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DEBATE: Is NREGS II a product of a complacent UPA II?
January 1, 1970

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is confident that the NREGS is his best bet to offset the drought but many grassroots activists are unsure of the scheme’s effectiveness, especially after some recent amendments. While the drought has spread to 246 districts, a heated debate rages on the poor peoples’ entitlements versus rural asset formation, even though in theory the two positions appear complementary. 14 organisations throughout the country are up in arms against the manner in which the UPA government has been rushing through the restructuring of the NREGS, which they say is against the spirit of the law and to the detriment of Dalits and the poor. Notable among the civil society activists opposing the amendments are Aruna Roy of the MKSS, poverty economist Jean Dreze, Dunu Roy of the Sanjha Manch, Arundhati Dhuru of the NAPM, Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women.   So far the NREGS work...

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IS RIGHT TO FOOD BILL FACING DILUTION?
January 1, 1970

  Civil Society activists and assorted rural experts are anxious that soon-to-be-launched Right to Food Bill might slip from its ambitious goal of nutrition security for all to a trite tokenism. The main worry is that cumulative effect of all the clauses, sub-clauses and small print must not stop short of making food available everywhere at all times so that no citizen sleeps hungry. The worry is on many counts. The first and foremost is that the amount of food grains presently given to the BPL families and under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) must not be reduced from 35 kg at slightly higher prices (at Rs 4.15/- per kg for wheat and Rs 5.65/- per kg for rice for the BPL and Rs 2/- and Rs 3/- per kg under AAY) to 25 kg at Rs 3/- per kg. This is particularly so because rural incomes are falling, unemployment rising...

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INCLUDE RAIN-FED FARMING IN AGRICULTURE POLICY
January 1, 1970

  The 2009 drought has once again highlighted the need for farming drought hardy crops such as millets and coarse grains instead of water guzzling paddy and wheat in the country’s water deficient areas. Officially, about 70 per cent of India’s cultivable land is un-irrigated and falls in the country’s most backward dry-lands. It is a proven fact that India’s rich diversity of resilient millet crops are the farmer’s best protection against drought, particularly in the less fertile and water-deficient regions.   But our policies are taking us exactly in the opposite direction. For instance, offering cheap wheat and rice -- and not the drought-resistant millets -- to the BPL families under soon-to-be-launched Right to Food Act is pushing farmers to sow paddy at their own peril. There is no move to include the high-nutrition millets in mid day meal scheme either. The government is not even contemplating a ban on summer...

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RIGHT TO EDUCATION: TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
January 1, 1970

Is the Right to Education Bill a landmark legislation as it is made out to be? The opinion is divided and it is not an exaggeration that the Bill has disappointed India’s educationists and Civil Society activists alike. To say the least, what got passed in Lok Sabha was a huge compromise from the state’s earlier commitment of providing the country’s children easy and equitable access to quality education without discrimination. It provides easy but not equitable, and the bare minimum rather than quality education. The biggest problem is that there is no commitment to quality in the Bill and there is no punishment for those who flout its provisions. It guarantees promotion by removing exams without setting standards for learning. It has ignored an earlier suggestion to benchmark the minimum quality of education to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas. The other problem is that it has nothing for children...

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MINING & DISPLACEMENT: SAME STORY EVERYWHERE
January 1, 1970

Government of India is preparing to allot alternative sites to the South Korean mining giant POSCO for its Rs 51000 crore steel plant in Orissa because it fears a major tribal backlash against forced displacement from their lands and livelihoods. The plan is to ‘arrange’ alternative sites for the company without moving it out of the state. It is no secret that the hugely profitable mining industry thrives on corruption and opaque land transfers and is indifferent to the tribals’ main demand -- long-term rehabilitation of the displaced. However, now when the Government is working on a Land Acquisition Bill, there is little effort on the ground to involve the tribals in their own affairs. The situation is not very different in other districts of the mineral-rich tribal region of India where national and international mining lobbies are awaiting transfer of humongous tracts of tribal and forest land. The area...

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