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Urgent need for political party reforms

By Nripendra Misra and Tannu Singh

An RTI application unearthed the fact that only 8% of 1,196 registered political parties have submitted annual reports regarding contributions above Rs 20,000 to the Election Commission. And only 15% have submitted their audited financial statements!

Non-compliance by political parties

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Six steps to a more effective parliament

Arvind Kejriwal’s outburst on parliamentarians is only the latest display of the disdain we have for our MPs. Nripendra Misra & Tannu Singh suggest ways to remedy the governance and financial setbacks caused by disruptions, logjams and standoffs in parliament, and bring in parliamentary reform

parliamentary reforms

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MGNREGA in UP Bundelkhand: Regular irregularities

By Ashok Gopal

The modalities of fraud detected in one village, Kolawal Raipur, in Banda district of UP Bundelkhand, reveal how the national rural employment guarantee scheme is systematically subverted for private gain

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Batulan Khatoon's farming advisors wear khaki

By Alka Pande

In poor and underdeveloped Sonebhadra district of UP, plagued by extremism and crime, the men in khaki are giving the concept of community policing a new meaning. They are taking on everything from water management to livelihood-generation and healthcare

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The cost of India's MPs

India’s MPs have given themselves a threefold hike in salary, now earning 68 times the country’s average salary. But no conditions of service have changed. In the USA, for example, members of Congress cannot earn more than 15% from outside of their Congressional salary. In India, the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300%!

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The case of the disappearing ponds

By Pradeep Baisakh

An RTI inquiry in Kusmal village in Orissa’s Nuapada district revealed that though in official records seven farm ponds have been built under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, not a single pond exists in reality. Across this district, which has high levels of migration, Rs 77 lakh has been misappropriated under the job guarantee scheme by unscrupulous administration officials at all levels

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Who gains from the Games?

Viewers of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa see only the multimillion-dollar stadiums constructed, not the poor who were displaced by them in Cape Town. Similarly, the Rs 20,000-crore Commonwealth Games jamboree will benefit only the posh heart of New Delhi, not its poorest citizens who are being evicted, says a new report from the Housing and Land Rights Network

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The dry well of UPA promises

By Anosh Malekar

The Wada Na Todo people’s movement for governance accountability assessed the UPA government’s achievements on livelihood, education, health and social exclusion one year into its second term and concluded that the government was focused more on image-building than people’s welfare

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Why does India condone corruption?

China recently executed two people involved in the melamine-adulterated milk powder scam. In India, thousands of lives are endangered by spurious drugs and adulterated food, and yet no action seems to be taken. Why, asks Suman Sahai

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The adivasi voice

By KS Subramanian

In the frequent debates on government and civil society response to Maoist violence in central India where Operation Green Hunt has been launched, the views of the adivasi communities themselves are missing. A recent people’s hearing in New Delhi on the impact of land acquisition and resource grab on adivasis allowed their voices to be heard

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Do pro-people legislations actually work for the poor?

By Pradeep Baisakh

After three years of fighting for his right to unemployment allowance under NREGA, and to find out under the RTIA why the allowance has been withheld and the erring authorities not been penalised, Kailash Nayak has got nothing. And to top it all, he has gone missing and the police claim they cannot trace him

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People's movement against corruption

By Renu Ramanath

From Plachimada to Kasargod and Guruvayur, a wide range of people’s movements have joined hands in Kerala to battle corruption. Their definition of corruption includes the looting of natural resources, anti-people and anti-nature development policies, and the exploitation of adivasis and dalits

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A tool of empowerment only enables more exploitation

By Kathyayini Chamaraj

Rigorous and frequent social audits are the only way to make the NREGA effective, as these audits in two gram panchayats in Karnataka showed. The audits revealed that elected officials fool or bully beneficiaries into signing away their rights and monies, refuse them work they are entitled to, and threaten NGOs who are seen to be on the ‘side’ of the villagers

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Where is NREGS heading?

By Pradeep Baisakh

The biggest danger the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme faces is that the people it is meant to benefit will lose faith in it. In far too many instances guilty officials are not punished, social audits are not followed up, payment of wages is delayed and violence against those seeking to make the scheme work goes unchecked

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My name is not Khan

Nevertheless, Mukul Sharma finds himself questioned and detained by immigration authorities all over the world. Why is it that governments claim the right to exercise authority over their borders, but more often than not forget their obligation to respect the rights of people?

