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Facebooked and challenged, India’s 12th Plan consultation

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Consultations have always accompanied the lengthy drafting process which culminates in a five year plan document. Since the 1990s, these have become more “inclusive”, to borrow a catch-phrase that is now much in vogue with Government of India policymakers. Even so, the inclusion has been restricted to academic institutions, trade unions (not any more, sadly), industry associations and trade representations.

The Indian polity, in whose name these Plans (capital ‘P’) are drafted and debated and approved, have never been a part of this vast, slow process. From the approach paper to the Twelfth Plan however, the Planning Commission has found it scores points by inviting suggestions and comments from anyone interested. Email ids were given out on the website, consultations were held open for public comment via downloadable drafts.

Now the Commission has gone an ambitious step further. A Facebook page, a dedicated website for online consultations and a discussion forum to debate the Commission’s 12 “challenges” – that is the engaging approach taken by India’s primary planning body for social and economic development.

This approach is still too raw and new to determine whether it can make a difference to the actual drafting of the Five Year Plan. Participatory planning for land and natural resource use has not been encouraged by the central and state governments, and it would be naive to imagine that this situation will change concerning the fundamental planning document for India. Still, it is a beginning, and it is up to those concerned enough to contribute to widen this space.

“The Planning Commission has started the process of preparing an Approach to the 12th Five Year Plan and is adopting a new and more consultative approach. In addition to consultations conducted across the country by organizations representing various citizens’ groups e.g., women, dalits and youth, the Planning Commission has for the first time adopted consultation from interested stake holders via the Commission’s web-site,” said the deputy chairman of the Commission.

“Based on an intensive process within the Commission, ‘Twelve Strategy Challenges’ [I’ve listed them below] have been identified to initiate these consultations. The ‘strategy challenges’ refer to some core areas that require new approaches to produce the desired results. These should not be viewed as chapters of the Twelfth Plan, nor the layout of the Approach Paper, which will be decided only after the consultations are complete. They are only a way of organizing thinking in critical areas.”

“To give a few examples, the management of water resources is a critical area and is mentioned under the strategy challenge ‘Managing the Environment’. There is an obvious overlap with other challenges such as Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture. Similarly ‘Social Justice’, which is a critical challenge, will be met in a manner in which many of the other challenges are addressed. Therefore, if a challenge is not highlighted separately, it may be because it is wide enough to be covered by several other challenges. However, we recognize that such cross-cutting challenges must not be lost sight of and they must be adequately recognized and addressed in the Approach Document.”

The ‘Strategy Challenges’ are: Enhancing the Capacity for Growth; Enhancing Skills and Faster Generation of Employment; Managing the Environment; Markets for Efficiency and Inclusion; Decentralisation, Empowerment and Information; Technology and Innovation; Securing the Energy Future for India; Accelerated Development of Transport Infrastructure; Rural Transformation and Sustained Growth of Agriculture; Managing Urbanization; Improved Access to Quality Education; Better Preventive and Curative Health Care. The Strategy Challenges are listed in full here.

The web-based innovation notwithstanding, it is useful to look at the intention through a historical lens. “The — Plan represents the first phase in a scheme of long-term development extending over the next fifteen years or so, the preparation of which will now be taken in hand. In the course of this period, India’s economy must not only expand rapidly but must, at the same time, become self-reliant and self-generating. This long-term approach is intended to provide a general design of development for the country’s natural resources, agricultural and industrial advance, changes in the social structure and an integrated scheme of regional and national development.”

“The size of the task and the many-sided challenge should not be underestimated. The greatest stress in the Plan has to be on implementation, on speed and thoroughness in seeking practical results, and on creating conditions for the maximum production and employment and the development of human resources. Discipline and national unity are the very basis of social and economic progress and the achievement of socialism. At each step, the — Plan will demand dedicated leadership at all levels, the highest standards of devotion and efficiency from the public services, widespread understanding and participation by the people, and willingness on their part to take their full share of responsibility and to bear larger burdens for the future.”

Which Plan document does this extract – from the introduction – come from? India’s Third Five Year Plan, whose preparation commenced towards the end of 1958 and was carried out in three main stages. The first, leading to the publication of the Draft Outline early in July, 1960, comprised detailed studies by working groups set up at the Centre and in the States. Parliament gave its general approval to the Draft Outline in August, 1960.

Space for civil society is being contracted in India: UN Human Rights expert

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Rights activist Binayak Sen. A Division Bench of the Chhattisgrah High Court has begun hearing Dr Sen's appeal against the life sentence awarded to him in a sedition case. The Hindu has reported that a delegation of European Union observers was on Monday allowed by the Chhattisgrah High Court to witness proceedings on rights activist Binayak Sen's appeal against his life term in a sedition case, which his lawyer and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ram Jethmalani termed as 'political persecution'. When Dr Sen's appeal came up for hearing, a division bench comprising justices T P Sharma and R L Jhanwar considered the reference on the EU proposal made to it by the State government and decided to allow the eight-member team to attend the proceedings. The request of the EU to be present in the court had earlier been sent by the Ministry of External Affairs to the Chhattisgarh government, which had in turn, referred the matter to the High Court. Photo: The Hindu

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, expressed her concern for a contraction of the space for civil society in India, despite the country’s “comprehensive and progressive legal framework as a guarantor of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the existence of the National Human Rights Commission as well as a number of state and statutory commissions mandated to promote and protect human rights.”

“I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals), religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities,” Sekaggya said at the end of her first fact-finding mission to India.

(The Hindu has reported on the Sekaggya mission and on the Binayak Sen case here.)

Sekaggya underscored the testimonies she received about human rights defenders and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. Photo: The Hindu

In her view, the existing national and state human rights commissions should do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders throughout the country. To that end, she urged the Government to review the functioning of the National Human Rights Commission with a view to strengthening it.

The independent expert also noted “the arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels, most notably the Public Safety Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as these laws adversely affect the work of human rights defenders”. She urged the Government to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act as well as the Public Safety Act and review the application of other security laws which negatively impact on the situation of human rights defenders.

(The full statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is here and is from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.)

“I am deeply concerned about the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, labelled as ‘naxalites (Maoists)’, ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’, ‘insurgents’, or ‘anti-nationalists’,” Sekaggya said. Defenders, including journalists, who report on violations by State and non-State actors in areas affected by insurgency are being targeted by both sides.

“I urge the authorities to clearly instruct security forces to respect the work of human rights defenders, conduct prompt and impartial investigations on violations committed against human rights defenders and prosecute perpetrators”. The human rights expert further recommended that the Government “enact a law on the protection of human rights defenders in full and meaningful consultation with civil society.”

Sekaggya commended the Government for opening its doors to her mandate and for enabling her to visit five states, which assisted her in gaining a clear understanding of the local specificities in which human rights defenders work.