to earnest debates in West Bengal over whether students should stay away from active politics. Promona Sengupta explores the reality underlying prevailing sentiments.

12 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


STUDENT POLITICS IN WB

es from violence

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 13


STUDENT POLITICS IN WB

F

or most belonging to India’s middle class, politics is a dirty word. Be it the everyday ups and downs at the workplace, or the insidious psychological maneuverings of participants in a reality show, nobody seems to think that “doing politics” (as such situations are often tagged) is essential, or can be a remotely positive preoccupation. Power is widely held as that which erodes a person of her morals and fellowfeeling, and yet is the ultimate intoxicant. Indeed, in a country where representatives of power often come with the excess baggage of criminal records or proceed to get mired in endless cases of corruption, it is difficult for the average person to accept that politics is not an external entity that one may or may not allow into one’s life, but a precondition of society. Politics is the manner in which we engage with daily structures of power, such as the family, the workplace, the state and the society. It is embedded in our existence, and no amount of non-complicity in partisan politics can erase our identities as political animals. The erstwhile decision of the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal to put on hold elections in colleges across the state, and the spate of events that it unfurled, have given rise to debates regarding involvement of the student community in politics. Views exchanged across newspaper op-eds or television programs have brought to light numerous streams of thought, ranging from the assumption of political naivete of students on the one hand to the fundamental democratic right of political participation on the other. But why this debate now?

The context of such a decision had been a series of violent clashes that had taken place across various college campuses in the state, most notably the incident at Harimohan Ghose College on 12 February, 2013, in which a fight had broken out between miscreants from the local Congress and Trinamool Congress stables over the filing of nomination papers for the students’ union elections. Caught in the crossfire, sub-inspector Tapas Choudhury was shot dead, and this sparked off discussions about the violent turn that student politics had taken in the state. It was not long before it was found that the clash was, in reality, between local Trinamool Congress councillor Mohammad Iqbal and Congress leader Mokhtar who aimed to settle political scores through union elections at the college. As the state sought to issue a blanket ban on college and university students’ union elections on 18 February, Education Minister Bratya Basu stated that this decision was not related to the Harimohan Ghose College incident, but rather the imminent state and other Board examinations, effectively denying the increase in violence within the precincts of colleges and universities under Trinamool rule. Protesting against this crackdown on the political process within institutions, activists of the Left-backed Students Federation of India (SFI) started holding demonstrations. From one such gathering, a group of activists were arrested on 2 April and were being taken to the Presidency Jail under police supervision, when 22-yearold student activist Sudipto Gupta reportedly hit a lamppost and was grievously injured. Within hours, 14 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

he succumbed to his injuries. The “collision” theory was rejected by many and suspicions were rife that the real cause of Sudipto’s death had been heavy lathicharge by the police, who have been accused on more occasions than one of acting as agents of the state’s high-handedness. The entire state went into shock over Sudipto’s death even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dubbed this a “small incident.” The SFI, in retaliation, heckled the Chief Minister and her finance minister Amit Mitra in Delhi on 9 April in Delhi, unchaining a spate of violence from the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad front back in Bengal. While CPI (M) party offices were destroyed across the state, the most notable incident was the ransacking of the prestigious Presidency University and its historic Baker Laboratory the next day. In this entire chain of events, what has emerged is a strengthening of public opinion in many quarters towards one of complete vilification of politics as an aspect of student life. Public pleas for depoliticisation of the student community and college campuses have started surfacing with more regularity and frequency than ever before.

Student Politics and Bengal While student politics in Bengal has had a long legacy of clashes between different student organizations, it cannot be denied that the current regime has seen a marked increase in the entrance of anti-social elements into the precincts of college. Many, however, see this merely as a continuation of the lumpenisation of student politics that had started


STUDENT POLITICS IN WB

While campus politics in the state has in the past seen violence in many forms, the death of a peacefully protesting student leader in police custody, or the death of a policeman on duty during college union elections, or the ransacking of a foremost university constitutes events that have not been witnessed in recent times and which bring back memories of the turbulent student movements of the 70s.

under the Congress government of the 1960s and had gathered strength over the long rule of the Left Front. “There is an imagined sanity of student politics, a naivete of thought that assumes that college politics is dissociated from the general politics of the country”, says Upal Chakrabarti, assistant professor of Sociology at Presidency University and former student activist himself. According to him, the extent to which political parties involve themselves in deciding the fate of student unions across colleges and universities in West Bengal is acceptable per se, as there is a need to stop looking at student politics as an entity that is contained within the walls of the institutions alone. But what is unacceptable is the visible violence and narrow vote-garnering tactics that partisan politics brings into the ambit of educational institutions that is unacceptable. Indeed, the incidents referred to above have all had direct supervision of ‘bigger’, mainstream politics, and cannot strictly be dubbed as reflections of the increase of violence within the

student community alone. Those who feel that students should dissociate themselves from such politics largely predicate their opinion on the belief that student politics is suffering from a poverty of ethics; instead, they should perhaps read this upsurge in violence as part of a larger picture. One cannot view it as an isolated issue outside the presence of violence in the larger political setup and society as a whole. Earlier in February this year, the State Crime Records Bureau, in response to an RTI application filed by a resident, revealed that the state had seen 586 cases of political violence and 56 clashes between student groups between May 2011 and October 2011 - the first five months of the tenure of the present government. At least 926 political workers including 128 students had been injured in such conflict. Filmmaker Rangan Chakravarty, an SFI activist in his student years at Jadavpur University in the late 70s, admits to an erosion in political ethics within the larger party scenario, which had a direct effect on student politics of his time. “The 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 15

politics lost its politics,” he says. Subhendu Dasgupta, former Professor of Calcutta University and also a student activist during his college years in the 60s, acknowledges the importance of partisan politics within the campus, but with the caveat that contemporary college politics and its closeness to mother parties is a nexus for producing cadres and garnering votes. “There is an absence of broader politics within the political programs of the parties themselves. The race for votes takes precedence and this obviously introduces lumpenism and muscle-flexing,” he states. Aritra Bhaumick, an ex-student of Scottish Church College and an SFI activist, sums up the situation that contemporary student politics faces in Bengal. “We feel we are fighting to uphold an ideology, a class, but we end up promoting and serving selfish people and that is exactly the difference between how student politics should be and how it actually is.” The assumption that while mainstream politics has irretrievably mired itself in violence, student politics has a


STUDENT POLITICS IN WB

responsibility to divorce itself from such a brand of realpolitik is an assumption whose practicality and advisability need to be thoroughly questioned. This is not to condone violence within the realm of student movements, but to acknowledge that it is impossible to strictly distinguish or distance student politics from larger political trends. Biman Bandopadhyay, the registrar of Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU) and a student activist during his college years, raises some important questions that he thinks are coming out of the present scenario. “If young people are exposed to violence that is a part of everyday life at present, is it possible for them to remain completely outside of it? Furthermore, is it acceptable to argue for a ban on student elections and political participation based on the presence of violence in politics? This ultimately raises the question of whether students have a stake in societal change at all.” While campus politics in the state has in the past seen violence in many forms, the death of a peacefully protesting student leader in police custody, or the death of a policeman on duty during college union elections, or the ransacking of a foremost university constitutes events that have not been witnessed in recent times and which bring back memories of the turbulent student movements of the 70s. “Violence in college politics has been there for a while, but as far as I have seen, always as an ‘anticipation’ of sorts. Union elections would take place under police protection, and while clashes would happen, it was always under control,” says Atreyee Sengupta, ex-student

of Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University and former member of Federation of Arts Students, an independent political organization. Alluding to the presence of violence on campuses during the Left Front rule, an exstudent of Maulana Azad College mentions that there was no visible sign of an opposition on campus when SFI controlled the union during her time. “The presence of local miscreants and the imminent threat of armed clashes were always there,” she mentions. Violence, then, as an aspect of student politics in the state, needs to be seen within a historical continuum, and cannot be identified as a reason to dispel political participation from the sphere of education. Says a student activist from the International Relations department of Jadavpur University in the context of violence in union elections, “Shouldn't we be asking the questions then, are state assembly and panchayat elections devoid of violence? I don't think they are. But do you put a stop to them?” To many students, the role that mass media is playing in this refashioning of student politics in the state as a realm of unbridled goondaism is becoming evident. Shabnam Banerjee, a student activist from Medical College, Kolkata, rightly observes, “The death of Sudipto Gupta had not happened in a clash between students at all. So why is it that the public debate that arose out of it in the media centered around whether students should be allowed to be a part of politics?” For many like Shabnam, the conflation of student clashes and local gang skirmishes that is being highlighted in mass media representations is influencing the larger understanding of 16 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

student politics and vilifying political participation in popular belief. Student movements have always played an important role in educating young people to become responsible and conscientious citizens and political beings, and public opinion against collegiate participation in political processes will effectively deny the very human predisposition towards politics, aiding the growth of a culture of uninformed consent. Promona Sengupta is a freelance writer based in Kolkata with a keen interest in the arts, society and development.


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Rituparno Ghosh in a scene from his last completed film Chitrangada. Pic: Shree Venkatesh Films

Remembering

Rituparno 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 17


obituary

The premature demise of acclaimed Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, who passed away on May 30, has robbed Indian cinema of a rare combination of courage and sensitivity and perhaps, of many more masterpieces to come. Shoma A. Chatterji reminisces his works in this tribute to his genius.

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ith the passing away of Rituparno Ghosh on May 30, Indian cinema has lost one of its brightest stars. His going away at 49 has deprived the intellectual, artistic and cultural world of what he could have contributed had he lived for another two decades. Cinema was his major forte but it was not his only channel of creative expression. He was a brilliant journalist with a facile pen who edited a Bengali film fortnightly for several years and till his passing away, edited the Sunday pull-out, distributed free, of a leading Bengali daily. Readers would wait eagerly for his brief but succinct editorials in Robibar. He anchored a celebrity talk show called Ebong Rituparno that garnered very high TRPs, not only for the informal manner in which he organized the show but also because of the controversies some of the episodes raised. Ghosh directed a couple of television serials that carry his distinct signature. He named his home Tasher Desh after Tagore’s futuristic satire and decorated it himself, every corner a designer’s delight. He also turned designer for some time and became known for his unconventional but ethnic sartorial tastes. He turned his physical appearance into his fashion statement and brand identity, changing his head gear through a shaved pate, to wearing pretty wigs, through turbans to crown his distinctly individualistic style statement – long, flowing kurta worn over designer leggings with beautiful ethnic and flowing odhnis. He also wore jewellery and make-up sometimes but was particular about not wearing the sari. Cinema was his first and major love. Slowly, as his health began to collapse under an attack of pancreatitis, rising blood sugar levels and problems resulting from long-term hormone replacement therapy, he decided to withdraw from his other intellectual pursuits to concentrate fully on cinema. Sadly, life cut short his plans and his last film, Satyanweshi, based on the detective adventures of the famous Byomkesh Bakshi, is left for others to complete. He completed the shooting a few days before his passing away. His millions of fans eagerly await The Home and the World, his documentary on Rabindranath Tagore. Ghosh wrote the screenplay and

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dialogue of almost all his films. Among his dozen-and-odd National Awards, he received the Best Screenplay Award for Dahan. He even wrote some of the most memorable lyrics in recent Bengali cinema for Khela, which he wrote and directed. Bariwali was based on a short story he had written for a woman’s magazine. About Bariwalli, he said, “The film is about specific forms of exploitation of individuals that we, as filmmakers, practice with impunity”. He takes his argument to its final denouement without any trace of self-pity. “The fact that the exploiter in my film is a man and the exploited consists of two women – Sudeshna and Bonolata, is incidental. The issue is of universal vulnerability to the predatory instincts of the creative person.” In a recent interview, Ghosh had said that the two greatest influences in shaping him, apart from his parents, were Tagore on the one hand and Mahabharata on the other. “While Tagore is very close to me, who I walk with and who sometimes holds my hands, Mahabharata is a frame of reference I fall back on whenever I feel like it.” His excellence in multi-tasking possibly stemmed from his vast and deep erudition. He leaves behind a rich library of more than two lakh books. After his first film, Hirer Angti (1992), a film made for children, he followed with a series of films that centered on some or the other issue linked to the woman

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question. Whether it was in the series beginning with Unishe April followed by Dahan, Asookh and Bariwali, or whether it was one for which he dipped into literature, such as Tagore’s Chokher Bali (2003) or The Last Lear (rooted in William Shakespeare’s King Lear), or his last film Chitrangada, not a single female character of his matches or resembles the celluloid stereotype of the simpering martyr, the willing victim or the femme fatale. A study of his films shows that this defiance of stereotype is not necessarily deliberate and conscious but is often traced back (i) to the literary source the films are based on, (ii) his personal ideology that had a strong feminist streak, and (iii) his personal perspective and perceptions about the story, its unfolding and the positioning of the women within them. One unique element in his scripts is that he treated every single character with respect. In Unishe April Ghosh liberated the censored and distorted image of the screen mother from the taboos and constraints of patriarchal culture to place it as a subject of psychological study and sociological inspiration for a feminist reading. Ghosh took great care to choose the decor of the duplexapartment to establish a definite

Rituparno Ghosh. Pic: Reliance Pictures

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relationship between the decor and his two protagonists. The walls of the elaborately decorated and furnished drawing room downstairs are plush with huge photographs and posters of Sarojini bedecked in her dance costume and jewellery. The telephone on the writing desk, the pad by its side with the pen defines, once again, the method and the perfection in her life. In Dahan (1997), he uses the female voice-over as a framing device in the circularly structured film. This strategy destabilizes the popular practice of using a male voice-over to register the authority of the male. The female voice functions in relationship to one of the major visible characters on screen. Dahan sheds light on the changing matrix of the family in Indian metros today. The family’s relationship to the physical spaces it occupies is less important than its relationship to the emotional spaces created, sustained or destroyed between and among the members who constitute the basic structure of the family. The family mirrors society and the society reflects the family where both are gendered in particular ways, especially within the patriarchal paradigm. In the earliest phase of his filmmaking, Ghosh seemed to be preoccupied with cinema as a smaller world within the larger parameters of the social matrix. He used the self-reflexive style to explore the psyche, the mindset of people involved in films. This self-exploration, self-questioning, self-critique was a strong under-current in Asookh, Utsab and Bariwali. He returned to this self-reflexive center later in Shuvo Muhurat, Khela, Abohomaan, and The Last Lear. The main story ran on a different track while the filmwithin-the-film formed an important sub-text. Yet, unlike Kieslowski’s Camera Buff, the film-within-a-film was not autobiographical. The film that is truly autobiographical is Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish. It is not selfreflexive, but takes inspiration from Tagore’s dance drama and the Mahabharata episode to present the protagonist’s and Ghosh’s personal struggle with his androgyny and its understanding, acceptance and recognition by the mainstream. Ghosh explored poetry in Shob Choritro Kalponik and Khela, and dance in Chitrangada and Unishe April. He crossed the borders of language by making Raincoat in Hindi and The Last Lear in English. He extracted unparalleled performances from mainstream actors and actresses like Debasree Roy, Rituparna Sengupta, Indrani Haldar, Kiron Kher, Aishwarya Rai, Amitabh Bachchan, Arjun Rampal, Konkona Sen, Ajay Devgan, Bipasha Basu and Raima

Pic: Shree Venkatesh Films

Sen among many others. He turned top mainstream Bengali actor Prosenjit’s career completely around by stripping the star of his commercial image and thus gave his career a new lease of life. Rituparno Ghosh is the only Indian director till date to have taken the risk of projecting his androgyny and his alternative sexual preferences unabashedly and unapologetically through three films in his last phase. In two of these, he portrayed the main protagonist while in the third, he both directed and acted in the film. These films, Just Another Love Story, Memories in March and Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish deal with varied manifestations of sexuality. He lamented that even pillars of Bengali cinema shied away from portraying and presenting sexuality in their films and aspired to fill that gap and pointed out that Antarmahal was a film that explored sexuality. Just Another Love Story (Aar Ekti Premer Golpo), directed byKaushik Ganguly, explores alternative sexual orientations and identities across two generations. One is based on the tragic true story of

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obituary

Rituparno Ghosh is the only Indian director till date to have taken the risk of projecting his androgyny and his alternative sexual preferences unabashedly and unapologetically through three films in his last phase. In two of these, he portrayed the main protagonist while in the third, he both directed and acted in the film.

Chapal Bhaduri who plays himself in the larger film as the subject of a documentary being made within the film by a Delhi-based filmmaker. The other is about Abhiroop Sen (Rituparno Ghosh), the filmmaker who is gay and has an ongoing relationship with his cinematographer of the film-within-the-film. About Sanjoy Nag’s Memories in March, Ghosh said, “the film is more about the blurring of the boundaries between the ‘insider’ and the ‘outsider.’ It is a kind of challenge posed to the water-tight compartments we place the ‘insider’ versus ‘outsider’ in. The minority may be seen as an ‘outsider’ by the mainstream. But the ‘minority’ itself considers the mainstream an ‘outsider.’ We have tried to show that it is possible for the subjectively defined ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ to live in peaceful and harmonious co-existence. It is high time we created spaces for the gay person and his manner of behaviour in mainstream society not only and not always through an amorous relationship. The film shows how a gay person behaves when he does not necessarily have a lover.” No Indian feature film has ever touched upon sex reassignment surgery undergone by a man to become a woman. Chitrangada – The Crowning Wish, written and directed by Ghosh tackles this issue head-on through the eyes of its protagonist Rudra Chatterjee, enacted by Ghosh himself. Rudrajit is a dancer-choreographer who is in the process of choreographing Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama Chitrangada (1898) to celebrate the bard’s 150th birth anniversary. He is gay and evolves a relationship with the replacement drummer, Partho, a drug addict. About Chitrangada, Ghosh said, “Directorially Chitrangada is very precious to me, not because I am acting in it. I had set out on a quest for a language in Shob Choritro Kalponik, to bring the unreal into cinema. Chitrangada takes that experiment into the realm of abstraction and unreal.” His last words about Chitrangada were, “This is a changeable world. Nothing is permanent — possessions, love, things we own, even our own bodies. Why then do we cling to things like gender and identity with such fierceness? Why do we turn them into such issues? Chitrangada is Tagore’s exploration into the reality of identity. It asks the question — who are we, really?” He left that question hanging in the air for us to find answers to. Dr. Shoma A Chatterji, freelance journalist and author, writes on cinema, media, human rights, cultural issues and gender.

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 21


TRANSPARENCY OF POLITICAL PARTIES

Court battle likely after CIC’s RTI ruling Indian political parties have been notorious for their opacity, particularly when it comes to questions of their funding. A recent quasi-judicial order bringing six large national parties within the ambit of the RTI Act 2005 might change that. A quick summary of the latest developments:

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n what could well be a legislative milestone of the modern era, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that Indian political parties should come under the ambit of the Right To Information Act and should lay bare details of their operation and funding for public scrutiny. But given strong opposition from the mainline national parties to the ruling, this is all set to spark a battle at the courts in the ensuing weeks and months. In a landmark judgment dated 3 June 2013 on complaints filed by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Subhash Chandra Agrawal, a full bench comprising of Chief Information Commission Shri. Satyananda Mishra, Information Commissioners Shri. M.L. Sharma and Smt. Annapurna Dixit ruled: “.. we hold that INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP have been substantially financed by the Central Government under section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act. The criticality of the role being played by these Political Parties

in our democratic set up and the nature of duties performed by them also point towards their public character, bringing them in the ambit of section 2(h). The constitutional and legal provisions discussed herein above also point towards their character as public authorities. The order of the Single Bench of this Commission in Complaint No. CIC/MISC/2009/0001 and CIC/ MISC/2009/0002 is hereby set aside and it is held that AICC/INC, BJP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and BSP are public authorities under section 2(h) of the RTI Act.” In context, under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, “public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-Government established or constituted (a) by or under the Constitution; (b) by any other law made by Parliament; (c) by any other law made by State Legislature; or (d) by notification issued or made by the appropriate Government. 22 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

It includes any— (i) body owned, controlled or substantially financed; (ii) n o n - G o v e r n m e n t organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.

Roadmap to the judgment Political parties are not particularly known for their openness or transparency though people have long been demanding to know details of their financial and internal functioning. The history of the present judgment goes back to October 2010, when theADR filed applications under the RTI Act seeking information regarding maximum voluntary financial contributions received by the various parties between 2004-05 and 2009-10 - the sources, modes and amounts of these donations. Of the six at whom these queries were directed - INC/AICC,


TRANSPARENCY OF POLITICAL PARTIES

ADR has been doing pioneering work in election watches in the country as well as driving the debate on decriminalising party candidate selection and reform to election rules. Pic: http://adrindia.org

An example of data capture and analysis by ADR. Pic: http://adrindia.org

BJP, NCP, CPI(M), CPI and BSP - only CPI furnished the sources of ten maximum voluntary contributions received by the Party for the financial years 2004-05 to 2009-10. INC, NCP and CPI(M) responded to the requests saying they were not ‘public authorities’ and hence did not come under the purview of the RTI Act. The BJP and BSP did not respond at all. Based on this, in March and September 2011, separate complaints were filed by Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator for ADR and Subhash Chandra

Agrawal respectively contesting the claim that political parties were not ‘public authorities.’ The complainants cited, among other things, details of free airtime on national television and radio granted to parties before and during elections, provision of land and accommodation at concessional rates, state funding on free supply of Electoral rolls to recognized state and national political parties, and exemption on tax payable to argue that the parties were indeed “substantially financed” by the government 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 23

either directly or indirectly. In addition, in his representation, Agrawal also pointed out that the political parties hold constitutional status and wield significant powers under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, which empower them to decide on various dimensions of public life through influence on legislation and policy. They can oust any elected member of the State Legislative Assembly or Parliament if they step out of the party line. The parties have been given statutory status under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The allotment of election symbols by the Election Commission to various political parties is also strongly suggestive of the public character of these parties. In extra submissions made before the Commission, Bairwal also stressed on the need for transparency and accountability in the functioning of these parties by drawing upon recommendations of the Law Commission of India in their 170th Report on “Reform of Electoral Laws (1999)”. The ADR in its complaint had also pointed to international precedence, as noted in the Scandinavian countries where political parties are declared as public bodies and brought under the ambit of the respective freedom of information laws. In Poland for example, the Law on Access to Public Information in effect from January 2002 allows for verbal or written requests for access to public information, public data and public assets held by public bodies, and private bodies that exercise public tasks such as trade unions and political parties.


