NAPM Condemns Bangla Army Repression

National Alliance of People's Movements

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Press Release

31 August 2007

NAPM Condemns Bangla Army Repression

The last week's brutal onslaught of military backed regime in Bangladesh against the students and the teaching community has deeply hurt the freedom loving people of India. We at the National Alliance for People's Movement deplore these incidents and demand that Bangladesh army should immediately withdraw from the forceful occupation of the Dacca University campus and release the detained students and professors.

NAPM also appeals to the International Community to raise its voice against the brutal suppression of civil rights by the military backed regime and ask for immediate cessation of anti-people activities of the government. Having shown a way towards and exemplary grass roots development and improvement in human development indices in the recent years, the ruling class in Bangladesh cannot allow the country to recede into the days of totalitarian rule. People of Bangladesh had earned their freedom and civil liberties at enormous sacrifice and the government should not dilute its importance.

Sandeep Pandey, Sanjay M.G. (Ex Senate Member, Mumbai University) , Medha Patkar, Mukta Srivastava, Thomas Kocherry, Geetha Ramakrishanan, Gabriele D., P. Chennaiah, Ulka Mahajan, Rajendra Ravi, Anand Mazgaonkar, Sr. Celia.

( National Convenors NAPM)

Dhaka University teachers and students beaten up and detained

Published in:

- Asian Tribune Thursday 30 August 2007

- Scoop Independent News, Thursday 30 August 2007

Dhaka University teachers and students beaten up and detained

Many Dhaka University teachers and students were manhandled and detained for staging a peaceful protest in Bangladesh. They were questioning the presence of Army camp at the Central stadium of the Dhaka University for which they were brutally beaten up by army and police forces and several of them detained.

Several civil rights' organizations in the world have strongly condemned the attack on the University faculty and students. Asha Parivar, an international network of individuals who are committed to establish a just and humane social order free of all discriminations based on religion, caste, gender, race, nationality, class, education, age, political power, muscle/military power, employer-employee relationship (and similar human created categories which become the basis for discrimination and domination), has condemned the attack by army and police on the University staff and students.

"The quality of education and the prevalence of campus violence in Bangladesh, particularly in institutions of higher education, and their unavoidable interaction, are some of the major concerns in the country's educational sector" reported a Dhaka University Press publication 'Quality of Education and campus violence; in 2000. Despite of these reports, the grim scene in the university hasn't changed much over the past years.

Campus violence is not just limited to Bangladesh. In India too, especially northern state universities are ridden with campus violence. "Instead of enhancing the standards of these seats of learning the faculty members have to bother about how to just keep the normal affairs going" said Magsaysay Awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey, who is also the convener of India's largest network of people's movements - NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements).

Not only army and police manhandled the protesting Dhaka University students and teachers, but also five professors including the general secretary of the Dhaka University Teachers Association Dr Anwar Hossein, who is also the Dean of the Faculty of Biology and Molecular Sciences, were detained by the military backed interim government of Bangladesh under the Emergency Rules.

The students were staging a peaceful protest against the presence of Army Camp at the Central stadium of the university when army and police mercilessly started beating them up in their attempt to nip the growing resistance from students and faculty members against presence of Army Camp on-campus.

Dr Anwar who is among the five professors arrested, had also led a movement earlier against immediate past BNP-Jaamaat-e-Islami regime whose police had molested a female student of the same university and had later raided the female dormitory at midnight and took many of the protesting female students to the police custody on 28 July 2002. There has not been any significant decrease in violence and sexual harassment on campuses; in fact, the violence has become increasingly raucous.

Dr Sandeep Pandey adds that "sadly there is a complete normalisation of violence in institutions of education. The outbreak of violence and lawlessness on campuses of educational institutions is regrettable. Today's need is the reorientation of the educational structure. Education should be made vocational and humane," adds Dr Pandey.

Activists of NAPM and Asha Parivar have condemned the detention of students and five professors and demanded their immediate and unconditional release from the state's custody. Km Sabir, senior advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, has supported the struggle not only to release the detained professors and students, but also to restore a more conducive environment on-campus for learning.

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Public pressure mounts against the arrest of Binayak Sen

Asian Tribune

Thursday 30 August 2007

Public pressure mounts against the arrest of Binayak Sen

People from not only Chattisgarh but across India and abroad have demonstrated support and signed on-line petition campaign demanding action against the unlawful imprisonment by the state since 14 May 2007 of Dr Binayak Sen. Dr Binayak Sen is the General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh PUCL (People's Union for Civil Liberties) and also the Vice-President of the National PUCL. Dr Sen has been a tireless crusader working towards an alternative health system responsive to the needs of the poor.

Dr Sen, a medical doctor from Christian Medical College, Vellore . In recognition of his work, the CMC, Vellore conferred on him the Paul Harrison Award in 2004, which is the highest award given to an alumnus for distinguished service in rural areas. He continues to be an inspiration to successive generations of students and faculty. He is a committed people's rights activist, and has been struggling to protect the rights and liberties of tribal people in Chattisgarh. His arrest by the state on 14 May 2007 had left countless activists and communities stunned.

"Dr Binayak Sen should be immediately released unconditionally by the state" said noted social activist and Magsaysay Awardee (2002) Dr Sandeep Pandey, who heads National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). "Binayak Sen has made commendable contribution in responding to healthcare needs of the most underserved communities over decades now, and has brought hope and empowerment to tribal communities of Chattisgarh by strengthening people's voices to safeguard their rights and civil liberties" remarked Dr Pandey.

Dr Sen had a distinguished medical career in CMC Vellore, graduating in Medicine and later acquiring an MD in Paediatrics. From 1976 to 1978, he was a faculty member at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University , New Delhi. He left his academic appointment to work in a community based rural health centre in Hoshangabad district of M.P. focusing on problems of tuberculosis. During the late seventies, he became an active member of the Medico Friend Circle , a national organization of health professionals working towards an alternative health system responsive to the needs of the poor. This involvement continues till today.

Binayak worked with mine workers in Dalli Rajahara towards addressing their health needs, helping them set up and manage their own Shaheed Hospital . When this hospital no longer required his leadership, Binayak moved to a mission hospital in Tilda where he worked in Paediatrics and Community Health. After the death of Shankar Guha Niyogi with whom he was closely associated, Binayak moved to Raipur. From 1991, he has worked in developing relevant models of primary health care in Chhattisgarh. He was a member of the state advisory committee to initiate the community based health worker programme across Chhattisgarh, now well known as the Mitanin programme. He also gives his services to a weekly clinic in a tribal community in Dhamtari district. He continues to provide health care to the children of the marginalised, especially the migrant labourers.

Binayak has been active and effective in defending the liberties of the disadvantaged, especially through the PUCL. He has served as the General Secretary of the State PUCL Committee for the past five years and as Vice President of the National Committee for the last three years. As General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, he helped organize fact finding campaigns into human rights violations in the state including custody deaths, fake encounters, hunger deaths, dysentery epidemics and malnutrition.

In recent times he has worked intensively to bring large scale oppression and mal-governance within the so called Salwa Judoom in Dantewara to national and international attention.

The state had earlier failed to save the life of a dedicated frontline activist Shankar Guha Niyogi years ago. People around the world are outraged by the unlawful arrest of Dr Sen and very concerned about safety and dignity of Dr Sen in custody. More than 100 days have passed since Dr Sen was imprisoned. It also puts a question mark on our democracy where voices of pro-poor activists are stifled by the state in one of the most outrageous manner. Hope the vanguards of justice are listening.

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Amend Constitution to enable public debate

REDIFF NEWS (23 August 2007)

Amend Constitution to enable public debate
Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and Sandeep Pandey

Much has been said and written about the India-United States nuclear deal; beginning with the statement issued by many eminent nuclear scientists soon after the talks on the deal began between India and US governments. Public fora and people's organisations such as Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace called it anti-sovereignty.

Today, when it is seen as an issue of conflict between the UPA and its Left Front allies, we as representatives of people's movements must reiterate our stand, which is that the deal is not just anti-democratic but against peace, and against environmentally sustainable energy generation and self-reliant economic development.

The Left Front is questioning the fact that such an international deal with significant implications is imposed on the Indian people and Parliament, with no public debate and consultation in India. While US Congress took a year and a half to discuss the proposed change in the US laws, permitting nuclear commerce with India, the process in India has been totally undemocratic.

The deal is part of a successful attempt by the United States to build a strategic relationship with India, in confronting the rising capitalist challenge from China where India will be used as its client in the region. Directly or indirectly, the US will also enter the Indian subcontinent, to manage intra-regional, inter-country relations. This whole process is likely to escalate the arms race between Pakistan and India, sabotaging the India-Pakistan peace process. How can we ignore that fact the US sells arms to both India and Pakistan?

The agreement also facilitates a full-fledged international exchange of nuclear fuel and technology with insufficient caution and control. There will no doubt be a corporate rush to extract, export and misuse nuclear fuel and technology, and it will be very difficult to prevent misuse even for the arms trade. Highly superficial clauses don't instill any confidence against such a possibility.

However, our basic objections to this deal stem from our opposition to the production and use of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The irreversible dangers of radioactivity and its ongoing impact on health, water, and the environment are factors that are being summarily dismissed in an irresponsible manner. The whole cycle of nuclear production beginning with uranium mining, is fraught with catastrophic dangers, and as a nation we cannot use the decisions of another country as justification for our own. Places like Jaduguda in Jharkhand, Kota and Pokhran in Rajasthan, have already demonstrated the ongoing dangers of nuclear use to the common citizen.

We, in India, have inherited rich renewable sources of energy, which are environmentally benign and abundantly available. The solar, wind, and ocean waves along with human power need to be fully tapped and put to use with people's control. Appropriate technology, research and development for production of cheaper equipment and tools, need to be combined with just distribution, for the right priorities. There is no political will for this in the ruling establishment. Estimates show that India can generate far more energy through alternative, environmentally sound sources. The nuclear energy option should be put up for widespread public debate giving citizens a full opportunity to make an informed choice.

