Friday, July 25, 2008


The tremendous potential of the scheme is in danger of being wasted in some States.

- Photo: AP

A productive scheme: NREGA could be even more productive with a small dose of technical and scientific support.

Recent events in Jharkhand highlight various issues that need to be urgently addressed if the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is to survive and thrive. These events include the murders of two NREGA activists (Lalit Mehta and Kameshwar Yadav), a survey of NREGA initiated by the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Palamau and Koderma districts, and public hearings held there on May 26 and June 18 respectively. The latest incident is the tragic death of Tapas Soren, who immolated himself in Hazaribagh on July 2 to protest against official harassment in the context of NREGA work.

By way of background, a glimpse of the survey findings may be useful. Even in Jharkhand, one of the worst performing States as far as NREGA is concerned, there is some good news. For instance, the transition to a rights-based framework has led to a major decline in labour exploitation on rural public works. Wages are higher than they used to be, delays in wage payments are shorter, productivity norms more reasonable, and complaints of worksite harassment rare. NREGA is a valuable and valued opportunity for the rural poor, and particularly for women, to earn a living wage in a dignified manner.

Most of the respondents in a random sample of about 200 NREGA workers in Palamau and Koderma districts were highly appreciative of the programme. For instance, they felt that NREGA helped them to avoid hunger and distress migration. Also, a large majority of the respondents felt that the assets being created under NREGA were "useful" or "very useful." This was also the assessment of field investigators. Far from being a case of "playing with mud," as one grumpy commentator recently put it, NREGA is a productive scheme - and it could be even more productive with a small dose of technical and scientific support. Massive corruption

In Jharkhand, unfortunately, the tremendous potential of NREGA is in danger of being wasted due to massive corruption. Judging from the survey findings in Koderma and Palamau, transparency safeguards are routinely violated and funds are being siphoned off with abandon. A similar picture emerges from surveys in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, though there are also heartening examples of transparent implementation of NREGA, notably in Rajasthan (where we found very little evidence of embezzlement of wage funds) and Andhra Pradesh (where post office payments and institutionalised social audits appear to have a similar impact).

Coming back to recent events in Jharkhand, there is much scope for introspection. To start with, these events have exposed the repressive if not criminal character of the Indian state in large parts of the country. It is bad enough that brazen embezzlement of NREGA funds in Jharkhand, with the complicity of many government officials, has deprived millions of people of employment and wages, and thereby, of their constitutional right to life. For good measure, State authorities often scuttle any attempt to expose this nexus of corruption and crime. Our own survey team had a taste of this bitter medicine in Palamau: instead of acting on the complaints we brought to its attention, the District Administration turned against the team and sent a malicious and defamatory "report" to the Ministry of Rural Development, even insinuating that some of us might have had a hand in Lalit Mehta's murder. Defenceless grassroots workers are not so lucky as to get away with insults: they literally risk their lives every time they stand up against state-sponsored corruption and exploitation.

Second, the counterpart of this repressive apparatus is the utter helplessness of working people. This helplessness begins with a thick cloud of ignorance: we were amazed to discover how little people knew about NREGA in the survey areas, more than two years after the Act came into force. To illustrate, among 200 persons currently working on NREGA worksites in Palamau and Koderma, less than 30 per cent knew that they were entitled to 100 days of employment per year under the Act. The concept of "work on demand", for its part, had not sunk in at all. The vulnerability of the programme to corruption and abuse begins with this lack of awareness of their rights among NREGA workers.

Third, this powerlessness is also due to the absence of any effective grievance redressal system for NREGA. Gross violations of the Act can be perpetrated with virtual impunity, and most people do not know what to do and where to go when they have complaints. Even when there is conclusive evidence of fraud, and with the full backing of the Central Employment Guarantee Council, we have found it extremely hard to secure any remedial or punitive action. This state of affairs opens the door to further deterioration of the standards of implementation of NREGA, as the message is rapidly spreading that "anything goes" and that those responsible for fraud and embezzlement are "safe."

