Note—The following document has been prepared in such a way that it can become at least a starting point for  unity of opposition in India based on a program of strengthening justice, equality, environment protection, democracy, peace and inter-faith  harmony. It is hoped that this may be of  some help also in other countries placed in somewhat similar conditions.

All over the world there is an increasing realization among thoughtful people of the inadequacies of the present dominant  development path which has led to emergence of serious threats  and there is yearning for alternative path.

The desire for significant change is all the more acute in those countries which have experienced serious deterioration in recent times, including very important countries of world like the USA and Brazil. India is among those countries which have suffered significant  decline in the period since 2014 of the NDA/BJP regime. There has been significant decline in all major areas including economy, livelihoods, democracy , human rights, social harmony, national integration and international standing.

While there is urgent need to reverse these declines, the task ahead should not be merely in these terms and should include also those urgent reforms which were needed even before the present regime started its disruptive tenure in 2014. Any comprehensive understanding of India’s possible pathways in the near future should also be linked to a wider understanding of the most essential features of present day world.

India should of course plan its future in accordance with its needs, but this has to be seen in the wider context of the world’s most serious issues, for example of peace and environment protection  so that the path India chooses  is in conformity with the world’s most urgently felt needs. Many developing countries look up to India to protect their interests on important  issues, such as those relating to trade and climate change negotiations, and India must live up to these expectations.

India must seek to pioneer a path which, while solving India’s basic problems of poverty and deprivation, should at the same time show the way forward for resolving the most threatening problems of the world. If India can achieve this, it will be a truly historic achievement which will win admiration all over the world.

For such an achievement to be possible, India should try to establish broad consensus on three overwhelming priorities-(i) reduction of poverty and inequalities, ensuring basic needs of all, (ii) protection of environment with special emphasis on checking survival threatening problems such as climate change, water depletion and loss of bio-diversity and (iii) peace and social harmony at all levels while ending all discrimination.

With 2 per cent of the world’s land, 1 per cent (or less)of oil and gas resources but 17 per cent of the world’s population, India’s quest for meeting the basic needs of its people and providing them satisfactory livelihood on a sustainable basis is a huge challenge. If this can be met while also protecting environment and keeping down GHG emissions to acceptable levels, this will truly be a very commendable achievement.

India is a land of rich diversities which should also be a land of unity in diversity.The much-discussed, yet neglected in more recent times, idea of India is that despite all these outward differences, all people can live without discrimination in India with security and equal opportunities. There needs to be an all inclusive commitment to peace based on justice, reflected as much in non-discrimination and equality at all levels in India as in attitudes towards neighboring countries. Of course, national security and borders should be fully and firmly protected.  But we should also remember that unity of country based on equality of all can also be our most powerful defense.

Of course governance reforms including significant reduction of corruption and crimes (and related criminalization of politics) and improved transparency are essential preconditions for success of this agenda based on justice, equality, harmony and protection of environment

Basic Needs, Livelihoods, Employment, Economy

The highest priority should be accorded to meeting the basic needs of people on a sustainable basis. To ensure sustainability first of all environment should be well-protected and natural resources should be used very carefully. Also the economy should have a sound base. The basic needs of people include the following – adequate availability of balanced and safe food satisfying nutrition norms, clean drinking water, satisfactory availability of clothes and housing to ensure protection from weather extremes as well as dignity, access to education which opens up opportunities of progress as well as strengthens basic human values, access to means of protection of health, medical care and basic hygiene.

Livelihood of small and medium farmers, artisans, workers, other vulnerable employees and self-employed persons should be protected and linked more closely to meeting the basic needs of all people. Special skills should be well-protected. Availability of creative livelihoods and employment to all those who need this should be a high priority, as also pensions for the elderly and  those unable to work.

Economic inequalities should be reduced significantly as a matter of policy with emphasis on improving the prospects of people in the lowest layers of economy while also preventing excessive concentration of economic power and wealth in a few hands. .

In several critical areas of the economy the public sector should continue to play an important role. The private sector obviously should also have an important role but subject to the condition that no industrialist or company can dominate the economy, its one or more important sectors, to acquire near monopoly powers and interfere unduly in the functioning of democratic system. Corporate sector should be regulated carefully for responsibilities relating to environment, workers, consumers (or other end-users of products) and to the wider society. Multinational and foreign companies should be regulated very carefully.

Cooperative sector should be reformed and strengthened to accept increasing responsibilities. Certain products and areas can be reserved for small-scale and cottage-scale entrepreneurs, cooperatives, small farmer production groups and self-help groups, particularly of women,  with emphasis on meeting basic needs of villages and small towns as well as generation of more diverse livelihoods there. More self-reliant development of rural communities with greater decentralization, or gram swaraj, should be actively promoted.

Economic planning should retain an important role in ensuring the availability of goods and services which meet the basic needs of people, reducing inequalities, protecting livelihoods, keeping unemployment and inflation at low levels, providing essential infra-structure and avoiding foreign indebtedness. Planning Commission should be re-established with some important reforms to strengthen it and the process of five-year plans should be re-started.

In foreign trade the drift towards heavy imports of several non-essentials should be avoided. Steps which reduce excessive dependence on imports should be emphasized, while the sovereign government’s powers to reduce excessive or harmful imports should be reclaimed. Livelihoods of farmers and other vulnerable sections should be prevented from dumping and other forms of unfair competition and imports. Similarly patent laws should be in line with national interest.

