Religious and education sectors get biggest foreign funding: India’s First VOs report

PTI | 26 Jun, 2013

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NEW DELHI: Religious and education institutions are among the highest recipients of foreign funding, an apex body of voluntary organisations today claimed.

In its study report on ‘Status of the Voluntary Sector in India’, which was released here,Voluntary Action Network of India (VANI) also alleged that instead of creating an enablingenvironment for the sector, the government was tightening its noose on voluntary organisations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

“Nearly 19 per cent (Rs 1276.56 crore) of the foreign funds are pumped into education sector and religious bodies.

“We were told by the government that money to the tune of Rs 10,500 crore were entering India in this sector.

“We have been asking for the details but it is only in the last two years that we have had the detailed report from them and it clearly reveals who is getting the major funding from abroad,” VANI CEO Harsh Jaitli said.

“It is the religious bodies like mutts, dharamshalas, churches, religious foundations, corporate foundations, private schools hospitals etc, which are getting the major fund,” Jaitli claimed.

He also claimed that the government is tightening its grip on voluntary organisation as more than 4000 organisations got their registrations cancelled.

“We were told by the FCRA department this was an effort to weed out the dormant and inactive FCRA registered organisations, or on account of non-submission of returns, change of address and not updating the same with the department concerned, or no reasonable activities in the last couple of years but things got caught up in bureaucracy and voluntary organisations suffered on their account,” he said.

On VANI’s official website, the updated cancelled list of 4138 NGOs shows Tamil Nadu with the maximum number of cancellations at 794, followed by Andhra Pradesh (670), Kerala (450) and Maharashtra (352).

VANI officials ascribed the rise in Tamil Nadu figures to the NGOs protesting against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in the state.

“Voluntary organisations and NGOs which worked against corruption, nuclear issues and human rights violations are the worst sufferers, take what happened in the aftermath of the Koodankulam protests in Tamil Nadu,” co-chairperson Farida Vahedi said.

As least four NGOs were booked under FCRA for allegedly diverting foreign funds to aid the organisation of protests against the Koodankulam plant. Their bank accounts were frozen, the report said.

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THREATS TO CIVIL SOCIETY SPACE: A JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE G20 CIVIL SUMMIT IN RUSSIA

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The G20 Civil Summit is an excellent opportunity for G20 governments to interact with representatives of global civil society who are working on issues related to G20 priorities. As participants in this summit, we welcome this forum and commend the government of the Russian Federation for organising it.

At the same time, though, the G20 Civil Summit is not occurring in a vacuum.
In Russia, severe restrictions are being placed on civil society organisations’ freedom to operate as new laws require organisations that have received funding or other support from overseas to register as ‘foreign agents’ or risk being shut down. People across the Russian Federation stand to lose the most from the termination of the work undertaken by these organisations, which ironically is often undertaken at the request of the government itself. It is crucial that governments differentiate direct services, advocacy and policy work from political activity, which is completely different.
We underscore that Russia’s treatment of civil society organisations is part of a wider trend – both in other G20 countries and across the globe – in which the space for civil society activity is shrinking. People in the non-profit and civil society sectors IN MANY COUNTRIES are harassed, imprisoned, threatened and even kidnapped or killed. We strongly condemn all such harassment, including actions that affect the independence, funding and scope of civil society work.  Tolerance of diversity and respect for human rights should be the hallmark of all societies.
An active, independent civil society forms an integral part of a healthy, democratic society. Civil society organisations play an essential role to identify problems and work constructively and in partnership towards solving them.  This work requires a legislative environment which allows this work to be undertaken without undue interference.  In addition, in an increasingly globalised world – in which governments acknowledge the need for collaboration through forum like the G20 – it is legitimate for civil society organisations to work together across boundaries, including the provision and sharing of resources.
The Civil 20 process must not be a substitute – or perceived to be a substitute – for genuine and committed engagement with civil society.
Signed by:

  • Asia Development Alliance (ADA) Working Group on G20
  • Bellona (Murmansk)
  • Carlos A. Tornel Curzio, Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, A.C.
  • CIVICUS
  • Cui Shoujun, Renmin University of China
  • Dignity International
  • Feminist Task Force
  • FONGTIL Timor-Leste
  • GCAP CHINA
  • Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP)
  • Green World (Sosnovy Bor – St. Petersburg)
  • Greenpeace International
  • Greenpeace Russia
  • Heinrich Boell Foundation
  • International Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)
  • Kola Environmental Center (Murmansk)
  • Korea Civil Society Forum on International Development Cooperation (KoFID)
  • Korea NGO Council for Overseas Development Cooperation (KCOC)
  • Luis Guzman, CODISE A.C. Mexico
  • Nature and Youth (Murmansk)
  • Olga Pitsunova, Association Partnership for Development, Russia
  • Pacific Environment
  • Pax Romana ICMICA Asia
  • Siberian Ecological Centre (Novosibirsk)
  • Tengri School of Soul ecology (Altay)
  • Transparency International
  • Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (GCAP India)
  • World Economy, Ecology & Devlopment – WEED

Engagement of civil society critical to shaping the G20 agenda

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“This is a historic event in the context of the G20. Never before has civil society been officially invited and empowered to prepare recommendations for the G20.”

-UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé

As part of its role as President of the G20—the group of the 20 major economies—Russia has this week hosted the G20 Civil Summit. The two-day event featured a bold dialogue among global civil society and decision-makers and culminated in the development of a ‘Civil Communique’––recommendations which will be presented to the G20 to be put onto the agenda of the G20 Leaders’ Summit which is being held in St. Petersburg in September 2013.

“This unprecedented Summit was preceded by intensive preparatory work, engaging experts representing NGOs and research institutes from different G20 countries,” said Ksenia Yudaeva, Russian G20 Sherpa, and Chief of Presidential Experts Directorate who officially opened the Summit.

Ksenia Yudaeva also read the address of Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, to participants where he stressed that “civil society organizations’ practical experience will help leaders of the “Group of Twenty” to find the most optimal balance in the global development strategy and to take a consolidated decision on the complex challenges faced by the world.”

“This is a historic event in the context of the G20. Never before has civil society been officially invited and empowered to prepare recommendations for the G20,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé at the opening. “You have earned this role and this space. If you protect this space for the future, your role and influence as a full partner in the G20 will continue to have a pivotal positive impact on global governance.”

Highlighting the historical role of civil society in the global HIV response, he stressed that it was the civil movement which broke the conspiracy of silence about AIDS and continue to campaign for issues of human rights, trade and access to health, stigma and discrimination.

The Summit attracted more than 350 representatives of civil society, international organizations, private sector and government to Moscow to engage in discussions on issues they would like to see addressed by the leaders of the G20. Russia is the first country to hold the Civil 20 Summit in this important format.

UNICEF calls for child labour free India

New Delhi, June 13: Drawing attention towards the plight of children employed in various sectors, United Nations Children’s Fund Wednesday called for reforms to make the country free of child labour.

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In a joint statement issued along with National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and International Labour Organisation on the occasion of ‘World Day Against Child Labour’, UNICEF said poverty was the cause and effect of child labour.

It said that children in domestic work were very vulnerable to exploitation as their work is often hidden from the public eye and they often work far away from home.

“Children migrating alone and with their families are also at increased risks, including child trafficking,” the statement said.

“Taking advantage of their vulnerability, the children are trafficked from their villages in rural or tribal areas and taken to the metro cities for work. Stories of the abuse of children in domestic work are too common.”

Elimination of child labour is essential for promoting children’s right to education, preventing exploitation and ensuring their all-round growth, the statement said.

It is the responsibility of the government, civil society and parents to ensure that children are in schools and not at work.

The statement welcomed the introduction of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012.

There must be a roadmap for achieving the ultimate goal of making the country child labour free through progressive legislative and policy reforms as well as program interventions, it added.

The revised National Policy for Children {2013} adopted by the government heralds a policy shift from a welfare-based approach to a rights-based approach towards children, which is in line with India’s commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it said.

PTI

India mega-transport project lacks transparency – civil society

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A multi-million dollar Indian transport project in Western Myanmar was criticised in a recent report by local civil society groups for lacking transparency and not benefiting local communities.

The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project is financed by the Indian government and aims to connect Mizoram State in Northeast India with a deep-sea port at Sittway, Western Myanmar. The project is seen as a strategic step for building bilateral trade between the two countries.

The project recently came under fire by the Kaladan Movement, an alliance of civil society groups, who highlighted the need for wider transparency and accountability.

“Implementation of the Kaladan Project should be fully transparent, and should ensure full local consultation and participation; the benefits of the project go to the least advantaged communities; and accountability for ALL stakeholders be involved in the project. Unless and until these essential elements are fulfilled, the Kaladan Project should be suspended,” said the Kaladan Movement in a press release.

The Kaladan Movement comprises of the Arakan River Network, Chin Human Rights Organization and Zo Indigenous Forum, who prepared the report after extensive field research in Chin and Rakhine States in Myanmar and Mizoram State in India.

The US$214 million project has been hailed as a cornerstone of India’s “Look East Policy” aiming to expand India’s economic and political influence in Southeast Asia.

Due to be operational by 2015, it was part of an agreement signed between India and Myanamr 2008 and involves the construction of a combined inland waterway and highway transportation system connecting the isolated Northeast India with important trade routes through the Bay of Bengal.

Furthermore, the project aims to provide badly needed transportation access in Chin and Arakan states, some of the most impoverished regions in Myanmar.

However, local communities claim that there has been a lack of consultation and some have been forcibly relocated and had their lands confiscated. The project is also destructive to the local ecosystem and threatens cultural heritage, according to the Kaladan Movement. Representatives of the project were unavailable to comment.

“The environmental, social and health impacts (of the project) need to be analysed and the results should be informed to the public. If the project is not people-centred, it will not bring the benefits but tensions between Myanmar and India,” said Tartwan Zaw, Executive Director of Arakan Rivers Network.

The report listed a number of problems arising from the lack of transparency, and focuses on the concerns and hopes of the local people. It also made a series of recommendations for the project, including the need for participatory decision making with the public and welfare programs for local communities.

Salai Za Uk Ling, Program Director at Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organization, commented.

“Locals in Paletwa Township in Chin State weren’t even informed about construction of a highway in their area. How can they benefit from a project they are not informed? If there is no transparency and accountability to the public, Kaladan Project will have to stop.”

Pakistan India talks: Delhi Policy Group chief sees hope for peace process

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Civil society activists in India are hopeful the government led by Nawaz Sharif will work towards improving ties with India, said Delhi Policy Group, Director General Dr Randha Kumar, on Monday. The DPG is a think tank in India.

Kumar is leading a delegation to meet Pakistani women working for peace in the region and held talks with women rights activists and journalists at the HRCP. She said rights activists in India were hopeful the peace process between the two countries would be strengthened under Sharif.

Kumar said all the steps which could ease out tensions between the two countries and strengthen peace building measures were already on their agenda. These included easier visa delivery and improving trade and bilateral cooperation.

Dr Kumar, who has been the interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir for the Indian government and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations at New York, said women in the region could play a very important role to build peace. She said the process of peace building shouldn’t be left to men alone.

She said her group was engaged in three studies, namely the Role of Women in Peacemaking in Pakistan, Role of Women in Peacemaking in Myanmar and Role of Peacemaking in Afghanistan.

Women rights activist and Afghan’s Women Network member Mahbooba Siraj said that their number one partner in raising a voice against those who usurped the women’s rights was the media. She said there could be no peace building in any country in the long term if women were not involved.

Many people in Afghanistan she said, thought they could send their children to Pakistan for studies, adding that the institutions here should grant scholarships and give opportunities to Afghan girls to get education. This, she said, would ultimately strengthen the voices for peace.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary General IA Rehman said lately Pakistani media had turned into a supportive voice for the women and for those who were working for peace.

A few decades ago there weren’t many non-government organisations to compile data on violence against women but now many newspapers did it on their own, Rehman added.

He also added however, that there was a mindset in the media which called women working for peace or for women rights ‘westernised’.

Former caretaker minister Salima Hashmi said she wasn’t optimistic about the SAARC’s contribution to engage women in peace building but women in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India could make a network and work for peace building.

Former National College of Arts principal Nazish Ataullah, and journalist Hussain Naqi were also present at the meeting.

‘Let civil society conduct polls to find who represents JK’

Separatist JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik today dared the mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir to an electionunder the aegis of the civil society for finding out “who represents the people”.
“If these people (mainstream leaders) think that pro-freedom leaders and parties have no representative character, let them all get together and choose a constituency in Kashmir and compete with us,” Malik said in a statement.
He was responding to Pradesh Congress Committee president Saif-ud-din Soz, who had said that separatists should participate in the forthcoming elections to prove their representative character.
Malik said the election should be conducted by the civil society in Kashmir with a sole purpose of proving who really represents Kashmiri people.
“If at all Soz believes in his own statement, he should not shy away from this challenge,” Malik said.
The JKLF chairman said if the separatist camp is defeated in this election, “I will quit politics”.
Malik said the elections held in the state were only for day-to-day governance and had no bearing on the resolution of Kashmir issue.