Fourth, while this situation is not unique to Jharkhand, it has been amplified there by the absence of Gram Panchayats in rural areas. Jharkhand is the only state where Gram Panchayat elections have not been held since the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution (known as "Panchayati Raj amendments"). This is not only a flagrant violation of the law, but also an infringement of people's fundamental rights, since it is impossible to provide effective public services in rural areas without functional institutions of local governance. NREGA itself is a casualty of this state of affairs. In the absence of Gram Panchayats (the chief "implementing agency" under the Act), the implementation of NREGA in Jharkhand is effectively under the control of private contractors, or quasi-contractors such as the so-called "labhuk samitis" (beneficiary committees). But private contractors work for profit, and the only way to make profit from NREGA is to cheat. In Jharkhand, therefore, corruption is built into the system.

Fifth, this impending anarchy also reflects the casual attitude of the Central government towards its own money. Given that about 90 per cent of the NREGA funds come from the Centre, the Central government has a right and a duty to enforce high standards of transparency and accountability in the programme. The Act gives it wide powers to do so, whether it is through framing rules, conducting investigations, designing an effective Monitoring and Information System (MIS), or taking action where there is evidence of fraud. Instead of seizing these opportunities, the Ministry of Rural Development largely expects the State governments to comply with its Operational Guidelines. These guidelines are indeed very good, but their legal status is unclear, and many State governments are treating them lightly - applying what suits them and ignoring the rest. Thus, NREGA is being implemented in a dangerous vacuum, with few mandatory norms except for the general provisions of the Act. Even basic safeguards, such as the maintenance of job cards and the transparency of muster rolls, are effectively left to the discretion of the State governments. This state of affairs makes NREGA quite vulnerable to corruption and other irregularities. As political parties are about to launch their respective election campaigns, there is a frightening possibility that many of them will try to "dip" into NREGA funds to fill their coffers. A wake-up call is badly needed.

Finally, the powerlessness of NREGA workers is also a reflection of the timidity of grassroots organisational work on this issue. Somehow, political organisations and social movements are yet to seize the vast potential for collective action around NREGA, whether it is through joint work applications, struggles for minimum wages, participatory planning, or building workers' unions. One rarely sees crowds of people blocking the road to demand NREGA work, or staging a dharna against delayed wage payments. The fact that a large majority of the rural population is still in the dark about the basic features of the Act, almost three years after it was passed, is another symptom of this organisational gap. The way forward

On a more constructive note, these observations point to the way forward. As far as government policy is concerned, urgent priorities include framing strong rules for NREGA, putting in place grievance redressal procedures, enforcing the transparency safeguards, and taking swift action whenever there is evidence of fraud. As far as public action is concerned, the need of the hour is to make better use of NREGA as a tool of organisational work and enable NREGA workers to defend their rights. Counting on the kindness of the state would be futile.

(The author is Visiting Professor at Allahabad University and member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Nelson at Ninety - Jorge Heine

A smile that lightens up every room he enters, a great sense of humour and the capacity to put people at ease are part of Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary ability to win people over.

SAN-Feature Service : Ultimate leadership act: Nelson Mandela’s decision not to stand for re-election, announced early in his presidency, depersonalised and institutionalised South Africa’s democratic transition.

Margaret Thatcher famously said “anyone who thinks the ANC will form the government of South Africa is living in cloud cuckoo-land.” If Mrs. Thatcher may be faulted for lack of foresight, what to say of the U.S. State Department, which until recently had the ANC, South Africa’s ruling party since 1994, on its list of terrorist organisations, whose members, including Nelson Mandela, needed a special waiver to enter the United States? Lack of hindsight?

This would be, I suppose, just another expression of what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” It has led to the imposition of such absurd rules as those that allowed, a few weeks ago, a Canadian airport security guard to confiscate the mother’s milk of a returning-home, young American lawyer, who had laboriously pumped it from her breasts for her infant child back in San Diego, as it exceeded the prescribed limit (100 ml) of liquid airplane passengers are allowed to take on board.

Yet, outside the corridors of power of London and Washington (and even within some of them) Nelson Mandela, “Madiba” to his friends, is regarded as one of the very few iconic leaders of the twentieth century — up there with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles de Gaulle and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. As he turns 90, happily married to Graca Machel (the only woman to have been First Lady of two countries), he is still active, leading three foundations, collecting honorary degrees from 50 of the world’s leading universities, and dividing his time between his native hamlet of Qunu in the Transkei and Johannesburg. The recent concert held in his honour in London, broadcast around the world 20 years after the one held in 1988 to demand his release, shows the enormous esteem he is held in.