Free trade agreements existing and proposed should be clearly examined to protect national interests with special emphasis on interests of vulnerable sections particularly small farmers. India should play an important role in reform of the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF with the aim to make them more transparent and responsive to the real and economic justice based needs of world. Steps should be taken in time to avoid heavy indebtedness, balance of payments problems and heavy dependence on uncertain ‘hot money’ inflows. The type of linkages due to which any wider international economic crisis affects us  quickly and excessively unsettling our national economy should be avoided.

There should be a relentless campaign against the substantial ‘black’ part of the economy so that illegally held money can be recovered and used for constructive development tasks. This includes efforts to bring back black money deposited abroad using various secretive devices. This should be taken up in cooperation with other countries and organizations dedicated to this work. India should not merely rely on the lead provided by developed countries in this context but should instead seek to lead the developing countries in this context.

Budgets  should emphasize raising of adequate resources to meet the basic needs of all people. Luxury consumption,  high profit areas and wealth and income of billionaires  should be taxed adequately, while the tendency to give heavy concessions and huge exemptions to corporate sector and richest sections of society  has to be given up. Centre-state relations  should be improved at various levels and more so in the fiscal context. Remedial actions should be taken for harm caused since the introduction of GST, in this context and  the context of the wider harm caused to the small-scale and informal sector.  There should be adequate budgeting for social sector and in addition the increasing privatization and high profit orientation of critical social sector components like health and education should be checked.

 

Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Forests, Fisheries and Rural Development

High priority should be given to  rural areas. The distorted thinking which necessarily equates development with very rapid urbanization and migration of displaced villagers to mega-cities should be rejected. Villages should be the main base of India’s development. Even though land availability per family is declining with the passage of time, more diverse livelihoods can be provided in rural and semi-rural areas by encouraging village and cottage industries, including khadi, and protecting artisans’ livelihoods. These can include traditional improved as well modern industries, subject to the condition that these are not destructive for environment and public health. Decentralized mixed renewal energy systems, implemented in non-disruptive ways, for example, can be a new area of growth of rural employment. Field-level protection of traditional seeds and biodiversity can be another such area.

Land rights of all small and medium farmers should be well protected, while also providing encouragement for their mutual cooperation and the strengthening of rural communities.  Their land should not be lost due to indebtedness or related distress conditions. Fertile agricultural land should as far as possible be saved for agriculture and chances of displacement of farmers should be minimized. Special care should be taken to protect the land rights of tribal communities and to ensure the proper protection of laws enacted for this purpose. If displacement cannot be avoided in some cases then as far as possible  efforts should be made to provide land in place of land.

High priority should be given to make available cultivation land to as many landless farm workers as possible, using either provisions like land ceiling laws, or reclamation of cultivable wasteland land using water conservation and other steps. Regeneration of degraded forest areas and pastures, with sustainable livelihoods of landless and near landless households linked to this, should get high priority. Housing land with legal rights should be available to all rural households who are still deprived of it.

Ecologically protective, low-cost, location-specific technology which seeks to make best use of local resources and conditions, hence also increases self-reliance of rural communities , should be emphasized, an approach which includes organic and natural  farming, protection of traditional seeds and biodiversity, soil and water conservation, increasing green cover and forests. Organic farming should avoid the pitfall of avoidable expenses like costly certification and should be based on self-reliance and low costs, including mutual certification by farming v communities and groups. Farmers’ seed rights should be well-protected and seed-banks of traditional diverse seeds should be set up with the close involvement of farmers including elderly farmers and women. Increasing control of big companies including multinational companies or their subsidiaries over seeds and other critical areas should be checked. G.M. crops and the related technology should be strictly banned keeping in view their many-sided, serious and irreversible adverse impacts and hazards. Use of chemical pesticides and herbicides should be completely avoided or at least minimized as much as possible.

Protection and welfare of various farm animals and birds, protection of all forms of   life related to conducive ecological conditions for improving pastures , farms, orchards, forests ( including bees, birds and earthworms).

All subsidies meant for agriculture should reach farmers directly, with special emphasis on those farms and villages where eco-friendly, soil and water conserving methods are used..

Water conservation as well as protection/regeneration of greenery provide the base for survival in the form of meeting basic needs of life and supporting basic rural livelihoods. Some existing provisions like rural employment guarantee should be strengthened for this, and support for them should increase. In terms of better resource use, concentrating attention on smaller watershed programs as well as proper maintenance of existing canals will yield much better results instead of various new big and medium projects of dams and canals. Of course this will also be ecologically much safer and will help to avoid a lot of displacement. Safety of  dams, dam-management and operations should be a significant area of concern.

Indigenous mixed tree plantation work which resembles natural forests should be emphasized and felling of existing green trees should be avoided as much as possible. Indigenous trees which provide fodder and fruits should be emphasized in addition to trees with better soil and water conservation properties.

Protection and regeneration of natural mixed forests should get very high priority. The practice of raising monoculture plantations of commercial species of trees in place of natural forests should be given up forever. The role of  forests in providing diverse forms of valuable foods and nutrition should be recognized and protected. Forest based livelihoods of tribal communities and other communities living in and around forests should be protected and promoted. Their co-operatives or groups should be the main beneficiaries of minor forest produce based sustainable livelihoods, which should emphasize also the protection of trees. These communities should never be displaced or evicted in the name of protection of wild life and forest; instead as far as possible they should get livelihoods in this protection. There should be  overall emphasis on protection of all forms of life, and in promoting livelihoods related to this.

