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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 1 New Delhi December 22, 2018 [Annual Number]

A Programme for Justice, Peace, Development and Environment Protection

Sunday 23 December 2018, by Bharat Dogra

Any comprehensive understanding of India’s possible pathways in the near future should be linked to a wider understanding of the most essential features of the present-day world. India should of course plan its future in accordance with its needs, but this has to be seen in the wider context of the world’s most serious issues and problems so that the path India chooses is in conformity with the world’s most urgently felt needs.

The two most important features of the present-day world are: (i) the deepening of a many-sided ecological crisis in critical ways so that it has now become a survival crisis threatening the life of countless species and endangering even humanity, and (ii) the continuation and even accentuation of the many-sided strife made all the more dangerous in a situation of more and more destructive weapons including thousands of WMDs.

These two problems may appear separate but are related in significant ways, not the least because the kind of international effort needed to resolve the first listed survival issues will simply not be possible in a situation of increasing strife and violence.

In the context of this wider situation of the world, India must pioneer a path which, while solving its basic problems of poverty and deprivation, should at the same time show the way forward for resolving the most threatening problems of the world. If India can achieve this, it will be a truly historic achievement which will win admiration all over the world, increasing respect for India and leading to demands for a wider role for it in world affairs without it asking for this. Above all, if India achieves this, then this will be a huge contribution to reduce distress in the world, now and in the future, bringing relief to hundreds of millions of people. Can India achieve this?

For such an achievement to be possible, India should try to establish broad consensus on three overwhelming priorities: (i) reduction of poverty and inequalities, ensuring basic needs of all, (ii) protection of environment with special emphasis on checking survival-threatening problems such as climate change, water depletion and loss of bio-diversity, and (iii) peace and social harmony at all levels while ending all discrimination.

If the government, supported by enthusiastic people’s participation and a broad consensus, can really ensure that the inter-related tasks become topmost priorities, then it can truly pioneer a brave new path which can solve its most pressing problems at the same time as providing important contributions and lesson for resolving the most threatening world level problems.

With two per cent of the world’s land, one per cent (or less) of oil and gas resources but 17 per cent of the world’s population, India’s quest for meeting the basic needs of its people and providing them satisfactory livelihood on a sustainable basis is a huge challenge. If this can be met while also protecting environment and keeping down GHG emissions to acceptable levels, this will truly be a very commendable achievement.

India is a nuclear weapon power which shares borders with two other nuclear weapon powers. It has been extremely prone to terrorist attacks from across its borders. It has already fought five wars with neighboring countries. It has coped with several secessionist movements and insurgencies. Crime rates, not always reflected in official data, are very high in many parts of the country. India has six major religions (plus many sects and adivasi religions), around 6400 castes and 1600 languages.

The much-discussed idea of India is that despite all these outward differences, all people can live without discrimination in India with security and equal opportunities. This is the basis for peace based on equality and justice (as distinguished from peace based on threats and submission). There needs to be an all-encompassing commitment to peace based on justice, reflected as much in non-discrimination and equality at all levels in India as in attitudes towards neighbouring countries. Of course, national security and borders should be fully and firmly protected. But we should also remember that unity of country based on equality of all can also be our most powerful defence.

Of course governance reforms including significant reduction of corruption and crimes (and related criminalisation of politics) and improved transparency are essential precon-ditions for the success of this agenda based on justice, equality, harmony and protection of environment.

But what has been happening in recent times is far removed from the real needs of the country. Today we have a system of crony capitalism tied closely to inequality and injustice-based globalisation that gives increasing concessions to big corporations, particularly some favoured ones, and also including some of the world’s most infamous multinational companies. Highly favoured are those MNCs which are known to be very aggressive in trying to dominate the food and seeds sector, using very hazardous technologies. To pave the way for such corporate-led growth, the Planning Commission has been shut down arbitrarily. The environment is threatened more than ever before with aggressively marketed and ecologically destructive projects of big corporates. The corrupt are getting increasingly aggressive and violent, as the bleeding Vyapam scam and many mining scams show. Powerful criminals are killing witnesses, activists and journalists with hardly any fear to check them.

The existing development model is only a somewhat revised imitation of the earlier dubious short success of export-led and big business-led growth models. Even at the best of times these cannot go very far. The present times are particularly unsuitable due to overall low prospects of export growth to developed countries as well as to other big markets like China, enhanced by increasing protectionist tendencies on the part of the USA and the growing likelihood of unrest in the Middle East. In addition the corruption and crime-ridden polity makes it more difficult for this to succeed without scams and crises.

Even in the midst of such grim prospects, it is important to hold high the banner that another path exists—a path that can make India a pioneer in reducing poverty, inequalities, environment ruin and GHG emissions, while promoting peace and harmony at all levels.

