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2019 polls: Actionable plan to end corruption, generate jobs discussed with political parties

By Our Representative
A civil society-sponsored Jan Manch organised in Delhi, where what are claimed to be “peoples’ issues” for the 2019 elections were discussed with representatives of political parties, has been told that the BJP rulers came to power on the anti-corruption plank of a Bhrastachar Mukt Bharat, but the government “systematically weakened and destroyed the anti-corruption framework.”
Anjali Bharadwaj, co-convener, National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), said that the government “repeatedly tried to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act and did not operationalise the Whistleblowers Protection Act, weakened the Prevention of Corruption Act and appointed the chairperson and members of the Lokpal in complete secrecy.”
The Jan Manch was aimed at putting forth peoples’ demands before political parties. The meeting saw the release of "Reclaiming the Republic", a document which claims to bring together urgent actionable reforms needed to protect and strengthen the Constitutional safeguards for India’s democratic polity. The document has been endorsed by various campaigns and groups across the country.
The document, prepared in English and Hindi, puts forth the reforms required in law, policies and institutions to undo the damages inflicted by the current ruling establishment and to strengthen proper operation of the rule of law in our country, non-interference with judiciary and anti-corruption institutions, the integrity and fairness of administrative structures, a communique by the organizers of the Jan Manch said.
Those who organized the Jan Manch included NCPRI, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), Right to Food Campaign (RTF), Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS). Representatives several of the political parties – Communist Party of India (CPI), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Samajwadi Party (SP) – participated, though there were none from the Congress or the BJP.
A representative of grassroots organization, Sunita from Kusumpur Pahadi testified about the discrimination suffered by Dalits even in cities like Delhi, where, she said, they are forced to do manual scavenging, garbage disposal as there are no other employment opportunities and are discriminated against in education, housing etc.
Annie Namala, associated with Dalit rights struggles, said that statutory provisions to prevent and redress caste-based discrimination and their proper implementation is a key demand of people for the forthcoming elections. She said the right to work with dignity must be recognised and provided.
Several people from slum settlements across Delhi spoke about the insecurity of living in a slum where the government, without any notice evicts people in the middle of the night. Shama of Kathputhli Colony, which was demolished, testified about the sub-standard temporary living conditions provided to them and demanded that parties must commit to providing decent housing.
Responding to the testimonies about the lack of employment opportunities even for youth who have completed schooling and college and the rising cost of living, Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) said that right to employment is an important issue which has also been flagged in the "Reclaiming the Republic" document.
Noted economist Jayati Ghosh stated what was necessary was provision of universal basic services- free education, health, universal pensions and rations. She said that money for an employment guarantee program and for providing universal basic services can be raised by reforming the tax regime to introduce wealth tax, inheritance tax, gift tax and by doing away with some perverse subsidies.
Top Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said that huge corruption scams including the Rafale scam exposed the reality of how the BJP government had not only failed to address the issue of corruption but that the Prime Minister himself was involved in the scams.
Highlighting how the government had undermined every institution of oversight, Bhushan said, there was an urgent need to put in place reforms to safeguard institutions like CBI, anti-corruption agencies, CAG, judiciary from influence of the government.
Yogendra Yadav of Swarajya Abhiyan spoke about how the government, unable to account for its poor performance and in an attempt to divert attention from its failures was trying to centre stage the Pulwama attacks and the strike by the Indian Air Force as election issues. He said that leaders of the BJP were openly using the attacks to garner votes and were politicising the armed forces for their political benefit.
Kavita Srivastava of the Right to Food Campaign, highlighted the demands around food security including reforms required in agriculture, strengthening childrens’ right to food, ensuring maternity benefits and proper implementation of the National Food Security Act. Madhuresh of NAPM highlighted the loot of natural resources and the need to undo many of the regressive amendments made to environmental and land laws.
Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) said that women’s rights must be centre staged in this election and this requires substantive reforms to ensure their right to work, equal pay, protection against violence, rations, health, education for the girl child.
Ghanshyam Tiwari of SP stated that his party is committed to working towards equality in society. He added, he agreed with most of the demands put forth in the Reclaiming the Republic document and that the manifesto of his party will include many of these.
RJD’s Prof Manoj Jha said that his party fully endorses all the reforms contained in the “Reclaiming the Republic” document and that the party in its manifesto has committed itself to work towards each of the reforms. He said that the demands would not just form part of the manifesto but pledged that the party would work towards realising them.
D Raja of CPI said that this was the time to save the republic and that deep reforms are required to protect the country and safeguard democracy. He stated that the manifesto of CPI will be released shortly and will reflect the demands put forth by peoples’ movements and campaigns, including those made in the “Reclaiming the Republic” document.

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