INDIA: Democratic pretentions and administrative follies
— Asian Human Rights Commission
Combating violence has to begin within government agencies. Strict action must be taken against state agents, in particular officers of the police force and the forest department, who commit crimes against innocent civilians. But so far no such action has been taken. In addition there must be a credible and transparent mechanism to listen to the grievances of people caught in the crossfire, and a policy of welcoming armed civilian combatants, including the Maoists and Naxalites, to surrender and be reintegrated into society.
The policy of using a village defence force must be reviewed with inputs from civil society organisations that work with tribal communities and the ordinary people who are affected by extremist violence. State run essential services like medical and educational facilities must be provided to the rural population, and state institutions at the rural level should be free from d corruption and discriminatory practices like caste based iscrimination.
Fundamentalist religious forces resorting to violence in the name of vigilante groups rooted in the extremist affected regions must be banned and actions taken against political parties that support these groups. Policies behind current and future industrial development programmes in extremist affected regions must be reviewed with an intention to realistically assess the environmental as well as human impact of these programmes. Assessments must respect the rights of indigenous communities affected by these programmes.Until the government takes these steps, the Maoist and Naxalite extremism in India has the potential to flare up andburn down the democratic norms the founders of the nation promised to successive generations. As of now, the country’s worst enemy is its own police. The continuing practice of torture and the possibilities that exist for a police officer to carry on committing the offense with relative impunity is the central deficit in realising the true standards of emocracy in the country. So far no attempt has been made to change this unacceptable status quo. Unless the government changes its policies on policing, India will continue to remain a pseudo democracy ruled by the whims of its elite. his, for millions of Indians means only that brown skinned Sahibs replaced the ritish.
Government has no interest to eradicate hunger and child malnutrition
The Government of India’s attitude and approach to ensure food security and to eradicate child malnutrition showed no changes this year. For the records, the government’s effort in 2009 was pitiable. The government’s responses and policies, despite a few positive attempts54, neither paid attention to the root causes nor suggested a long?term solution. Despite India being the county that has the highest number of starvation deaths and child malnutrition, and the highest rate of child mortality in Asia, the government has not put the right to food and health as an issue of priority. Government agencies and officials from different departments related to the right to food and health do not have a comprehensive and unified policy to eradicate extreme poverty or child malnutrition.56 There have been no steps to change this situation. Those who have been facing starvation depending on nothing but poorly paid hard labour, or the Dalits, are still the poorest. Communities like the tribals living in the central plains and states like Orissa, who depend on natural resources, are pushed further towards extinction.
One of the main reasons for this is the aggavated depletion of natural resources, thanks to government policies concerning mining and exploitation of natural resources.57 The tribal communities in India today are increasingly deprived of their natural resources such as forest and land, which they have been economically and socio?culturally dependent on for generations. The government as well as multinational corporations are equally responsible for this.58 The process of deprivation is often illegal and violent, driving the tribes into extreme poverty and hunger. The deprivation of resources aggravates their food insecurity and further destroys their living pattern and culture. On the other hand, the resistance to protect their lives and resources are either labelled as anti?state activities or extremist acts, or put down by force.59 Democracy and participatory dialogues are thrown out of the window by the government when it comes to exploitation of natural resources, particularly Bauxite ores in states like Orissa. Neither the government, nor the corporate giants that seek to invest in India are interested in any process that adheres to the principles of the rule of law. Even the World Bank and the UK Department of International Development (DFID) support such steps.60 Tribal communities having subsistence cultivations in and around forest areas are also confronted with acute hunger and their children are mostly undernourished.
Most of these communities as well as farmers with smallholdings depend on natural irrigation, or rainwater. Destruction of natural irrigation sources due to mining and other industrial projects like construction of dams or excavation of land has resulted in distress migration of millions from rural India to the urban areas. There they end up as bonded labourers, and within a year perish due to acute poverty, malnutrition and hunger.61 Government schemes like the construction of village ponds, implemented often with the help of entities like the UNDP under the right to work program, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) are often unfinished and useless due to widespread corruption of government servants as well as that of the UNDP officers working in India.62 63 Instead of ensuring food security at home by providing substantial and sustainable resources such as land or other agricultural assistance for the landless or small?scale farmers whose children are malnourished, the government appears to be emphasising on the child health care system.This is a failing strategy to address child starvation deaths however, as it does not address the root causes of feudalism, caste based discrimination and emergency relief. In November, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Prof. K. V. Thomas stated in the Parliament that there were no cases of starvation deaths reported to the central government by the state administrations during the past three years.64 Externally, the government of India still denies that starvation or malnutrition deaths in India take place.
