(Pervez Bari): The obsession of the governments of the day with growth regime in the recent years has failed to focus on people’s development and check the ever deepening distress. This was the overarching view that emerged during the first day of the two-day National Convention on Union Budget 2013-14 being organised by the People’s Budget Initiative, (PBI), – a collective of more than 150 civil society organizations.
The National Convention is being held under the aegis of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, (CBGA), here at the India Islamic Cultural Centre. Around 150 participants from about 20 states in India gathered on a common platform to advocate for pro-people policies. Academicians, well known Civil Society organizations from across the country, UN organization representatives were also among the participants.
On the first day apart from the opening plenary session three technical sessions were held which were addressed by distinguished dignitaries who are experts in the respective fields of activities. They attempted to cover the concerns of the common man at large. It was strongly felt during the deliberations that funds are available, there is a need to monitor that these are utilized for the activities that they are allocated for.
The opening plenary session was moderated by Amitabh Behar (National Foundation for India) while the speakers in this session included A. V. Swamy (Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha); Harsh Mander (Centre for Equity Studies) and Nikhil Dey (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan).
A. V. Swamy, who is also a well-known Bhoodan leader from Orissa, endorsing the People’s Budget Initiative appreciated the civil society window created under it, which attempts to take People’s Charter of Demands to the policy makers. He offered to be the messenger of PBI and communicate their voices to the Parliament.
Swamy quoting an incident lamented that these days ministers not even read the memorandum submitted to them by people's representatives listing their demands, then how come there solution to their woes.
Speaking in the opening plenary session Nikhil Dey said that social auditing has democratised audit and this should be taken into account. As such there should be democratic budgeting with more and more people involved in deliberating and discussing the preparation of the Union Budget and state budgets. He called it anti-democratic the making of Budget at present by a handful of people.
Meanwhile, the first technical session was held under the title “Priorities for Critical Sectors in the Context of Union Budget 2013-14” which was moderated by Avinash Kumar (Oxfam India). The panellists in this session included: Praveen Jha (Jawaharlal Nehru University) who spoke on Education; Sakhtivel Selvaraj (Public Health Foundation of India) spoke on Health and Depinder Kapur (India WASH Forum) on Water & Sanitation.
Depinder Kapur speaking on Water & Sanitation in the first session said larger issues of Policy and Perspective that determine the investments and decisions in WASH, (water, sanitation and hygiene), are perhaps more important in such a national cross sector development forum. He urged for behavior change campaign and called to abandon “Build-Neglect-Rebuild” tradition prevalent these days.
Kapur said Plan allocations for rural water supply and sanitation are increasing. After Defence Budget, perhaps the WASH sector national budget is second only to the Rural Development Budget, perhaps more than the Irrigation Sector annual budget outlay. Although in GDP terms it remains roughly 0.42 percent of GDP (as in 2010-11 BE).
He said the promise of 24x7 supply and PPP as a way forward for reducing inefficiency, reducing NRW, improving water quality and grievance redressal needs to be re looked. Where will the additional water for 24x7 rural and urban water supply come from? Why a focus on heavy investments based rural water supply? Only some states in eastern India can claim to have enough water, not 2/3rd of the country, he pointed out.
The second session was on "Priorities for Critical Sectors and Disadvantaged Sections of Population" which was moderated by Nesar Ahmad (Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre). The panellists in this session were Joy Elamon (Inter-cooperation Social Development India) spoke on Rural Development and PRIs; P. S. Vijay Shankar (Samaj Pragati Sahayog) spoke on Agriculture and Food Security; Paul Divakar (National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights) made a Power Point presentation on Dalits while Mahender Jethmalani (Pathey Budget Centre) also made a Power Point presentation on Adivasis.
The third session was on "Priorities for Disadvantaged Sections of Population" moderated by Aleyamma Vijayan (Sakhi- Resource Centre for Women). The four panellists in this session were: Mridul Eapen (Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum) made a Power Point presentation on Women; Razia Ismail Abbasi (India Alliance for Child Rights) spoke on Children; M. Sajjad Hassan (Centre for Equity Studies) made a Power Point presentation on Religious Minorities and Javed Abidi (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People) spoke on Persons with Disabilities.
Sajjad Hassan while making a Power Point presentation said Muslims are very backward educationally and there is high dropout ratio among Muslim students. To stem this rot suitable incentive mechanisms must be devised in Union Budget 2013-14. A demand is to increase the unit costs of scholarship and other entitlements and aligning these with the norms in Kendriya Vidhyalayas/Navodaya Vidyalayas,he added.
At the outset Subrat Das, Executive Director of CBGA, welcomed the guests and delegates and threw light on the aims and objectives of the National Convention.(firstname.lastname@example.org)