While spelling out the future programme in greater detail, we should not be misled by claims based merely on GNP growth. We should not forget that when in the recent past India’s economic growth rate went up significantly for some years, the majority of people continued to experience serious problems in meeting their basic needs and environmental problems continued to increase at a fast pace. Economic inequalities grew sharply and the struggle for survival for those at the bottom remained a grim one. Small farmers, several categories of artisans, self-employed people and workers faced increasingly difficult conditions in protecting their livelihood. In several ways the basic structure of the economy weakened. There is thus a clear need for making important corrections and removing serious distortions before it is too late.

It is with this spirit that major policy issues need to be clearly discussed with an emphasis on what has gone wrong, what are the risks ahead and what corrections need to be made. We need mutually consistent policy options for various sectors, leading to an overall policy framework which can work in real life conditions and is also is conformity with the creation of a better world.

While preparing a policy framework to some extent we need to change but to some extent we also need to recognise what is of value at present and we need to protect it.

Basic Economic Policies

The highest priority should be accorded to meeting the basic needs of the people on a sustainable basis. To ensure sustainability first of all the environment should be well-protected and natural resources should be used very carefully. Also the economy should have a sound base. The basic needs of the people include the following—adequate availability of balanced food satisfying nutritional norms, clean drinking water, satisfactory availability of clothes and housing to ensure protection from weather extremes as well as dignity, access to education which opens up opportunities of progress as well as strengthens basic human values, access to means of protection of health, medicare and basic hygiene.

Livelihood of small and medium farmers, artisans, workers, other vulnerable employees and self-employed persons should be protected and linked more closely to meeting the basic needs of all people. Special skills should be well-protected.

Economic inequalities should be reduced significantly as a matter of policy with emphasis on improving the prospects of people in the lowest layers of the economy while also preventing excessive concentration of economic power and policy-influencing power in the hands of any person, group or corporate interest.

In several critical areas of the economy the public sector should continue to play an important role. The private sector obviously should also have an important role but subject to the condition that no industrialist or company can dominate the economy, its one or more important sectors, to acquire monopoly powers and interfere unduly in the functioning of the democratic system. The corporate sector should be regulated carefully for responsibilities relating to environment, workers, consumers (or other end-users of products) and to the wider society. Multinational and foreign companies should be regulated very carefully. The cooperative sector should be reformed and strengthened to accept increasing responsibilities. Certain products and areas can be reserved for small-scale and cottage-scale entrepreneurs, cooperatives, small farmer production groups and self-help groups, particularly of women, with emphasis on meeting the basic needs of villages and small towns as well as generation of more diverse livelihoods there.

Economic planning should retain an important role in ensuring the availability of goods and services which meet the basic needs of the people, reducing inequalities, protecting livelihoods, keeping unemployment and inflation at low levels, providing essential infrastructure and avoiding foreign indebtedness. The Planning Commission should be re-established with some important reforms to strengthen it and the process of five-year plans should be re-started.

In foreign trade the drift towards heavy imports of several non-essentials, including gold, should be avoided. Steps which reduce excessive dependence on imports should be emphasised, while the sovereign government’s powers to reduce excessive or harmful imports should be reclaimed. Similarly patent laws should be in line with national interest. Free trade agreements existing and proposed should be clearly examined to protect national interests with special emphasis on the interests of vulnerable sections. India should play an important role in the reform of the WTO, World Bank and IMF with the aim to make them more transparent and responsive to the real and economic justice-based needs of the world. Steps should be taken in time to avoid heavy indebtedness, balance of payments problems and heavy dependence on uncertain ‘hot money’ inflows. The type of linkages due to which any wider international economic crisis affects us quickly and excessively unsettling our national economy should be avoided.

There should be a relentless campaign against the substantial ‘black’ part of the economy so that illegally held money can be recovered and used for constructive development tasks. This includes efforts to bring back black money deposited abroad using various secretive devices. This should be taken up in cooperation with other countries and organisations dedicated to this work. India should not merely rely on the lead provided by developed countries in this context but should instead seek to lead the developing countries in this area.

Budgets should emphasise raising of adequate resources to meet the basic needs of all people. Luxury consumption and high profit areas should be taxed adequately, while the tendency to give heavy concessions and huge exemptions to corporate sector and rich sections has to be given up. There should be adequate budgeting for the social sector and in addition increasing privatisation and high profit orientation of critical social sector components like health and education should be checked.

Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Forests, Fisheries and Rural Development

High priority should be given to rural areas. The distorted thinking which necessarily equates development with very rapid urbanisation and migration of displaced villagers to mega-cities should be rejected. Villages should be the main base of India’s development. Even though land availability per family is declining with the passage of time, more diverse livelihoods can be provided in rural and semi-rural areas by encouraging village and cottage industries, including khadi, and protecting artisans’ livelihoods. These can include traditional improved as well modern industries, subject to the condition that these are not destructive for the environment and public health. Decentralised mixed renewal energy systems, for example, can be a new area of growth of rural employ-ment. Field-level protection of traditional seeds and biodiversity can be another such area.

Land rights of all small and medium farmers should be well protected, while also providing encouragement for their mutual cooperation and the strengthening of rural communities. Their land should not be lost due to indebtedness or related distress conditions. Fertile agricultural land should as far as possible be saved for agriculture and chances of displacement of farmers should be minimised. Special care should be taken to protect the land rights of tribal communities and to ensure the proper protection of laws enacted for this purpose. If displacement cannot be avoided in some cases then as far as possible the efforts should be to provide land in place of land. High priority should be given to make available cultivable land to as many landless farm workers as possible, using either provisions like land ceiling laws, or reclamation of new land using water conservation and other steps. Housing land with legal rights should be available to all rural households who are still deprived of it.

Ecologically protective, low-cost, location-specific technology which seeks to make best use of the local resources and conditions should be emphasised, an approach which includes organic farming, protection of traditional seeds and biodiversity, soil and water conservation, increasing green cover and forests. Organic farming should avoid the pitfall of avoidable expenses like costly certification and should be based on self-reliance and low costs, including mutual certification by farmers of each other’s crops. Farmers’ seed rights should be well-protected and seed-banks of traditional diverse seeds should be set up with the close involvement of farmers including elderly farmers and women. Increasing control of big companies including multinational companies or their subsidiaries over seeds and other critical areas should be checked. GM crops and the related technology should be strictly banned keeping in view their many-sided, serious and irreversible adverse impacts and hazards. Use of chemical pesticides and weedicides should be completely avoided or at least minimised as much as possible. Protection of various forms of life should be emphasised. All subsidies meant for agriculture should be given directly to farmers.

Water conservation as well as protection/regeneration of greenery provide the base for survival in the form of meeting the basic needs of life and supporting basic rural livelihoods. Some existing provisions like rural employment guarantee can be strengthened for this. In terms of resource use, concentrating attention on smaller watershed programmes as well as proper maintenance of existing canals will yield much better results instead of various new big and medium projects of dams and canals. Of course this will also be ecologically much safer and will help to avoid a lot of displacement. The safety of existing dams should be a significant area of concern. Indigenous mixed tree plantation work which resembles natural forests should be emphasised and cutting of existing green trees should be minimised as much as possible. Indigenous trees which provide fodder and fruits should be emphasised in addition to trees with better soil and water conservation properties.

Protection and regeneration of natural mixed forests should get very high priority. The practice of raising monoculture plantations of commercial species of trees in place of natural forests should be given up forever. The role of forests in providing diverse forms of valuabe foods and nutrition should be recognised and protected. Forest-based livelihoods of tribal communities and other communities living in and around forests should be protected and promoted. Their co-operatives or groups should be the main beneficiaries of minor forest produce-based sustainable livelihoods, which should emphasise also the protection of trees. These communities should never be displaced or evicted in the name of protection of wild life and forest; instead as far as possible they should get livelihoods in this protection.

Animal husbandry should be encouraged with special emphasis on regeneration of pastures and fodder trees as well as protection of indigenous species of farm animals. Protection of indigenous breeds of cows and bullocks should get special attention. Fair price should be ensured to dairy
farmers. Their co-operatives should be streng-thened with special emphasis on the poor. Milk powder imports and oilcake exports should be discouraged. Pastoral groups, particularly nomadic and semi-nomadic groups, facing hard times should be given a helping hand.

Availability of essential food items in the public distribution network should be linked to strengthening of small and medium farmers in all rural areas. All raw food items, needed for the public distribution system as well as various nutritional programmes, should be procured from local farmers at a fair price. As far as possible self-reliance in essential diverse food items at the local, district level should be ensured with internal trade filling in unavoidable gaps. In this special care should be taken to ensure that the public distribution system with cheaper food availability is used to strengthen local farmers and does not weaken them in any way. The rules of the WTO or any other international rules which stand in the way of strengthening local food or farming systems should be resisted. However, subsidies as well as overall costs will be automatically reduced once long-distance movement of grains, long-term storage and related food-loss are reduced considerably. In the public distribution system millets, pulses and oilseeds should also get a proper place.

Steps should be taken to free various kinds of produce from the grip of a few big traders and speculators so that farmers get justice and sudden escalations in price for consumers are also avoided. Direct contacts between farmers and city-based consumers for healthy, organic food can be encouraged by allocating space in specific city markets to clusters of villages, subject to certain conditions so that the weaker, smaller farmers can get more benefit.