This deal, however, raises questions beyond nuclear energy, opening up large spaces for US government and corporate control in India. This, no doubt, is a symbol of imperialism already demonstrated through the Iraq war and the obvious links of US policy with corporate control over resources. With unbound exchange of information, data and material, knowledge and technology the dominant global power is all set to encroach upon Indian reserves and impinge upon our sovereignty. The deal ensures supply of sufficient nuclear material to nuclear reactors in India for the next 40 years, but the precautionary agreements to negotiations and consultations are only promises for the future. All this is subject to approvals and conditions to be monitored by the US Congress, while sidelining Indian Parliament.

The United Progressive Alliance government is proving to be increasingly submissive to the exploitation of our resources, knowledge and cheap labour by commercial interests and corporate interests. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are also in the power game, using capitalist forces for support. The Left has raised an important issue using their bargaining power. Non-party people's formations may not have the power in Parliament, but we have an important set of issues that need to be considered.

The Indian Constitution which allows deals such as this, as well as international treaties and agreements to be reached without democratic consultation, needs an amendment to make public debate and referendums mandatory and pre-conditional. We need an approval from the Indian electorate before we agree to sign the agreement.

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U.S.-India agreement threatens to fuel nuclear proliferation as well as arms race

The Japan Times

15 August 2007
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to mark 60th Anniversary of India’s independence

U.S.-India agreement threatens to fuel nuclear proliferation as well as arms race

Special to The Japan Times

PRINCETON, New Jersey — The United States is having a difficult time trying to justify the U.S.-India nuclear deal that will be brought into effect by the "123 agreement" that has just been concluded between the two countries.

The agreement is named after Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, titled "Cooperation With Other Nations," which establishes an agreement for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear agreements between the U.S. and any other country.

News of the 123 agreement was released just three days before the 62nd anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing Aug. 6, causing consternation among people believing in a world free of nuclear weapons.

Despite imposing sanctions on India after its nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, the U.S. is, for all purposes, according it the status of a nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Washington is as willing to do business with India in nuclear technology and materials as it would be with any member of the NPT. As a nonsignatory state, India should not be accorded this privilege.

The U.S. seems more worried about the interests of its corporations than the far worthier cause of disarmament. It has once again proven that it does not mind throwing all national and international norms and laws to the wind to maintain its global hegemony.

With Nicholas Burns, the chief diplomat-architect of the 123 agreement, hinting at subsequent nonnuclear military cooperation with what he describes as "soon to be the largest country in the world," we are going to see the development of a unipolar world that poses a threat to smaller countries, especially those that fall out of favor with the U.S.

It is clear that U.S. wants to court India as a strategic ally with the objective of developing joint military capabilities and perhaps establishing military bases on Indian territory. The recent stopover of U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Nimitz (returning from its deployment to the Persian Gulf as a warning to Iran and possibly carrying nuclear weapons) at an Indian port in violation of New Delhi's stated policy of not allowing the transit of foreign nuclear weapons through its territorial waters, is a sign of things to come.

At the preparatory committee meeting for the 2010 NPT review conference held in May-June in Vienna, the New Agenda Coalition countries — Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden — along with Japan have urged India (and Pakistan and Israel) to join the NPT as nonnuclear weapons states.

Under the NPT, a nuclear weapons state is defined as one that has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1967. It would be a misnomer to have India (as well as Pakistan and Israel) join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state.

So Washington is doing the next best thing; it says that by signing the deal with New Delhi it is bringing India into the nonproliferation regime as more of India's nuclear facilities will now be subjected to IAEA safeguards.

In negotiations India agreed to bifurcate its nuclear activity into clearly identified civilian and military categories, with the provision of the former being open to IAEA inspections. The U.S. agreed upon this India-specific deal as an exception because it contends that India has not contributed to proliferation.

By conducting nuclear explosions twice, however, India has violated the global nonproliferation regime and instigated Pakistan to do the same. India's brazen transgression also emboldened North Korea to withdraw from the NPT. India has consistently refused to sign the NPT, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, outraging much of the international community and extracted significant concessions from the U.S. in the process.

Against the spirit of the Henry Hyde Act, if India decides to conduct another nuclear test or violates IAEA safeguards agreement, the U.S. will not immediately exercise its right of return of materials and technology. Instead it may ensure the continuity of India's nuclear fuel supply from other sources around the world after giving due consideration to the circumstances that prompted India's action.

The text of the 123 agreement has even gone as far as identifying France, Russia and Britain as potential suppliers in such an event. And even if the U.S. exercises the right of return, India will be suitably compensated. Moreover, the U.S. would support the creation of a strategic nuclear fuel reserve.

The issue that clinched the 123 agreement was India's offer to subject a new reprocessing facility — which will be built exclusively for this purpose — to IAEA safeguards in return for the consent to reprocess spent fuel, even though U.S. President George W. Bush is on record saying that enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for a country to move forward with nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

India will be free to maintain and develop its nuclear arsenal under the 123 agreement. In fact, with external resources available for its nuclear energy program, it will be able to use its internal resources to strengthen its strategic program. Eight nuclear reactors out of 22 and an upcoming prototype fast breeder reactor will remain dedicated for military purposes outside the purview of IAEA.

In short, India will enjoy all the benefits that a nuclear weapons state is afforded under the NPT,

especially if the Nuclear Suppliers Group of 45 countries also grants similar concessions to India.

