People’s movements come together to hold public hearing to work out policy framework to expand social services for the poor

peoples movementSeveral people’s organizations — the Pension Parishad, the Right to Food Campaign, and the Rashtriya Mazdoor Adhikar Morcha, the Jal Swasthya Abhiyan and the National Alliance for People’s Movements — have come together to hold a public hearing on issues affecting the poor and the marginalized against the backdrop of their belief that neoliberal onslaught under the new government in Delhi has intensified, and there is a growing trend towards privatization and weakening of public services. The view has emerged among these organisations that intensive struggles and campaigns need to be launched to ensure public access to social services and entitlements. To be held on August 4-5, 2014 at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, the public hearing is likely to focus on the following main issues, worked out as a discussion draft:

  1. Ensure substantial increase in public spending on social services and social security:

Currently expenditure on the social sector as percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in Thailand is 13%, in South Africa it is 15% and in Venezuela it is 23%. In contrast, combined spending by central and state governments on the social sector as a proportion of GDP in India is just around 7%. This should be at least doubled as a proportion of GDP to around 15% in the medium-term.

While the government claims that raising such substantial additional public funding for social services and social security is financially unviable, it needs to be kept in mind that the state is reluctant to tax the corporate sector and the rich. Currently, taxation levels in developed countries are in the range of 25 to 50% of GDP, while in India this is only about 17% of GDP.

Further the state is heavily subsidising the corporate sector in various forms, and if such subsidies to the corporate sector are withdrawn, this would make available substantial additional funds for the social sector. For example in 2012 – 13, tax waivers of 1,13,000 crores have been given to the corporate sector and rich sections of the population. During 2013-14, the quantum of ‘taxes foregone’ amounted to a whopping Rs 5,73,000 crore, of which a significant proportion could have been claimed by the state and used to finance basic services and entitlements.

Natural resources are being handed over to private companies at extremely discounted rates, for example during approval of contracts for exploiting coal resources to large companies, due to massive under-pricing there has been an estimated loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the public exchequer which would amount to about 2% of the GDP!  Similarly today massively discounted sale of shares of public sector companies is being carried out by the government, leading to loss of public resources.

  1. All forms of targeting and constriction of entitlements to social services must be terminated, and all entitlements must be made universal:

Free health care, education, water for domestic use and highly subsidised food security must be made available to all without any official demands to fulfill certain preconditions or present various kinds of ‘cards’. No one should be excluded from access to social services and protection by social security. This would include universalisation of food security ,including public distribution system (PDS) without any form of targeting, universal free and quality education for all up to the age of 18 years, and provision of pension including all those working in the unorganised sector, in genuinely universal manner.

  1. Stop all forms of privatisation, contractualisation and weakening of the public systems which provide social services. These systems must be strengthened and substantially expanded to provide services for all:

This includes terminating various forms of semi-privatisation and countering current proposals that public services should be forced to function according to ‘market logic’. All contractual workers carrying out work of regular nature in the social sector must be employed on a regular basis. The working conditions of front-line staff must be improved, and all vacant posts must be filled promptly in a transparent manner. Public systems providing social services must be internally democratised, with involvement of social sector employees in the decision making process linked with their capacity building.

Handing over large scale public funds to private providers in the name of so-called public private partnership (PPP) should be stopped. Where absolutely necessary, with application of public norms and public logic, based on the criterion that the public system should not be replaced or weakened, rather its capacity should be strengthened, there may be insourcing of specific services through transparent processes and with effective mechanisms for direct accountability to the people availing of the services.

Unregulated proliferation of the private sector in social services has a distorting influence even on public systems. Therefore all private and ‘charitable’ providers (such as in education and health care) must be effectively socially regulated, based on adopting an overall direction of progressive socialization of these providers.

Working conditions and emoluments of frontline service providers in the social sector must be improved, contractual employment should be converted into more secure forms of employment, rights of such providers must be protected, and they should be actively involved in democratic processes for accountability and participatory planning of services.

  1. Generalise community based monitoring, social audit and similar processes at all levels of the system, to ensure that all social services are made effectively accountable to people. This should be integrated with participatory planning mechanisms:

The principle that ordinary people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of various social services, must be actively involved in monitoring the services, and these services must be made effectively accountable to people, should be widely accepted. Community based monitoring of health services in Maharashtra and social audit of NGREA in Andhra Pradesh are experiences which have yielded promising results, which could be further built upon. Such participatory monitoring should be universalized for various social services, and mechanisms to ensure people-centred accountability of even higher levels of decision making in public systems, including state and national level departments and ministries, must be adopted as a policy.

This should be combined with systems for participatory planning of social services like health care, education, PDS as well as implementation of NREGA and other schemes. Mass organisations, community based organisations, civil society groups and local elected representatives must be actively involved in the designing and operationalizing of such systems for community monitoring and social audit of all social services and entitlements.

  1. Various policy measures must be adopted to ensure improved and expanded content of services, improved implementation of programmes:

Provision of good quality public services is a highly effective means of reducing social inequities. However today often public social services are not of adequate quality and may not be addressing the full range of people’s needs. To transform this situation, it is necessary to ensure that these services are significantly expanded and upgraded in terms of content, and are delivered in a responsive manner. For example the PDS system should make available not only adequate amounts of foodgrains, but also pulses, local cereals including millets, domestic fuel and various essential items of consumption.

Provision of good quality education to all is a powerful means of reducing social inequities. Hence quality of education needs to be upgraded in all public schools, so that it is child-centred and enjoyable, not unnecessarily burdensome, and is facilitated by well-equipped schools and libraries with playgrounds and other facilities. The system of education must promote values of equity, the curriculum and teaching methods need to be improved, and quality education should lead to quality outcomes in terms of development of each child’s capacities and values. Implementation of NREGA works must be made relevant and specific to the agricultural and social requirements of each area and must promote local agrarian development, rather than being limited to traditional activities like road building.

Review of key policies in each sector must be carried out through broad based social consultative processes; these could bring in modified people-oriented policies and responsive frameworks necessary to ensure adequate quality and appropriate content of services (e.g. effective medicine procurement policy, expanding range and quantity of items to be provided through PDS with local procurements, curriculum reform and teacher reorientation in education sector, modified policy for child nutrition moving away from packaged take-home rations etc.).

  1. As part of universal provisioning, it needs to be specifically ensured that various oppressed and marginalised social groups such as women, dalits, adivasis and minority communities can definitely access quality social services. For this, special provisions, monitoring and appropriate norms will need to be ensured:

It is various oppressed social sections who have been historically deprived, who have the greatest need for social services and security, however they are often excluded or their needs are not effectively addressed. Hence as part of the universal policy framework, it must be ensured that various social services would definitely be made accessible for these social groups, hence keeping this focus in mind appropriate norms and criteria would be developed to review the delivery of services, and their organisations and communities would be actively involved in monitoring and planning of services and entitlements.

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