Animal husbandry should be encouraged with special emphasis on regeneration of pastures and fodder trees as well as protection of indigenous species of farm animals. Protection of indigenous breeds of cows and bullocks should get special attention. Fair price should be ensured to all dairy farmers, whether in the unorganized or organized sector.. Their co-operatives should be strengthened with special emphasis on the poor. Milk powder/product imports and oilcake exports should be discouraged. Ways of selling recombined milk which harm independent small producers should be resisted. Local milk and oilseed processing at village level should be encouraged in ways that  villagers including women have more livelihoods in value added work and oilcakes become available for feeding local animals.Trade rules and free trade agreements which harm small dairy farmers by imposing unfair competition and dumping on them should be avoided. Pastoral groups particularly nomadic and semi-nomadic groups facing hard times should be given a helping hand.

Availability of essential food items in public distribution network should be linked to strengthening of small and medium farmers in all rural areas. All raw food items needed for public distribution system as well as various nutrition programs should be procured from local farmers at a fair price. As far as possible self-reliance in essential diverse food items at the local, district level should be ensured with internal trade filling in unavoidable gaps for more specialized crops like certain spices and fruits. In this special care should be taken to ensure that the public distribution system with cheaper food availability is used to strengthen local farmers and does not weaken them in any way. Rules of WTO or any other international rules which stand in the way of strengthening local food or farming systems or food security should be resisted. In public distribution system millets, pulses and oilseeds should also get a proper place.

Steps should be taken to free various kinds of produce from the grip of a few big traders and speculators so that farmers get justice and sudden escalations in price for consumers are also avoided. Domination and advances in corporate control over farming and food system should be resisted. Government should continue lead role in procurement at a fair price. Direct contacts between farmers and city-based consumers for healthy, organic food can be encouraged by allocating space in specific city markets to clusters of villages, subject to certain conditions so that the weaker, smaller farmers can get more benefit.

Any obstruction by international agencies, WTO or others, to a well-organized system of food security and food self-reliance based on farmers’ secure livelihoods and sustainable fulfillment of basic food needs of people, should be resisted strongly.

The  three controversial farm laws passed in 2020 with unseemly hurry should be repealed.

The interests of traditional fisherfolk, whether in coastal areas or in rivers and lakes and ponds, should be well-protected. Sustainable fishing practices should be encouraged while destructive practices should be curbed. Habitats and survival  conditions of fish and aquatic life should be well-protected , and impacts on fish and aquatic should be well-considered in all river and coastal/sea projects.

Industrial Development 

The country should aim , to the extent possible and practical,  for self-reliance to a significant extent  in all essential consumer and capital goods.

While private, public and cooperative sectors all have important roles, domination by any industrialist or use of unfair means to surge ahead in one or more sectors should not be allowed. Public sector should be strengthened and reformed to fulfill its wider social responsibility while maintaining high standards of efficiency and entrepreneurial ability.

All industrial units need to abide by properly framed regulations related to pollution, environment, displacement, health, safety, workers’ welfare, quality and consumers’ concerns.

Special protective steps including reservation of certain items in production and procurement need to be provided for cottage and small scale units with special emphasis on khadi and handlooms.

Activities of multinational and foreign companies should be regulated carefully. However special incentives to those foreign companies which are most useful for new environment protection technologies, renewable energy etc. can be offered and another incentive  that can be offered more generally is by providing conditions of zero corruption for those investing in India, as well as of consistency in policy so that those investing do not suffer due to arbitrary decisions.

Banking and Insurance

The important role of nationalized or public sector banks and insurance companies, particularly the Life Insurance Corporation of India, should continue. There should be no privatization with respect to them. These should be reformed and strengthened to improve their efficiency, basic financial soundness and social responsibility and to minimize the possibilities of corruption and irregularities.. Private and foreign banks and insurance companies can have only a limited role, and should not be allowed to damage the special position of national institutions like the Life Insurance Corporation of India. The extremely serious problems of so-called ‘non-performing assets’ should be sorted out by making more sincere and strong efforts for ensuring due payment of enormous sums owed by influential borrowers. Without any fear or favor very strong actions should be taken against anyone found guilty of corrupt practices or colluding in them.

Infra-structure, Energy, Minerals

Public sector companies should continue to have an important role in creation of strong and adequate infra-structure for development of country. While infra-structure should be adequate, unnecessarily expensive and grand projects,  should be avoided and even cancelled.  Ecologically disruptive, high-hazard and mass displacement projects like river-link project should be given up. All care should be taken to minimize the problems relating to environment and displacement and impact assessment has to improve significantly.

Special care should be taken to reconcile development and environment protection objectives in the area of energy, as the responsibility of keeping GHG emissions at low levels must be respected. For rural areas in particular decentralized mixed renewable energy systems can play an important role.

