National Advisory Council (NAC) member and MKSS leader Aruna Roy shot off a scathing letter to the finance ministry objecting to "talk" of subsidy cuts for the poor while funding programmes like Aadhar that have no legislative support.
She demanded that pre-budget consultations with social sector representatives and business should be held jointly.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Senior Economic Adviser( Additional Secretary)
Ministry of Finance
Government of India
Thank you for your invitation to the Consultation on Social Sector issues with reference to the Budget -2013 I tried to call the Additional Secretary\\\’s office yesterday to let you know, that despite my best efforts, I will not be able to attend the meeting you have scheduled for 11 am today .I will be sending a note separately covering important concerns, which I
hope you will consider seriously.
The issues that need financial allocations as top priority, concern the extremely vulnerable unorganised sector whose contribution to the country is not recognised and who continue to be citizens only in name. The bulk of the working population is bereft of security of food, health, education and pension in old age. Even the MGNREGA, that has been such a lifeline for the rural poor is being deliberately undermined through poor implementation by a class that wants to live off the benefits of inhuman exploitation. The current "magic" of aadhar based cash payments as a substitute for resources
and misgovernance, might seem attractive to some people for whom it is an academic exercise. It will not fool those who are beginning to face the vagaries of this technocratic dictatorship.
I come from a sector that is shocked and baffled that you talk about the need to cut subsidies for the poor, but have no hesitation in funding a programme like Aadhaar that functions in a legislative vacuum; where the parliamentary standing committee has raised a series of fundamental objections. We also do not accept your contention that there isn\\\’t enough
money to look after the basic needs of people. In a country that has fuelled its economic growth through exploitation of common property resources and the labour of the poor, to not have a tax to GDP ratio that is substantially higher only makes it clear that for India\\\’s unorganised sector the candle is burning on both ends. Enough has already been said about the undiminished tax subsidies to the corporate sector, which will I am sure be meeting you with increased demands.
My first suggestion to you is that these consultations be organised where these so called sectors hear each other, rather than be pigeon holed into unequal consultations. We would like to understand and listen to the demands of the corporate sector, and we would like them to hear our demands. Open consultations are surely the minimum democratic standard for
I enclose a petition from the Pension Parishad on Universalisation of old age pensions. We feel that the elderly having to lead a life of destitution without even a bare minimum income, is a crime against humanity. They are a segment who have no alternative and are suffering and dying. Universalising old age pensions (with a rational exclusion criteria for those who have adequate income) is not a matter that can wait, and must be provided for in the budget for 2013-14. Petitions related to Universal Pensions for the elderly in the informal sector – and pensions for widows, single women, the disabled etc,have already been handed over in detail to your Ministry.
The former MOF Shri Pranab Mukherjea had this examined by a joint team of representatives of the MoRD, Ministry of Law, Social Welfare and Finance, in his room in May 2012. Some assurances were also made by a spate of Ministries that BPL targeting would not be part of the criteria. The Minister for Rural Development sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the
time of an agitation of the Pension Parishad that is attached.
We are also extremely distressed that the food security bill has been pushed into cold storage and the contrary path of cash transfers is being relentlessly pursued. Your assurances that the so called DBT is only being implemented in cash transfer schemes "for now" only makes us more apprehensive of what will follow.
The Government is making a huge mistake in pushing Aadhaar and making it mandatory, without ensuring its viability. Glaring mismatches have already begun at the grass root level and the system being imposed is undemocratic and injudicious. Any further investment without proper and complete examination will undoubtedly lead to confirmed disaster.
We are also in complete disagreement with the understanding that technology can be a substitute for failures in Governance. We strongly feel that you should hold an open consultation on the aadhar based cash transfer campaign of the government not just to discuss its potential applicability in social sector programmes, but also as a mechanism of governance reform. Yours was a government that empowered people to monitor government through the right to information act. Instead of showing the political will to act on demands for accountability, this government is proceeding on the assumption that technology will be the "game changer." It is not that we oppose technology or even blindly oppose the use of technology for monitoring of welfare programmes.Many of us feel that it it not been adequately discussed, or rationally evaluated; instead all opposition and even questions are being steam rolled.
There is no substitute for political will, and we want to register our fundamental objection to this commercial and centralised mode of governance. As grassroot activists, we also want to register the fact that our voices based on the experience so far are being pushed aside and ignored. Instead of pursuing people based monitoring like social audits,
controls are being taken away from the people through technological "fixes"
In so far as the MGNREGA is concerned, the sorry implementation of the programme through a reluctant bureaucracy, cannot be used as an excuse to reduce the effectiveness of the programme. We think that there can be no reduction in budgetary provisions for this programme. Despite it having shown it is a lifeline for the poor in areas where it is properly
implemented, basic entitlements are still to be effectively put into place in many parts of the country. The government has taken an untenable stand on issues like payment of minimum wages, where even the Supreme Court has expressed surprise that people have to come to court against government on an issue that violates both law and constitution.We hope you will sort this matter out in compliance with the minimum wages act before the next budget.
I would like to re-emphasise the need for a series of joint and open consultations organised in a fashion where we understand what the government is doing to implement or reject suggestions made from every "sector". We hope you will accept this demand for minimum democratic standards in pre- budget consultations and democratic decision making.