Any obstruction by the international agencies, WTO or others, in a well-organised system of food security and food self-reliance based on farmers’ secure livelihoods and sustainable fulfilment of the basic food needs of the people, should be strongly resisted.

Industrial Development 

The country should aim, to the extent possible and practical, for self-reliance to a significant extent in all essential consumer and capital goods.

While private, public and cooperative sectors all have important roles, domination by any industrialist or use of unfair means to surge ahead in one or more sectors should not be allowed. The public sector should be strengthened and reformed to fulfil its wider social responsibility while maintaining high standards of efficiency and entrepreneurial ability.

All industrial units need to abide by properly framed regulations related to pollution, environ-ment, displacement, health, safety, workers’ welfare, quality and consumers’ concerns.

Special protective steps, including reservation of certain items in production and procurement, need to be provided for cottage and small-scale units with special emphasis on khadi and handlooms.

The activities of multinational and foreign companies should be regulated carefully.

Banking and Insurance

The important role of nationalised or public sector banks and insurance companies (mainly the Life Insurance Corporation of India) should continue. These should be reformed and strengthened to improve their efficiency, basic financial soundness and social responsibility and to minimise the possibilities of corruption and irregularities.. Private and foreign banks and insurance companies can have only a limited role, and should not be allowed to damage the special position of national institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The extremely serious problems of so-called ‘non-performing assets’ should be sorted out by ensuring due payment of enormous sums owed by influential borrowers. Without any fear or favour very strong actions should be taken against anyone found guilty of corrupt practices or colluding in them.

Infrastructure, Energy, Minerals

Public sector companies should continue to have an important role in the creation of a strong and adequate infrastructure for development of the country. While the infrastructure should be adequate, unnecessarily expensive and grand projects should be avoided. Care should be taken to minimise the problems relating to environment and displacement.

Special care should be taken to reconcile the development and environment protection objectives in the area of energy, as the responsibility of keeping GHG emissions at low levels must be respected. For rural areas in particular decentra-lised mixed renewable energy systems can play an important role.

Mineral wealth should be used in the wider interests of the people with special emphasis on the rights and welfare of communities living in mineral-rich areas. Instead of trying to take out minerals as quickly a possible or maximising corporate profits, various middle level options and technologies which protect communities and environment should be explored and emphasised. The domination of decision-making by corporate interests should be resisted strongly. Foreign and multinational companies should not have any leading role in the development of minerals. Minor minerals should be extracted in consultation with gram sabhas, minimising any harm to the environ-ment, while mining mafias should be kept away and resisted to prevent any criminalisation of mining work.

Health

A strong foundation of good health can only be established by good nutrition and fulfilment of other basic needs. In addition, essential health services, medicines, vaccines and investigations should be accessible to all. Adequate budgetary provisions should be provided for this. To utilise this properly, tendencies of extracting very high and unethical profits in the supply of medicines and medicare (including investigations) should be strictly curbed, or else the higher budget can be gobbled up by the profiteers. Important changes in the medicinal policy are needed to make available all essential medicines at a fair price, with special emphasis on the supply of generic medicines, while irrational medicines and vaccines should be discarded. The public sector should fulfil an important role in this. The government should accept the responsibility of health care, medicines and vaccines. As far as possible, all medicines should be provided free in primary health centres and all government hospitals, perhaps excluding the very rich patients.

Special medical courses designed to ensure adequate and satisfactory availability of doctors and para-medical workers in rural areas should be taken up.

Several distortions in the health budget spending need to be corrected so that integrated and balanced health planning, linked to the real needs of the country, and not to artificial priorities thrust upon by vested interests, can emerge.

While indigenous medical practices should be encouraged, there is need to ensure rationality and standards so that undesirable trends (like mass marketing based on dubious rationality) can be checked.

Doctors and other medical personnel coming forward with the objective of serving the poor people, particularly in remote villages, should get the necessary encouragement from the govern-ment. Irrational rules, unfavourable to serving in real-life rural conditions, should be changed.

Tendencies towards unjust patent laws, domination by multinational companies and excessive privatisation should be resisted at a wider level.

Education and Children

While emphasising the right to education for all, the education budget should be increased signifi-cantly. At the same time the tendencies of rapid privatisation and extraction of high profits should be checked. Improvement of government schools should get the highest priority. Children of the weakest and vulnerable households (like migrant workers and nomadic groups) should also be included within a system of evening schools/bridge courses and later their integration with the mainstream.