I first met Nelson Mandela on a rainy, late June 1994 morning in De Tuynhuys, the South African President’s office in Cape Town, when I presented my letters of credence. It was the first such ceremony for both of us, the 18th century building next to Parliament — which once housed the Governors of the Cape — was being refurbished (this was a scarce six weeks after Mandela’s inauguration) and it took us a while to get going. Yet, after the speeches and the photo-ops, I had my 15 (that turned into 30) minutes in private with him and a couple of aides — that sound tradition that has fallen by the wayside in so many countries.

The standard template for such meetings is to exchange social pleasantries, and perhaps talk about the weather, but certainly not about any bilateral issues, about which the head of state would not necessarily be fully briefed. I departed from the script, took my chances and brought up the question of the potential creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa. Justice Minister Dullah Omar, a good friend, had been pushing for it, partly inspired by the Chilean experience with a TRC, but these were early days and there was no consensus either in the government or in the ANC. Mandela listened intently to my description of Chile’s TRC, why it was considered to have set the standard for such bodies at the time, and why it represented a good compromise between two extreme solutions that had not worked to deal with an evil past: the creation of special courts to prosecute human rights violations under authoritarian rule, and, on the
other hand, a blanket amnesty for those involved in such shenanigans.

I could see his mind at work, assessing what was at stake. Instead of asking one of his aides to take notes for a possible follow-up (that might never take place), which would have been the SOP for such a demarche, he asked me a couple of questions about how TRCs worked, and then whether I had anything in writing about the Chilean Commission. I happened to have an 80-page, English-language summary version of the three-volume report of the latter, which I sent to him by hand that very afternoon.

I would like to think that exchange played a role, however small, in the subsequent launch of the South African TRC, whose activities became one of the defining features of Mr. Mandela’s presidency, and a body that, under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his deputy, Alex Boraine, would set a new standard for Truth Commissions. In 1998, when the South African TRC delivered its report, including criticisms of what had transpired in the ANC camps, the party made a big ruckus, but Mr. Mandela held his peace.

In this, as in so many other matters, Mr. Mandela showed an uncanny sense of that “middle road” that marked his presidency and his leadership — one that stood for certain basic principles, without necessarily antagonising and alienating his adversaries and political rivals. One year after our initial meeting, in June 1995, his famous gesture of donning the South African rugby team’s captain’s jersey (a sport widely identified with whites and white supremacy) in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium, on the day the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, was emblematic of his push for reconciliation, and did much to bring Afrikaners around to the country’s new dispensation.

Less known is his visit to Betsy Verwoerd, the widow of former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the true architect of apartheid. In late 1994, Mr. Mandela hosted a lunch party in Johannesburg for prominent South African women from all walks of life: Adelaide Tambo, Amina Cachalia, Nadine Gordimer, Helen Suzman and Frene Ginwala were all there. He invited Betsy Verwoerd, who lived in Orania, a town in the middle of the Orange Free State (originally set up, in the Afrikaner delirium, as a “whites only” town) but she declined. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Mandela flew to Orania and had tea and koeksusters with her, thus reaching out to Afrikaners in the very heart of their laager.

After being imprisoned and “banned” (meaning he became a “non-person”, who could not be quoted or mentioned in the media or in public) by the apartheid regime for 27 years, Mr. Mandela suddenly found himself surrounded and idolised by white, Afrikaner children during his visits to schools, something to which his regal bearing and innate elegance helped — to see him with Queen Elizabeth during her 10-day visit to South Africa was to see two monarchs, one a democratic one, the other a constitutional one, with great respect and appreciation for each other.

Mr. Mandela’s ultimate leadership act was his decision, announced early in his presidency, not to stand for re-election, thus depersonalising and institutionalising South Africa’s democratic transition, giving it a stability so sadly missing in so many other African countries (witness Zimbabwe today), where the penchant of leaders to perpetuate themselves in power, even long after their welcome period has expired, has caused so much harm. Much as Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk provided the role model for the effective reformer in 20th century politics, Mr. Mandela has provided the one for the democratising leader that successfully makes the transition from head of the liberation struggle to advocate for peaceful reconciliation, something very few of his counterparts have managed anywhere.

