Medha Patkar Refuses Basava Award from corruption-tainted Karnataka government

"It would have been an honour to receive Basava award in the name of revolutionary saint poet, philosopher Shri Basaveshwara of 12th century who promoted social change, reform and communal harmony. However, collective opinion of movements I am associated with suggests that Karnataka Government has not been able to deal with the mining scam and other scandals" said Medha Patkar, one of the most respected social activists in India. Medha leads the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).

"The Lokayukta controversy is not yet over and there are disagreements with people's movements on certain policies related to farmers, workers, unorganised sector workers, slum dwellers and government's attempt at privatisation and corporatisation of scarce natural resources - land, water, forests and minerals. I, therefore, would like to state with humility my inability to accept the award which you may be free to give to any other deserving activist” said Medha Patkar at a public meeting in Belgaum, Karnataka yesterday.

Department of Kannada and Culture, Government had announced bestowing the Basava Puraskar 2010 to Medha Patkar by a government notification dated December 3, 2011. Award contains a citation and Rs. 10 Lakh for contribution towards social change and promotion of the principles which Saint Basaveshwara championed.

Medha Patkar is leading Lokshakti Abhiyan which started its fourth phase campaign on February 6th from Mumbai. The Abhiyan is being joined by farmers, activists, academics from different states and will travel through Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. The Lokshakti Abhiyan has already been to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Other members of the Abhiyan in this phase include Suhas Kolhekar, Suniti S R, Roshanlal Agarwal, Nageh Tripathy, Vedvati, Raj Singh, Naseevar Babu, Kamlesh, Seela Manswanee, Madhuri Shivkar, Gee Ammena, Ashu and others.

On February 6th a Lokmanch was organised in Mumbai where candidates and party spokespersons of different parties came to a common dais to address the people on several of their issues. Thousands of people gathered to listen to the candidates and engaged in a dialogue with 15 of the candidates who came on different issues concerning the working class people of Mumbai living in bastis.

Most of the candidates who came belonged to political parties or an alliance or People's fronts but Congress, NCP as well as BJP and Shiv Sena kept away from this due to a fear of people exposing their fraud or scam whether in the State Government or the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai(MCGM). However, RPI, BSP were represented by several spokespersons or a few candidates at the Lokmanch. Only one Congress candidate turned up. The larger number was that of independent candidates, many of who belonged to newly formed People’s front, Mumbai.

Many of the candidates came with no special preparation for the Lokmanch. None of them had even read Nagar Raj Kanoon or Rajiv Awas Yojana, however, listening to the strong presentations by the people themselves, the candidates had to respond to the various issues raised and also commit to support the people on their issues. There was not a single disagreement on any issue. Mr. Sonawane of RPI had to face the queries on RPI, SS, BJP Alliance. Mr Sonwane responded that RPI did not agree with Hindutva as agenda, but the alliance was purely “political”.

The issues of people’s right to housing, water, sanitation, education and health were raised in the Lokmanch. Slum eviction and Slum Rehabilitation was opposed by the basti people one after another. The candidates who spoke on the same pledged their support to the people on the issue of right to housing. It was agreed that whether a slum settlement was declared or not declared, classified as legal or illegal, it is the right to housing that was being blatantly denied by the Government. Whether it is the demolition of slums by Shivalik Ventures, Lavasa, Hiranandini or Adarsh Builders, it was highlighted that it was the unholy and corrupt nexus between the builders and the government that was illegal .This results in the denial of a fundamental right to life granted by the Constitution of India.

The basti people were urged to exercise their right to vote carefully, choosing only the candidates who they thought would represent and take forward their issues. The people demanded from all the candidates that they should take the position on following critical issues:

* Nagar Raj Kanoon with rights to the bastis(urban communities should be fully implemented and no projects to be taken up on land of the basti/ward without their consents.

* Panchayati Raj should be appropriately amended on the basis of 74th Constitutional amendments.

* Not builder prone SRA but RAY (Rajiv Awas Yojana) with self reliant housing should be promoted and be implemented with immediate effect.

* Pension, provident fund and other social security measures should be granted to the 93% insecured workers.

* There should be fisheries rights to the fish workers.

* There should be no cut-off date for providing development benefits to urban poor, housing, water and sanitation.

Candidates of Alliance People’s front and Political parties on Lokmanch ultimately concluded to give their perspectives in writing regarding issues raised by people. Area to area wise Lokmanch will be organized neither with political benefits to the parties nor with organization. People also took the pledge to not to take/distribute liquor or money for vote.

On 7th February 2012, the Lokshakti Abhiyan team reached Kolhapur where Medha Patkar, Roshanlal Agarwal, Nageh Tripathy, Vedvati, Raj Singh and Naseevar Babu spoke about the various aspects of the corruption issue and the scope of an involved movement around it.

Medha Patkar took the example of the Ambani brothers, Tatas, Mittals and Birlas - all large business families who reap profits at the expense of the rest of the population. She showed the audience a book titled “Don’t Rely on Reliance” to make her point against large scale corporate looting due to privatisation in almost all the sectors. It is because the government works against the people of its own country and helps these business tycoons and private companies make profits, that our country is in such a terrible condition. If adivasis and other forest dwellers, fisher people, urban poor, dalits and farmers were to come together on the struggle against corruption, as it is an issue that affects all sections of society, directly or indirectly, it will make our side stronger and help us achieve our aim of making one more step towards a pro people government. The lack of accountability on the part of the so called representative of the people holding office in the government service needs to end and it is our responsibility to keep an eye on the workings of these officials to ensure a corrupt free government. She further highlighted that it is Lok Shakti [people’s power] that is of supreme importance not Neta Shakti [leader’s power].

Roshanlal Agarwal put forward a novel idea that there should not be a Below Poverty Line mark but an “ Ameeri Rekha”, to heavily tax the rich of the country so that it can be used for social redistribution. Vedvati, an icon of courage at the age of 76 years who is a part of Bhoomi Bachao Andolan in Kanjhawala in New Delhi has been fighting for the past 4 years to assert her right to land against repeated attempts to grab it by the State government of Delhi. Vedvati, with her never dying optimism said that it is not the people who are weak but the politicians who come begging for votes during each election who are weak.

The Abhiyan later held public meetings in Neepani and Belgaum. The National Alliance of People’s Movements hopes that with the Lokshakti Abhiyan, the fight against corruption and all the related issues will travel to all the areas that it visits and beyond and that we can work towards a more people friendly government that ensures at a very minimum the fundamental rights of every citizen guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

On February 8th and 9th Lokshakti Abhiyan is touring different parts of Goa and holding meetings with activists and civil society members on the issues of mining, SEZs, fish workers rights and others. Lokshakti Abhiyan will be in Pune on 10th February, Aurangabad on 11th and Nagpur on 12th and 13th.

Medha Patkar

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