Tendencies towards communalisation of education should be curbed. Instead a secular approach to moral/ethical education should be introduced with emphasis on universal values such as equality of all human beings, rejection of all kinds of discrimination, compassion for all forms of life, honesty, hard-work and a spirit of service. Cooperation and not competition should be emphasised in studies, sports (team-spirit) and other activities. Health education, including a firm message against all intoxicants and also empha-sising the importance of physical work, should get due importance, Education should provide a balanced view of realities and the real needs of the country.

Child labour and all forms of exploitation of children should be eliminated. Trafficking of children should be curbed strongly and missing children should be traced with a sense of urgency. Trafficked and exploited children, when rescued, should be rehabilitated properly. Creative pro-grammes for street children should be imple-mented and various homes for the disadvantaged children should be improved.

Special care should be given to ending discrimi-nation against the girl child and improving her educational opportunities.

Youth should have adequate opportunities for livelihoods linked to creating a better world and they should be well-informed about such opportu-nities of employment as well as self-employment. The creativity of the youth should get more and more openings in villages as well as cities.

High education and research should be linked to the country’s real needs and careful use should be made of scarce resources.

Science and Technology

The progress in science and technology should be linked closely to the country’s real needs. Technical skills not only in institutions of higher learning but also in rural areas, in farms and workshops and factories should be recognised, encouraged and provided adequate avenues. Technology and engineering skills should not be narrowly linked to any vested interests but instead should be directed towards serving the country’s high priority needs.

Old Age, Disability and Pensions

Senior citizens should have a place of respect and dignity and to facilitate this better social security, particularly pensions, are of vital necessity. Extensive pension reforms should be taken up to create a system of universal and adequate pensions.

All disability-related discrimination should end. Adequate care should be given to meeting the special education, health and other needs of disabled persons, providing them access to all social places and facilities, apart from arranging adequate pensions. ‘Disability, as well as ‘old age’ should be defined in a comprehensive way so that any deserving and needy person is not left out of the rights like social security. Prevention of and early treatment for accidents, injuries and diseases, likely to result in disabilities, should be emphasised.

Society and Religion

All forms of discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, colour, ethnicity etc. should be curbed strictly in keeping with the constitutional precepts. Apart from implementing legal provisions, this should also be taken up as a part of public campaign.

Efforts should be initiated, and not just at the time of tensions, to maintain communal harmony. Strict action should be taken against those responsible for spreading communal hatred and tensions.

Everyone has a well-established constitu-tional right to follow his or her religion, but definitely not to insult other religions. All religions are equal in the eyes of the state, and governments should carefully follow secular precepts avoiding any discrimination.

However, there should be adequate room for social reforms and narrow thinking should not stand in the way of changing or removing those customs or traditions which clearly harm the society and cause distress. Social reform move-ments against child marriage, dowry system, discriminatory practices, liquor and intoxicants, pornography, superstitions, various exploitative practices under the influence of superstitions etc. should be encouraged.

Community and family ties at all levels should be strengthened and social cooperation for creative, philanthropic and reformist work should be encouraged.

Harmful practices in the celebration of festivals should be curbed by public campaigns and legislation where necessary.

The effort should be to protect the good traditions while fighting the harmful ones.

A campaign against the increasing consumption of liquor and tobacco products in various forms as well as against drug addiction should be a very important component of the social reform effort. The increasing auctions of liquor shops in villages have to be checked to a very substantial extent.

Social reforms should seek to involve most sections of the community and, as far as possible, should avoid creating new conflicts.

Scheduled Castes, Tribal Communities, Denotified Tribes, Nomads and OBCs

The existing reservations should continue till real equality in all important respects is not achieved. A big effort should be made to provide some land to the large number of Dalit (or other) landless farm workers and provide other assistance to help them to emerge as small farmers cultivating their own land. The ban on manual scavenging must be backed by viable rehabilitation opportu-nities. Artisan work relating to bamboo, leather etc. should be improved so that new opportunities emerge and better, cleaner work-conditions are available.

Land rights of tribals should be carefully protected and land allocated earlier illegally should be restored under the due process of law. The implementation of the recent Forest Rights Act needs to be substantially improved and any possibilities of large-scale displacement should be checked. The rights of minor forest produce should be strengthened and new opportunities opened up in processing work. Livelihoods based on protecting forest and wild life can be substantially expanded. The PESA law for decentralisation should be implemented in the right spirit. However, separatist elements should not be allowed to misuse this law.

Nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and groups deserve sympathetic understanding. Both options of improving their present life-pattern and satisfactory rehabilitation are open. Denotified tribes need to be helped to come out of various kinds of stigmas and problems, and new opportunities must be opened for them.

In all categories the most oppressed and neglected groups deserve special attention and help. Particularly among OBCs there is a need to be careful that the genuinely oppressed, left-out and neglected castes get more help.