TRANSPARENCY OF POLITICAL PARTIES

The ADR has filed a caveat in the Delhi High Court so as to pre-empt any unilateral stay on the CIC order on the basis of a challenge from one or more of the parties. This now makes it obligatory for the Court to hear the ADR before it passes any order overriding the Commission’s. The order

Since both complaints and ensuing representations related to the common issue of disclosure of the accounts and funding of political parties, and both argued for parties to be considered as ‘public authorities’ as defined by the RTI Act, the CIC decided to dispose of these matters through a common order. In the ruling, the Commission accepted most of the points raised by the complainants; significantly it noted that for a private entity to qualify to be a public authority, “substantial financing does not mean majority financing. What is important is that the funding by the appropriate Government is achieving a ‘felt need of a section of the public or to secure larger societal goals’.” The CIC further concludes that the constitutional powers and statutory provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 that vest parties with rights and liabilities also point “unerringly” to their legitimate inclusion as ‘public authorities’ under Section 2 (h) of the RTI Act. The Presidents, General/ Secretaries of these Political Parties have now been directed to designate Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) and the Appellate Authorities at their headquarters in six weeks’ time. The CPIOs so appointed will have to respond to the RTI

applications within four weeks. The bench has also directed the residents/General Secretaries of the six parties“to comply with the provisions of section 4(1) (b) of the RTI Act by way of making voluntary disclosures on the subjects mentioned in the said clause.” Will the parties challenge the CIC order? The ADR certainly seems to think that they will seek to secure a stay from the higher courts and has filed a caveat in the Delhi High Court so as to preempt any unilateral stay on the CIC order on the basis of such challenge from one or more of the parties. A report on the domain-b site explains that such a caveat now makes it obligatory for the Court to hear the ADR before it passes any order overriding the Commission’s. While a keen tussle may be on the cards, It would be interesting to see what grounds the parties argue their case on, if at all, given the detailed ruling of the CIC explaining the need for transparency and their inclusion in the ambit of the RTI. “The people of India must know the source of expenditure incurred by Political Parties and by the candidates in the process of election. These judicial pronouncements unmistakably commend progressively higher level of transparency in the functioning of Political Parties in general and 24 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

their funding in particular,” argues the Commission in its order. It also points out that the RTI Act “aims to create an ‘informed citizenry’ and to contain corruption and to hold government and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed. Needless to say, Political Parties are important political institutions and can play a critical role in heralding transparency in public life.” Whether the parties accept such responsibility and role in ushering in a new era of public transparency in India is only for time to tell. India Together


EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

‘shadow boxing’ to continue: Dr. Sandeep Shastri

Given the complex and dynamic political scenario in India today, where is the country’s leadership headed? How will people vote in the assembly elections this year and how will it impact the national outcome? Eminent political scientist Sandeep Shastri shares his views on that and more with Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 25


EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

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ndia looks all set for what is perhaps the greatest democratic face-off in the world as the parliamentary elections draw nearer. The ruling United Progressive Alliance may have completed nine years in office but public confidence in government has hit an abysmal low thanks primarily to the spate of corruption scandals that surfaced with embarrassing regularity in the latter part of its tenure. The main party in the coalition, the Congress, is in the throes of a major leadership crisis. The main opposition - the NDA, which could have been the one to wrest this situation to its advantage, is also embroiled in an internal showdown of sorts over who would be its Prime Ministerial candidate. The mood of the nation shows that while the NDA certainly has an edge over the scamridden government if Lok Sabha elections are held today, it might fall just short of an absolute majority as things stand now. The only good news for the UPA in the recent past has been a convincing win for the Congress party in the elections to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, where, too, the results are being viewed more as a vote against the erstwhile state BJP government. In normal course, several other state assemblies including Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are likely to go to polls before the Lok Sabha elections. In the complex political scenario prevailing in the country today, how are these local mandates likely to swing voters’ decisions in the national elections? Will India vote against the menace of corruption and sluggish policy-making in 2014, or will narrow regional identities trump broader national consciousness? Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Director of the Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education (CERSSE) at

Bangalore’s Jain University and National Convenor of the Lokniti Network is an authority on the subject of Indian politics and the electoral system. He has been at the helm of various related studies and projects in leading Indian and international institutions, and his substantive empirical research in the field lend him him an acute perception of the realities of Indian democracy that few others possess. Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya caught up with Dr. Shastri at his office in Bangalore to discuss the present social and cultural dynamics of politics in the states and how these are likely to manifest in the results of the imminent Lok Sabha elections: Now that Lok Sabha elections seem so close, perhaps closer than we think, do you think the state assembly elections this year might be a good indication of what is to come? Have there been any observable historical trends in this respect? We do talk of a ‘honeymoon’ effect. If elections to the Lok Sabha election are held less than a year after a state assembly elections, more often than not, unless the State bungles really badly, the result is more or less the same. The trend has always been that within a year, the party that did well in the state election continues to do well in the Parliament elections. This has been borne out by several studies. And as I said, we call that the ‘honeymoon effect’. It was seen last time in Karnataka. In 2008, the BJP got a big bulk of seats and elections were held within less than a year. In fact, this time it may be held even sooner. This is not just for Karnataka. It was true in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, and Rajasthan. However, the converse may not be true. If an

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assembly election is held within a year of Lok Sabha elections, that trend could well be very different. A lot of us today feel that every election, whether Lok Sabha or state assembly, is largely driven by local factors. So when you vote for a State government, you are visibly voting for what you want at the state level. Subsequent to that within an year, when you are voting for a Lok Sabha election, you want to indulge your State government for some more time; give them another chance. That’s a very clear trend that is seen not just in Karnataka, but all over the country. Karnataka has already seen elections. There are several other states that go to elections around October. Given the “honeymoon effect” that you mentioned, how do you see the various national parties strategising for the assembly polls with eyes on 2014? If you see the two major alliances, UPA and the NDA, the Congress within the UPA does not have too many states to cheer about. Even the states where it did well last time could pose a problem this time - Andhra Pradesh, Maharasthra, Rajasthan. Secondly, if you look at UPA allies, those numbers are shrinking too and the allies who do well are not necessarily tied to the political strings of the Congress any more. They could go anywhere. The only state where the Congress seems to be gaining is Karnataka. Now, look at the NDA on the other hand. BJP within the NDA again does not seem likely to get any new state which it did not already have in 2004 and 2009. Maybe Delhi, but it has only 6 seats in the Lok Sabha. So my question is where is the BJP or the Congress, and I am talking about the two parties only, hoping to increase their seats? Which means that for both, UP

EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

would be critical. UP has 80 seats. And this now explains the trend in the BJP. Amit Shah being asked to lead the UP campaign - is that part of Modi’s larger strategy upon realising that if the party can get UP, it could be closer to the 200 seats mark. I think there is some strategizing going on in both but to me, at least at this juncture, the advantage seems to lie with a non-Congress, a non-BJP formulation. Note, I am not saying UPA or NDA, I’m saying non-Congress, non-BJP. Because I believe a lot within the non-Congress UPA and the non-BJP NDA could be enough. As things stand, and if you look at the report card of the UPA-II we have shown recently, I don’t think there will be celebrating in Delhi today. So I think there is no good news now for the two big leaders. Of course, regional leaders may not capture the national imagination, but then they are very strong regional leaders. Only a small per cent may want to see Jayalalitha as a Prime Minister, but do that survey in Tamilnadu alone. Same applies to Mulayam and Nitish Kumar. As I’ve always said, I think the new centre of Indian politics is not the Centre, but the states. Mathematics apart, do you see the Karnataka results having any impact on the imminent Lok Sabha elections? Only on two parties, Congress and BJP. It is a morale booster for the Congress because they did not get any good news otherwise and do not hope to get any in the future also. This is the only piece of good news that they have. For the BJP I think the Karnataka election is important as I think it will trigger off a process of churning within the party, locally and nationally. It has already started. So I think

UPA may be hoping that with cash transfers or with food security policy, they will be able to influence the minds of voters, but I don't think so. The impact of this policy will not have been seen in the daily lives of the people when the country goes to polls. It will continue only to be a promise which will not be able to compete with all the other negative publicity that this government has had.