The U.S. is going to lobby the NSG to engage in nuclear trade with India after it has helped India to sign an agreement with the IAEA on safeguards because it has to gain Congress' approval again before the deal will be considered final. It is intriguing that Australia, Canada, South Africa and others are all too willing to go along with the U.S. so that they can do business with India, giving up their long-standing commitment to nonproliferation.

Twenty-three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to Bush on July 25 expressing concern over India's growing ties with Iran, including in the domain of defense partnership. It must be remembered that India is considering a very important deal with Iran on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

India claims that the 123 agreement has changed the global order, and it is right. It has upset the nonproliferation regime. Globally and regionally it is going to lead to a new configuration of forces and possibly a new arms race.

The National Command Authority of Pakistan, which oversees the nation's nuclear program there has already expressed its displeasure at the 123 agreement and has pledged to maintain (i.e., upgrade) Pakistan's credible minimum deterrence. Islamabad believes the deal disturbs regional strategic stability and has asserted that it cannot remain oblivious to its security requirements.

A International Panel on Fissile Materials report predicts at least a four to five times increase in India's weapons-grade plutonium production rate. The present Indian stock is estimated to be sufficient for about 100 nuclear warheads. This is obviously alarming to Pakistan.

What India and Pakistan need is a mutually reassuring deal to suspend the nuclear arms race rather than something that will fuel the nuclear fire. The peace process undertaken by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is in the danger of being eclipsed by the U.S.-India nuclear deal.

Sandeep Pandey, a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership, is presently with the program on Science & Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.

Tobacco industry succeeds in diluting public health policy

Tobacco industry succeeds in diluting public health policy

The use of skulls and bones in the pictorial warnings on tobacco packs will be made optional by amending The Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act (2003), the Union Cabinet of India decided on 20 July 2007. Tomorrow on August 13 it is likely to come up in the Parliament.

This is another major setback for public health advocates with Indian tobacco control Act being diluted. Ironically just last month (July 2007), 148 nations including India met at the Second Conference of Parties (COP2) to the global tobacco treaty and committed themselves to develop specific guidelines for protecting health policy from tobacco industry interference. The global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), will save millions of lives and change the way tobacco corporations operate around the world. Article 5.3 of the FCTC obligates Parties to "protect these [public health] policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry."

Earlier on 10 April 2007, India’s Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr Ambumani Ramadoss had announced that “all tobacco products would from 1 June 2007, bear photographs of patients suffering from cancer caused by tobacco consumption as further warning”. Health warning labels, both on cigarette packages and on all tobacco marketing materials, help create informed consent between tobacco companies and their customers and are an inexpensive and important first step in a national health education programme.
Several instances in the past few months to weaken the provisions of Indian tobacco control Act are as follows:

On 15 December 2006, GK Sanghi had raised the question in Rajya Sabha about Government’s response to the ‘beedi’ workers agitating against the proposed printing of skull and bones on ‘beedi’ packs.

In May 2007, Gutkha (chewing tobacco) manufacturers in India were attempting to get a court injunction to delay the directive requiring all tobacco products to carry health warnings. Gutkha manufacturers were required to change the packaging of their products so that the pouch measures 7x7 cms and carries a photograph of a skull with two crossed bones. In addition, the pouches should carry health warnings in both English and Hindi stating that "tobacco use leads to painful death" covering 80% of the pack area while the remaining 20% space could be used to print the name of the brand, company, ingredients and weight.

Another interesting attempt was made in the same month (May 2007) when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee suggested in his letter that the sign will likely offend the Muslim community, who are employed in the beedi industry of Murshidabad, as they unlike Hindus bury their dead, and do not burn them.

The third major move to water down the Indian tobacco control Act also happened in May 2007 when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi called on the central government to defer implementation of the legislation, saying that “the move has threatened the livelihood of 1.5 million beedi workers in the State.” Karunanidhi said beedi manufacturers in the State have stopped production with some tobacco industry players threatening to go on an indefinite strike from 1 June 2007 if the Act is enforced.

Also in May 2007, The Karnataka Beedi Association in India said that the directive to print skull and bones on beedi packs from 1 June 2007 would result in a steep decline in beedi sales adversely affecting the welfare of beedi workers.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco’s interference in health policy continues to be one of the greatest threats to the global tobacco treaty’s implementation and enforcement. Philip Morris/Altria, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco (JT) use their political influence to weaken, delay and defeat tobacco control legislation around the world. While the industry claims to have changed its ways, it continues to use sophisticated methods to undermine meaningful legislation.

The warnings have already been delayed twice. Further inaction on it will undermine the voice of the public, the will of the Parliament that enacted the law and result in loss of precious lives to the deadly effects of tobacco.

Pictorial warnings may also be appropriate, particularly in countries like India with low literacy rates.

Also package warnings are a good public health strategy because the cost of package warnings is paid for by tobacco companies, not government. Also this should not be looked upon as an isolated initiative rather has to be supported by comprehensive healthcare, legislations and education programmes to attain long-run public health gains.