Labour 

Hard-won rights of workers and trade unions should be protected. Reforms should not be used as a pretext to reduce or undermine these rights. Occupational health and safety need much more attention. The rights of the unorganised sector workers deserve more attention and funds. Social security of these workers should be ensured in a big way. Women workers deserve special attention in terms of protection and care. The existing laws, which protect the rights of workers should be implemented in the right spirit. Within the organised sector also the rights of contractual workers deserve more attention. 

 Women and Gender Issues

There is a clear need to provide equal opportunities to women and end all gender-based discrimi-nation. A system of (at least) 33 per cent reservation for women in the State and national legislatures and 50 per cent reservation in the decentralised system should be in place in the near future. The ban on female foeticide and infanticide should be strictly implemented. Apart from providing essential facilities, special incentives should be offered to encourage girl students. The security of girls and women should get high priority and urgent steps have to be taken at several levels to ensure secure living and working conditions for women.

Various reasons, due to which violence against women has continued to remain at a high level, should be identified carefully and remedial action should be taken. The rise in sexual violence is a matter of deep concern and the causes should be carefully identified so that effective action can be initiated on the basis of proper identification. Rapid proliferation of liquor, other intoxicants and porno-graphy needs to be checked. The deeply entrenched attitudes of society, which when interacting with these recent trends can prove very dangerous, also need to be identified and checked. Strong laws to protect women are needed, but at the same time any misuse of these laws should be checked.

Land and property rights should be held jointly in the name of the wife and husband, and the rights of single women should also be ensured, but inheritance laws should not be such as to transfer ownership of a village’s land for culti-vation outside the village.

Efforts for a better understanding of women’s perceptions of various development issues should be made.

No one should face discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientations.

Other Forms of Life

It is important to avoid an excessively human-centric view of life as life-forms other than human beings also need care and compassion. Many of these are today endangered due to the absence of this care. Most of these life-forms have been the farmers’ friends—ranging from indigenous species of cattle and camels to earthworms and sparrows—and they are badly in need of protection today. Indigenous species of cows and bullocks deserve special care due to their many-sided utility, but other farm animals should not be neglected either. Communities living near forests should get strong livelihood support in activities relating to protection of wild life and their habitats. Similarly communities like fisherfolk, boatmen can be involved in the protection of fish habitats and all aquatic life, while snake-charmers can be useful in the protection of reptiles due to their special knowledge. The use of chemical pesticides and weedicides should be minimised while GM crops should be banned. Stray dogs and other stray animals also need better care. Cruelty to animals in the name of laboratory experiments should be reduced as much as possible.

Protection of Environment, 

Checking Climate Change

The protection of environment should be accorded the highest importance not only for preparing the base of sustainable development but increasingly for the sheer survival of various life-forms including human beings. The protection of environment and reduction of pollution, including reduction of air and water pollution, soil and water conservation, protection of forests, reducing the spread of various toxic products and wastes etc., should get priority at all levels. New forms of pollution, such as threat from radiation of nuclear plants, or the threat from mobile phone towers, or the irreversible risk of genetic pollution should be given adequate importance in the environment protection agenda. While a strong legal base is certainly needed for protecting environment, people’s movements and their close involvement in environment protection are equally important. It is important to evolve environment policies which involve people instead of alienating them. The environment protection work should provide new livelihoods to people, instead of displacing them or taking away their livelihoods. A ban on destructive mining at any place, for example, should at the same time provide for protective and regenerative work at the site which will also ensure employment. Special care should be taken for the protection of eco-sensitive areas of particular importance like those in the Himalayas or in coastal areas.

While the task of environment protection has always been important, its importance has greatly increased in times of extremely serious world-level threats like those of climate change. India like all countries needs to give adequate importance to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as well as to adaptive steps to cope with climate change- related problems. These can become issues of top-most importance in the near future. Also India should contribute adequately to world-level justice-based efforts to check climate change that should persuade the developed countries to substantially contribute to efforts to check climate change, accepting their historical responsibility for high green-house gas emissions.

Protection from Disasters

Increasing harm from several natural disasters is already a matter of serious concern, while the threat from disasters can substantially grow in times of more aggressive climate change. Therefore according much higher priority to protection from natural disasters has to be a very important part of the policy-framework now and in times to come. To be effective, this effort has to learn from past experience and be willing to correct the serious mistakes made earlier, as is evident from the mounting damage even after vast amounts had been invested in flood protection. So both increasing budgets and correction of distorted policies are important for protection from disasters. Planning for reduction of loss of life in an earthquake, cyclone or tsunami should get very high priority, as also various measures to provide protection from prolonged or acute droughts.

Protection from Accidents

Damage and threats from transport (particularly road), worksite, and domestic accidents as well as new threats from high hazard projects have been increasing. Preventive and immediate response action can reduce the damage, including loss of human life, to a substantial extent. So a nationwide network of protection from and quick response to all kinds of accidents in an integrated way should be created.

