Roles of Civil Society in Changing Context of India

Rajesh-TandonSociety for Participatory Research in Asia president Rajesh Tandon delivering the Samarjit Ray memorial lecture in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Former chief secretary K Madhava Rao is at left.

Rajesh Tandon, co-founder and president of Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) said that the challenge for civil society is to redefine its identity and questioned as to where the civil society belongs to.

While speaking about the changes in civil societies, he said that a lot of voluntary organisations have emerged, which instead of pursuing social commitments are pursuing business and commercial intentions.

Speaking at a lecture entitled “Roles of Civil Society in Changing Context of India” which was organised on the occasion of 70th birth anniversary of late Smarajit Ray, co-founder of Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abivrudhi Society (APMAS) on Tuesday at the SERP conference hall at Hermitage complex, HUDA building, Nampally.

“I think that we are in a severe crisis as the Supreme Court took 62 years to order that minerals under the lands belong to title holders, tribals,” said Rajesh Tandon and added that the government displaces tribals for the sake of private companies and names under the guise of national interest projects BN Yugandhar, former planning commission member, observed that chaotic changes in the country are not captured correctly to understand society and questioned the role of civil society. He added that helping labourers in forming unions and in demanding their rights comprises civil society movement.

Rukmini Rao, development sector activist, brought up gender issues plaguing the society and questioned as to why women are pushed towards margins and as to how the  civil society is dealing with their issues. She observed that the civil society has not taken sides in favour of the poor and the marginalised while failing to support labor union movements.

“There is some crisis of vision for all of us and nations problems are getting solved as people are not empowered” said Malla Reddy, director, Axion Fraterna. He also said that if self help groups, cooperative organisations and other kinds of civil society organisations come together then the public will be aware of their rights and fight against injustice.


Civil Society Pushes for More Active Participation in Green Climate Fund


The Green Climate Fund has been opened up to observers, but civil society representatives want to play a bigger role.

MEXICO CITY, Jul 21 2013 (IPS) – The Green Climate Fund (GCF), created under the auspices of the United Nations to finance the huge investments demanded by climate change, was opened up to participation by civil society and private sector representatives as observers in March.

But non-governmental organisations are pressing for more active participation now that the GCF is moving into the crucial phase of designing policies and distributing resources, especially with regard to the controversial Private Sector Facility.

“Now they are discussing what type of observers and executors can be in the Fund. This opens up the possibility of having financial institutions involved as executors, and they are studying the criteria for qualification and safeguards,” Colombian attorney Astrid Puentes, co-director of the Interamerican  Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), told Tierramérica. In this process, “we are being ignored,” she stated.

As one of the observer organisations from the region, AIDA monitors the sessions of the GCF Board, which is based in South Korea.

The creation of the GCF was agreed at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in late 2011 in Cancún, Mexico. The industrialised countries pledged to deliver 30 billion dollars in new and additional financing by 2012, with priority placed on resources for climate change adaptation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

A longer-term target was set for the mobilisation of 100 billion dollars annually by 2020.

The World Bank was designated as the interim trustee of the Fund for the first three years.

A year later, in Durban, South Africa, a governing body was created: the 24-member GCF Board, composed of an equal number of members from developed and developing countries, responsible for the execution and oversight of the Fund’s resources.

At its next meeting, scheduled for this September in Paris, the Board will assess the progress made in the development of a business model framework, transparency policies, private financing and conditions for access to GCF resources.

“It’s important that, whatever is done, it has to do with small and medium enterprises. The approach should focus on the needs of ordinary people in the developing countries and then how the private sector is engaged,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S., told Tierramérica.

“It’s incredibly important that a country decides what is good and the private sector obliges to it,” she added.

At a meeting on Jun. 25-28 in the South Korean city of Songdo, where it is based, the GCF Board decided that the Private Sector Facility will commence its operations through accredited national, regional and international implementing entities and intermediaries. It also established that it may over time work directly with private sector actors, subject to consideration by the Board.

This decision derailed attempts by the United States and Australia to give corporations direct access to the funds, bypassing government control.

A report published in June by a consortium of five civil society organisations, funded by the UK-based Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), stressed the role of national institutions.

“Especially the GCF should prioritise access of local (…) actors to the available funds,” the report states, adding that “clear funding modalities must be put in place to ensure multi-stakeholder decision-making processes, including sub-national and non-state actors, as well as the devolvement of funds to the local level.”

Private sector companies, which also have representatives as GCF observers, want the funds transferred by the wealthy countries to cover their investments in clean development projects in developing countries, which they can claim as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Latin American delegates were missing in Songdo, since neither Mexican Senator Ernesto Cordero, a Board member, nor his alternate, Rodrigo Rojo, deputy director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Finance of Chile, was in attendance.

But that was not the only problem.

“The last meeting was disastrous for citizen participation. They shut us out of some discussions, like the definition of the business model, on the pretext that our organisations have no experience in these matters,” said Puentes.

Orenstein commented that “the countries that were the major obstacles were Australia and the U.S., who boast they are the champions of transparency. The real champions were Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and indeed Sweden. It was regressive; they vetoed the presence of civil society delegates in the most important discussions.”

In November 2012 almost 34 billion dollars in climate finance had been pledged, according to an analysis conducted by institutions in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and Norway. Of this total, 28 million had been requested and/or budgeted by the executive bodies of the countries that have pledged the funds.

However, it is difficult to determine if these resources are genuinely “new and additional” and not part of previously allocated assistance or financing. Every country uses different instruments and channels resources through different schemes and institutions. It also is not clear if priority has been placed on adaptation measures in the most vulnerable countries.

The funds actually invested total barely three billion dollars.

On Jun. 24, the day before the last GCF Board meeting began, a large group of non-governmental organisations sent the Board a letter highlighting key issues regarding transparency and public participation and requesting that they be addressed at the meeting.

“The Board would benefit from having civil society participation given the vast expertise and experience found among the different groups and individuals that represent civil society,” the letter emphasised.

* This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.


Civil society group to help Batla House case convict

New Delhi, July 25 (IANS) A civil society group comprising Jamia Millia Islamia teachers Thursday expressed shock over the conviction of lone accused Shahzad Ahmad in the Batla House shootout case and vowed to seek justice for him in a higher court.

“It was a huge disappointment for us. We will definitely approach the higher court for justice,” said Manisha Sethi, president of Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA).

A Delhi court convicted Ahmad, from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, for killing Delhi Police Special Cell Inspector M.C. Sharma, who had led a police team that raided a flat in Batla House neighbourhood, close to the university, where the shootout took place Sep 19, 2008.

Sethi said they fought for five years to reveal the real face of Delhi Police who staged the shootout and arrested the innocent people.

“The prosecution has failed to explain the theory of Delhi Police. I really wonder how such the decision took place,” she said.

Defense lawyer S. Qamar said: “Since we did not receive a copy of the court’s judgment We will look at the order and challenge the decision.”

JTSA, a civil society group, ran a campaign claiming that the shootout was fake and the arrests of Shahzad and other suspects for it were wrong.

In October 2012, JTSA brought out a report, ‘Framed, Damned, Acquitted‘ documenting 16 cases where trials of terror accused resulted in acquittals for lack of evidence.

JTSA also questioned the alleged discrepancies in the police version on the Batla House shootout through a report “Encounter’ at Batla House: Unanswered Questions”.

Civil society groups stage dharna at Jantar Mantar

New Delhi, July 21: A protest march followed by dharna was organised at Jantar Mantar here on Sunday to protest against the recent killing of four innocent civilians in BSF firing at Gool in district Ramban. The protest dharna was organised by Save Sharmila Campaign and Mission Bhartiyam.

The protestors raised slogans and demanded stern action against those behind the killings. They further demanded withdrawal of contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which the protestors felt was the root cause behind such incidents.
Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign is a nationwide campaign in support of Irom Sharmila and for the repeal of the draconian law AFSPA. For two years, it has been working to spread awareness, mobilize support and generate political pressure to get the law repealed. It is an umbrella of many civil society organizations. The protest was joined and supported by many progressive groups namely AISA, Campus Front of India, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, NCHRO, PUCL, J&K RTI Movement and PUDR among several others. 
Condemning the “brutal Gool killings”, they felt that the massacre was not a sudden reaction to the protests by locals over alleged desecration of Quran.
A large number of people from Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern states also joined today’s protest at Jantar Mantar. Among the speakers were Ravi Nitesh, Mission Bhartiyam, Muhammad Tanveer from NCHRO, Amit, Sandeepan and V Arun from AISA, Dr Muzaffar Bhat from J&K RTI Movement, Piyush from JNSU, Hemant from DSU, Talha Huseyn from Campus Front, Asad Ashraf from JSS, Manjit from PUDR, Guneet from PUCL, Dar Rashid a Human Rights lawyer from J&K and Devika Mittal from Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign.
“The Ramban incident is a prima facie case of coercive method adopted by the security personnel. It highlights the highhanded attitude of the security forces that they have acquired over a period of time due to their absolute powers and the impunity granted to them”, Nitesh said.
“This protest is about this unacceptable massacre, it is to show our solidarity with the victims and demand justice but it has been organised to attack the root. We know that this incident is not the first incident in Kashmir. These inhuman incidents are quite frequent in Kashmir and in states of North East because draconian laws like AFSPA breed them. We are here today to appeal for humanity, to demand the repeal of AFSPA.” remarked Devika Mittal.
“It is unfortunate that these incidents are happening in the World’s largest “democracy”. It is unfortunate that these killings are justified in the name of upholding the ‘integrity’ of the nation. We feel that development, basic civil rights, basic amenities and justice should be used to uphold the ‘integrity’ not torture and killings.” said V Arun Kumar.
Dr Muzaffar Bhat of J&K chapter of RTI Movement remarked, “this incident happened in Jammu which is seen to be more “peaceful”. So there cannot be any justification. It shows that the entire Jammu and Kashmir is under attack.”
“There is a long list of incidents where security personals of almost all wings have violated the human rights in J&K. There have been fake encounters, torture, rapes etc. in the state but nothing has been done to prosecute the culprits till now. So there is every reason to believe that like other similar incidents before, there will be no action taken by the government against security personnel in Ramban massacre too”, said Mohammad Tanveer of Campus Front of India.
Asad Ashraf from Jamia Solidarity Students told that “unless and until there is demilitarization, the situation will not improve in J&K. We must know that dissatisfaction is a primary reason for increase in insurgent activities so it’s high time that we think about “their” welfare, not “ours”.
Kaashif who was here from Chhatra Vimarsh magazine, remarked that; “How do we take pride in being the world’s largest “democracy” when democracy is not extended to all states within our own country.”
Manjit from PUDR remarked, “It is tragic that Kashmiris are looked upon as “anti-national”, as “anti-Indian”. It is true that there are anti-state slogans in Kashmir but this is because the only symbol of India i.e. the army has created hell in their land (J&K)”.
The protest was supported by Activists like Gautam Navlakha, Prashant Bhushan, Manisha Sethi and Dr Sandeep Pandey, the organisers claimed. However, they were not present on the occasion.

Civil society organisation launched ‘let’s walk’ programme


PUNE: The National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC) has launched “let’s walk” programme. In an appeal to citizens NSCC states, ” Each of us should walk a certain length of our neighbourhood. It doesn’t have to be very long -just 200 to 500 metres or so. As you walk, make a list of all that is wrong, any impediments that do not allow a smooth walk… such as hawkers, shop or building encroachments, sloping ramps, broken tiles, non-existent footpath etc”.

It added, ” Walk on the footpath on one side of the road and then come back walking on the other side of the road, making a list again. Mention a landmark from where you started and where you turned around. This is a review of the safety of your neighbourhood footpaths. Do it at least once a month. Give the list to your ward office at the next ward office meeting or go to your parisar samiti and report it. Also, do send your list by email at”. NSCC members added that it compiles the complaints and sends them to the departments concerned.

” Most of us walk. In fact over 90% of Punekars walk. However, it’s so very difficult to walk on the footpaths of Pune. Imagine a senior citizen going for his morning walk, or a child walking to school.. She/ he can barely walk on the footpath. So they walk on the side of the road, where vehicles are parked and hence they are practically in the middle of the road”, the statement said. Let’s pressurise PMC to make it safe for Pedestrians to walk” stated NSCC press statement.

UN hearings offer civil society opportunity to help shape global debate on migration

556273-jeremicGeneral Assembly President Vuk Jeremić (right) addresses informal interactive hearings. UN Photo

15 July 2013 – The President of the General Assembly today urged representatives of civil society to help shape the debate on migration and development, especially how to harness the benefits of this phenomenon for the common good and for the prosperity of all nations, rich and poor.

“If current trends continue, migration may enhance current inequalities between various categories of States,” Vuk Jeremić said in remarks to the informal interactive hearings on international migration and development held at UN Headquarters in New York.

“It could even result in what some demographers have called the ‘spectre of ghost countries – of nations that will simply become devoid of necessary human resources to carry on in the longer term’,” he added.

Globalization has resulted in the advent of a new era of mobility, said the President. Over the last decade, the total number of international migrants has increased from 150 million to 214 million, creating both challenges and opportunities for societies throughout the world.

In this context, the Assembly will hold, on 3 and 4 October, the second High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York, following the first one held in 2006.

“I would therefore strongly encourage you to discuss not only how you can shape preparations for the forthcoming High-level Dialogue, but also how to influence the way Member States could incorporate the issue of migration into their debate on how to bridge the gap between overall rich and poor countries,” Mr. Jeremić stated.

He noted that the UN has created agencies to address many pressing global issues – from arms trafficking, nuclear power, and human rights, to telecommunications, intellectual property, and climate change.

“But there is no international mechanism that seeks to regulate migration flows,” he continued. “No accepted criteria have been established; no universal guidelines endorsed. There is literally no global governance on an issue that will fundamentally affect the future of virtually every nation on Earth.

“I believe that in the time ahead, Member States should begin their work on creating a basis for coordination on a topic that stands at the crux of sustainable development, as to ensure that migration does not turn into a zero-sum game, where the progress of any nation is held back by that of another.”

He also noted that migration is one of the few constants of human history. “All of us trace our roots to somewhere else – some have to go back just one or two generations; others, further rearward. But virtually everyone’s forbearers, at some point over the course of millennia, took the courageous and difficult decision to give up everything that was familiar, in order to seek greater opportunity in territories unknown.”

The subject of migration has stirred passionate debates, because for all the good it can bring, it also generates social tensions, the President stated, adding that recent arguments about how to integrate newcomers in a number of Member States have proven especially controversial.

In his remarks to the meeting, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the benefits of migration can only be fully harnessed, and the situation of migrants tangibly improved, with “sustained and strong partnerships as well as strategic cooperation between different actors.”

The role of civil society is fundamental, he added. Labour unions and employers’ organizations play a critical role in immigration reform; advocacy groups ensure that the voices of migrants are heard and heeded; diaspora organizations highlight the diversity of many contributions which migrants can make to societies; and the academic community has greatly contributed to refuting long-held myths and prejudices by grounding the migration debate in evidence.

“The challenge is to share this evidence with the public at large to dispel negative perceptions and often-stated stereotypes,” said Mr. Eliasson. “We need to engage the media to make the public and policy makers aware of the vital and positive role migrants can play in helping build and invigorate nations, economies and cultures.”

The deputy UN chief highlighted the need to: improve engagement within and cooperation between States; ensure that migration policies are based on facts; and promote the integration of migrants into societies and economies.

Additional priorities are to coordinate national migration policies to ensure that labour market and development considerations are taken into account when planning future migration, and to develop a framework for managing migration from countries and regions affected by crisis and violence.

‘People must be educated on tackling natural calamities’


New Delhi: Places that are prone to natural disasters must have a proper warning system in place and their residents should be educated on how to deal with crisis situations, experts said on Wednesday.
Experts, representatives of governments and the civil society from eight South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan and Bhutan, participated in a three-day workshop on ‘Regional Priorities for Knowledge Management and Strategy for Action: South Asia on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction’ organised by Unesco.

Speaking to a news agency on the sidelines of the event which ended Wednesday, SAARC Disaster Management Centre director Santosh Kumar said it was of utmost importance that a proper early warning system was in place for areas that were prone to natural calamities and residents were educated and informed about tackling a crisis.
“Early warnings need to be more quantified and people should be educated about the impact of such a damage…local level communities have to be educated and informed,” he said.
Agreed Lam Dorji, executive director of Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Bhutan, who said that when it comes to natural disasters, people at the village level have no education on how to tackle the situation.
“Changes have to be made at the ground level,” he said.
Kumar said it was difficult to say whether climate change was behind the cloudburst and incessant rains which subsequently led to flash floods and landslides, killing hundreds in the hill state of Uttarakhand.