States, civil society embarking on new partnership, says UN Assembly President

561031-johnasheJohn Ashe, President of the 68th General Assembly, addresses the opening of the General Debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN News Centre- Oct 3, 2013

The General Assembly is embarking on a new partnership between Member States and civil society, the President of the 68th body, John Ashe, today said highlighting the role of non-governmental organizations and other partners in shaping a new global development agenda.

“I believe we are embarking on an openness now,” Mr. Ashe told journalists in New York in his first press conference since the Assembly’s annual General Debate wrapped up on Tuesday. “As we begin to move along, we will begin to see more of this, moving towards a new norm.”

The current dialogues have achieved a “happy medium” between the kind of participation that civil society desire and the type with which Member States are comfortable, he said.

“It’s not possible without civil society,” the Assembly President continued, adding: “Civil society should help to define what we hope to be a universal global development agenda.”

Mr. Ashe had chosen the theme for this year’s General Assembly, “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!,” which would begin in the period after the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Calling it “remarkable,” Mr. Ashe noted that despite situations in Syria and the Middle East which featured prominently over the seven days of the Debate, the majority of Member States commended the choice of theme and pledged their support.

“Despite wars, trials and tribulations, and famine, floods, virtually all the Member States that spoke did address the theme in one way or another, welcomed the choice and pledged their support and cooperation to advancing the theme,” he noted.

On the eve of the high-level debate, which opened on 24 September, Mr. Ashe and UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson took part in a special event in which regional civil society networks presented their recommendations in Arabic, English, French and Spanish for a post-2015 agenda.

The event – ‘Advancing Regional Recommendations on Post-2015: A Dialogue between Civil Society, Governments and UN Representatives’ – brought together more than 1,100 civil society representatives, along with Member States and UN officials.

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Fukushima nuclear power site leaks 300 tons of radioactive water

On Aug. 20, a spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility, announced that 300 tons of highly contaminated water has escaped the facility and leaked into the ground.

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Puddles of radioactive water were discovered by TEPCO workers near an inland tank Monday, prompting further investigation. It was soon discovered that a 1,000-ton capacity steel storage tank was missing some 300 tons of highly radioactive water. According to reports, the water contains levels of radioactive cesium and strontium that are hundreds of times higher than legal safety limits.

Officials from TEPCO have said they believe the leak did originate from the tank, but are still uncertain how or where in particular the leak occurred. The incident has sparked particular concern because four other storage tanks with the same design have also experienced leaks over the past year, the Associated Press reported.

The seriousness of the leak has also prompted Japan’s nuclear regulators to declare a radiological release incident for the first time since 2011, when a high level earthquake and subsequent tsunami resulted in a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima complex.

TEPCO has said the leak is mostly likely ongoing and has set its focus on stemming any further spread of the contamination. Workers have been placing sandbags around the tank vessel in an attempt to stave off the water leak as the region braces for heavy rainfall.

Bonded Labour System still a reality

NEW DELHI: After losing her husband to an illness, Jeyanthi (name changed) was forced to step in as the bread earner for her six young children. With no education, work was hard to come by for her, and existence was at bare subsistence levels. Jeyanthi got by, working as a casual labourer; and as her sons became older, they too pitched in. Life was to take a nastier turn for Jeyanthi when her eldest child was to get married. Even the most shoe-string wedding budget worked out to Rs 10,000, money that Jeyanthi didn’t have. She also had no land or asset she could sell, anything of value she had was long gone.

Like many before her in her village, in Andhra Pradesh, Jeyanthi approached the owners of the Sri Lakshmi Modern Rice Mills for a loan and a job to help pay it off. Jeyanthi was made to work long hours under inhuman conditions, she couldn’t go home, her wages were way below the minimum wage rate, and she had to put up with repeated sexual abuse by her employers. Jeyanthi, whose pitiful plight is narrated by the Bandhua 1947 campaign, run by 5 organisations working in this space, is bonded labour – forced or partly forced labour governed by a debtor-creditor agreement. But if you asked the government, there is no such person anymore. Since May, the current UPA government, celebrating its nine years in office, has been putting out a print ad that is headlined: “thanks to MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), no bonded labour anymore”.

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Yet, surveys by civil society organisations and researchers show that even 37 years after Parliament passed the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 – defining this practice, making it a criminal offence and freeing all bonded labours from their obligations – bonded labour exists in India. And the difference between government and non-government statistics goes back nearly as much.