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 27


EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

in that way, it will have an impact on the BJP. When you say that “the new centre of Indian politics is not the Centre, but the states” would you imply that regional identities, let us say caste for example, overrides other broader national issues when people are voting? Adequate attention has not been given to why caste continues to be important. Whenever we use the word caste, it is generally associated with age-old hierarchies, with discrimination of the past. I would suggest that we look at caste today as a very modern category or parameter. Caste has nothing to do with hierarchies of the past. Caste is today a critical social identity and it’s not a question of vertical computation across groups. It is a horizontal computation. So I think caste needs to be understood in that perspective where both the candidate and the voter uses it; the candidate uses it to say why he/she should be chosen by the party and the voter and the voter sees it as an important identity because at the end of the day that continues to remain an important social contract. Having said that, I believe that caste as an identity in politics dominates when no other equally or more important factor is there to dominate. When there is no critical economic/political factor that engages the mind of voters or forms a part of the general political discourse, then automatically caste becomes an important marker in politics. The government at the Centre is trying to push through several measures or policies - for example through cash transfers or the Food Security Bill. Do you think that these might override regional identities and impact the Lok sabha results?

In 2009, when the UPA returned to power, a lot of people believed that its pro-poor policies, especially NREGA influenced the result in many states. But it is important to know that a lot of these pro-poor policies were implemented right from the time that the UPA-I took over. They all came about in 2004, 2005, 2006. So that when elections were held in 2009, we had already seen the impact of that policy. Now I feel it might be too late. UPA may be hoping that with cash transfers or with food security policy, they will be able to influence the minds of voters, but I don’t think so. The impact of this policy will not have been seen in the daily lives of the people when the country goes to polls. It will continue only to be a promise which might not be able to compete with all the other negative publicity that this government has had. If a government has performed well, it will reap its rewards. I think, we have seen governments returning to power, simply on the basis of performance. And I am not talking about Modi; I think Modi’s so called success has a lot to do with how media has hyped him. But look at at Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar. I think there are success stories within the BJP too, for example Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and to a certain extent, Odisha. The success stories in these states have a lot to do with ground level implementations of critical programs. In a very low-key way, these Chief Ministers have managed to assert their presence in their states. So if the voters see a visible sign of progress, or at least visible efforts towards development, then it would be very difficult to vote out that government. And there are a lot of examples to prove that. The recent Parliamentary by-elections in Bihar,

28 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


however, seem to have delivered a rude blow to Nitish Kumar. Just as the Bastar killing has thrown a cloud over Raman Singh’s handling of the Naxal issue. How do you see these two separate developments in what were being largely seen as sunrise states? How do they look likely to impact the Parliamentary results? The `shadow boxing` between Modi and Nitish Kumar will continue with each having their ups and downs. The result in Bihar is about one Parliamentary constituency which though a setback for Nitish does not real call for alarm bells to be rung. The Gujarat by-election result is, of course, more spectacular and would boost Modi’s efforts. The Naxal linked developments in Chattisgarh would surely bring a new focus to the electoral politics of Chattisgarh and place the state government on the backfoot. It would need to be seen to what extent the Congress in Chattisgarh can organize itself and present a credible alternative to the BJP in the state. There has been a lot of discourse on the disengagement of the urban populace from the electoral system. As Karnataka has shown in the recently concluded elections, as also in earlier ones, polling percentages have always been lowest in the Bengaluru urban district. Why? There could be multiple factors. One of course could be technical - related to errors in the voters’ lists. In urban areas, we see a greater chance of migration. People come in and move out at a faster pace. This has contributed to a lot of flaws in the voter list: people coming into the city have not been registered or people leaving the city,have not been removed from these lists. So you find errors of both omission and commission that

EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

affect the turnout ratio. Having said that, however, I also feel that lower voting in urban areas is linked to the socio-economic profile within an urban area. Take Bangalore city, for example. The percentage of urban poor in Bangalore is higher than the national average of urban poor. Studies have shown that voting per cent among the urban poor is actually more than the overall urban ratio. So the urban poor does go out in larger numbers. Low voter turnout has, in fact, been found to be linked to areas where the the upper middle class and the upper class live. One of the factors could be a genuine sense of anger against the system. This is also invariably the class that is more educated and believes that the system is not working properly, that there is too much corruption and maladministration and therefore, do not vote as a sign of protest.Then again, all who do not vote may not fit into that category either. A significant number of middle class urban voters, I feel, are disconnected with the system. My friend puts it very poignantly. He says for the middle class, ‘I love democracy, I hate politics’. Because democracy is a great thing, India must be a democracy but I don’t want to sully my hands by getting into this dirty politics. There is that high moral ground which this particular section of people tends to take. They tend to believe that there are only two solutions to India’s politics and problems in general the legal system, therefore the judiciary is a great darling for that group and second - technology. Because they are so negative about how the political system functions, they tend to exit completely from the system rather than work towards the reform of the system. Now, one may ask, is this negativism also a mask?

somewhere I feel the urban middle class sees itself as lost in this process. More so, because things are not going in the direction they would have wanted it to go in terms of who leads. Globalization has also contributed to it by taking decision-making away from the state into the private domain. Therefore you have less need to interact with the state.

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 29


EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

Perhaps, a mask to hide means? “I don’t need the political process to solve my problems of daily life. I have the means, I have the influence, and I have the capacity to get a problem resolved in more ways than one. I do not need your elected representative and your governmental processes to solve it. So why should I take part?” More of a costbenefit analysis. Would you say the discourse on politics and leaders in media or in the public sphere encourages this mindset? Yes, and also the fact that the last three decades has witnessed a change in the language, context and content of politics; I mean the political process is seeping downwards, it’s becoming more inclusive, more participatory. So what happens is that the privileged middle class who, in a way dominated the process in the years after independence, see an element of alienation today now that this process is not under their exclusive control. New social groups have come up which are now educated and they bring their own language to politics - a very valid, a very authentic language. This is seen as another interesting trend. How do you explain this contradiction - in a way, politics has become more inclusive, more participatory, and at the same time it has ended up alienating a significant section of people? As I said, it is because those who were seen as dictating the system, those who were seen as opinion makers in the system, are

today having to share that space with other groups. You look into the politics of the 90s and 2000’s. Take Karnataka’s case. Karnataka in the post 90s has seen the rise of new leaders in all parties. Be it a Kumaraswamy, be it a