Displacement

Efforts should be made to reduce displacement at all levels as much as possible. At the level of policy-formulation it is necessary to keep in view the need to minimise displacement. To the extent displacement cannot be avoided, all efforts should be made for satisfactory rehabilitation including land in place of land and protection of community ties. Cases of those victims of displacement who suffered injustice in much earlier times should also be considered sympathetically so that they can get justice even through belatedly.

Justice, Police and Crime

The long pending police reforms should not be delayed any longer. These reforms should be aimed at not only increasing the efficiency of the police but also their sensitivity and humanity. The dignity of policemen at lower levels should be protected.

Reducing crimes should have a multi-dimensional approach with special emphasis on reducing the social causes of crimes as well as breaking the nexus between crime and corruption and political power at higher levels.

Efforts to combat terrorism should be much better organised and all support-systems of terrorists, whether in the country or abroad, should, be opposed and challenged on a continuing basis at various levels. Social conditions and grievances which fuel terrorism should be tackled effectively.

The justice system should give special attention to ensuring that innocent people are not implicated in crimes. Special efforts should be made to provide legal aid to the poor and needy, as also to help undertrials. Undertrials, who have already served a jail sentence which is equal to the punishment of the offence for which they have been charged, should be released.

The justice system is breaking down, parti-cularly in the rural areas, because of long-pending cases and repeated visits to courts from long distances which only lead to further delays. There-fore rural decentralisation should include some judicial provisions for settling disputes locally but with suitable safeguards.

Jails need extensive reforms to create more human conditions, with special provisions firmly in place for recognition and human treatment of political prisoners.

Housing and Homeless People

Ensuring legal rights to housing land to all households and improvements in housing programmes for weaker sections should get high priority in rural areas, as also meeting the special housing needs in disaster-prone areas.

The housing needs of urban areas cannot be solved by high profit-oriented builders. The government should accept the responsibility for large-scale construction of houses to meet the needs of the poor as well as middle class. The needs of homeless people should get priority and construction of adequate shelters should be ensured. Slums should not be arbitrarily pulled down and instead improving various facilities in slums should be emphasised.

Political Parties, Governance and Corruption

Efforts to reduce significantly the role of big money, illegal ‘black’ money and criminals in elections and the functioning of political parties should get high priority. Political parties should maintain complete records of income, expenditure and all donations which should be transparent and accessible under the right to information law. Election expenses should be kept low, rules should be carefully followed but routine work should not be interrupted at election time.

Right to information should be protected and strengthened, with additional protection for those who expose corruption using RTI or in other ways and to ‘whistle-blowers’. Anti-corruption laws and organisations need to be strengthened and improved, while new laws should be introduced in areas where needed.

An effective grievance redressal system which provides for time-bound responses, issues receipts for complaints received and fixes responsibilities (as well as penalties for non-action) should be in place as soon as possible.

Exemplary strong action should be taken once allegations of corruption have been confirmed. Excessive protection provided to some sections of officials from anti-corruption action should be withdrawn but at the same time tendencies towards witch-hunt without significant evidence as well as motivated targeting of innocent persons should be checked.

Strong action should be taken particularly in cases of illegal transfer of money earned by corrupt practices outside the country, in tax havens or secret accounts.

Decentralisation and Panchayat Raj

Decentralisation should be strengthened in rural as well as urban areas. Gram sabhas and ward sabhas in rural areas (assemblies of all adult villagers) as well as equivalent units in urban areas should be strengthened as a base where the people’s real needs can be articulated, discussed and also documented. It is important to strengthen ward sabhas particularly in villages where the gram sabhas are too large to give everyone a proper hearing. (Or else panchayats can cover smaller areas.)

Some weaknesses of the panchayats need to be corrected. The tendency of one or two persons to concentrate most powers of the panchayat raj can be corrected by strengthening the gram sabhas, a more active role for panchayat samitis as well as for all elected ward members and possibly a rotation of the main head-person’s post among all ward members. Decentralisation at the district- level should be strengthened significantly so that the concept of a district-level government, which is much closer to the day-to-day problems and livelihood issues of the people, can emerge.

Decentralisation needs to progress rapidly within the basic constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination, integrity and unity of the country, secularism and socialism (interpreted in this context as reduction of inequalities and ensuring justice to weaker sections).

Urban Development

Urban life should emphasise environment-friendly and secure conditions for all sections of people, with special emphasis on reduction of pollution, access of satisfactory housing to weaker sections as well as middle class, and significant reduction of crime (particularly crime against women and children).

Instead of high concentration of population in big cities, balanced development of smaller towns, including kasbas or semi-urban settlements close to rural areas should be prioritised. Satisfactory essential facilities should be provided in all these settlements.

Scarce resources should be used carefully to provide essentials to all people instead of squandering scarce resources on grand and expensive projects.

National Security and Unity

National security is based not just on armies and weapons but even more so on the unity and determination of people to defend national interests. Hence continuing efforts should be made to strengthen the unity of people at all levels. Special attention should be given to justice-based unity in border areas, with a willingness to provide all democratic rights (except perhaps for very small periods of special security concerns) and an effective system for redressal of all grievances. Special care should also be taken to ensure such community participation that any victimisation of innocent persons at the time of security operations can be avoided.

Apart from overall improvement of anti-terrorism operations, efforts to break their higher-level linkages, whether external or internal, should be emphasised.

A high level of preparedness to defend national borders should be maintained, while at the same time improving negotiations with neighbouring countries to resolve border issues and ease tensions. Corruption and commissions in arms purchase should be strictly curbed, while self-reliance and indigenous R and D should be strengthened.

Priority should be given to solving most expensive border disputes like that over the Siachin glacier. The Kashmir issue can be resolved by strengthening democratic processes on both sides of the border, initiating
dialogues and exchanges, gradually opening up the borders and recognition of these as the legitimate borders by all sides. But all this is possible only if disruptive forces of violence are restrained.

Foreign Policy and International Affairs

There should be a deep commitment to friendly relations and peace with all neighbouring countries without sacrificing national security interests and protection of our borders.

The world is passing through extremely difficult times with the growing threat of irreversible climate change and life-endangering conditions on the one hand, and the stockpiling and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the other. India should play a leading role of responsibility so that the endeavours to resolve these life-threatening problems get the highest priority and effective, justice-based solutions are able to emerge before it is too late.

The narrow viewpoints of the developed countries on these issues should be challenged by a broader unity of developing and least developed countries. In addition, the tendency of the developed countries to go on trying to extend their special privileged position and dominate the world economy and trade should be challenged and resisted. International trade and financial institutions should be reformed substantially, or what may be more practical ultimately, new international trade and financial institutions should be created that are more suitable for realising a new international economic order based on justice and equality.

India should participate actively, inside and outside the United Nations, for justice-based peace and minimising the possibilities of war and internal strife. Unity and cooperation of all countries should be established to strongly curb all forms of terrorism and its causes as well.

India should support disarmament with renewed vigour so that substantial savings from arms expenditure can be diverted to the needs of development.

Minorities

Security and equal opportunities for all minorities should be protected and promoted. Communal harmony and national unity should be actively preserved and reinforced on a continuing basis so that such conditions are created that minimise the possibilities of communal violence. Those guilty of obstructing this path of peace, goodwill and security should face strict action.

Although minorities are generally taken to be religious minorities, the reasons for being identified on other basis (such as region or caste) exist and any such effort of violence against any kind of minority should face strict action and all such tendencies should be curbed.

Sexual minorities should also be protected from injustice, discrimination and stigma.

Social Activists and Organisations

Social activists, who seek to help weaker sections, oppressed people and reform society in other creative ways, should get encouragement and protection from governments. Any effort to harass or repress such work of the social activists and organisations should be checked and protection should be available against these efforts.

Media

The media should be close to the ground realities and needs of the country, and should be in tune with the basic precepts and values enshrined in our Constitution—equality, secularism, special concern for the weaker sections, national integration and unity. The freedom of the media is very important and this is also a basic constitutional precept, but it should not be misrepresented to justify the increasing corporate control to an extent that the media is alienated from the genuine concerns of the people and instead promotes narrow interests and viewpoints. Cooperative efforts of journalists should be encouraged. Along with freedom, a socially responsible behaviour of the new social media is important and new technologies should not be misused.

Transport and Tourism

The importance of railways and public transport keeping in view the needs of ordinary travellers should get high priority. Roads should be safe and in good condition, but overspending of scarce resources on non-essential expansion and widening should be discouraged. Safety in all forms of transport should get very high priority.

Safety, hygiene and essential facilities at all places of huge gatherings, including pilgrimages, festivals and fairs etc., should be emphasised. Economy tourism and safety of tourists should get high priority. Tourism should be linked to the better livelihoods of ordinary people.

Culture, Art and Literature

The rich cultural assets and folk arts in various communities should be promoted and encou-raged, as well as protected from the onslaught of the corporate controlled media, ‘cultural imperia-lism’ and pornography. Highly deserving but neglected talent among the ordinary folk should be encouraged and helped to realise their full potential. Special efforts should be made to protect the endangered languages. Efforts to bring cinema, theatre and literature closer to the real concerns and aspirations of ordinary people as well as the pressing needs of society should be encouraged.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

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