Mineral wealth should be used in the wider interests of people with special emphasis on the rights and welfare of communities living in mineral rich areas. Instead of trying to take out minerals as quickly as possible or maximizing corporate profits, various middle level options and technologies which protect communities and environment should be explored and emphasized. Domination of decision making by corporate interests should be resisted strongly. Foreign and multinational companies should not have any leading role in development of minerals. Mineral resources, including oil and gas, should not be handed to private companies on longer-term high-profit basis and  instead these resources used be used to generate resources for national development and benefits  to people by the government. Minor minerals should be extracted in consultation with gram sabhas, minimizing any harm to environment, while mining mafias should be kept away and resisted to prevent any criminalization of mining work.

Health

A strong foundation of good health can only be established by good nutrition and fulfillment of other basic needs. In addition essential health services, medicines and investigations should be accessible to all. Adequate budgetary provisions should be provided for this, and the overall health budget has to increase significantly.. To utilise this properly, tendencies of extracting very high and unethical profits in the supply of medicines and medical care (including investigations) should be strictly curbed, or else the higher budget can be gobbled by the profiteers.

Important changes in medicines policy are needed to make available all essential medicines at a fair price, with special emphasis on supply of generic medicines, while irrational medicines and vaccines should be discarded. The public sector should fulfill an important role in this. The government should accept the responsibility of health care, medicines and vaccines. As far as possible, all medicines should be provided free in primary health centres and all government hospitals, perhaps excluding the very rich patients.

Scientific base should be strengthened in such a way that unbiased , independent, well-reasoned , transparent response is available in the case of all health emergencies, particularly pandemics and campaigns for new vaccines linked to these.

Special medical courses designed to ensure adequate and satisfactory availability of doctors and para medical workers in rural areas should be taken up on the basis of urgency.

Several distortions in health budget spending need to be corrected so that integrated and balanced health planning can emerge which is linked to the real needs of the country and not to artificial priorities thrust upon us by vested interests.

While indigenous and alternative medical practices should be encouraged, there is need to ensure rationality and standards so that undesirable trends (like mass marketing based on dubious products) can be checked, and the scope is restricted to  those areas which are best served by these systems, without  undesirable over-reach which could be harmful.

Doctors and other medical personnel coming forward with the objective of serving poor people particularly in remote villages should get the necessary encouragement from the government. Irrational rules unfavorable to serving in real-life rural conditions should be changed..

Tendencies towards unjust patent laws, domination by multinational companies and excessive privatisation should be resisted at a wider level.

Education and Children

While emphasizing right to education for all, the education budget should be increased significantly.. At the same time the tendencies of rapid privatisation and extraction of high profits should be checked. Improvement of government schools should get the highest priority. Children of weakest and vulnerable households (like migrant workers and nomadic groups) should  be linked, with special efforts and in conditions of dignity, with a system of evening schools/bridge courses and later integration with the mainstream.

Tendencies towards communalisation of education, or providing other narrow biases, should be curbed strictly. Instead a secular approach to moral/ethical education should be introduced with emphasis on universal values such as equality of all human beings, rejection of all kinds of discrimination, compassion for all forms of life, honesty, hard-work and a spirit of service. Cooperation and not competition should be emphasised, in studies, sports (team-spirit) and other activities. Health education including a firm message against all intoxicants and also emphasising importance of  physical work should get due importance, Education should provide a balanced view of realities and real needs of the country.

Child labour and all forms of exploitation of children should be eliminated. Trafficking of children should be curbed strongly and missing children should be traced with a sense of urgency. Trafficked and exploited children when rescued should be rehabilitated properly. Creative programmes for street children should be implemented and various homes for disadvantaged children should be improved.

Special care should be given to ending discrimination against girl child and improving her education opportunities.

Youth should have adequate opportunities for livelihoods linked to creating a better world and they should be adequately informed about such opportunities of employment as well as self-employment. The creativity of youth should get more and more openings in villages as well as cities. A combination of intellectual pursuits and creative manual work, with opportunities of being close to nature ( for example organic and natural firms and  birds and butterflies there) should be combined in school education and a healthy respect for farmers, artisans and workers should be nurtured and  encouraged. Evaluation criteria should change towards meaningful ways and the entire culture of aggressive competition, tension-ridden exams, coaching colleges , big money, heavy commercialization, excessive emphasis on on-line education, too much pressure on students and teachers should be discouraged so that learning can concentrate on  basics.

Higher education and research should be linked to the country’s real needs and careful use should be made of scarce resources.

Science and Technology

Progress in science and technology should be linked closely to the country’s real needs. Technical skills not only in institutions of higher learning but also in rural areas, in farms and workshops and factories should be recognised, encouraged and provided adequate avenues. Technology and engineering skills should not be narrowly linked to any vested interests but instead should be directed towards serving the country’s high priority needs. Planning for science and technology at a  higher level should be based on careful appraisal of requirements arising in a path based on meeting basic needs of all and providing creative sustainable livelihoods  to all, environment protection and peace. Better protection from various hazards and disasters, ( particularly those increasing in a big way) as well as accidents can be an important priority area. Governance of scientific institutions should improve. Checking environmental ruin in many serious contexts , particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation, are other major challenges.

Old Age, Disability and Pensions

Senior citizens should have a place of respect and dignity and to facilitate this better social security particularly pensions are very necessary. Extensive pension reforms should be taken up to create a system of universal and adequate pensions.