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The activistocracy

Another world is certainly possible, but is another World Social Forum, wonders Achal Prabhala, recalling the crucial debates at the plenaries between crypto-autonomists and anarcho-syndicalists or whatever, while the masses slept in the back rows and indigenous people sang and shouted “Down Down World Bank!” every time a camera crew passed by

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Three sarpanches, no justice

By Aparna Pallavi

Gajjudeori panchayat in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandla district has three sarpanches, backed by three different panchayat secretaries. All three sarpanches claim to be the ‘real’ one, and all of them possess and use the official seals! Despite repeated appeals to the authorities, no one wants to get involved in local politics to resolve this strange situation

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A scarred nation celebrates

Not everything will change with the election of Obama, says Gautam Bhan who watched America celebrate the election of Barack Obama, but change it will. Race will not disappear, but it will never be the same again. Structural inclusion and inequality might not vanish tomorrow, but its pipes and planks will be made visible

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A circle of good people

By Nicholas Paul Gill

The Ennangalin Sangamam (Confluence of Thought) is an annual event in Tamil Nadu that brings together neighbourhood volunteers. This year, around 500 volunteers shared their stories - of enabling eye donations, helping the disabled find employment or educating prisoners in Madurai

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Social entrepreneurs make it their business to change India

By Frederick Noronha

A social entrepreneur recognises a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organise, create, and manage a venture to forge social change. The first international conference on social entrepreneurship was held at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences recently

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Engaging citizens: Lessons from Brazil's experiences with participatory governance

By Andrea Cornwall

Brazil's Citizens' Constitution of 1988 created the legal basis for the development of some of the world's most progressive democratic institutions

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New Age crusaders stand up only for their own

By Freny Manecksha

The class with its cell phones and laptops has assumed the garb of the New Age crusader. The media is celebrating this middle class activism. But there are major exclusions based on class and caste in this court of public opinion

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'Fixing' the Vidarbha BPL list

By Aparna Pallavi

Around 250,000 families have protested against the rigging of the below poverty line (BPL) lists in Maharashtra's Vidarbha districts, which are in the grip of a severe agricultural crisis, and where inclusion in the list is essential for the poor to access their entitlements

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Sweden's green agenda

By Darryl D'Monte

Ninety-five per cent of all Swedes believe it is important to do something about climate change; two out of every three think it is very important. Sixty Stockholm families have embarked on a novel experiment related to 'smart consumption'

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NREGA: Challenges in implementation

By Tanushree Sood

Seven months into India's ambitious National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, guaranteeing 100 days of employment a year to every rural household in 200 districts, several problems of implementation are being reported from the field

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Using their arrows for sport, not war

By Rupa Chinai

From sports clubs that build team spirit to special schools for dropouts, it's ordinary people who are working to strengthen and develop Bodoland

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'Only those who can pay bribes survive'

By Rupa Chinai

Northeastern India is apparently on the move: everywhere there is hurtling traffic, gaudy and unplanned construction, new roads. But where exactly is Bodoland, which won a long battle for quasi-autonomous status recently, headed? Infant and maternal mortality rates for the Bodos are amongst the highest in the country, poverty and indebtedness dog the majority of the people, and there is a crisis of governance. This is the first in a special series on Bodoland

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The big hope: Transparency marks the NREGA in Dungarpur

By Anosh Malekar

A social audit across 800 villages in drought-prone Dungarpur district in Rajasthan is a shining example of how public vigilance and a proactive administration can combine to see that the rural employment guarantee Act is successfully implemented

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Where has the money gone?

By Anosh Malekar

A social audit exposes the corruption in Rajasthan's employment guarantee works. This should not discredit the hard-won 100 days work guarantee for India's millions, but make citizens and civil society more vigilant to corrupt practices

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Mineral rush

By Rahul Goswami

Kalinganagar in Orissa is only the latest in a series of bloody confrontations between the state and the people over India's minerals industry. What are the imperatives of the international iron and steelmaking industry, and the attendant mineral extraction, that engender such a ruthless response by the state, and its complicity in ensuring that the interests of industry remain paramount? A special report

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Consent cannot be manufactured by guns

By Vidhya Das

Protestors have gathered on the road to the Kalinganagar industrial area in Orissa. The bodies of four of those killed in police firing on January 2, are laid out here. This on-the-spot report records the seething anger against the industries that are usurping the lands, livelihoods and basic rights of adivasi farmers

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Traditional grassroots democracy: Kerala's sea courts

By N P Chekkutty

Kerala's traditional sea courts, or katal kotathi, were the most effective form of grassroots democracy in the region for centuries. Now, thanks to government apathy, administrative lapses, modern technology and capital-intensive practices, they have become defunct, polarising fishing communities in the state and prompting violent, often communal, clashes over disputes

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CSOs make a difference in UP panchayat elections

By Ashok Gopal

A large Pre-Election Voter Awareness Campaign (PEVAC) has had a positive impact on the recent UP panchayat elections. Hundreds of candidates selected by community organisations got the people's mandate; several women and dalits got elected from unreserved seats

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'If the politicians are corrupt, so too will be the people'

By Rashme Sehgal

An interview with Admiral R H Tahiliani (Retd), chairperson of Transparency International India and architect of India's largest ever corruption survey

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Land reform: The Forest Conservation Act is in the way

By Richard Mahapatra

Is the rigid Forest Conservation Act, 1980, derailing ongoing peace talks with the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh and other states with its stringent provisions disallowing settlement rights on forestland?

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Women panchayat members: Catapulted into the public domain

By Rashme Sehgal

More than a decade after the 73rd constitutional amendment made it mandatory for 33% of all panchayat seats to be reserved for women, have women begun to play a significant role in local self-governance?

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Gandhi's ideals live on in Gandhigram

By Lalitha Sridhar

Starting out as one woman's dream, Gandhigram has grown into one of the largest umbrella institutions of its kind in India. The reason for its success is that instead of offering a readymade agenda for development it has responded to the needs of the community

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'No government wants to deal with a whistleblower'

By Rashme Sehgal

Pramod Kumar, Joint Secretary of the Haryana cadre, has alleged corruption at several levels in the state's education department, including the technical education programme and the district primary education programme. An interview with the whistleblower

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A movement, not a newspaper

By Shabnam Dhar

Prabhat Khabar is a newspaper that bucks the trend, puts people's concerns before entertainment, glamour and profitability, and still manages a circulation of over 2,50,000 copies

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Towards an alternative politics: People's movements join the electoral process

By Girija Godbole and Bhaskar Vira

Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy aren't the only activists who have made the difficult decision to step into the political arena. Last year in Madhya Pradesh, mass-based tribal organisations or sangathans decided to contest the assembly elections. Now the Samajwadi Jan Parishad is getting ready to field some candidates for the Lok Sabha election in MP, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra

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Gyani Baba says...

By Sandip Das

Folk art has been stimulating social change in rural India for decades. At a recent convention, folk artists from 12 Indian states discussed their role in changing mindsets and ensuring greater participation in governance

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Emergency without an Emergency? The two-child norm for panchayat members

By Mohan Rao

Laws to empower dalits, adivasis, OBCs and other sections of the poor through local self-government institutions are being circumvented by anti-democratic population policies. Indeed, if today fertility is to be a marker for citizenship, can the day be far behind when religion is?

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No kidding: Apex court enforces two-child norm

By Laxmi Murthy

Since the mid-' 90s, the Indian government has attempted to make a shift from the target-oriented approach to family planning to one of advocacy, quality of care and individual choice. Now, with the Supreme Court upholding the two-child norm for contesting panchayat elections and with some states formulating anti-people population policies, there seems to be a return to coercive methods

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No more discussion on the Women's Reservation Bill, say activists

By Rashme Arora

Women's activists are aghast at the suggestion that the women's reservation bill can only be passed if double-member constituencies are introduced in a third of all parliamentary seats. This will only send out the message that women MPs are incompetent, they claim

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Flaws in Bhoomi, India's model e-governance project

By Keya Acharya

Karnataka's Bhoomi project, which computerised 20 million rural land records, was designed as an instrument of equity. But is IT also reinforcing inequality, with men benefiting more than women and the rich benefiting more than the poor?

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How to evaluate rural development schemes

By Arpita V Bedekar

In 2000-01, almost Rs 10,000 crore was spent on rural development schemes. The central government has almost a dozen major schemes in operation. But how is the success or failure of these schemes to be evaluated? By the quantum of funds allocated? By the fulfilment of targets?Or do we need a social cost-benefit analysis for each scheme?

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'What's a woman supposed to do in a gram sabha?'

By Arpita V Bedekar

Ten years after the enactment of the 73rd amendment, how well is panchayati raj working in India? An in-depth study of the local self-government system in one district of Maharashtra reveals that there is little awareness of the importance of the gram sabhas, and in many villages the sabha is non-functional

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Courts, contempt, and a climate that demands accountability

By Prashant Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for Arundhati Roy in the contempt of court case in which she was convicted and fined, points out why it is vital to have free discussion and criticism of the role being played by the courts in India

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Structural adjustment takes its toll in Pakistan

By Sandhya Srinivasan

The process of structural adjustment began in Pakistan in 1988. Privatisation and cuts in public sector spending caused a sharp drop in economic growth, an increase in poverty from 17 to 35 per cent and a worsening of people's health. The tragedy is, scarcely anyone in Pakistan is protesting these damaging policies

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The barefoot revolution

By Meena Menon

'Illiterate' traditional builders constructing spanking new campuses; semi-literate rural women handling computers, repairing handpumps and solar lighting; miners doubling as health workers; village women working as trained reproductive healthcare workers; barefoot educators with no formal degrees spreading literacy all over the country…..There's a Barefoot Revolution sweeping India, with ordinary, semi-literate people trained in different fields by development organisations leaving their footprints in the remotest parts of the country

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