In fact the government after being informed about facts concerning certain cases, have taken repressive actions against the victims’ families, which is also borne out from the government’s reply to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Yet, the Prime Minister of India recently admitted that malnutrition in India is unacceptably high.66 However, the Prime Minister, like his predecessors and the government he leads did not spell out any specific actions to address this issue. The fact is, the government does not have a reasonably ironed out process or policy by which the issue can be addressed. This is because such an approach will hamper the interests of the Union and State Governments’ ‘break?neck?speed’ development strategies, the vested interests of the country’s politicians ? a majority being feudal landlords ? and caste based politics ? a factor that decides who rules India for how long.
No redress for ’emergency’
In Madhya Pradesh, the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres (NRC) were established to treat severely malnourished children. The districts from where the AHRC reported cases of child malnutrition this year, like Khandwa, Sidhi, Jhabua, Rewa, and Satna have NRCs running either at the Community Health Centres (CHCs) or at the district government hospitals. Many cases taken up by the AHRC shows that the malnourished children taken to the NRC were denied admission at the NRC due to lack of facilities. In a case reported from Khalwa block of Khandwa district, despite acilities being available and information of severe malnutrition made available to the district administration, the children were not taken to the NRC.67 Owing to difficult realities, parents are sometimes not eager to take their children to the NRC, as happened in the case of two?year?old Dewa, son of Kumar Singh, a Korku tribesman. Failing to produce enough food from one?acre of non?irrigated land affected by drought, Kumar Singh was about to migrate to the distant city seeking work as a bonded labourer.
According to him, if his wife took his son to the NRC, there would be no one else to take care of the other children at home. This would force Kumar Singh to stay at home and prevent him from seeking a job, which is essential to the survival of the rest of his family. Kumar Singh was thus willing to sacrifice Dewa, letting him die of hunger and malnutrition, so that the rest of the family could be saved. Even if a parent is willing to take his child to the NRC, often the NRC remains closed or refuses children from being admitted on any day of the month. Most of the severely malnourished children are undernourished from birth. The 14?day treatment such a child might receive at the NRC is no more than temporary relief. The child discharged after two weeks of treatment at the NRC is brought back to the same living conditions, resulting in the death of many children prior to their discharge from the NRC. Nanchu, a 16?month?old child from Kirahaipukhri village, Singhpur Panchayat, Majhgawan Block, Satna District of Madhya Pradesh, was refused by the NRC due to a lack of facilities.
Nanchu was diagnosed as suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) or grade III malnutrition at that time. Without getting any treatment, the child died on 19 March 2010. This small village, where 42 Mawasi tribe families live, has lost seven children since 2008 due to acute malnutrition. At thismoment, five other children in this village are severely malnourished and may die any day, probably even be published, if nothee fore the report ising els is don. Another district in Madhya Pradesh, Rewa, also exposes similar situations. For instance Java block of Rewa has reportedly 80 percent of the total children malnourished in 2008. Despite constant complaints and reports about child deaths and malnutrition, the state administration has done nothing to address the situation. Two severely malnourished children of the Kol tribe, living in Dhakra village, Laxman (16 months) and Ranjeet (18 months) were refused admission at the local NRC in September this year since the centre did not have adequate facilities. There are eight more children severely malnourished in the same village. The NRC that has to cater to several such villages has merely 10 beds. The facilities in this NRC, like all others in Madhya Pradesh have not improved since 2008.
Apart from the lack of facilities, a more fundamental issue is whether the NRCs have theapacity to function as an emergency response system. Mothers often complain that their children show no improvement after the treatment at the NRCs. The villages having a high number of malnourished children are those belonging to the tribal, Dalit or other lower caste communities. This is due to a series of reasons: (1) the consistent denial of facilities like clean drinking water, sanitation, educational and medical institutions; (2) the bonded labour system widely practiced against the tribal and Dalit communities; and (3) the landlessness of the tribals and the Dalits. In most villages of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, landed Dalits and tribals work as bonded labourers in their own land since they are No co?responsibility Whenever a case of child malnutrition or death is reported, the usual practice of the district administration is to suspend the Anganwadi worker. This is an easy way adopted by the district collectors to escape responsibility and to show action has been taken. The district collector of Khandwa in 2008 directed all the state government officials under his jurisdiction that they should provide their vehicle if a child is to be taken to the NRC. The collector issued the order in response to a series of cases reported by the AHRC.
Despite the passing of two years, when the AHRC visited villages in the district, it was revealed that in many villages the Anganwadi workers had never visited since they were far off from their area of work, or in cases where the Anganwadi workers have requested for a vehicle to transfer a child from its home to the nearest NRC, no vehicles were made available not only by other departments, but even the district collector himself. An intervention on the issue by a local human rights group resulted in the suspension of an Anganwadi worker responsible for the village from which the case was reported. Fearing such actions, Anganwadi workers often remove the name of severely malnourished children from their registers. Even until today, not a single district level officer has been punished for a case of starvation death in India. It appears that for the Government of India, malnutrition and starvation deaths are the responsibility of the victims, a few local NGOs, the UN Rapporteur on the question of right to food and at the most an Anganwadi worker. Beyond that the issue is only good for the Prime Minister to make a statement, affirming that it is unacceptable, or for a Prime Minister in the making, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, to visit a few villages and speak about it for cheap political gains, or for corrupt politicians like Ms. Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh to contest an election, and indeed win it.
No comprehensive policy
The union budget for 2010?11 has increased the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from Rs. 19,534 Crores to Rs. 22,300 Crores.69 This however, is only two percent of the total budget. Some of the proposed schemes for which this money will be spent are to introduce a universalised Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) targeting all children under the age of six by March 2012; to conduct a survey at the district level to identify the beneficiaries and to ensure the overall health insurance of the families living below the poverty line. However, the cases documented by the AHRC prove that these schemes are not properly implemented due to administrative neglect, dee?rooted and widespread corruption, and above all, due to discriminatory practices, particularly those based on gender and caste. Thus, the policies as well as the programs designed for the poor still do not reach the intended targets. And there are no plans for the government to change this situation. The villagers report that the functioning of institutions like the AWC and public food distribution shops have not improved a bit this year. Neither do they expect that it will improve the next year, or the years after.
Despite the increase in the budget for public health care and for the health ministry, all the public health institutions such as the AWC, NRC, Primary Health Centres (PHC) and Community Health Centres (CHC) have unfilled vacancies and they all lack basic facilities to function, even safe drinking water. The conditions in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh state specifically reflect this scenario. While child malnutrition has been alarmingly increasing for the last five years, not a single PHC has been built in the district during this period. Of 4,708 medical officers posts, 1,659 are left vacant, while 1,098 posts of Auxiliary Nursing Mothers (ANM) are yet to be filled. Similar anomalies exist in other government programmes. For the Reproductive and Child Health Programme that aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality, the government made a budgetary provision of Rs. 650 million between 2005 and 2010. Only Rs. 379.6 million has been spent from this budget so far. The unspent money had to be returned at the end of the project period. In August, once again tons of rotten food grains from the government warehouses were to be thrown away in states like Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and Gujarat, an act the country has repeated shamelessly for the past seven years. Indeed, the government has throughout denied that anyone in India has died from a lack of food. In the past ten years, between 1997 and 2007, more than 10 million tons of food grains were damaged in the Food Corporation India (FCI) godowns. More than one billion tons of food grains were reportedly damaged this year.
Coming to know about this, the Supreme Court of India ordered the government to immediately distribute food grains to the poor and reprimanded the government for this colossal and shameful waste. The government’s response was literally to say “mind your business,” to quote the Prime Minister of India.71 The same person, without an iota of shame, within 90 days said that the present situation of malnutrition is unacceptable. Probably someone in New Delhi should inform the Cambridge and Oxford educated economist; who served as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, the Finance Minister and now is the 14th Prime Minister of India, that malnutrition and death from starvation, reported almost daily in India is the result of those policies that results in tons of food grains rotting in the granaries of the country. The Madhya Pradesh state government on its part initially denied the reports on child death and malnutrition. Later the Union Minister of Public Health and Family Welfare acknowledged in March that 30,000 children under the age of six die of malnutrition every year,72 whereas the Union Minister of State for Agriculture stated in November that no state government has reported deaths of children from malnutrition during the past three years. The government of Orissa also resorts to such tactics of denial, although after AHRC’s intervention, the Nuapada district administration provided help to victims’ families, unfortunately after the death was reported.
Corruption has eaten up the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MGNREGS) like termites in a mud wall. Massive misappropriation of government funds was discovered in the construction of village ponds in Kusmal village of Nuapada district, Orissa. Villagers who worked for the ponds’ construction are yet to receive wages amounting to Rs. 178,764. The muster rolls prepared for the completion of the work show that the wages have been paid however. A closer examination of the report shows that even government officers like police constables and teachers and even deceased persons were paid money as wages for the construction of the ponds under the MGNREGS. The State of Human Rights in India in 2010 Page 37 Wages for similar work for villagers in Kirahaipukhri village also were denied due to corruption. They are yet to get Rs. 31,147 as wages for the construction of a well. The money was disbursed to those whom the district administrators were close with, mostly Brahmins in the locality. The district administration though was awarded the state award for the best district for implementing the MGNREGS this year. Underpayment, delay of payment and the denial of full employment are very common in the implementation of MGNREGS. The government has so far shown no interest to contain corruption.
Most of the villages in which the AHRC have documented cases of unfinished ponds or wells were constructed under the MGNREGS. They are either dried off or the water is not fit for human use. The drought this year has aggravated the situation. Wells or ponds and even deep?water tube wells have dried off. The basic facility for safe drinking water supply in rural areas is one of the key requirements to ensure food and health security as the unsafe drinking water or lack of drinking water causes various diseases such as diarrhoea or cholera resulting in death. The official death toll from malnutrition induced diarrhoea this year hit 39 in Rayagada district, 27 in Nuapada district, 10 in Nabarangpur, 5 in Koraput, 4 in Kalahandi and 8 in Malkangiri in Orissa. About 355 persons were found infected in Rayagada alone. Cholera has reportedly claimed 140 deaths in Rayagada and Kalahandi. All deaths happened in July and August. Rayagada particularly faces deaths from diarrhoea and cholera every year. Despite these repeated outbreaks claiming lives in alarming numbers, the administration each year has only taken temporary actions, and this year too was no exception. The Collector of Rayagada district visited the affected villages and ordered drinking water to be supplied by tankers, which stopped coming after just four days. As a result, the villagers were forced to drink water from a contaminated pond. Then the state government sent doctors, medicines, and food, and set up emergency camps in the affected villages. Government funds invested in tube wells to supply drinking water is Rs. 133. 85 Crores to dig 65,680 tube wells. As the depth of the tubes did not meet the standard, many of them were useless. Corruption is the most serious element depriving citizens of their right to food and health 75 Ibid.
Not distribution but deprivation or forced displacement
The distribution or re?distribution of resources aggravates the food insecurity of vulnerable communities. Most of the cultivable lands have been occupied by landlords and never re?allocated to landless farmers suffering from food insecurity for generations. In forestland areas where most of the tribal communities reside, it is often found that forest officials exploit the poor tribes by extracting bribes for almost everything, or abusing their power in various ways, including the use of torture, fabrication of charges or even cases of rape. The Mawasi tribe living in the Kirahaipukhri village of Satna district of Madhya Pradesh are deprived of their right to land after other upper caste persons encroached upon their land. These upper caste persons obtained title to the land by bribing forest department officers. The Mawasi however, did not have any money, so they have no land. In July 2009, twenty?six Mawasi families applied for land titles under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. But the forest department responded only in September 2010, that too by dismissing their claim. The poor Mawasi families were discouraged and only seven families prepared the documents for an appeal. In the process, the Mawasi were threatened and abused by the officials.
The Kol tribe living in Dhakra village of Rewa district also applied for land titles under the Forest Rights Act. Only ten out of the 250 Kol families who applied in 2008 were allotted land. The village committee who is supposed to facilitate the proper processing of the claim is not formed till today. So the families had to depend upon human land rights groups to prepare the documents. Development projects like the construction of dams cause further havoc in rural areas, in this case affecting everyone, irrespective of caste or tribe. Unfortunately again, most of the people living in the catchment areas of these dams are the poor and often the tribal communities.75 Whether small or big, these projects are often launched without proper consultation or participation of the villagers who are affected by them. In most cases compensation is simply denied, and in cases where it is paid, only paltry sums are paid out. These projects have caused such devastation and destruction to India’s rural population, that their continued existence surpasses common sense.76 The Suktel Dam project launched in Balangir and Sonepur districts of Orissa affected 29 villages and covers 29,850 hectares of land in Balangir alone. In 2005, the police attacked the villagers and nine women including five minors were assaulted, tortured, and detained for 25 days to threaten the villagers who were by then organising protests. According to the government, the purpose of the dam is to provide irrigation for farmlands.
However, even the government’s own calculations show that the submerged land for the project is double the size of the land that will benefit from the dam. In any case, the beneficiaries are the rich upper caste farmers, whereas those who are forcibly evicted are the Dalit and tribal villagers. The villagers also suspect that the dam is constructed to provide water for a new nuclear power plant. Without proper consultation and due process concerning land acquisition or payment of compensation, the government tries to force people out of their hut and hearth. These projects are one of the major causes of hunger, malnutrition and distress migration in India. The residents of Chutka village of Madhya Pradesh were relocated to Chutka in 1980 when their original habitat was lost for the construction of a dam. They are now facing the threat of a second relocation since a new power plant is being constructed where their village will have to be evicted.
Though the villagers are yet to receive any notice or information from the government authorities, they came to know through newspaper reports that the survey for a power plant was going on and that they will have to be evicted from Chutka too. Earlier, when the dam was constructed, the villagers were told that they would be provided houses, employment and electricity. Nothing materialised. Thirty years later, the villagers are again in danger of relocation. Mr. Shiv Prasad Thakur living in Chutka is now 64 years old and has once experienced relocation due to the dam project and does not want to be displaced again. Once he had sufficient agricultural land to support his family. But now he depends on daily labour and fishing to fetch food for his family. In the past ten years, the food security of his family has been gradually detriorating. He does not know what is exactly going on since the information about the project is not shared with the villagers.
Non?transparent and non?participative processes in what the government calls development is one of the biggest poverty creators in India. During the past decade it has played a significant role in aggravating food insecurity in rural India, of which the Dalits, tribals and the rural poor are the primary victims. Coupled with widespread corruption and the complete disregard of the central and state governments for the rural economy, the living conditions of the poor in India, amounting to an estimated 60 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion population, is in
peril today. Following the decision of the Ministry of Environment and the Forests concerning the Vedanta Mining Corporation, it had to withdraw from a major project in Orissa. Important committees like the Forest Advisory Committee, N C Saxena Committee and Meena Gupta Committee also recommended the withdrawal of forest clearance for yet another multinational corporation, POSCO. The reports of the Committees pointed to the grave violations of the Forest Rights Act, and other forest related laws by the Orissa state government while undertaking acquisition of land for the project. In the process of land acquisition, the government also used brute police force in May this year to disperse peaceful protests by destitute farmers. Vedanta or POSCO projects are just one of the many illegal development projects that creates food insecurity in the name of ‘development’ in India.
The National Food Security Act
Civil society groups have been discussing the proposed National Food Security Act and making strong suggestions for the universalisation of the Public Food Distribution System (PDS). The government on the other hand has refused to adopt these suggestions. From the beginning, the government did not undertake open discussions with civil society and more importantly with the general public concerning food security in India. Despite the fact that those who suffer from hunger and malnutrition are not the government agencies but the poor, there was no public space for discussion in the process. The final draft will be submitted to the Parliament soon.
COURTESY:Asian Human Rights Commision