All disability related discrimination should end. Adequate care should be given to meeting the special education, health and other needs of disabled persons, providing them access to all social places and facilities, apart from arranging adequate pensions. ‘Disability as well as ‘old age’ should be defined in a comprehensive way so that any deserving and needy persons are not left out of essential rights and social security. Prevention of and early treatment for accidents, injuries and diseases likely to result in disabilities should be emphasised.

Society and Religion

All forms of discrimination based on caste, religion, gender, colour, ethnicity etc. should be curbed strictly in keeping with the constitutional precepts. Apart from implementing legal provisions this should also be taken up as public campaigns.

Continuing efforts should be made, and not just at the time of tensions, to maintain communal harmony. Strict action should be taken against those responsible for spreading communal hatred and tensions.

Secularism aspect of constitution of India should be well protected and strengthened.

Everyone has a well-established constitutional right to follow his or her religion, but definitely not to insult other religions. All religions are equal in the eyes of the State, and governments should carefully follow secular precepts avoiding any discrimination. Gender equality and justice is a very important aspect.

However there should be adequate room for social reforms and narrow thinking should not stand in the way of changing or removing those customs or traditions which clearly harm society and cause distress. Social reform movements against child marriage, dowry system, discriminatory practices, liquor and intoxicants,  pornography, superstitions, various exploitative practices under the influence of superstitions etc. should be encouraged.

Community and family ties at all levels should be strengthened and social cooperation for creative, philanthropic and reformist work should be encouraged.

Harmful practices in the celebration of festivals should be curbed by public campaigns and legislation where necessary.

The effort should be to protect good traditions while fighting harmful ones.

A campaign against the increasing consumption of liquor and tobacco products in various forms as well as against drug addiction should be a very important component of the social reform effort. The increasing auctions of liquor shops in villages have to be checked to a very substantial extent.

Social reforms should seek to involve most sections of community and, as far as possible, should avoid creating new conflicts.

Scheduled Castes, Tribal Communities, Denotified Tribes, Nomads and OBCs

The existing reservations should continue till real equality in all important respects is not achieved. A big effort should be made to provide some land to the large number of dalit (or other) landless farm workers and provide other assistance to help them to emerge as small farmers cultivating their own land. The ban on manual scavenging must be backed by adequate rehabilitation opportunities. Artisan work relating to bamboo, leather etc. should be improved so that new opportunities emerge and better, cleaner work-conditions are available.

Land rights of tribal communities should be carefully protected and land allocated earlier illegally should be restored under the due process of law. The implementation of recent Forest Rights Act needs to be substantially improved and any possibilities of large-scale displacement should be checked. Rights of minor forest produce should be strengthened and new opportunities opened up in processing work. Livelihoods based on protecting forest and wild life can be substantially expanded. PESA law for decentralisation should be implemented in the right spirit. However separatist elements should not misuse this law.

Nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes and groups deserve sympathetic understanding. Both options of improving their present life pattern and satisfactory rehabilitation are open. Denotified tribes need to be helped to come out of various kinds of stigmas and problems, and new opportunities must be opened for them.

In all categories the most oppressed and neglected groups deserve special attention and help. Particularly among OBCs there is a need to be careful that the genuinely oppressed, left-out and neglected castes get more help.

Labor

        Hard-  won rights of workers and trade unions should be protected. Reforms should not be used as a pretext to reduce or undermine these rights. Occupational health and safety need much more attention. The rights of unorganized sector workers deserve more attention and funds. Social security of these workers should be ensured in a big way. Women workers deserve special attention in terms of protection and care. Existing laws which protect rights of workers should be implemented in the right spirit. Within the organized sector also the rights of contractual workers deserve more attention. The recent codification of labor laws should be re-examined in a comprehensive way and should be open to such changes as to ensure that the most important labor rights  are well-protected.  

 

 Women and Gender Issues

There is a clear need to provide equal opportunities to women and end all gender-based discrimination. Principles of gender equality and justice should be well respected.

A system of (at least) 33 percent reservation for women in state and national legislatures and 50 percent reservation in the decentralised system should be in place. The ban on female foeticide and infanticide should be implemented strictly. Apart from providing essential facilities, special incentives should be offered to encourage girl students. Security of girls and women should get high priority and urgent steps have to be taken at several levels to ensure secure living and working conditions for women.

Various reasons due to which violence against women ( including various forms of violence such as domestic violence and sexual crimes) has continued to remain at high levels should be identified carefully and  many-sided remedial actions should be taken. The rise in sexual violence is a matter of deep concern and the causes should be carefully identified so that effective action can be initiated on the basis of proper identification. Rapid proliferation of liquor, other intoxicants and pornography needs to be checked. Deeply entrenched unfair and dominating attitudes of society which when inter-acting with these recent trends can prove very dangerous also need to be  checked. Strong laws to protect women are needed, but at the same time any misuse of these laws should be checked.

Land and property rights should be jointly in the name of wife and husband, and the rights of single women should also be ensured, but inheritance laws should not be such as to transfer ownership of a village’s cultivation land outside the village.

Efforts for a better understanding of women’s perceptions of various development issues should be made.

No one should face discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientations.