NAPM Opposes the India-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement


NAPM Opposes the India-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement
August 9, 2007

The National Alliance of People’s Movements, a network of over two hundred people’s movements in India working for social and economic justice, believes that the India-US nuclear deal has grave consequences for India’s national security and sovereignty, for India’s relations with its neighbours, for India’s economy, for the health of its people and for the state of its environment. It will directly impact the rights and well-being of the people of India for generations to come. On the anniversary of Quit India call given in 1942 and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, we demand that the Government of India withdraw from the India-US nuclear deal and reject strategic partnership with the United States.

In July 2005, President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a deal to exempt India from US laws and international rules that for almost three decades have sought to prevent states from using commercial imports of nuclear technology and fuel to aid their nuclear weapons ambitions. These rules were created because India secretly used nuclear materials and technology that it acquired for peaceful purposes to make a nuclear weapon. The deal is of profound importance since it allows for India to import nuclear fuel, reactors and other technologies, and will enable India to expand both its nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programme.

The US Congress took a year and half to discuss and approve the new US policy and change existing US laws to enable nuclear commerce with India. In India, the government simply told parliament that it had made a deal with the United States. Subsequently, the US and India have negotiated a ‘123 agreement,’ a treaty that will cover nuclear cooperation between the two countries. But while this agreement will have to be approved by the US Congress, India’s parliament will not be allowed a vote on it.

NAPM believes that the people of India have been denied the right to debate the nuclear deal and the larger changes in foreign policy and other issues that it involves, and to express their opinion through their elected representatives. The nuclear agreement should not be accepted under these circumstances.

Foreign policy
The United States sees the nuclear deal with India as part of a process of building a strategic relationship between the two countries. The US seeks to use India as a client state in its new confrontation with a rising China and to achieve other strategic goals, for example putting pressure on Iran.
NAPM believes that India should not compromise its national sovereignty or its long standing tradition of an independent non-aligned foreign policy. The India-US strategic partnership and the nuclear deal in particular will escalate the nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India, and upset the India-Pakistan peace process. It will also create serious tensions between India and China, instead of helping improve relations. The deal with the US also threatens India’s relations with Iran, which the US considers to be a rogue state. The US in particular is opposed to an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline that could improve political and economic relations among these three countries and provide relatively cheap, clean energy to India.
The US –India nuclear deal was first announced as part of a larger package of agreements that included a commitment to “deepen the bilateral economic relationship” between the US and India, and create in India an enhanced “investment climate” so that “opportunities for investment will increase.” The US sees India as an increasingly important source of cheap labour and high profits for its corporations.
NAPM believes that privileging business interests means pursuing neo-liberal economic policies which favour the interests of Indian and US corporations. These policies include the creation of Special Economic Zones and other such measures that come at the cost of the poor. These policies have been followed for almost twenty years and have failed. In 2006, India was ranked at number 126 among 177 nations according to the United Nations Human Development Index. NAPM believes India should follow policies that will promote a just and equitable social and economic development aimed at meeting the needs of India’s poor and disadvantaged.
The nuclear deal assumes that nuclear energy is an economic and safe way for producing electricity for India. Nuclear energy has failed in India and offers no solution for the future. After 60 years of public funding Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) produces less than 3% of India’s electricity. For comparison, in less than a decade and without state support, wind energy now accounts for about 5% of India’s electricity capacity.

To escape its failures, the DAE plans to import large nuclear power plants and fuel. The US, France, Russia and Japan hope to profit from this. This pursuit of nuclear energy comes despite that fact that the cost of producing nuclear electricity in India is higher than non-nuclear alternatives and each reactor adds to the risk of a serious nuclear accident and worsens the problem of radioactive nuclear waste. The DAE’s budget is ten times more than the budget for development of renewable energy technologies. India must reverse its priorities and invest more in wind, solar, biomass and micro hydel energy resources.

NAPM believes that the real energy challenge facing India is to meet the needs of the majority of Indians who still live in its villages. India needs an energy policy that works with the rural poor to develop and provide the small-scale, local, sustainable and affordable energy systems that they need. Renewable energy resources are better suited to fulfill this need.

Major General (Retd.) Sudhir Vombatkere, D. Gabriele, Aruna Roy, Medha Patkar, Sr. Celia, Suniti S.R., Ulka Mahajan, Mukta Srivastava, Thomas Kocherry, N.D. Koli, Sanjay M.G, Anand Mazgoankar, Geetha Ramakrishnan, P. Chennaiah, Arundhati Dhuru, Hussain P.T., Uma Shankari, Sandeep Pandey


