vol-LXXXVII : August 3, 2011

Dear Colleagues

Another round of reflections for your perusal:

1. The biggest news lately has been the public outcry and concerted political action against the ‘malpractices’ of Murdoch’s NewsCorp operations in UK. Not only a parliamentary committee began hearings within a week of the scandal, but also did so in full public scrutiny. The media is having, and using, its enormous influence in shaping public policies and state actions around the world. But, its public accountability is rarely questioned or ensured. The leakage of Radia tapes in India last year hinted at the clout of most ‘popular’ mediapersons involved in ‘backroom’ negotiations in the formation of national cabinet. What further scrutiny followed? Why civil society is not so keen to demand such public accountability of the media?

2. As the transition of military presence begins to happen in Afghanistan, and local security agencies take over the policing responsibilities, questions are being asked about the transition from the developmental activities as well. Afghan’s local civil society comprises of both historically embedded community associations (like ‘shuras’) as well as modern NGOs. However, as typically happens in most post-conflict situations, there is a huge ‘army’ of international NGOs in Afghanistan. Time is ripe for discussions about the transition in Afghan civil society too. The indigenous civil society—both traditional and modern—need to forge new alliances in the changing socio-political web of local relationships, in order to remain relevant and effective.

3. The system of commercial tendering of ‘software’ (capacity development, research, advocacy, etc) aspects of development projects has been in operation in developing countries like India for nearly a decade now. Therefore, many of us have interacted with global management accountancy firms (like PriceWaterhouseCooper, KPMG, etc) during our ‘desperate’ attempts to mobilise resources. It seems that this trend is now global, including the north. In partnership with ODI, PriceWaterhouseCooper is now ‘managing’ a global climate and development knowledge network! Imagine the potential synergies, or conflicts of interests, when one arm of PWC supports new knowledge synthesis on relationships between climate change and development, and its another wing provides consultancy advice to energy corporations around the world!

4. The tribals in southern Orissa continue to live in such poor conditions that the absence of rebellion by them begs an exploration? Even when Forest Rights Act (FRA) has been passed by the parliament, actual distribution of ownership rights average less than an acre (though the law provides for 4 times that). If some of the local civil society actors had not been intervening, even this would not have been possible. Why? It is the same malaise everywhere—the officials of the Forest Department are supposed to implement FRA, the same officials and department which for three centuries has been punishing tribals from accessing forests and its produce. Without substantial transformation of the institutional design and culture, and human/ attitudinal reorientation, the implementation of such progressive legislations is doomed to fail even before it begins.

5. The political leadership of Indian government is under enormous scrutiny for innumerable cases of corruption and sheer violation of various legal provisions. Hardly a day passes when some Court doesn’t pass strictures against some minister or ministry of the government. Take the recent case of violation of provisions of Land Acquisition Act made by the British in 1894. It contains certain provisions which the government can invoke to acquire land in the name of ‘urgent public purpose’, without consultation with the landowners or local Gram Sabha. The British used it for building railways a century ago. Now, governments of the day use such provisions to acquire land from their owners to then give them to builders and private companies for private business. When a Court strikes down such acquisition of land as illegal, what penalties accrue to the officers and ministers concerned? Shouldn’t they be punished severely for such willful illegality?

All the very best
Sincerely
Rajesh Tandon