In 2009, when the UPA returned to power, a lot of people believed that its pro-poor policies, especially NREGA influenced the result in many states. But it is important to know that a lot of these propoor policies were implemented right from the time that the UPA-I took over. They all came about in 2004, 2005, 2006. So that when elections were held in 2009, we had already seen the impact of that policy. Yeddyurappa, or a Siddaramaiah. These leaders represent a new social group, a non-English speaking, non-elite culture. They are not very conversant in English, they are excellent to 30 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

dialogue with in Kannada, and you see how the urban middle class views these leaders. They are even seen by some as enacting a kind of theatre of the absurd rather than as the real voice of many. If you ask a typical Kannada-speaking middle class youth today at the state level, he is able to sync with Kumaraswamy very well as the latter speaks a language that he understands. By language, I don’t mean Kannada, but the the idiom of politics which is often very different from what the urban middle class can connect to. And you think this, by extension, applies to the national scenario too? Yes, absolutely. At the national level you have leaders like, Mulayam, Lalu. Today if I go to a typical city, and if I am lecturing at a college or a public programme, the very mention of Lalu’s name brings smiles to the faces of those in the audience. A lot of these people, who are smiling in the auditorium, do not understand that Lalu represents a very authentic foil of politics in this country today. It may not be to your liking, but it’s a reality. This social change is what I mean when I say politics is seeping downwards. These are leaders who are all products of a silent, but visible social revolution that is happening in this country. Mandal was an early step in that process... Now, going back to the original point, somewhere I feel the urban middle class sees itself as lost in this process. More so, because things are not going in the direction they would have wanted it to go in terms of who leads. Globalization has


also contributed to it by taking decision-making away from the state into the private domain. Therefore you have less need to interact with the state. Finally, how important do you think corruption as an issue is in the mind of the average voter? I mean Karnataka voted overwhelmingly for the Congress even when the UPA under its leadership was reeling under accusations in so many scams... During the Karnataka elections, we conducted a representative survey across the state. We asked this question to people: How do you rate your state govt on performance, corruption? How do you rate your central government on performance, corruption? The central government did not come out great shades at all. But because this was a state assembly election and because the level of frustration with the state government was much higher, the vote was against the BJP, and therefore the Congress and Janata Dal won. I think what happened is that people were unhappy with affairs of the state and they were equally unhappy with what was happening at the national level. So, I think voters just felt that it’s not the party label that’s important: the general feeling seemed to be “you see what’s happening in Delhi, and you see what’s happening in Bangalore, so let us just go by the candidate.” For me, that’s another interesting trend that is emerging - voters are increasingly looking at the candidate and not so much at the party. In terms of corruption as an

issue, I think if voters feel that the corrupt practices of an MLA or a government has directly impacted their lives - for example, if the voter feels that an MLA has diverted funds that should otherwise have gone for development or if the citizen feels that an MLA has done

EYE ON LOK SABHA 2014

critical. And as long as those finances are not taken from what the people should be legitimately be getting as a citizen, it is okay. What about using money to influence votes? In fact, a lot of people make this point about parties and candidates buying votes. In the Karnataka elections, I have talked to a lot of people who told me that they specifically went back to their villages to vote. When you scratch a little deeper and ask them why, the real truth comes out: ‘people were giving us freebies in the village, direct cash, other incentives.’ And when I ask them, “does it influence your vote?” the answer is very interesting. They seem to feel that when different people were offering them benefits, why should they not take that? One even went to the extent of telling me, ‘That’s my right. I elected him. He became corrupt, he has just parted with a part of that money which is legitimately mine’. But then the bottom line for me is even more interesting. They say “we would have taken doles from whoever gave us but then, we decide who we vote for’. I am today convinced that voters decide whom to vote for, and that has nothing to do with the freebies that they get from these people. To be visible in an election one has to spend above a particular threshold, but just because you spend you are gonna win - I don’t think that is a reality today in either Karnataka politics or Indian politics as a whole.

If a government has performed well, it will reap its rewards. I think, we have seen governments returning to power, simply on the basis of performance. And I am not talking about Modi; I think Modi’s so called success has a lot to do with how media has hyped him. But look at at Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar. nothing for us but has had a great time himself - then there is that strong resentment which the voter expresses by voting out the sitting MLA. There are many examples where this has happened. But I also think today voters recognize the fact that to contest and win elections, finances are 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 31

Satarupa Sen Bhattacharya is Associate Editor of India Together.


IN SEARCH OF POTABLE WATER

Why women in this village can’t cook dal

If you keep water standing in a glass for a while here, it causes a stain around the rim. Pamela Philipose describes the tribulations and ordeal of women in Mamana village of Uttar Pradesh, as they fight to collect potable water everyday. 32 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


T

he expression “dal-roti” defines the “everyday” in Uttar Pradesh’s Hamirpur district, as it does in much of north India, being the staple fare here. The region, in fact, is sometimes referred to as the ‘dal’ (lentil) bowl of the state. So the problem faced by the women of Mamana, a village that

IN SEARCH OF POTABLE WATER

would be wise not to marry your daughter into a household there, because all she would be doing for the rest of her life thereafter will be to chase after potable water. This is because every one of its 40 hand pumps yields only brackish water. According to data put out by the Delhi-based The

Left: Mamana, which lies somewhere between the towns of Rath and Sarila, in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh, is known as a “water crisis” village because every one of its 40 hand pumps yields only brackish water. Right: Mamana resident Guddi Devi has a tough time making dal, the staple food of the region. Pics: WFS

falls in this district, has an almost surreal touch to it - they cannot cook the famous ‘arhar dal’ that grows in the surrounding fields in the water they collect from hand pumps in their neighbourhood. If you inquire locally about Mamana, which lies somewhere between the towns of Rath and Sarila, you will be told that it is a “water crisis” village and that it

Energy and Research Institute (TERI), 1,62,000 villages in India face the problem of brackish or contaminated water and a scarcity of fresh water. Mamana, with a population of 4,387, is clearly one of them. People in Mamana can recognise the hardness in the water easily enough. If they use soap, they will find that it does 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 33

not lather and instead leaves a white deposit on the body. If they leave water standing in a glass for a while, a stain forms around the water’s rim. Cooking dal in this water would be a disaster. Explains Guddi Devi, “If we make ‘dal’ with water from a hand pump here, the ‘dal’ and the water will remain separate even after an hour of cooking. Pani bilkul khaara hain (the water here is completely brackish).” Hardness in water comes from heavy metals and minerals that have made their way into the water from sedimentary rocks, seepage or farm runoff. Substances like calcium and magnesium, emerging from limestone and chalk deposits found in soils also have a presence in the water. The ill-effects of drinking hard water are widely recognised in the whole of Hamirpur. As one old man in Sarila block put it, “Many people here complain of pain on one side of their stomach and it is said that this is because of kidney stones caused by the poor quality of drinking water.” Mamana has 742 households, of which 369 are from the Scheduled Caste (SC), 275 belong to Other Backward Classes (OBCs). There are also 55 Muslim and 45 Upper Caste families. As in the rest of UP, caste determines every aspect of life, including the quality of water that reaches you. Unsurprisingly, Dalit and Muslim neighbourhoods are the least serviced and the hardest hit when there is an acute shortage of water in the punishing months of summer when temperatures soar to 45 degree Celsius and heat eviscerates the body. Only 141 households in Mamana have access to piped water that comes from the adjoining village of Mankheri, six kilometres away.


IN SEARCH OF POTABLE WATER

The rest have to make do with a common tap located at the side of the road as it enters the village. While there is a general rush to try and collect as much of piped water as family storage facilities allow, there is the occasional breakdown to contend with. Guddi Devi explains, “For water supply in the common tap, we need power, and sometimes there are serious breakdowns in transmission. Water is supposed to come at 6 o’clock in the morning, but anything can happen, a transformer can go kaput, a storm can bring down an electricity pole or there could be a breakage in the connecting pipe.” So what happens when government water supply proves elusive? The local pradhan will then have to get water ferried in by tankers - a move that can cost around Rs 1,500 a trip. Although this is an expense borne by the gram panchayat, the quality of the water supplied in this way leaves much to be desired. Reveals Guddi Devi, “Things get very tense. Fights break out to access the six wells that have ‘meetha’ (sweet) water and the water from the tankers, which is often filthy. Sometimes we are not able to fill our ‘gagariyan’ (pitchers) from even these sources and have no option but to drink the brackish water in the hand pumps. ‘Jeena hai to peena hai’ (if you have to live, you have to drink).” Interestingly, the ‘good water’, when it is available, is reserved not just for cooking, but for the men of the family - who are allowed the luxury of having a bath in fresh water, despite not having lifted a finger to collect it. Women traditionally have been given the drudge task of collecting water for all domestic purposes, including watering the cattle if there are any.

The sight of women and young girls hauling pitchers and buckets is common enough, but rarely can men be spotted doing similar activity. As young Pratiskha Devi, in another village in this region, put it, “Even when we are burning with fever we have no escape from collecting water.” Yet, so deeply internalised is the norm that it is a woman’s responsibility to collect water, that not one woman complains of this unfairness of it. And as water gets scarcer, as construction activity proliferates and water bodies disappear, the increasing burden of collecting water for the household can only be expected to rise exponentially. Despite their lot, however, the resourceful women of Mamana find ways to keep going. When the piped water does come, they make as many trips as are needed to fill up every container in their home. “It is like gold for us - and we are constantly hoarding it for a day when there is no water in the tap!” laughed one, who showed us how carefully she stored water in her home - with drinking water and

Interestingly, the ‘good water’, when it is available, is reserved not just for cooking, but for the men of the family - who are allowed – the luxury of having a bath in fresh water, despite not having lifted a finger to collect it. The sight of women and young girls hauling pitchers and buckets is common enough, but rarely can men be spotted doing similar activity.

34 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


IN SEARCH OF POTABLE WATER Above: The women of Mamana have set up a ‘paani panchayat’ (water governing group). Below: Kunti Devi sings self written and composed songs related to water rights to spread awareness. Pics: WFS

water for cleaning and bathing purposes stored in different containers. The brackish hand pump water is usually utilised for tasks like washing clothes and utensils, while potable water is used for cooking. Awareness about every person’s right to clean water is also growing. Women in Mamana set up a ‘paani panchayat’ (water governing group) in February 2012 with the help of the Orai-based Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan under a project supported by the European Union. Organising themselves has given these women the confidence to speak up and place their demands before the authorities. Last October, they met the Sub Divisional Magistrate at Sarila town to demand an extension of the government water pipeline to Mamana’s Scheduled Caste neighbourhood. They have even found a balladeer to sing about their difficulties - Kunti Devi, who plays a major part in Mamana’s ‘paani panchayat’. She sings songs that she has written herself in a firm, strong voice. One of them went: “Oh water, how many sacred names you bear/ Oh water, you are truly a life giver/ Oh water you are part of nature/ Oh water you are part of our culture/Oh water please come down to us.” (Women's Feature Service) Pamela Philipose is director and editorin-chief of Women's Feature Service. This article has been provided by the WFS.

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 35


WATER HYACINTH CRAFT

‘Pearl of water’ transforming lives An innovative eco-friendly handicraft, developed and promoted by NEDFi, using the abundant water hyacinth has improved the economic conditions of rural artisans and crafts-women in the Northeast and given their lives new meaning Ratna Bharali Talukdar reports.

R

ejiya Begum (24), mother of a child and Maslima Begum (39), a mother of four did not know how to make both ends meet until they heard about the unique ‘Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes) Craft.’ From being zero income housewives nearly two years back, these two women of Barpathar village in Sipajhar area of Darrang district in Assam now enjoy a modest living by making a wide range of eco-friendly products out of dried stems of water hyacinth, contributing to a major share of their family income. The innovative craft developed and introduced by the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd (NEDFi) has helped improve the socio-economic status of the rural poor, enabling them to make ecofriendly products out of this water-weed and providing a new genre of artisans the required sustainable market support. Rejiya and Maslima are among over a thousand such rural artisans and experts, mostly women of different tribes and communities throughout Assam and the Northeast, trained by the NEDFi to take up this new craft for augmentation of their family income. This unique eco-friendly project of NEDFi has proved to be a success story - it has transformed the lives of the rural poor and at the same time turned the water hyacinth from being merely a wild water-weed to ‘pearl of water’ since 2008. Unlike many other experiments with eco-friendly products developed and designed as sustainable livelihood options, the unconventional and innovative water hyacinth craft has gained popularity among artisans within a very short period of time. ‘We can now earn Rs. 200 to Rs.250 if we can work for eight hours a day. However, as we have to attend to all household chores too, we 36 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


WATER HYACINTH CRAFT

Left: A wo Right: Water hyacinth, an easily available raw material . Pics:Ratna Bharali Talukdar

can work for only around 5-6 hours each day. The more we work, the more we earn. We usually make hats and fancy bags from water hyacinth stems, which sell like hot cakes in the market,’ says Rajiya and Maslima. Their earning became crucial for their families, especially while availing soft loans for raising their tin-roof houses, getting LPG connections, electricity connections and financing studies of their children and enabling access to quality education. The craft is highly flexible as there is no fixed time for the artisans to make their products. They are free to work at any time that is convenient for them, whether day or night. It is also less laborious than other work available in villages, such as daily wage earning jobs or jobs as agricultural labour. Further, artisans need not come out of their house in search of jobs. These are some of the reasons behind this craft receiving such prompt and wide acceptance among the rural women. NEDFi has also introduced the district ‘mentor’ to help the artisans, regularly visit them, guide them to improve the quality of their products and finally collect their products for sale. The mentors also create awareness among the artisans regarding the need for small savings. The NEDFi officials organise regular meetings between mentors, master artisans and the marketing team to discuss introduction of new technology, review of prices, and other matters relating to the craft. 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 37


WATER HYACINTH CRAFT

Neelim Kumar Bhuyan, the mentor of Darrang district and who is also a master artisan with training from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, says there are 150 skilled artisans in the district. On an average these artisans produce products worth Rs.1,00,000/ every month. This means, on an average an individual artisan earns over Rs.6500 per month, which is a modest income for any village women. Apart from these skilled artisans there are over 300 unskilled artisans in the district. NEDFi arranged phase-wise training programme for these artisans. Introduction of Artisan’s Cards for skilled artisans is another innovative idea that helps them to keep records of sale and payments, he says. NEDFi has its own ‘Craft Gallery’ to showcase and store products of artisans in Guwahati, the largest city of Assam, and a permanent exhibition platform named ‘NEDFi Haat’ in the heart of the city, which is a popular space for customers. Water hyacinth products are the most sought-after in regional and national exhibitions as well. There are a number of showrooms for these at different places. A raw material bank at the Technology Resource Center (TRC) located in Khetri area of Kamrup (Metro) district is also coming up to meet the gap of water hyacinth stems during winter months. With more artisans taking up this craft gradually, a supportive market for providing rawmaterials, too, is evolving. ‘Making articles out of water hyacinth was a whole new approach, as no one could imagine the great potential of this water-weed, easily available and the overgrowth of which in water-bodies often created a menace. Our initiative was to create wealth from this menace. But we were in a great dilemma and uncertain about the success and acceptability of such experiments,’ says Asim Kumar Das, Assistant General Manager NEDFi, who is in charge of the integrated programme for development of water hyacinth craft in North-east. Das is happy that within four years of initiation of the project in 2008, when its first training programme mobilized 21 artisans from different pockets of Assam, NEDFi earned the prestigious Rural Innovation Award from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development in 2012. Today, the water hyacinth project covers over 1,300 skilled and expert artisans in the five northeastern states including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur. However, the project has become most successful in some districts in Assam including Darrang, Nalbari, Nagaon and Dhubri with more and more artisans coming out to adopt the craft.

The craft is highly flexible as there is no fixed time for the artisans to make their products. It is also less laborious than other work available in villages, such as daily wage earning jobs or jobs as agricultural labour. Further, artisans need not come out of their house in search of jobs.