 

Other Forms of Life

It is important to avoid an excessively human-centric view of life as life forms other than human beings also need care and compassion. Many of these are today endangered due to the absence of this care. Most of the life forms who have been farmers’ friends – ranging from indigenous species of cattle and camels to earthworms and sparrows, are badly in need of  protection today. Indigenous species of cows and bullocks deserve special care due to their many sided utility, but other  farm animals should not be neglected. Communities living near forests should get strong livelihood support in activities relating to protection of wild life and their habitats. Similarly communities like fisherfolk, boatmen, can be involved in the protection of fish habitats and protection of all aquatic life, while snake charmers can be useful in protection of reptiles due to their special knowledge. Use of chemical pesticides and weedicides should be minimised while GM crops should be banned, as also use of genetic engineering in animal husbandry.. Stray dogs and other stray animals also need better care, but in such a way that these do not become a threat to local people. Cruelty to animals in the name of laboratory experiments should be reduced as much as possible.

Protection of Environment, Checking Climate Change

Protection of environment is of the highest importance not only for preparing the base of sustainable development but increasingly for sheer survival of various life-forms including human beings. Protection of environment and reduction of pollution should get priority at all levels, including reduction of air and water pollution, soil and water conservation, protection of forests, reducing the spread of various toxic products and wastes etc. New forms of pollution such as threat from radiation of nuclear plants, or the threat from mobile phone towers, or the irreversible risk of genetic pollution should be given adequate importance in the environment protection agenda. While a strong legal base is certainly needed for protecting environment, people’s movements and their close involvement in environment protection are equally important. It is important to evolve environment policies which involve people instead of alienating them. Environment protection work should provide new livelihoods to people, instead of displacing them or taking away their livelihoods. A ban on destructive mining at any place, for example, should at the same time provide for protective and regenerative work at the site which will also provide employment. Special care should be taken for protection of eco-sensitive areas of special importance like those in the Himalayas or in coastal areas.

While the task of environment protection has always been important, its importance has greatly increased in times of extremely serious world-level threats like those of climate change . India like all countries needs to give adequate importance to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as well as to adaptive steps to cope with climate change related problems. These can become issues of top-most importance in the near future. Also India should contribute adequately to world level justice based efforts to check climate change which should persuade developed countries to contribute substantially to efforts to check climate change, accepting historical responsibility for high greenhouse gas emissions.

Protection from Disasters and Water-Conservation

Increasing harm from several natural disasters is already a serious concern, while the threat from disasters can increase substantially in times of more aggressive climate change. Therefore according much higher priority to protection from natural disasters has to be a very important part of policy framework now and in the times to come. To be effective this effort has to learn from past experience and be willing to correct serious mistakes made earlier, as is evident from the increasing damage even after vast amounts had been invested in flood protection. So both increasing budgets and correction of distorted policies are important for protection from disasters. Planning for reduction of loss of life in an earthquake, cyclone or tsunami should get very high priority, as also various measures to provide protection from prolonged or acute droughts. As the threat from drought and water scarcity is likely to increase, much greater emphasis has to be placed on water conservation and ensuring drinking water needs of human beings and all forms of life. It is not enough to provide taps and pipes, the basic water sources should be protected in the form of rivers, lakes, springs, ponds , tanks , groundwater conservation and wells. Both soil and water conservation should get very high priority.

Protection from Accidents

Damage and threats from transport (particularly road), worksite, and domestic accidents as well as new threats from high hazard projects have been increasing. Preventive and immediate response action can reduce the damage including loss of human life to a substantial extent. So a nationwide network of protection and quick response for all kinds of accidents in an integrated way should  be created. A comprehensive national program to reduce all accidents ( not just road accidents but all accidents, including occupational accidents ) should be launched in a carefully planned way.

Displacement

Efforts should be made to reduce displacement at all levels as much as possible. At the level of policy formation it is necessary to keep in view the need to minimise displacement. To the extent displacement cannot be avoided, all efforts should be made for satisfactory rehabilitation including land in place of land and protection of community ties. Cases of those victims of displacement who suffered injustice in much earlier times should also be considered sympathetically so that they can get justice even through belatedly.

Justice, Police and Crime

Long pending police reforms should not be delayed any longer. These reforms should be aimed at not only increasing the efficiency of the police but also their sensitivity and humanity. Dignity of policemen at lower levels should be protected.

Reducing crimes should have a multi-dimensional approach with special emphasis on reducing the social causes of crimes as well as breaking the nexus between crime and corruption and political power at higher levels.

Efforts to combat terrorism should be much better organised and all support-systems of terrorists whether in the country or abroad should be opposed and challenged on a continuing basis at various levels. Social conditions and grievances which fuel terrorism should be tackled effectively.

The justice system should give special attention to ensuring that innocent people are not implicated in crimes. Special efforts should be made to provide legal aid to the poor and needy, as also to help undertrials. Undertrials who have already served a jail sentence which is equal to the punishment of the offence for which they have been charged should be released.

The justice system is breaking down particularly in rural areas because of long pending cases and repeated visits to courts from long distances which only lead to further dates. Therefore rural decentralisation should include some judicial provisions for settling disputes locally but with suitable safeguards.

Jails need extensive reforms to create more human  conditions, with special provisions firmly in place for recognition and human treatment of political prisoners.

Housing, Homeless People, Urban Development

Ensuring legal rights to housing land to all households and improvements in housing programmes for weaker sections should get high priority in rural areas, as also meeting the special housing needs in disaster prone areas.

The housing needs of urban areas cannot be solved by high profit oriented builders. The government should accept the responsibility for large-scale construction of houses to meet the needs of the poor as well as middle class. The needs of homeless people should get priority and construction of adequate shelters should be ensured. Slums should not be evicted arbitrarily  and instead improving various facilities in slums should be emphasized.