Amod Kumar is the District Magistrate of Faizabad District in U.P. Previously, as DM Sitapur he created a computer based mechanism 'Lokvani' for his district, which made information available suo moto to the people even before the RTI Act came into existence. This programme is slowly being adopted by other DMs in U.P. Amod Kumar thinks that Lokvani could be a very good tool to implement RTI. In an interview with Sandeep Pandey he expresses his views on the proposed amendments to the RTI Act.
Q: What do you feel about the proposed amendments to the RTI Act by the Union Cabinet?
A: Many of the junior officers like us in bureaucracy were very happy with the passing of the act. But now we feel that it would also become like hundreds of highly unused acts. The proposed amendment to the RTI Act by the Union Cabinet is going to significantly weaken what was truly a marvellous piece of legislation duly deserved by the people of India. Now that we are able to see how the amendments are going to cripple the Act one cannot but admire the architects of this Act.
Q: Do you agree with the argument that revelations of file notings will deter officers from putting down their frank opinion?
A: The issue of file notings is generating lot of controversy. The PMO claims that 'file notings on the most important and vast bulk of government activities has now become possible for the first time' but the fact is that the original Act did not exclude file notings specifically and there are people who have accessed file notings using the RTI Act in the past. There is obviously some misunderstanding being created. People have a right to know the file notings so that they'll learn how important decisions are being taken in their name. Without the file notings the applicant seeking certain information will not get the complete picture and will remain unsatisfied. The honest officers in the establishment are quite comfortable with the idea of their notes being made public since they have nothing to fear about. They always judge a case on its merit. However, one knows how the decision making process in India is often influenced by political pressure and money power. It is officers involved in decisions of these kind who would oppose the notings being made available to the public. But in cases like these it becomes even more imperative that decision making process is known to the people so that irregularities are exposed and corrective steps may be taken. Otherwise, we will continue to function with all our decisions hijacked by influential people. Hence in either case whether the decision making process is according to the rules or faulty, the people have a right to know. The argument that officials will be deterred from making frank opinions is simply not true because it is only when there is some ulterior motive that people don't give frank opinions. On the contrary, the file notings being available in public domain will give the officials a very good excuse not to oblige their political bosses. Life will be straightforward and simpler for the bureaucracy if everybody knew that every file noting will be available for inspection by the public. Only under such circumstances can we be sure that decisions are being made in a fair manner.
Q: What about transfer and posting related decisions? Do you think people have a right to know how these decisions are being taken?
A: Personnel related information like that of transfers and postings must also be available for public scrutiny to ensure that there is no irregularity here. The decisions about transfers and postings are quite arbitrary and the people learn about them only from the newspapers. People are virtually left to the mercy of the powers that be in this matter. Why cannot a people have to right to determine who their District Magistrate should be? Or atleast, they should know how they came to have a particular person as their DM, or why was the previous DM transferred out of their District even though she was doing so well. It is now a well known fact that money changes hands for plum postings or often political pressure is brought to effect transfers. Making the decision making process about transfers and postings transparent will ensure that these decisions are taken in a logical and democratic manner.
Q: What are your views on examination related information being made available to the candidates after the process of examination is over?
A: Same is the case with examinations. People should have access to the record of performance of individuals in examinations. Just like the process of transfer and postings, sometimes the examinations are also conducted in quite arbitrary manner and examinees often have no clue whether the results announced are the outcome of a fair process. There is no reason, why a candidate, after the process of examination has been completed, should not be allowed to see her performance and even others'. Transparency in this matter would bring about accountability in this process and will be better for the general health of the society.
Q: The Cabinet also proposes to exclude itself from the this Act. The Cabinet has to take lot of sensitive decisions. Do you think they are justified in excluding themselves from the Act?
A: It doesn't make sense when on one hand you have allowed the people of this country to watch on TV from their houses the conduct of the supreme decision making body of this country and there is an attempt to hide behind a veil the deliberations of a subset of this assembly, the Council of Ministers. Just like the parliament proceedings, the Council of Ministers should also have the courage to subject conduct its business to public scrutiny. When we expect our Gram Panchayats to take all their decisions in open meetings and are extremely critical of Pradhans who hold closed door meetings, why should the Council of Ministers be allowed to take their decisions behind closed doors?
Q: What about identities of people writing sensitive reports, recommendations, etc? Do you think they should exposed?
A: It is not a good idea to hide the identities of those who have recorded notings, made inspection, gave recommendations, etc. Again like other matters, here too, fairness and accountability of the people in a position to influence important decisions will be established only under a transparent process.
Q: You do not seem to be in favour of any kind of secrecy. What makes you such an ardent supporter of the culture of transparency?
A: In general the culture of transparency will ensure that decision makers are careful and take the right decisions following the correct process. The honest officers will thrive and be suitably rewarded by the public and the not so honest ones will be forced to change their ways of working. Ultimately the people of this country, to whom all officials and leaders owe their existence, will the biggest winners and we will have a more authentic version of democracy. As the sensitivity towards human rights, equality and democracy increases globally, the Indian bureaucrats and leaders will have to learn to become accountable to their people. They must leave the Right to Information Act passed last year intact in the interest of their masters, in whose name they had passed it in the first place.
Dr Sandeep Pandey

(About the author: Dr Pandey was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership (2002), did his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, U.C., Berkeley, 1992 before heading back to India to become a social activist. Took out a 1500 km Global Peace March for nuclear disarmament from the Indian nuclear testing site Pokaran to Sarnath, a place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, beginning 11th May and ending on 6th August, 1999. Presently with Program on Science & Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University for 5 weeks. He can be contacted at:



Q-1 Sandeepji, it is nice to know the about the great work done by you for the upliftment of the poor in our country. What made you to leave a promising career and go for social service work?

It was the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. After going through his autobiography 'my experiments with truth' completely while as a student at BHU i took the decision that i would like to live my life in a manner similar to what he did. the aspect about his life which impressed me most was how he de-classed himself and was able to work with and for the common citizens. i'm doing what i'm doing today is because this is what makes me happy. i would not have been satisifed in an engineering career. I don’t look at leaving a middle class career option as a sacrifice. I moved from what was an uncomfortable situation for me to a more stable situation.