Irregular supply of cane and the high cost entailed in bamboo crafts - the two major handicraft traditions of Northeast India - led NEDFi to search for options for low-cost and easily available rawmaterials like banana fiber and water hyacinth that could enable a sustainable livelihood option for rural artisans engaged in these crafts. The water hyacinth craft immediately gained popularity, as it requires

38 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


WATER HYACINTH CRAFT Left: Chandra Kumar Das and Nilim Kumar Bhuyan near a pond full of full grown water hyacinth. Right: An artisan with a cap made of water hyacinth. Pic:Ratna Bharali Talukdar

minimal effort to produce the dried stems needed for making eco-friendly products for both regular use and decorative purposes including bags, hats, basketry, slippers, mats, lamp-shed, and ornaments among others. Following a series of programmes for skill upgrade, a section of these artisans have started making even sofa-sets with centre tables from this water-weed. Artisans could easily bring their skill of cane and bamboo craft to bear upon their endeavours with water hyacinth, as the dried stems of this water-weed, grown abundant for about eight months in ponds, wetlands and other water bodies, can be easily weaved just as for cane and jute products. NEDFi has organised a series of programmes for master artisans including sending artisan teams to National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and introducing Thai technology through an expert from Thailand since 2010. In addition, it has also arranged local training programmes for unskilled artisans. “The objectives were to provide the artisans a supportive market as well as set up credit linkage. It also aims at establishing methods for continuous transfer of latest technology and designs and constant monitoring of its progress. However, one of the most unique achievements of this programme is that NEDFi has been able to empower these rural artisans by projecting them as ‘Brand Ambassadors,’ says Chandra Kumar Das, Marketing Executive of NEDFi,

who has been closely associated with artisans and district monitors since the inception of the project. The projection of artisans as Brand Ambassadors also helps showcase water hyacinth as an affordable utility product for regular use. The craft also gives opportunities and freedom to a large number of artisans to move to different corners either to avail skill-enhancement training or to sell their products directly in different trade-fairs. “I was so happy when, from the first payment of products made out of water hyacinth, I could repay a private loan of Rs.7000 at the rate of 5 per cent interest per month, which I took when my husband had to undergo an eye-operation. Last monsoon, when my husband could not earn for a longer period due to dearth of work and high flood, our family could survive from the money I deposited through making water hyacinth products. Water hyacinth not only gives us opportunities for earning, but also provides a meaningful life for us,’ says a proud artisan Manjula Chamua, and wife of a daily wage earner. Every single artisan taking up this new craft, most of them women, has many such stories to share. Individual success stories speak volumes about the bigger success story of NEDFi’s initiative. Ratna Bharali Talukdar is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. She received the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Media Person and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 39


BRAI BILL

The Court of Appeals in Philippines has recently p trials of GM Bt Brinjal. As the Indian government Neha Saigal exposes its loopholes and argues why

GM Crops: Can In the Philippines 40 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013


BRAI BILL

passed an order, prohibiting field seeks to push through the BRAI Bill, y we should go the Philippines way.

ndia follow example? 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 41


BRAI BILL

T

he introduction of the contentious Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in the Lok Sabha in this Budget Session was a big blow to Indian democracy, people’s right to safe food and the future of sustainable farming in India. The BRAI bill was introduced and referred to the Standing Committee of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, despite opposition for the last three years by all quarters of civil society and by many Members of Parliament. The BRAI Bill was drafted in a secretive fashion with no opportunity for the general public to comment on a legislation which deals with something as important as the safety of our food. It provides for a centralised and narrow decision making process with no mechanism of consultation from the public which is against the spirit of democracy. It overrides the state government’s authority on health and agriculture and rules out any kind of involvement of the states in activities related to execution and monitoring of field trials of GM crops. In what can be seen as contradictory to the very spirit of the federal structure of the Indian Constitution, the Bill takes away all powers of the state governments to reject the introduction of any GMOs, including experimental releases through field trials, in their state. Moreover, it also denies the citizen his right to information by excluding it from the ambit of the RTI Act. The Bill has come under criticism not only for the lack of transparency that it engenders with regard to approval of genetically modified food crops, but also for an inherent conflict of interest as the Authority is

Under the procedures of the Bill, once an application for authorization is submitted to the relevant authority, this will be forwarded to the Risk Assessment Unit, which immediately embarks on a science based evaluation of risks associated, without even assessing if a GMO is at all needed or will bring any additional benefits under local circumstances and conditions.

proposed to be under the Ministry of Science and Technology, which also has a mandate to promote biotechnology. There is no intention or mention of the independent long term safety 42 |www.indiatogether.org| 03 Mar 2013

assessment of GM crops.

The Philippines order

Even as the Indian government let its people down by placing corporate greed before public


interest, there was good news from the Philippines as the Court of Appeals issued a Writ of Kalikasan on 17 May, ordering the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned government agencies in Philippines to stop field trials of GM Bt Brinjal. After failing to get it approved in India, Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company), an Indian front of Monsanto had taken its Bt brinjal (with a proprietary bacterial gene from Monsanto) to the Philippines. This was met with stiff resistance from people's movements and scientists there. The Writ of Kalikasan provided in Section 16, Article II of the Philippine Constitution provides for the protection of one’s right to a safe environment. The Court of Appeals took this decision keeping in mind the constitutional right of every Filipino citizen to a healthy and balanced ecology. Greenpeace East Asia (Philippines) along with leading civil society organisations filed a petition in the Filipino Supreme Court last year seeking a writ of Kalikesan as they argued that the field trials of Bt brinjal were violating this constitutional right. The Court of Appeal’s decision was based on the fact that there was no full scientific certainty as yet on the effects of Bt brinjal field trials on the environment and human health. This rings a bell of familiarity with every Indian citizen and takes us back to 9 February 2010, when the then Minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh had taken a milestone decision to put a moratorium on Bt brinjal in India on similar grounds of lack of scientific information and public concern on GM crops. A detailed look at the decision by the Court of Appeals to issue

a Writ of Kalikasan should be a strong message to the Indian Government to withdraw the BRAI Bill, 2013. In the case of the Bt brinjal field trials in the Philippines, the petitioners stated that there was no proper consultation with the public and local communities. Further, there was no proper risk assessment and the only findings that were used as a basis to get clearance was Mahyco’s data of Bt brinjal in India. There was clear disregard of the precautionary principle by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in giving clearances for these field trials.

What’s wrong with the BRAI Bill? The BRAI Bill similarly provides a single window clearance mechanism for GM crops in the country with a lack of accompanying mechanisms that would ensure transparency and public participation. In a sense, the BRAI bill is worse than the existing regulatory system under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, being fundamentally flawed with a wrong mandate of promoting modern biotechnology, rather than considering biosafety. As a critique of the Bill by environmental NGO Greenpeace points out, the Bill does not make any reference to the risks associated with modern biotechnology and its potentially adverse effects on the environment as well as human health. “It appears from the preamble that the Bill intents an adaptive approach - i.e., reducing the risks by taking measures for safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology and assumes that products of modern biotechnology are a fait accompli,” 03 Mar 2013 |www.indiatogether.org| 43

BRAI BILL

points out the report. The BRAI Bill does not even scratch the surface to address the concerns on India’s regulatory system brought to the forefront by the nationwide debate on Bt Brinjal. It is silent on the questions of independent long term biosafety testing, or a needsassessment to determine the need for such risky technologies and the availability of alternatives. Under the procedures of the Bill, once an application for authorization of research, transport, import, manufacture or use of GM products is submitted to the relevant authority, this will be forwarded to the Risk Assessment Unit, which immediately embarks on a science based evaluation of risks associated, without even assessing if a GMO is at all needed or will bring any additional benefits under local circumstances and conditions. In all of this, it seems that it is imperative for the Indian government to take a cue from the Court’s order in the Philippines, and protect the Indian citizen’s constitutional “Right to Life” by taking a precautionary approach to GM crops, either through withdrawal of or comprehensive changes in the BRAI Bill. Neha Saigal is a Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner with Greenpeace India.


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India Together 18-June-2013