Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Euthanasia and the society

Euthanasia is mainly associated with people with terminal illness or who have become incapacitated and dont want to go through the rest of their life suffering. A severely handicapped or terminally ill person should have the right to choose to live or die. The right to choose to live or die should not be a right allocated for bodied individuals of sound mind but to all human beings. Euthanasia is a controversial issue which encompasses the morals, values and beliefs of our society.

The main argument comes down to whether or not someone should have to prolong their life even though their death may be near and have to suffer through that time period. The people that go against euthanasia feel that if this is legalized and not looked upon as murder it will lead to people in hospitals and nursing homes not receiving the treatment that may be necessary for them to sustain life. While people on the other side of the argument feel that people that cannot carry on a productive lifestyle under which they are under high amounts of suffering and are lying around waiting for their day of death to come should not have to be put through this torture.

Life is taken for granted all too often; people always look for the shortcuts, the easy way out. Death should never be a persons last resort; there will always be an alternative. Humans cannot be compared to animals either. We cant be taken to a veterinarian to be put to sleep.

It is immoral and dehumanizing. One of the greatest minds in history that:
Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself.

People rarely take into consideration how precious life is. Feelings of depression and guilt often overwhelm the sick. They only think of one way out. If euthanasia were to be legalized, the already declining morals and ethics of this country would be further compromised. Making it legal to kill is immoral, and goes against our duties in society.

Types of Euthanasia

There are two types of euthanasia, active and passive. Active euthanasia is the intentional killing of a person by medical personnel either by a lethal injection or by denying ordinary means of survival. The act of euthanasia called passive euthanasia is committed by denying or withholding ordinary medical care to a patient.

The act of mercy killing can be compared to that of active euthanasia.
An example of mercy killing takes place every day without much thought if it is right or wrong. Family pets such as dogs and cats are, put down, when the owner sees that the animal is in constant pain due to illness, most people feel that it is the humane thing to do. This type of humane treatment for animals has been taking place for years. It can not be understood that society would let a human life suffer for years. Forcing someone who no longer wants to live, to live a life full of pain and misery. The humane response to this would be choosing euthanasia, giving freedom to the individual from their pain and unhappiness.

Euthanasia in India

India is a country highly influenced by religion and orthodox beliefs. It is a cosmopolitan country with an amalgamation of many cultures, traditions and religions.

The religions which come close to the acceptance of euthanasia and are prevalent highly in the Indian society. The first is Hinduism, which concentrates on the consequences of actions. Their doctrines outline that euthanasia cannot be allowed, as it breaches the teaching of ahimsa (doing harm). However, in contrast to this, doing a good deed would be fulfilling a moral obligation. The second is Buddhism. Buddhists believe the way a life ends, will influence greatly the way the next life begins. The transition between an existing life and the next depends on an individuals Karma at the point of death; however, there is no telling if the next life will be an improvement from the last. When a Buddhist dies their state of mind should be selfless, enlightened, free of anger, hate or fear.

The current legal position on euthanasia and assisted suicide in India

In India, euthanasia is undoubtedly illegal. Since in cases of euthanasia or mercy killing there is an intention on the part of the doctor to kill the patient, such cases would clearly fall under clause first of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, as in such cases there is the valid consent of the deceased Exception 5 to the said Section would be attracted and the doctor or mercy killer would be punishable under Section 304 for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. But it is only cases of voluntary euthanasia (where the patient consents to death) that would attract Exception 5 to Section 300. Cases of non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia would be struck by proviso one to Section 92 of the IPC and thus be rendered illegal. Euthanasia and suicide are different, distinguishing euthanasia from suicide, Lodha J. in Naresh Marotrao Sakhre vs Union of India observed:

Suicide by its very nature is an act of self-killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating ones own act and without the aid or assistance of any other human agency. Euthanasia or mercy killing on the other hand means and implies the intervention of other human agency to end the life. Mercy killing thus is not suicide and an attempt at mercy killing is not covered by the provisions of Section 309. The two concepts are both factually and legally distinct. Euthanasia or mercy killing is nothing but homicide whatever the circumstances in which it is effected.

The law in India is also very clear on the aspect of assisted suicide. Abetment of suicide is an offence expressly punishable under Sections 305and 306 of the IPC.