Q-2 Please tell us more about Asha organization.

it is a non-hierarchical, volunteer based organization with no office and no staff. volunteers run this organization. some of them work full time, most are part time. we raise resources from among the people rather than seek government or institutional funding for our work. sometimes, villagers contribute in terms of food grains. we are increasingly becoming a people's organization. all decisions are taken in open meetings. asha was formed with deepak gupta, now a faculty member at iitk, and v.j.p. srivatsavoy, a ph.d. from TIFR, who is no more. the objective was to work for the education of underprivileged children of India initially.

Q-3 In what fields of social work are you actively involved with?

now, in addition to education we work for communal harmony, RTI, right to food, employment guarantee scheme, right of common people over natural resources, fighting against corporatization of our resources and lives, defending human rights, strengthening democracy at the grassroots, building peace and friendship at the people to people level between citizens of india and pakistan, working towards a visa free and peaceful south asia, for nuclear disarmament and global peace, etc.

Q-4 March 22nd is celebrated as United Nations’ World Water Day. What actions are needed to preserve the water source of the planet?

As you know, the world is facing a shortage of water - already the shortage has taken crisis proportions in some parts of the world. In India too, various parts face a crisis.
And yet, in many parts the government continues to allow powerful interests to pollute water. In Varanasi, for example, Coca Cola is dumping toxic chemicals to pollute rivers and water tables. And the government takes no action. Similarly in Plachimada, in Kerala, water around the plant has become contaminated. These companies are also depleting the water table by excessive withdrawal of water.
And now with the water contaminated, water and water supply is being privatized. Companies will be paid to get us clean water. That is ironic since companies polluted our water streams in the first place. These large companies are, in fact, bribing governments to privatize water and get contracts as RTI exposed in Delhi.
Water is a public resource - all people around the world share water. We should have the right over water - it cannot be given to corporations. It cannot be made a good over which people can make profit. All privatization of water must end.

Q-5 What are your views on current education system in India? What must be needed to improve it?

(The current system benefits only to few and is competition based instead of cooperation. Steps being planned by you provide education to rural masses and your philosophy/approach to the problem.) the education system is creating more problems than solving. it is creating more selfish, corrupt, communal individuals who loose the sensitivity towards fellow human beings in the process of competition based education. such individuals cannot form the basis for a just and humane society. we need an education which will instill the right kind of values so that we become more sensitive human beings and should impart us skills so that we may earn our livelihood by being part of the production economy. we must immediately do away with the system of competitive examination. it distorts human personality. quality can be ensured only in human relationships based on trust.

even in the very narrow definition of skill development, the education system is failing. it only serves to provide skills to a small fraction of the population. for most others, it provides no skills by which people may develop livelihoods and sustain themselves.

Q-6 You are also active in upliftment of Lalpur Village near Lucknow. What steps are being taken by your organization in this regard?

we are working for the empowerment of people at the grassroots. people are organizing themselves under the banner of asha parivar to solve their problems. more specifically they are demanding more transparecy and accountability from the administrative and political system so that the benefits meant for them through various government schemes reach them. The ashram activities are not just limited to lalpur village only. Our area of influence covers two blocks of hardoi district extensively – bharawan and sandila. Now we have begun to reach out to 3 more blocks – kothawan and bnehender of hardoi district and miyaganj of neighbouring unnao district. In addition two of our volunteers, keshav chand and jaishankar, after being in lalpur or 2-3 years have begun to develop two more areas of mass base – deoria + kushinagar and chandauli, respectively. A volunteer from deoria, mahendra yadav, would soon be moving to patna to take charge of the RTI campaign there.

Q-7 A section of press is not happy with you and they find objection with your stand on naxalites, minorities, Indo-Pak disarmament, etc.

problems like naxalism and terrorism can be eliminated only when there is justice in society. in our society human rights of a number of people are trampled upon which gives rise to anger and violence. i definitely don't support this violence but can understand why some people have to take up arms to defend their dignity. if you want naxalites or terrorists to integrate with the society you'll have to redress their grievances. as a peace activist i'm a staunch supporter of not just nuclear disarmament but all disarmament. arms don't provide security. human relationships based on trust do. the best way to eliminate your enemy is to make friends with him. spreading hatred and animosity, like the RSS does, will not solve any problems. RSS has done more damage to india than any naxalite or terrorist organization.