There is need for giving adequate importance to smaller towns and cities instead of concentrating the maximum development and expenditure in mega cities. Vulnerable groups like migrant workers, women workers, sanitation workers and unorganized sector workers should get more care.

Urban governance should emphasize decentralization and participative  forms of governance. Sanitation and water should get high priority. Para urban areas should not be neglected and instead creative ways of combining greenery with the expansion of urban area has more scope here. Urban and para-urban water  bodies should be well-protected. In important areas like sanitation, recycling, greening there is need for more experimentation with new ideas combined with added importance.

Democracy, Political Parties, Governance, Anti Corruption Efforts

Overall strengthening of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression should get very high priority. All cases of arbitrary arrests and political prisoners in particular should be reviewed so that remedial actions against any act of injustice can be taken soon. Jail reform is important. Vengeful actions and raids against political rivals and those having dissenting views should stop. Academics, journalists and public intellectuals should have freedom to express their views without fear of being victimized.

The practice of EVM based elections should be carefully reviewed and a decision to replace by ballot paper based elections should be taken if the review suggests such a reform, the main consideration being to provide assurance of fair elections. In this context the experience of those developed countries which still opt for ballot paper based system  may also be considered.

The recently voiced ( by powerful sections) proposal of conducting all elections at the same time  should be resisted.

Centre-state relations need to be improved at several levels. Over-centralization tendencies should be resisted and decentralization in both rural and urban contexts should be strengthened.

All evidence of heavy corporate financial contributions, legal and illegal, should be carefully investigated and reviewed as well asl what the contributors get in return, the wider aim being to remove structural, deeply rooted corruption and the system of crony capitalism based on this.  Efforts to reduce significantly the role of big money, illegal ‘black’ money and criminals in elections and functioning of political parties should get high priority. Political parties should maintain complete records of income, expenditure and all donations which should be transparent and should be accessible under right to information law. Election expenses should be kept low, rules should be carefully followed but routine work, including development work, should not be interrupted at election time.

Right to information should be protected and strengthened, with additional protection for those who expose corruption using RTI or in other ways and to ‘whistle-blowers’. Anti-corruption laws and organisations need to be strengthened and improved, while new laws should be introduced in areas where needed.

An effective grievance redressal system which provides for time-barred responses, issues receipts for complaints received and fixes responsibilities (as well as penalties for non-action) should be in place as soon as possible.

Exemplary strong action should be taken once corruption allegations have been confirmed. Excessive protection provided to some sections of officials from anti-corruption action should be withdrawn but at the same time tendencies towards witch-hunt without significant evidence as well as motivated targeting of innocent persons should be checked.

Strong action should be taken particularly in cases of illegal transfer of money earned by corrupt practices outside the country, in tax havens or secret accounts.

Decentralisation and Panchayati Raj

Decentralisation should be strengthened in rural as well as urban areas. Gram sabhas and ward sabhas in rural areas (assemblies of all adult villagers) as well as equivalent units in urban areas should be strengthened as a base where people’s real needs can be articulated, discussed and also documented. It is important to strengthen ward sabhas particularly in villages where gram sabhas can be too large to give everyone a proper hearing. (Or else panchayats can cover smaller areas.)

Some weaknesses of panchayats need to be corrected. The tendency of one or two persons to concentrate most powers of panchayat raj can be corrected by strengthening of gram sabhas, a more active role for panchayat samitis as well as for all elected ward members and possibly a rotation of the main head-person’s post among all ward members. Decentralisation at the district level should be strengthened significantly so that the concept of a district level government can emerge which is much closer to the day to day problems and livelihood issues of people.

Decentralisation needs to progress rapidly within the basic constitutional principles of equality and non-discrimination, integrity and unity of the country, secularism and socialism (interpreted in this context as reduction of inequalities and ensuring justice to weaker sections).

Decentralisation combined with diversified, strongly rooted economic progress based on self reliant rural communities should lead towards gram-swaraj.

Urban Development

Urban life should emphasise environment-friendly and secure conditions for all sections of people, with special emphasis on reduction of pollution, access of satisfactory housing to weaker sections as well as middle class, and significant reduction of crime (particularly crime against women and children).

Instead of high concentration of population in big cities, balanced development of smaller towns including kasbas or semi urban settlements close to rural areas should be prioritised. Satisfactory essential facilities should be provided in all these settlements.

Scarce resources should be used carefully to provide essentials to all people instead of squandering scarce resources on grand and expensive projects.

On-site improvement of slums and special needs of para-urban areas should get much more attention and resources.

National Security and Unity

National security is based not just on armies and weapons but even more so on the unity and determination of people to defend national interests. Hence continuing efforts should be made to strengthen unity of people at all levels. Special attention should be given to justice-based unity in border areas, with a willingness to provide all democratic rights (except perhaps for very small periods of special security concerns) and an effective system for redressal of all grievances. Special care should also be taken to ensure such community participation that any victimisation of innocent persons at the time of security operations can be avoided.

Apart from overall improvement of anti-terrorism operations, efforts to break their higher-level linkages whether external or internal should be emphasised.