Moreover, after the decision of a five judge bench of the Supreme Court in Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab[1] it is well settled that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the right to die. The Court held that Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no stretch of the imagination can extinction of life be read into it.

Euthanasia and the law

Currently, under Canadian law euthanasia is prohibited.

In Holland euthanasia has been accepted, in principle for terminally- ill patients, on request. Even though euthanasia is not yet legal in Holland, it is legally tolerated.

Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act took effect on April 1, 2002. It legalizes euthanasia and physician assistance in dying in very specific cases, under very specific circumstances. The law was proposed by, Els Borst D66 minister of health. The procedures codified in the law had been a convention of the medical community for over twenty years.

The law allows medical review board to suspend prosecution of doctors who performed euthanasia when each of the following conditions is fulfilled:

(1) the patients suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement;

(2) the patients request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request can not be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs);

(3) the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects and options;

(4) there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above;

(5) the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, in which case the doctor must be present; and

(6) the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents).

The doctor must also report the cause of death to the municipal coroner in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Burial and Cremation Act. A regional review committee assesses whether a case of termination of life on request or assisted suicide complies with the due care criteria. Depending on its findings, the case will either be closed or, if the conditions are not met brought to the attention of the Public Prosecutor. Finally, the legislation offers an explicit recognition of the validity of a written declaration of will of the patient regarding euthanasia (euthanasia directive). Such declarations can be used when a patient is in a coma or otherwise unable to state whether they want euthanasia or not.

Euthanasia remains a criminal offense in cases not meeting the laws specific conditions, with the exception of several situations that are not subject to the restrictions of the law at all, because they are considered normal medical practice:

(1) stopping or not starting a medically useless (futile) treatment;

(2) stopping or not starting a treatment at the patients request;

(3) speeding up death as a side-effect of treatment necessary for alleviating serious suffering; and

(4) Euthanasia of children under the age of 12 remains technically illegal.

Settling the debate

A close perusal of the arguments against euthanasia that have been summarised above tends to indicate that all the talk about sanctity of life notwithstanding, the opposition to euthanasia breeds from the fear of misuse of the right if it is permitted. At this juncture it would not be out of place to mention that the liberty to die, if not a right, may be read as part of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. True that the Supreme Court has held that such an interpretation of Article 21 is incorrect, but it is submitted that one may try to read the freedom to die as flowing from the rights of privacy, autonomy and self-determination, which is what has been done by the Courts of United State and England (refer to the Section dealing with position of euthanasia in other countries). Since the said rights in turn have been held to be included within the ambit of Article 21, the freedom to die too would logically be covered by Article 21. This argument is put forward as a possible solution since such questions were not put before the Apex Court in Gian Kaur case. It is submitted that in the present scheme of criminal law it is not possible to construe the provisions so as to include voluntary euthanasia without including non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Parliament should therefore, by a special legislation legalise voluntary euthanasia while expressly prohibiting non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Legalising euthanasia would not have any effect on the provisions relating to suicide and abetment thereof as euthanasia and suicide are two completely different acts.

By Pralika Jain


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Good Governance and Self-Help Groups

Good Governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development[1]

Good governance means favourable policy frameworks, the rule of law, and the responsible management of political power and public resources by the state is a key prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. At the Millennium General Assembly of the United Nations in New York in September 2000, the states of the world endorsed the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Poor people and women from all social strata are often excluded from society''''s decision-making processes. Reform efforts that engage at the level of central state agencies in particular seem in the first place to be rather far removed from the actual target groups.


An SHG is a channel through which micro finance is routed to the poor in the belief that it will prove catalytic in helping them to pull out of poverty. There is a huge unmet demand for micro-finance in India. Bridging the demand supply gap requires an environment that attracts large numbers of micro finance providers. These are small groups of 10-20 persons, who come together with the intention of saving and rotating loans amongst the members. Once these groups stabilize, they are accorded formal support from the banking system so as to widen their lending capacities. Micro finance supposedly circumvents the drawbacks of both the formal and informal systems of credit delivery and also fits within the larger Principles of market liberalization since credit-to-the-poor and profits are not antithetical to each other. It is pertinent to note that the year 2005 was declared by the United Nation as the International Year of Micro Credit.