naxalism and terrorism are in fact symptoms. and yet the government attempts to address them as if they are the root cause - that is where it fails. in orissa, for example (or in bihar, harkhand, chattisgarh, mp), thousands of very poor people, mostly tribals, are being displaced from their lands and are losing their livelihoods owing to government policies. they live in a democracy (supposedly) have no voice in the policies of the government. when they present their concerns (and they usually do this non-violently), they are beaten up, fired upon, tortured, booked under false cases. when they are unable to express their concerns in human, democratic ways, and their existence is at threat, what options do they have.
in the north east, numerous groups are non-violently expressing their concerns. you must have heard of sharmila irom. such groups are being beaten up and put in jail. the government only seems to engage with groups that have taken to violence.
our work has a theme - that communities, nations, regions must be based on trust . when it is based on violence, power factions emerge and numerous people are oppressed. we oppose violence in all forms in all parts of society. Our demands for a nuclear free and peaceful southasia is based on that. While our governments spend 30-50% of our budgets on arms, and on nuclear development, we have among the worst social indices in the world. even sub-saharan africa is doing better than india - and we claim to be on the verge of becoming a superpower? Probably more people and children have died of hunger, malnutrition, farmers have committed suicides and citizens of India have been killed in fake encounters by our own security agencies than have been killed by our enemies in wars. The weapons and armies are there only to protect the interest of the ruling class, which is miniscule compared to the masses, who do not feel secure because of the government policies.
I would like to make a relevant quote here provided to me by my friend sanat mohanty -
’I cannot hope to work towards equality and justice, towards non violence, till I stop dominating other opinions, other voices.’

Q-8 Please tell us about your days at IT-BHU.

i could never generate an interest in the subject. there were very few interesting professors. i can only recall prof. n.k.das talukdar who made an effort to make his subject interesting. i developed interest in engineering only at the masters' level at syracuse univerity because of which i went on to finish a ph.d. but i did not want to do engineering all my life and hence quit 1.5 years after my ph.d. bhu was an educational experience in life. i learned more outside the classrooms than inside. long hours of sipping tea outside de hotel at bechu's or at mochu's (he is still there - i saw him the other day when i had gone to varanasi) and discussing all subjects under the sun was the most enlightening experience. there were very few good human beings among the professors. i can only remember s.k. kak, who was my warden. i had contested the election of IT councillor in my final year. i won but subsequently got disillusioned with politics and escaped to the US to gain some respite only to find that life there was worse than in India. Hence decided to return as soon as I finished my ph.d. from the university of California, Berkeley in 1992.

Q-9 What advice will you give to some one who wants to give up his promising career and plunge into the social service work?

listen to your heart. do what would make you happy. but as citizens, esp. educated ones, it is our duty to work for a better society. my definition of a better society is one which will be free of all artificial divisions created between human beings in the name of caste, race, religion, nation, gender, class, etc. we have to work for a society in which every human family can live and earn their livelihood with dignity. actually, the best way to ensure that you're on the right track is to use gandhi's talisman - find out if what you're doing is going to help the last person of society. if it is then your decision is right.

Q-10 What is Magsaysay award about?

it is named after a former president of phillipines but entirely funded by rockefeller and ford foundations of the US. it has somehow become a prestigious award. i returned the cash component of it because the magsaysay foundation was not very happy with my decision to protest outside the US embassy and the fact that I had called the US as the biggest terrorist state in the official press conference of the magsaysay foundation. a day after the award ceremony in an unrelated event some activists had decided to protest against the impending US attack on iraq. i participated in this protest. Next day, a newspaper challenged me to return the $50,000 if ‘i was the principled man that i wanted them to believe.’ i returned it. i did not return the award because magsaysay is like nehru of phillipines. it would have hurt the sentiments of ordinary citizens there. besides the award has earlier gone to some people who i consider my ideals - vinoba bhave, jaiprakash narayan, baba amte. it would have meant disrespect to them too. but i have told the magsaysay foundation that if they ever feel too embarrassed because of my activities they can tell me and i'll return their award too.

Q-11 Sandeepji, it was nice talking to you. Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to our questions.

LOCKED HOMES, EMPTY SCHOOLS, The impact of distress seasonal migration on the rural poor, By Smita

Book Review

LOCKED HOMES, EMPTY SCHOOLS, The impact of distress seasonal migration on the rural poor, By Smita

The book covers a largely ignored category of children of seasonal migrant labourers whose life is essentially rootless. Considered as outsiders both at home and worksite nobody wants to take responsibility for their education and they end up being illegal child labourers. The nice thing about the book is that in highlighting the problem it also presents case studies on several NGOs in four different states which have come up with workable models for the education of these children. In the form of seasonal hostels in villages of origin, schools/centers at worksites, bridge courses in home villages and strengthening local government schools the book identifies solutions which can become further basis for any intervention by the government or any other NGO wanting to address the problem of this category of children.

Vijaya Ramachandran, daughter of former President R. Venkataraman, has been silently working with immense patience in Kanpur for the last 30 years to run an education programme for children of Bilaspuri and other construction as well as brick kiln workers. With twenty centers and a hostel for 9 children in the city, she finds the problem intractable. Her appeal to the education department officials incharge of SSA to initiate centers at the remaining 300 or so brick kilns and construction sites in and around Kanpur simply falls on deaf ears.

The author of the book deserves rich compliments for presenting such a complicated problem in a very lucid way accompanied by lively pictures.

Dr Sandeep Pandey

(About the author: Dr Pandey was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership (2002), did his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, U.C., Berkeley, 1992 before heading back to India to become a social activist. Took out a 1500 km Global Peace March for nuclear disarmament from the Indian nuclear testing site Pokaran to Sarnath, a place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, beginning 11th May and ending on 6th August, 1999. Presently with Program on Science & Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University for 5 weeks. He can be contacted at: