Asian People’s Summit Against Poverty

Geetha N Bhardwaj

Over 12,000 people from different parts of the India, along with representatives from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines and Malaysia, assembled at the People's Summit Against Poverty (PSAP) in Delhi, to express solidarity and to hold the governments accountable for promises made to the people in various national and international conventions.

The summit was intended as a prelude to the upcoming UN World Summit, New York on September 14-16, 2005, where the heads of 189 governments who committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) five years ago will meet to review progress on them.

Hundreds of community-based organizations, civil society organizations and activists from the region came together under the banner of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), a global campaign to demand that governments take immediate action to eliminate poverty. The GCAP will focus on the upcoming UN Summit at New York in September, and the WTO at Hong Kong in December, to press its legitimate demand for international cooperation and commitment for equitable and sustainable development.

Expressing solidarity with the People’s summit, former Indian Prime Minister V P Singh stated that the politics of caste and religion must give way to the politics of poverty and hunger. ‘The question of development cannot be addressed without confronting the impoverishment of millions in the region,’ he said.

A.B.Bardhan, Member of the Indian Parliament and a Communist Party leader, observed that the stupendous show of people’s unity, and the congregation of diverse movements at the summit were heartening. ‘People’s unity is a great force that will work to make governments accountable for their promises,’ he said. He also stressed on women’s equal participation in decision-making processes.

Several grassroots women spoke on the occasion. Tulsi Munda, recipient of the PadmaShri (one of the civilian honors conferred by the Indian Government) and grassroots activist from Orissa, said that the continuous co-option of land, livelihoods and in fact the lives of tribal communities in the name of development cannot be tolerated anymore.

Yamini Choudhary of Maharashtra said ‘Unless the basic right of political participation is accessible to women, who constitute 50% of the population, the MDGs cannot be achieved.’ However, results on the ground are contra indicatory.

The Planning Commission of India has evolved the National Development Goals (NDG) as part of its Tenth Five Year Plan targets. The development commitments highlighted in the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government are also concurrent with the NDG and the MDG. In the context of this professed commitment, the Indian government and its various institutions have periodically come up with claims with regard to the achievement of the MDG targets.

Recent actions by the government, such as the clearing of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, the Sarvashiksha Abhiyan for the universalisation of elementary education, the National Rural Health Mission, and other bills relating to the rights of women, dalits and minorities, have indicated an intention for meeting the MDGs.

The National Social Watch Coalition and Action Aid India collaborated with several community based organizations and civil society organizations to bring out an alternative report ‘Securing Rights: Citizen’s report on MDGs’. The report is based on a detailed examination of the government’s policy formulation and achievement in the MDG-related areas juxtaposed against the people’s perspective. It is a reality check at the grassroots expressing the thoughts of 25,000 people from 1,541 villages spread across 13 states and highlights the gap between the claims of the government and the lives of people.

For example, the report says that only 40% of the primary and secondary schools have toilets for girls, and only 21% villages are served by primary health care (PHC) centers, 74% villages did not have medicines available at the PHC and in 82% of the villages covered, women reported not getting equal wages in comparison to men. 80 different forms of untouchability practices were reported, against Dalits, in the public and private spheres.

The report heightened the delegates’ resolve to demand accountability from the respective governments for unmet needs and unfulfilled promises. The people’s alliance committed itself to consistent action over the next three years in order to pressurize governments and ensure peoples’ basic human rights as well as right to livelihood, land, education, food, water and health.

Organizations involved in the event include – ActionAid, SAMARTHAN, NACDOR (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), NAFRE (National Alliance for Right to Education), NCAS (National Centre for Advocacy Studies), CYSD (Center for Youth & Social Development) and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA).