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.

Publicise milk banks for malnourished babies

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While the concept of breastfeeding an infant has finally succeeded in scoring a significant victory over the baby food industry, it may still take time to set up a chain of human milk banks for babies who may have lost their mothers or whose mothers are unable to feed them for medical or other reasons. For instance, although the usual prescription is that a child must be breastfed for the first six months, it has been found that working women of the middle classes are not always able to adhere to this. This inability is different from those cases where a fashion-conscious upper class woman has erroneously convinced herself that breastfeeding spoils her figure.

Whatever the reason, it has always been known that where mother’s milk is not available, the next best alternative is the breast milk of another woman. Hence, the time-honoured concept of “wet nurses”, especially for infants whose mothers may have died in childbirth. But, since wet nurses are not always available, or are not suitable for social or economic reasons, milk banks provide the answer. But their establishment entails a highly organised and sanitised process where milk from lactating mothers are collected, pasteurised and stored. As in case of blood banks, the donors have first to be screened.

Ever since the American Academy of Paediatrics established the guidelines for milk banks in 1943, the practice has been adopted by many countries. After the first such bank was opened in Mumbai in 1989, over a dozen similar efforts have been made in other parts of India. The Infant and Young Child Feeding chapter of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics has called for formulating national guidelines for the subject. The government, health experts and the civil society must join hands, therefore, to propagate the concept of milk banks for the sake of lakhs of babies who suffer from malnutrition.

Civil society demands transparency and uninterrupted supply of TB medicines

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Raising concerns about the recent shortage of TB drugs across the country particularly of child doses used for children, TB patients, civil society and TB organisations gathered at Nirman Bhawan in Delhi today to protest against the ongoing stock-outs of TB medicines that have led to treatment interruptions across the country.

TB medicine shortages are being reported from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Nagaland and other areas, even as the Health Minister on June 21 issued a press statement denying that that there are stock-outs which prevent people from starting or continuing TB treatment, the civil society groups said.

But in reality, the Health Ministry is finally placing emergency orders for paediatric doses of TB medicines and RNTCP has written to the states to procure certain TB medicines locally. Emergency approval to procure medicines locally has been given to the states but this has its own set of problems. Besides fragmenting the market and destroying pooling power, procurement is disorganised and not always on time.

A continuous, sustainable supply of quality-assured medicines is vital for TB patients to have even half a chance of being cured. In India, it is the responsibility of the Central TB Division in the Health Ministry to ensure the uninterrupted supply of drugs to the whole country.

“As a part of the right to health, a constitutional guarantee to all persons in India, it is the government’s obligation to ensure that the quality TB medicines are accessible and available in sufficient quantity within the country,” said Anand Grover, director, Lawyers Collective HIV/ AIDS unit.

“In the past one year, we had written several times to RNTCP and the Health Ministry warning about the imminent stock outs,” said Blessina Kumar, patient advocate and vice chair, Stop TB Partnership. “Senior officials of the Health Ministry have been unwilling or unable to arrange the timely procurement of TB drugs on which lives depend. We will not be held hostage to official incompetence or negligence; patients have the right to treatment,” she adds.

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.

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.

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.”