People’s manifesto reflects views from fringes of poverty, of those facing heat of price rise, victims communal carnage

People's manifestoFollowing intense consultations with nearly 4,000 NGOs and grassroots organizations across India, on March 27, the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) held national-level consultation with the participation of political parties at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, where nearly 150 persons participated. Among political leaders who took part in the discussions included Dr Sanjay Paswan, national president, BJP Schedule Caste Morcha; Nilotpal Basu, politbureau member, CPI(M); and Dinesh Vasnik, member, national committee, CPI. National Convener of WNTA Paul Divakar and people from grassroots released the manifesto and handed it over to the political representatives.

A comparative presentation was made on the people’s manifesto vis-a-vis the manifestos of Congress, CPI-M, DMK and Trinamool Congress, which had, as on March 27. Only these parties had released their manifesto till that date. A range of issues were covered — from seeking standards in healthcare to raising funding for education to six percent of GDP, a law on the national housing policy and national rehabilitation policy, the Women’s Reservation Bill and a commitment to accountable governance among other things. The national consultation especially focused on the voices of victimized people from the grassroots, e.g. farmers’ suicides, people affected by displacement, transgender, sex worker, tribal and Dalit voices.

The manifesto was prepared following consultations with NGOs and grassroots organizations working in 250 parliamentary constituencies across 24 states. Representatives of these organizations got the views of the people, especially marginalized communities like the minorities, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and persons with disabilities, about the problems plaguing them and what they expect from the new dispensation at the Centre. Efforts were made to assimilate different views of the middle-class and those living on the fringes of poverty, facing the heat of high prices of food and consumer goods, communal carnage and massive corruption by politicians.

The BJP, it was found, had delayed the release of its manifesto because it said it was “studying manifestos of other parties and civil society groups to include best practices and ideas.” Present at an interaction on the manifesto, BJP’s Sanjay Paswan said, “People were saying that the BJP’s manifesto is getting delayed but I now say we are going to be the beneficiaries of the inputs in the people’s manifesto. The BJP manifesto is certainly going to make room for concerns of the marginalized and also look at ways of increasing the employability of the increasing employable lot.”

In all, six lakh people were directly consulted during the consultation, and another 10 lakh took part in the process through signature campaigns by social media. During the consultations, politically important constituencies like Amethi, Varanasi and Rae Barelli were covered. Also covered were constituencies with poor development indicators, such as Kalahandi in Odisha, as also various Dalit and Adivasi dominated constituencies. Given below is a topic-wise analysis of the manifestos of Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI-M and DMK, based on which WNTA points towards what is missing from people’s perspective in each of them.

Healthcare:

Congress fails to commit to allocate a healthcare budget of 5 per cent of GDP — it commits for only 3 per cent of GDP). Only CPI-M and the DMK say 5 per cent of the GDP should be allocated as healthcare budget. There is no mention in any of the manifestos on structural corrections to ensure proper delivery of services – such as community-based accountability mechanisms for all flagship schemes, and specific safeguards and improvement in delivery of key schemes like Janani Surakha Yojna, NRHM etc. Proposals for infrastructural upgrade for healthcare are inadequate. Manifestos miss out on key gaps that impede delivery of health care at local level. Except CPI-M, other parties do not talk about the need to regulate the private sector, reverse private funding to fill gaps in public health system, and protect people from financial shocks due to health related debt. Congress does not mention about the need to give free medicines.  While household-level toilets have been mentioned, sanitation and right to drinking water have been overlooked. There is no clear mention of ensuring healthcare to vulnerable people such as sex-workers, senior citizens, and institutionalizing role of CSOs on basic services.

Education:

Despite a generalized pledge to improve access and implement right to education (RTE), specific measures to improve quality of teaching is missing in all the manifestos. There is no mention of time-bound programme for commitments to ensure schools every 5 km to improve access. While children from conflict zones are mentioned, no safeguards have been assured for children from tribal areas. Manifestos overlook issues related with access of education for girls – including measures such as compulsory separate toilets. Nor is there any specific assurance on mechanisms to overcome discrimination against children from the marginalized communities, and bringing children of migrants and the homeless under the RTE.

Food security and nutrition:

Other than CPI-M, the issue of food security and nutrition is overlooked by all parties. Congress lays emphasis on the achievements of the Food Security Act but fails to address or acknowledge the possible gaps in its implementation. The CPI-M lists various structural measures to improve implementation – it calls for inclusion of pulses, greater entitlement and mentions the gaps in public distribution system (PDS), storage etc. Parties also fail to propose measures to weed out corruption from PDS through such measures like decentralized procurement from small and marginal farmers, and action to prevent hoarding, speculation etc. to arrest rise in food prices. Except CPI-M, which mentions special measures for pregnant and lactating mothers, other parties miss out on the need to improve nutrition among women, particularly girl children.

Housing rights:

The Congress manifesto does not address the need to address implementation gaps while talking of housing rights.  All political parties ignore the need to have legislative measures by enacting what all has been mentioned in the National Housing Policy and the National Rehabilitation Policy. Nor is there any mention of how to address issues related with people’s displacement due to construction of dams and other projects or natural disasters, or for that matter the need for urgent attention of rehabilitation and resettlement safeguards, with particular focus on women. Then, there is no mention about the need to decriminalize the urban poor, or need to implement the mandatory provision of reserving 25-40 per cent of land in cities for the urban poor.

Jobs and employment:

Congress commits to robust economic growth with particular focus on manufacturing, but fails to address issues of inclusion. It fails to address concerns related to foreign direct investment (FDI), land acquisition etc. All political parties fail to back the demand for 200 days’ employment under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), or improve implementation of MGNREGS as a vital conduit of employment opportunity. Only CPI-M mentions the need to guarantee urban employment.

Agriculture:

CPI-M alone mentions the need to address issues related with Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA), trade negotiations and concerns related to export and food security. Others are silent on this score. There is no clear roadmap on how to protect farmers and the farm sector, which is in distress. Nor is there any clear roadmap to address issues related with farmers quitting farm sector and migrating to cities to do unskilled job. There no effort to address the issue of farmers’ suicides. No manifesto talks about the need to promote organic farming.

Land and forest rights:

No manifesto addresses the need to overcome gaps in the implementation of the forest rights Act (FRA). There is lack of recognition of the need to address community rights. Nor is there any mention about the need to implement compulsory consent of gram sabha for the transfer of forest land for any developmental purpose. Then, there is no mention of the need to appoint people’s representative at the block and district level to ensure enforcement of forest rights, to have accountability mechanism such as social audit and immediate resolution of land disputes.

Women, child rights, youth:

The manifestos, even while talking about the need to abolish child labour, refuse to recognize the need to revise the age definition of a child to everyone who is below 18 years of age. There is no talk about the need to seek participation of children in the democratic process through children’s parliaments, gram sabhas etc.  There is no mention about upgrading Ministry of Women and Child Development to cabinet rank. The manifestos of all parties overlook the demand for 35 per cent reservation for youth in legislative assemblies and Cabinet-equivalent bodies. Also missing is the need for provide employment opportunities in home towns, a national nutrition policy mission in each state, and periodic survey of nutrition to keep track of health status of children and mothers.

Dalits, adivasis, minorities, persons with disabilities:

While manifestos talk about the need to improve the plight of Dalits, adivasis and minorities, with the Congress promising to bring in the anti-communal violence Bill, pending before Parliament, there is a failure on the part of each of the manifestos to address issues of structural inequalities of access to basic services. There is no proposal for coming up with a clear mechanism for this. Nor is there any mention about the need to improve functioning of statutory institutions such as commissions for women, Dalits etc, particularly at the state level. There is also no mention of improving the allocations under five year plans, with deliverables and budgets. Also missing is the need to set up an institution at the centre and state levels to allocate funds to various ministries, and ensuring timely disbursement and oversee implementation. Further, there is no mention in the Congress manifesto on the long pending disability Bill, and access issues and other concerns of persons with disability.

Fighting corruption:

While Congress mentions about the need to enact pending legislations such as Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, Prevention of Bribery Bill, 2011, Prevention of Corruption Bill, 2012, Public Procurement Bill, 2012, and other parties focus on contentious issues related with Lokpal and Lokyukta, government-funded elections, deepening of decentralized governance through a strong panchayati raj, addressing corporate crime, and implementation of whistleblowers protection Act, the parties miss out on several scores. But they fail to point towards the need to have transparency in finances and operation of government programmes, or make information available to public about their implementation, or how to ensure proper functioning social justice committees.

Among chief organizers of the campaign, which made the people’s manifesto possible, were Alliance of Rights for Early Childhood Development, Campaign Against Declining Child Sex Ratio, Child Rights, Coalition, CASA, CRY, GCAP, Indian Social Institute, National Adivasi Solidarity Council, NCDHR, Nine is Mine, OXFAM India, Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS), Sanjha Manch, RTE Forum, Save the Children, Youth-unManifesto, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, and World Vision.

Click HERE to download a WNTA presentation on what political parties had to say, and people’s response to them, with special focus on missing links

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