The government did its one and only survey in 1978, counting 343,000 bonded labourers in 16 states. Earlier that year, in the first-ever survey of bonded labour carried out in India, the Gandhi Peace Foundation and National Labour Institute counted 2.6 million bonded labourers in 10 states. The government stopped counting after that, though it has said that it has rehabilitated 300,000 bonded labourers since the Act came into force. But earlier this year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated 11.7 million bonded labourers in India.

Bonded labour has changed over the years. It is no longer limited to the traditional power equation in agriculture, in which the lower castes are expected to perform menial tasks in exchange for guaranteed subsistence. The prevalent system today is one of debt bondage. Poor and without resources, like Jeyanthi, these people take credit from the local landlord or factory owner or contractor.

The loan is akin to an advance on wages, to be paid off by working. Except it would seem the debt is never repaid – and only keeps growing. Piling interest, charges for delayed payments, meagre wages, and fresh loans for subsistence and emergencies means there is no escaping bondage.

Kara, who has spent the last 11 years researching modern slavery in South Asia, puts the weighted average annual profits at $920 per bonded labour, resulting in implied annual profits of $17.6 billion globally.

Kara estimates that when a factory owner acquires a bonded labour for a global weighted average of $200 in South Asia, it can expect a net profit of $2,585 – a compounded annual return on investment of 191% for an average bondage period of 6.3 years.

Civil societies to play crucial role in CSR agenda

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MUMBAI: Business associations and civil societies have a crucial role to play in the government’s corporate social responsibility agenda, according to industry leaders and government officials.

“They (business associations and chambers of commerce) could act as hubs to further facilitate a process of constructive engagement and collective action with their respective organisations,” Bhaskar Chatterjee, DG & CEO,IICA said at a seminar orgainsed by Federation of IndianChamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in Mumbai on Wednesday.

“Success or failure of CSR programme in India rests more with civil societies than with companies. NGOs have to demonstrate their capability to implement,” said Chatterjee.

The seminar on “Corporate Social Responsibility – Companies Bill 2012 & Impact of Section 135”, organised in partnership with IICA and with the support of Next Gen, British High Commission and HPCL, dwelled on what activities qualify as CSR and what does not, the critical role of industry associations and chambers of commerce, the role of civil society and NGOs in reaching the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ through CSR, among other issues. The seminar also had a panel discussion on integrating social delivery into business.

The new Companies Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha in December, made it mandatory for firms to report on how much they spend on CSR every year. If companies spend less than 2% of their average net profit over the last three years, they are required to explain the reasons. India is the first nation in the world to frame such legislation.

Speaking on the occasion Rashesh Shah, chairman, FICCI, Maharashtra State Council, said: “We must look at CSR as not a binding legal requirement but a commitment to imbibe it in our corporate culture, which contributes substantially towards betterment of society holistically.”

According to Abhishek Humbad, co-founder of sustainability management firm NextGen, one of the partners in the seminar: “In order to realise the full potential of Clause-135, the companies need to innovate and evolve new areas intervention like social entrepreneurship, startup incubation, social business models etc. and develop new methods of delivery. Greater collaboration and greater use of technology will play a critical role in the success of Clause-135.”

Jammu Civil society groups urge for peace, harmony

AMMU : Several civil society groups here have made separate strong appeals for maintaining communal harmony and restoration of peace.
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A group of social activists and advocates appealed to all sections of society to restore the rich cultural and secular ethos of Jammu region by maintaining calm and not getting led astray by rumours and propaganda.

Expressing grave concern over the Kishtwar incident and its spill out in various other parts of the region they said that the situation needs to be handled at both the administrative and political fronts to not only bring some semblance of normalcy but also to heal the minds and treat the hatred that is vitiating the atmosphere.

They said that Jammu region has always exhibited the best of secular traditions since the last several decades and that these need to be preserved at every cost.

The group included H.U. Siddiqui, M.R. Quereshi, A.H. Mughal, Mehmood Mirza, Iqbal Hussain Butt, A.A Hamal, Anwar Choudhry, Achal Sharma, Ashwini Sharma, Master Abdul Majid, Azam Shah, Farooq Muztar, Khurshid Bismal, Mohd. Ayub Shabnam, K.K. Kapoor, Maroof Manhas, Raja Abbas and Nazir Chowdhry.

The Internationalist Democratic Party (IDP) also made a strong appeal for maintaining peace and expressed grave concern at the spill over of the Kishtwar incident to Jammu city and other areas.

It’s president I.D. Khajuria and general secretary J.A. Kazmi were extremely concerned about the incidents of targeting minorities in areas where they have a microscopic presence. They said that this seemed to be a part of bigger conspiracy which needs to be unveiled.

They added that the immediate need, however, is to maintain law and order and ensure the safety of all communities, especially in areas where they are in minority. They have also appealed to general public to remain calm and resist the temptation of getting swayed by rumours.

Meanwhile, the residents of Talab Khatikan, Mohalla Dalpatia, Residency Road, Link Road, Jain Bazar, Mohalla Mastgarh and Mohalla Khatkatian, while addressing a press conference, today expressed concern over the prevailing situation.

They said, “It is a known thing that all the communities Hindu, Muslim, Sikh are living in the state in exemplary harmony, particularly in the district of Kishtwar, Doda, Reasi, Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Kathua and Udhampur. The incident which took place on August 9 in Kishtwar is highly condemnable and cannot be justified at all.”

They further appealed to all the like minded people irrespective of caste and creed as well as political parties to come forward in normalising the situation and bring peace in the troubled area as soon as possible. They also demanded that the culprits should not be spared and must be brought to book and dealt with an iron hand irrespective of caste, community and religion the belong.

The civil society group alleged that some political parties tried to communalise the situation as the election of 2014 was nearing. “The activities of such elements are required to be curbed with an iron hand, so that harmony could be maintained irrespective of which community they belong to,” they added.

Those who addressed the press briefing included Hafeez-ur-Rehman (Advocate), Bashir Ahmad Malik, Sanjeev Gupta, Devinder Singh, Ayub Beg, Ashiq Hussain, Raji Shaluja, Dr. Shahid Mugdal, Ajay Gandotra alias Manta, Devinder Gupta, Vinod Kumar, Sudesh Dogra, Mrs. Kapoor, Rinku, Happy Gupta, Parveen Singh, Davinder Joshi, Rashid Ahmad, Safdar Khan Manhas and Zeeshan Ali.

Meanwhile, Duggar Vikas Manch (DVM), a forum which represents all segments of Duggar Society, today appealed to the people of Jammu region to maintain peace, which is an example of brotherhood and communal harmony as there is a dire need at this crucial moment of maintaining this centuries-old tradition of the state, and requested the people to defeat the designs of divisive forces.

DVM President Dineshwar Singh Jamwal demanded that the sufferers must be compensated as per their damages and asked the officials to remain vigilant and caution the people of both the communities against rumour-mongers.

He further appealed to the people to maintain peace and communal harmony to help restore law and order, which Jammu region’s society symbolizes with its pluralistic ethos and peaceful co-existence of different faiths, cultures and ethnic groups.

DVM also urged the civil society of Jammu region to come forward to defuse the tensions in this region as the government has failed to deliver in time though Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have lived together in harmony even during worse situations in the region.

Source: KT NEWS SERVICE

Civil society groups slam MP govt over FRA violations in Mahan forests

Civil society groups on Tuesday came together in support of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) and demanded a response from Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan about the non-implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the Mahan forests of Singrauli district.

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“This has come two months after the Union Tribal Affairs Minister, V K C Deo wrote a letter to the State Chief Minister and Governor, about FRA violations in the Mahan forests in the Singrauli district,” Greenpeace India Senior Campaigner and MSS activist Priya Pillai told reporters.

The state government has been tight-lipped about the issue and has not come out with any response, Priya said. “The Union Tribal Affairs Ministry has still not got a response from the Chief Minister. The State government cannot afford to drag its feet over the issue,” said Priya who is an activist with MSS and has been working with villagers in Mahan for the past two-and-a-half years for implementation of the FRA. She said the MoEF granted Stage-I clearance to the Mahan coal block (alloted to Mahan Coal Limited – a joint venture of Essar and Hindalco) last year, along with 36 conditions which includes implementation of FRA.

However, the state government has gone ahead and given an NOC to the company on the basis of a fraudulent Gram Sabha resolution, Pillai said. A special Gram Sabha on FRA was held on March 6, 2013 in Amelia, which was attended by only 184 people, she said. But the copy of the Gram Sabha resolution obtained through RTI (after four months) has 1,125 signatures – most of them, the villagers fear, have been forged, Priya said.

At a joint press conference with MSS members on July 19, 2013, Deo had assured he will look into the matter. “We have come to Bhopal to demand our rights from the Chief Minister. The Tribal Affairs Minister had assured us of his support but the State government has not spoken a word on the issue,” said Ujiraj Singh Khairwar, member of MSS and a resident of Amelia. The mine would render them homeless, Khairwar said and added that for generations they have been dependent on the forests for their livelihood.

Source: PTI 13 August 2013

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.