A high level of preparedness to defend national borders should be maintained, while at the same time improving negotiations with neighboring countries to resolve border issues and ease tensions. Corruption and commissions in arms purchase should be strictly curbed, while self-reliance and indigenous R and D should be strengthened.

Priority should be given to solving most expensive border disputes like Siachin glacier. The Kashmir issue can be resolved by strengthening democratic processes on both sides of the border, initiating dialogues and exchange, gradually opening up borders and recognition of these as the legitimate borders by all sides. But all this is possible only if disruptive forces of violence can be restrained.

Foreign Policy, International Affairs, Peace

There should be a deep commitment to friendly relations and peace with all neighboring countries without sacrificing national security interests and protection of our borders.

The world is passing through extremely difficult times with the growing threat of irreversible climate change and life-endangering conditions on the one hand, and the stockpiling and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the other hand. India should play a leading role of responsibility so that effective solutions for these life-threatening problems can get the highest priority and effective, justice-based solutions can emerge before it is too late. Peace efforts at all levels linking local to national to global should be strengthened and encouraged and there should be more opportunities for meeting and cooperation of peace loving people of various countries.

Narrow viewpoints of developed countries on these issues should be challenged by a broader unity of developing and least developed countries. In addition the tendency of developed countries to go on trying to extend their special privileged position and dominate world economy and trade should be challenged and resisted. International trade and finance institutions should be reformed substantially, or what may be more practical ultimately, new international trade and finance institutions should be created which are more suitable for creating a new international economic order based on justice and equality.

India should participate actively, inside and outside the United Nations, for justice based peace and minimising the possibilities of war and internal strife. Unity and cooperation of all countries should be established to curb strongly all forms of terrorism and its causes as well.

India should support disarmament with renewed vigor so that substantial savings from arms expenditure can be diverted to development needs. Climate justice negotiations should not take ignore justice related aspects so that developing countries should get adequate resources from developed countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Non-alignment has new relevance in the middle of emerging trends and India should again fulfill a leading role in this.

Minorities

Security and equal opportunities of all minorities should be protected and promoted. Communal harmony and national unity should be promoted actively on a continuing basis so that such conditions are created which minimise possibilities of communal violence. Those guilty of obstructing this path of peace, goodwill and security should face strict action.

Although minorities are generally taken to be religious minorities, reasons for being identified on other basis (such as region or caste) exist and any such effort of violence, discrimination, stigmatization  or humilation  against any kind of minority should face strict action and all such tendencies should be curbed.

Sexual minorities should also be protected from injustice, discrimination and stigma.

Social Activists and Voluntary Organisations

Social activists who seek to help weaker sections, oppressed people and reform society in other creative ways should get encouragement and protection from governments. Any efforts to harass or repress such efforts of social activists and organisations should be checked and protection should be available against such efforts. Legislations  which unduly restrict and pressurize such initiatives should be  reviewed and reconsidered. International cooperation on important issues like peace and environment protection among activists should be encouraged, not discouraged. India should encourage cooperation of people’s organizations to meet and plan on issues of peace and environment protection in particular.

Media

Freedom of expression include freedom  of media at all levels is very important and should be respected. The rights of working journalists should be well-protected so that they  are not exploited and can actually exercise their freedom , unencumbered as much by governments as by corporate domination. Media should be close to the realities and needs of people, and should be in tune with the basic precepts and values enshrined in our constitution – equality, secularism, special concern for the weaker sections, national integration and unity. Freedom of media is very important and this is also a basic constitutional precept, but it should not be misrepresented to justify increasing corporate control to an extent that media is alienated from genuine concerns of the people and instead promotes narrow interests and viewpoints. Cooperative efforts of independent journalists should be encouraged. There should be more room for independent journalists and groups of journalists to work on their own for socially desirable objectives. Along with freedom, socially responsible behavior of new social media is important and new technologies should not be misused.

Transport and Tourism

Importance of railways and public transport keeping in view the needs of ordinary travelers should get high priority. There should be no privatization of railways. Public road transport should get much more importance, including in more remote areas.  Roads should be safe and in good condition, but overspending of scarce resources on non-essential expansion and widening, as well as expensive projects of false prestige should be discouraged. Safety in all forms of transport should get very high priority.

Safety, hygiene and essential facilities at all places of huge gatherings including pilgrimages, festivals and fairs etc. should be emphasised. Economy tourism and safety of tourists should get high priority. Tourism should be linked to the better livelihoods of ordinary people. Creative projects linking tourism to local livelihoods and environment protection should be encouraged.

Culture, Art and Literature

Rich cultural assets and folk arts in various communities should be promoted and encouraged, as well as protected from the onslaught of corporate controlled media, ‘cultural imperialism’ and pornography. Highly deserving but neglected talent among ordinary folk should be encouraged and helped to realise their full potential. Special efforts should be made to protect endangered languages. Efforts to bring cinema, theatre and literature closer to the real concerns and aspirations of ordinary people as well as pressing needs of society should be encouraged. Support and outlets for creative work in journalism, literature, book-publishing,, audio-visual mediums, folk-arts should be vastly increased in all languages and regions, particularly when such work is linked to ( or at least does not violate ) socially desirable goals on which there is widespread  agreement. Libraries which increase public access to not  just good books but also films and videos should expand rapidly.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has written on public interest issues for 49 years, apart from being  involved with several social movements and causes. He has contributed over 9500 articles and 400 booklets/books. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times).


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