Mr. Mandela’s significance and success, then, goes way beyond that much overused word — charisma, though he has plenty of it. A smile that lightens up every room he enters, a great sense of humour (whenever he would meet us he would ask my wife, “do you remember me?”) and a remarkable capacity to put people at ease are part of this extraordinary ability to win people over, be they friend or foe. His loyalty to those who supported him and his struggle is legendary. Taiwan kept its Embassy in Pretoria till 1997, as he refused — against the opinion of many advisers — to break diplomatic ties with Taipei. He also publicly expressed his gratitude to Indonesian strongman Suharto, not exactly a champion of democracy, by inviting him for a state visit to South Africa.

So has been his ability to change course as the political situation demanded. In the 60s, as the apartheid state swung into full repression mode, he moved from non-violent, Gandhian opposition to white rule to espousing armed struggle. And then, in the 90s, he switched back again from armed resistance to peaceful negotiation and reconciliation — but only after being released from prison, pointedly refusing an early 1985 release entailing a commitment to giving up the struggle, arguing that “ only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

Happy birthday, Mr. President!—SAN-Feature Service

Jorge Heine is CIGI Professor of Global Governance at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario. He served as Chile’s Ambassador to South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Friday, July 18, 2008

:The Daily Star: Internet Edition- Menifesto of a World State

:The Daily Star: Internet Edition
Manifesto for a world state
Alamgir Khan

THE World House by Dr. Martin Luther King can be called the manifesto of a world state movement, which is now achieving more momentum, and converting more people to the idea, day by day. This gathering pace of the movement is due to the current disorder of the world led by the US hegemony and absence of an alternative solution. The idea of world state of course is not so new. However, now it has become urgent in the surge of globalisation, which is discriminately tilted to one side.

Globalisation has become the globalisation of the goods, trade and investment of the rich world, making the poor more destitute. Why not globalisation of cheap labour of the poor nations, which they have in abundance? Why are passports and state borders needed, when you know full well against whom these work, if you are so fond of open market and globalisation?

Hypocrisy lies in the rich world's passion for the privileges of nation states and for breaking through the doors of the poor with the open market sledgehammer. The ugliest face of nationalism was seen in the rise of Nazi Germany, though it has, at the same time, been a powerful weapon for third world countries in breaking free of the imperialist shackles throughout the twentieth century. As a weapon, it is still very useful as long as rich states keep their fences in place while tearing away the poor ones' into pieces.

Many in the past ventured to form a world government. Islam, since its inception, has had a vision of bringing the world into a single order, its prophet being a person who dreamt of building a world state, as Jawaharlal Nehru admiringly mentions in his Glimpses of History.

Again, Karl Marx and Engels's view of a non-state world coincides with the view of an earth with one government. After the Second World War, the United Nations was formed to set up a new order in international relations so that conflicts and wars could be replaced by conciliation and peace.

But it has strayed far away from that early dream of world leaders. The impotence of the United Nations was conspicuous in its failure to prevent the American attack against Iraq.

Dr. Martin Luther King cast this age-old thought into a concrete philosophical shape in his essay that begins: "Some years ago a famous novelist died." Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: "A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together."

This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together -- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu -- a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live in peace with each other.

The thought germinated during his Nobel Peace Prize lecture in 1964. King later wrote a book – Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?-- that was published in 1967, which included this lecture in illustrated form in the chapter "The World House."

In it he says: "Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools … There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it … The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible."

The essay concludes with this prophetic warning: "Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilisations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.' There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. 'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on … ' We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind's last chance to choose between chaos and community."

Since King's essay, many books and articles and several manifestos have been written for a world state. However, King's is short, eloquent, broad-visioned, passionate, unbiased and more convincing. But the idea of such a movement is still confined within a small part of intelligentsia, with most of them, naturally, of the west.

The idea has yet not seeped into the mass level, without whose support success is a far cry. Again, the movement for a world state is not a monolith, rather it is full of various contradictory designs and aspirations, which is natural too.

One type of visionary wants to shape the world within the cloak of American domination. There are others who want to form a world where every nation, race and individual will live with all their rights admitted by others, and grow to their full potential without hindrance from outside.

Carrying out movements and strengthening them in the light of King's vision for a world state is an urgent need in the present world if we do want to live together in harmony, and not want to annihilate ourselves in the chaos that is all around us nowadays.

It is high time mankind threw away the hegemonic nationalism and nation states into the dustbin of history, and went forward towards a new horizon of a democratic world state. The road, of course, is too bumpy to stay on course, yet there is no other better alternative to it.

Alamgir Khan is Program Officer, Other Vision Communication, a media organisation.

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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.