The Commission Planning Against Poor ?
The Planning Commission of Government of India commissioning the World Bank to review key anti-poverty schemes of the government such as Public Distribution System (PDS), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Rashtriya Suraksha Bima Yojana (RSBY), Indira Awaas Yojana among others is most shocking and unacceptable. We oppose and reject it in strongest possible terms. It is shocking to see how the UPA II government is undermining India’s sovereignty. In 2004, the UPA government had tried to induct the World Bank into the decision making of the Planning Commission directly, and had to back track following the strong public outcry against the move.
The World Bank report, ‘Social protection for a changing India,’ in two volumes, was released in May 2011.
Having abundant wealth of competent economists and economic institutions in the country, who could do a better job, we are unable to understand the why the Planning Commission has appointed the Bank for this purpose.
The World Bank is an undemocratic institution which has pushed many developing countries into debt trap, influenced policies of countries to the extent that democratically elected governments have been weakened, paved way for the unbridled reign of private corporations; claiming to work for a world free of poverty, but pushing the poor to further destitution; and despite proven negative impacts, it continues to push ahead the neo-liberal model of growth.
This is also reflected in the findings of the report. The report strongly argues against Public Distribution System (PDS), the only support of the poor and vulnerable; recommends a cash transfer mechanism instead of PDS; finds problems with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREG) and recommends Public Private Partnership (PPP) as a model for social protection.
While there are problems with PDS and MGNREG, and there are many people’s organizations engaged in making it more transparent and plugging its shortcomings, the Bank, or the Commission fail to understand that any meddling with those would drive the poor to abject poverty and cause irreversible damage to them.
Implementation of cash transfer mechanism will push the agrarian communities into great difficulties as government will stop purchasing grains from them and it that could cause a rise in the farmer suicides.
We found it ridiculous for the Planning Commission to take an opinion poll through its website asking “Should the Public Distribution System be Universalized again?” The poor who benefit the most from the PDS is not the one who access internet, read English and savvy enough to undertake opinion polls.
However limited the scope of opinion poll is, the result so far of that poll is quite revealing. A few days back the percentage of even the ones privileged to have access to computer and internet voting FOR universalisation was surprisingly high at about 70%!
Similarly, on the 12 challenges posed by the Planning Commission and subsequently opened up to selective discussion by “civil society organisations”, despite a skewed and limited public debate within a selected constituency, most of the challenges offered by the Commission were themselves challenged, particularly the ones referring to GDP growth, privatisation in the form of PPPs, and promoting market inclusion.
Why is then the Planning Commission listening to the World Bank (after all, it is a “bank”) and not to the voices of the people, even through the limited windows it offers? Instead of the Commission seeking guidance from institutions like the World Bank, it should follow the Constitutionally mandated process of planning, through 73rd and 74th amendments.
The objective of this opinion poll, as well engaging the World Bank to review the pro-poor programs indicate that the 12th Five Year Plan is going to be heavily loaded against the poor; that, whatever left of the welfare state is going to vanish and the people would be left at the mercy of private corporations and market forces.
This is more evident in the recommendations of the report strongly resonate in the issues to the approach to 12th Five Year Plan. The one most significant common aspect is a clear bend towards the public private partnership (PPP) in social sectors like health, education etc. In the presentation of issues for the approach for 12th Plan it is clearly mention that the role of PPP in secondary and tertiary healthcare must be expanded.
The study recommends an intermediate reform option, which would retain a food-based entitlement program but introduce private sector participation in grain procurement and delivery and a more fundamental overhaul of the PDS administration through use of smart cards. The issues to the approach to the 12th Plan clearly spell out reforms in the Modification of Essential commodities Act and APMC Act, which would impact the procurement system and PDS significantly.
From the similarities between the issues to approach the 12th Plan and the World Bank conducted study and with likely the approach paper to be out anytime soon, it seems much of the social protection would be defined by the recommendations of the Bank study.
We express our deep contempt and strong opposition to this. We demand that the Report by the Bank be rejected outright and the issues to the 12th Plan be redrafted, keeping all pro-poor programs intact, and with measure to strengthen them and not making any turns which will weaken it. Schemes like MGNREG are the result of years’ long struggles and people of the country are committed to go to any extent to protect it. The objective of the 12th Plan should be democratising the governance through mechanisms to achieve greater transparency, participation and accountability. Commissioning institutes like the World Bank is effectively going in the opposite direction.
Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People’s Movements – Narmada Bachao Andolan
Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan
Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan
Nikhil Dey, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan
Gabriele Dietrich, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Tamilnadu
Shaktiman Ghosh, National Hawkers Federation, Kolkata
Dunu Roy, Hazards Center, New Delhi
Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, New Delhi
Shripad Dharmadhikari, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Madhya Pradesh
Somaya Dutta, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha, Delhi