Aruna Roy speaks….
Aruna Roy, Magsaysay awardee & key player in bringing about RTI and NREGA reviews the track record of the Modi government
On growing threats to religious freedom
The string of bigoted comments and attacks on minorities that we have seen over the last 8 months is disturbing. Public opinion has finally pushed the PM to make some conciliatory remarks. However, the PM will have to follow his comments with proactive and exemplary action before these assurances gain any credibility.
On non appointment of CIC
There is no justification for the government no appointing a Chief Information Commissioner soon after taking office. The BJP government is hostile to social sector entitlements, but it made promises about acting decisively on issues of transparency and accountability. The record in its first 8 months has been dismal, not only on the issue of non appointment of a Chief Information Commissioner but also in failing to notify rules for the Whistleblower Protection Act and for not activating the Lokpal. People continue to be killed (two in Odisha last month) without any real recourse for protection. Even the passage of the grievance redress law has been ignored, though BJP leaders repeatedly supported it in Parliament and promised its pasage on coming to power. This is not benign neglect, but active and deliberate negligence, to weaken transparency and accountability measures.
However diluted, MGNREGA continues to be a lifeline for the rural poor in many parts of the country. The threat of closure has been averted and proposed amendments have been withdrawn after protests. However, for MGNREGA and other basic social sector entitlements, it is real allocations that have to be looked at. In fact, if we really believe in “inclusive growth”, then the absolute minimum to be maintained is the ratio as a percentage of GDP. In 2009-10 MGNREGA expenditure was roughly 0.84% of GDP and it fell to about a fourth of that amount at 0.22% of GDP this year. We have to watch the budget this year through these parameters. This government is increasingly seen as pro-corporate and anti-poor. No government in India can remain in power for long with that kind of reputation.
On Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai case
Indian citizens have the right, in fact the duty, to raise issues of human rights violations. The location of discussion or advocacy is of little
relevance, given the disproportionate influence of global capital and the reach of the internet. In order to protect human rights and amplify
concerns of affected people, activists have the right to approach every possible platform, domestic and global. Priya Pillai had particular
justification in accepting an invitation to speak to British Parliamentarians because Essar is a British company operating in India. Why should the Indian government be more concerned about a British company’s interests than that of its own ecology, and the interests of tribal citizens? Taking ideological positions on FDI and so-called economic growth is not, in any case Ib’s mandate. Stopping Pillai from leaving the country is doing more to damage India’s reputation as a functioning democracy.
On Swachh Bharat
Swachh Bharat is a laudable objective which will remain merely rhetoric unless credible mechanisms are created. This requires a high degree of perseverance, planning and commitment not seen in enough measure to even call it a programme. Gandhi cannot be a brand or mascot, reduced to a broom! Swachhata has to extend beyond physical dirt and must be an effort to cleanse the Augean stables of corruption, caste-based hierarchies and untouchability that continue to plague India’s democracy.