Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Top campaign bodies accuse Modi govt of "accelerating" policies that undermine social protection

ICDS under attack?
By Our Representative
Ahead of a national level public hearing at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on August 4, 2014, several campaign organizations have sharply criticized the Narendra Modi government for seeking to “accelerate” efforts made by the previous UPA government during its latter phase to resist “basic social entitlements” for the poor. In a concept note prepared for the hearing, they have said, “We need to address this political context emerging over the last few years, initiated during the later part of UPA-II and likely to be accelerated by the current NDA government.. Just local protests and symbolic mobilisations are not likely to have a significant impact on a deepening policy framework which is corporate friendly and increasingly ‘people resistant’.”
Activists from the Right to Food campaign, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and National Alliance of People’s Movements participated in preparing the concept note for the hearing, which will be followed by a broader meeting of activists involved in various campaigns and movements on August 5. 2014. They have simultaneously prepared a list of half-a-dozen “demands” to be put up for discussion at the hearing and the subsequent meeting (click HERE to read).
Pointing out that the new NDA government’s main line of thinking is a “less government” regime, the concept note says, the under new rulers “adequate provision of any of the entitlements seems even more unlikely, and provisioning is likely to be increasingly channelised through private sector-based ‘PPP’ mechanisms and cash transfers, rather than any expansion and strengthening of public systems.” In fact, it adds, “True to the aphorism ‘Give something to the poor, but only as long as it does not take anything from the rich’, the government has resisted raising additional revenues required for expansion and universalisation of public services.”
The concept note says, “social services” under the new regime “are emerging as ‘assured markets’ where the private sector can move in, often with guaranteed support from public funds.” At the same time, it adds, “we have seen recent policy declarations from the newly installed ruling party, declaring that labour laws would be made more corporate friendly, that land acquisition legislation would become more conducive to business interests but less cognizant of the rights of cultivators, and even questioning the need for a law to guarantee employment in rural areas.”
“In this situation”, the concept note insists, “Given the receding of ‘political will from above’, we need to plan how we can effectively build ‘political will from below’. The emphasis needs to shift towards reshaping the larger political climate through broad based socio-political mobilisation.” In fact, “there is a need to develop broader socio-political action on certain cross-cutting and common policy concerns related to various social services and entitlements. For this, it adds, campaigners and activists working in various sectors “need to combine their efforts and work with progressive political forces and mass movements, to challenge the current policy framework.”
The concept note praises the UPA-I government, which was supported by Left parties, for responding to “popular aspirations in a limited form and launched initiatives to provide certain level of social services and entitlements to people”. This included the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Right to Education (RTE) Act, universalisation of integrated child development services (ICDS), and orders to improve delivery of public distribution system (PDS) and mid-day meals in context of the Right to Food Supreme Court case.”
Not denying that “each of these was characterised by major gaps and policy constraints”, the concept note agrees, “under UPA-I “certain spaces were opened up for people to demand entitlements, which encouraged mobilisation around social sector rights.” But it regrets, “During the UPA-II period, especially the latter part, hardly any new major social initiatives were launched except for the Food Security Act, which has been controversial in design and is basically yet to be implemented.” There were “restricted entitlements in Food Security Act, unwillingness to allocate adequate resources and pay minimum wages in NREGA, freeze on the budget of NRHM, and limited resources for implementation of RTE.
Taking up from UPA-II, the NDA has used lack of funds “as a pretext for denying universal access, for example, to subsidised foodgrains under the Food Security Act, on the grounds that it would cost too much”, the concept note says, adding, “Similar considerations are being stated to justify the unwillingness to provide universal pensions. Inadequate funds for supplementary nutrition as part of ICDS are another example of such constraints. Such inadequate funding is directly linked with weakening of public provisioning systems and unwillingness to substantially expand and improve such systems.”

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