SHGs are established with the motive of empowering the downtrodden, the marginalized and under-privileged section of the society who are left behind in the process of development initiated by various agencies/ departments. The target group primarily consists of the women, the children, the small and marginal farmers, the grass-root level entrepreneurs, the slum dwellers, the dejected and distressed. Their formation being for the socio-economic development of these persons the primary concern is normally to make finance available to them in a commercially viable but not exploitive in nature, so that they could optimally utilise the available resources with them both human and natural. The organizations economically support any endeavour in their parts to lead a dignified life without any fear of financial deficiency or economic harassment. Micro finance activity is the physical manifestation of this philosophy of the organizations.

It has been suggested that SHGs should be organized as federation .A federation is an association of organizations. Organizations form federations to realize economies of scale and gain strength as an interest group while retaining the advantages of remaining autonomous. SHG federations were promoted primarily as an exit strategy, i.e. to allow organizations that had promoted SHGs to withdraw their support to SHGs while also ensuring their sustainability. The primary purpose of federating SHGs is to ensure the sustainability of SHGs. SHG federations help SHGs internalize all operational costs and reduce the cost of promoting new SHGs. Federations also build solidarity among SHG members by helping them see SHGs as part of a larger organization. This helps build member stake in the SHGs. Building ownership is important in SHGs since, typically, they are not self-promoted organizations, and the small size of SHGs makes it difficult for their members to visualize them as sustainable organizations. SHG federations are mostly registered as charitable societies.

Legal Framework

A SHG carrying out the functions of micro-finance can be incorporated in the following ways under the current legal framework:

(1) Non-Banking Finance Company (NBFC)

A Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC) is a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956 and can be engaged inter alia in the business of loans and advances, insurance business, chit business. An SHG carrying out the business of an MFI and which is incorporated as an NBFC is a company which has its principal business as that of receiving deposits under any scheme or arrangement or any other manner, or lending in any manner. An SHG desirous of commencing business of non-banking financial institution in terms of Section 45-IA of the RBI Act, 1934, has to be registered with RBI to commence or carry on any business of non-banking financial institution as defined in clause (a) of Section 45 I of the RBI Act, 1934. Such an SHG have a minimum net owned fund of Rs 25 lakh (raised to Rs 200 lakh w.e.f April 21, 1999) which an SHG finds very difficult to mobilize.

(2) Community-Based Development Financial Institutions (CDFI)

Another desirable form is to build a strong demand system in the form of Community-Based Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), with the help of NGOs and IRDP-Integrated Rural Development Programme, DRI-Differential Rate of Interests, SC/ST-Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe others. A member owned and member managed CDFI is possible when small groupings such as five person joint liability groups or 20 member SHGs federate into a CDFI without losing their character and autonomy. These CDFIs may be unregistered or registered. If registered, they may choose to be societies, trusts, mutually aided co-operative societies (MACS) or even non-banking finance companies (NBFCs). In certain states, there is a possibility to set up MFIs under progressive cooperative legislation, such as the AP Mutually Aided Co-operative Societies Act 1995, in Andhra Pradesh. Similar Acts have come up in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and are on the anvil in Orissa, Tamilnadu and Madhya Pradesh.

(3) Cooperative Society

MFIs can be registered as Societies or Trusts, under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 or the Indian Trust Acts, 1882.The activities of these organizations are required to be well defined by a written down legal Memorandum of Association. The governance is followed by ethically valued norms in accordance with laid down Rules and Regulations, which are known by various names. The activities are also backed by written down policies. This operational manual reflects the guidelines followed in its micro-finance activities. The contents of this manual are circulated among the persons who are connected with the micro-Finance program.

Most Indian MFIs are Non Governmental Organizations (NGO), registered under Societies Act and are not treated as part of the mainstream financial sector. Reservations have been expressed about the legality of NGO-MFIs providing financial services, particularly savings and insurance. However, there has been a general acceptance of the social intermediation role of such institutions for the delivery of financial services to the poor. NGOs do not have the appropriate financial structure for carrying out micro-finance activities. Because NGOs are registered as societies or trusts, they do not have any equity capital. Thus, they can never be capital adequate. The recent Microfinance Task Force set up by the RBI Governor has suggested that NGO-MFIs may carry on financial intermediation activities till a business volume (deposits plus loans) of Rs 5 million. Beyond that scale, there is a need to shift the activity to an MFI registered either as a co-operative or as a company. The latter are required to have a minimum capital of Rs 20 million at start-up.

Governance and Good Governance in SHGs

It is the World Bank, which first popularized the concept of good governance into development discourse in recent years. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines governance as 1) the act or manner of governing 2) the office or function of governing 3) sway, control. The Governance is mainly linked to:

1. Accountability/transparency

2. Self-regulation

3. Organizational sustainability

Conceptually good governance means not only democratization of the state but democratization of socio economic sphere that touches people''''s lives also. Good governance entails not only reform of public services, efficacy and cost effectiveness of public agencies but also ensures participation of poor and the marginalized.

Thus, Good Governance can be defined as a transparent decision-making process in which the leadership of the organization, in an effective and accountable way, directs resources and exercises power on the basis of shared values.

The generic issues of good governance also apply to MFIs, whether for-profit, mutual benefit or non-profit. Activities to promote good governance comprise capacity building work with partner organizations to help develop their capabilities for self-reliant problem solving. SHGs carrying out the functions of an MFI need, first and foremost, those who will establish them, that is, the Micro-Finance Entrepreneurs (MFEs). The governance of an MFI depends partly on its ability to attract, retain and effectively deploy human resources at all levels. There is a shortage of good quality staff at all levels, from village level barefoot accountants to back office systems administrators. The more senior level staff usually has better alternative opportunities in the mainstream. Applied to SHGs good governance should help to establish an institutional framework that would conduce the members to work in unison, individually and collectively so that the objective of empowerment is achieved and commitment is ensured.

Ownership of such organizations can be of member-users (as in cooperatives), of investors (as in companies), or of no one (as the MFIs, which are non-profit NGOs, are legally not owned by anyone.) Accountability is structurally limited in case of all these legal models. The Societies Registration Act and Trust Act provide relative ease of registration, have no minimum capital requirement, prescribe no capital adequacy, nor any prudential norms. Incentives to register as societies exist as they fulfill the legal requirement to access large amounts of low-cost funds.

In MFIs registered for the purposes of mutual benefit like the co-operatives and mutual benefit trusts the assumption is that member control would ensure good governance. Co-operatives are more difficult to register in practice than Societies and Trusts, but are also subject to political interference through the Registrars (with the exception of Andhra Pradesh, which adopted a progressive Act in 1995). If a co-operative grows, it may apply for a banking licence as an urban cooperative bank, which is subject to the regulation by the Reserve Bank of India.

As regards the genesis of ownership two models seem to exist in India. Some MFIs are member-controlled like the SEWA Bank, an urban cooperative bank in Ahmedabad, the Womens Thrifts Cooperatives (WTCs) established by the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF) in Andhra Pradesh, and the womens Kalanjiams established as Societies by the DHAN Foundation, Madurai. However, there are also some cases of member-owned but outsider-controlled MFIs, where a few members and staff have used savings, and defaults have happened after that.

Ownership issues can be resolved partly by making depositors and borrowers also shareholders, at least in cooperatives and companies, both of which have shareholders. However, none of the legal forms assure that the governance of an MFI would be with the people. As MFIs grow larger, governance is likely to vest with professionals like in the case of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh. The SEWA Bank is an example which is an urban cooperative bank, and its Board is entirely comprised of poor women members/shareholders. It is managed by banking professionals with guidance from the Board. This is an example of participative decision-making and good governance.

Types of boards

Normally the governing bodies of such organizations are variously named as Board of Trustees, Managing Committee/ Governing Council or Board of Directors. Broadly speaking there can be various categorizations of boards. One can be on the basis of the participation level:

a. The Rubber-Stamp Board that only reacts to and supports management;

b. The Hands-on Board that engages directly in operations taking on some of managements role.

c. The Representational Board made up of highly influential individuals with access to sources of power and funds;

d. And the Multi-Type Board that balances representational members with microfinance expertise, and are generally better equipped to make informed decisions on a timely and efficient basis. This is the recommended board structure for a good MFI wishing to convert and be regulated.

The SAMSOR formula of Responsibility

The Key areas of Board Responsibility in an SHG can be traced through the SAMSOR formula. The mnemonic SAMSOR stands for:


Setting policy and providing strategic direction to the MFI and then working closely with management to ensure congruence between the institutions strategic thinking and its operations.


Ensuring management accountability by hiring competent professionals, establishing clear goals for these executives, closely monitoring their performance, and confronting weaknesses when they arise.


Boards should be clear with the organizations mission statement and should ensure compliance with the institutions bylaws, procedures, and other legal requirements, because the board can be held liable for the institutions activities.


To continually improve by assessing its own performance on a regular basis, maintaining continuity and institutional memory in its ranks, renewing its membership with new well-qualified directors, and evaluating its own processes for decision making.


The Board should keep an oversight of the administration and accounts and should not derive personal benefit from the organization. Policies should be set through process of periodic meetings and resolutions and all the Board members assume their liabilities jointly and severally, for all the acts of the organization. Regular board meetings are the key to good decision-making as it is often at the meeting table that the quality of the organization and its leaders is truly revealed.


Since the Funds, properties and assets of the organization vest in the board, they are expected to make the most efficient use of the resources in order to attain the organizational goals by ensuring that they operate within the framework of the organizations own charter and the statutes governing it.

Broadly, the boards must learn to GOVERN i.e. (macro manage) MORE And MANAGE i.e. (micro manage, day-to-day routine affairs) LESS. Effective governance strikes the appropriate balance in the relationship between a board of directors and management in their combined efforts to move the institution forward. A good micro finance institution boards understands its role and maintains a clear separation with management of the organization, if it cannot effectively assess managements performance, the role of oversight suffers.

Suggestions to bring about good governance in SHGs carrying out Micro-financing:

In order to bring about good governance there should be establishment of transparent governing structures, through which micro lending organizations will have a stronger basis to grow, expand, and reach more micro entrepreneurs. The Board needs to be thoroughly acquainted with and to advance the aims & objects or mission & vision.

An SHG needs an ethical, sensitive, motivated and responsible team, which is built when the board mobilizes resources efficiently and discourages exaggerated or misleading claims. The board members carrying out the functions of an MFI are expected to have reasonable intelligence and competence and should be respected in the community and by all stakeholders. They should have capacity for growth and should be sensitive to change and new issues affecting the community. Board members should have the ability to work in concert with others, treat staff as partner and when needed should be able to stand up to their conviction.

Each SHG should conduct trainings from time to time and the stress should be on 4 key elements of good governance:

a. board members fiduciary responsibility,

b. strategic leadership,

c. financial oversight and risk management, and

d. Management accountability.

Such an initiative would give the governing bodies a clearer understanding of their role. There should be a series of follow up techniques and assistance assignments to support the development of sound governance practices. Good governing structures give clients and investors confidence and increased opportunities for future income flows through deposits and commercial investment and SHGs need this essentially.

In nutshell, directors and board of and SHG carrying out micro-financing should learn and develop core values of good governance. Charismatic founders are needed to establish an SHG but this alone would not help since eventually there is a need for a strong board with professional managers who will flow in the concept of good governance into the organization through systematic, participatory and fairness approach.

By Nimish Raja & Garima Tiwari


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Report Card for 2008 of Shailesh Gandhi - CIC

My conviction that Right To Information is the most potent change agent to make India a truly participatory Democracy continues to dominate my life. In the first quarter of 2008, RTI was able to uncover the fact that the Maharashtra Chief Minister's relief fund is used for Gazal programs, Foreign trips, making films; building the gym in the Governor's residence, and also the toilets in the Press Club of India at Delhi. In many other cases Citizens are using RTI to empower themselves to get the governance they want.

In August Arvind Kejriwal discovered that the Central Government had decided to appoint four Central Information Commissioners in an arbitrary and opaque manner. He suggested that we should challenge this, and also suggest some alternate names. A few names,-including mine,- were suggested to the Selection Committee comprising of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the DOPT minister. My name was selected by this Committee;-I have no idea why,- and I was offered the post of a Central Information Commissioner. Though I believe that the process by which I was selected was flawed, I accepted. I saw an opportunity to deliver what we were demanding from Information Commissioners.

The backlog of cases has been building up at the Information Commissions at the States and the Centre. Commissioners across the Country are individually disposing 70 to 1500 cases each year, leading to mounting pendencies; whereas they should dispose over 4000. Most Commissions,- like the judiciary,- have rendered most laws meaningless, by allowing huge backlogs to develop. This has resulted in the common Citizen being deprived of the rule of law. Denial of Justice by delaying, has become the norm in India. I saw a similar fate for the Right to Information act at the hands of the Information Commissions. When shifting to Delhi to take up this position, I made a Public commitment that I would ensure that the pendency of cases before me would not be more than 90 days by April, 2009.

I took charge on 18 September and discovered that there was almost no office or staff available. I was given 11 departments including Municipal Corporation of Delhi, Delhi Government and HRD with a total pendency of about 1650 cases. In October, -when I started my hearings and disposals,- my staff was of 5 people. The task looked daunting. I then started finding staff for my office, who have to be hired through a Contractor. The Government offered to give me some (Computer) illiterate staff1, which I have refused. By November, I had a total of 12 people with me, but was told that only 8 people would be paid by the Government. Therefore I have four interns who are not paid by the Government. The Government will provide me more than 8 people, only if I am prepared to take (computer) illiterate staff.

However, there is an immense feeling of satisfaction, since I have been able to dispose over 450 cases in December itself. In October-November I had disposed 333 cases. By April 2009, I will be able deliver on my promise of having a pendency of less than 90 days. I see no problem in disposing over 4500 cases in a year. The Central Information Commission presently gets about 14000 cases in a year and has one Chief Information Commissioner and seven other Commissioners. If each Commissioner disposes atleast 3000 cases2 per year, there need not be any backlog. Citizens will insist on accountability of a minimum disposal from Commissioners, and a fixation of norms. If the Government appoints Information Commissioners without norms3 of a minimum performance, it would only be a burden on the Public exchequer, without any benefit for the Right to Information.

My New Year Promise for 2009

I shall ensure that over 95%

of the appeals and complaints before me will be disposed in

less than 60 days by September 2009.

A Very Happy and Informative Year for all of us.

Shailesh Gandhi

Mera Bharat Mahaan.. Nahi Hai,
Per Yeh Dosh Mera Hai.

1. For a Government which claims to be moving to egovernance, a very significant number,-perhaps over 50%,- of Government officers are (computer) illiterate.

2. The average disposal of a Bombay High Court judge in 2006 was 2530 per judge.

3. Section 4 (iv) of RTI act

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

No charity show… it’s recession time!

NGO Alert India has planned a big fundraising concert on January 25th with musicians Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy. But due to the recession, no sponsors are coming forward to fund the event. The show that has been planned way in advance might get cancelled due to the lack of major sponsors.

Says Alert India’s Veera Rao, “About three years ago, we had a concert with the trio and it was a huge success. Shankar Mahadevan is a very kind person and is always willing to help. But we need to find some good sponsors for the show.” She adds, “If one would look at the event as a commercial event, it would surely have been declared cancelled by now. But we are doing this for charity and we will continue to try and get sponsors.”

“Currently, there is a slight problem with getting sponsors because times are not so good,” explains Shankar Mahadevan. “But people will come in to watch as they need entertainment when times are low.”

In fact recession has hit charity in a big way. Many big organisations claim that their funds are cut by almost 75 per cent. Pratibha Rao from NGO Deeds says, “All our donors from abroad, whether corporate houses or individuals, have stopped donating money. And even the Indian donors have reduced the amount of donations considerably.”

Celebrity support could help deal with the crisis. Adds Veera, “If celebrities come forward and help, it will surely help us reach out to more people and get funds."


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A hunger-free Kozhikode

Kozhikode is all set to become the first hunger-free city in the country. For, the Social Welfare Department has embarked on a unique mission to provide free meals to the needy.

The Social Security Mission project, constituted by the Government for the care of the poor, aged, children, women and cancer patients, will be launched on January 26.

The hunger-free city is being planned with the support of Kozhikode Corporation in association with the NGOs.

For this, two base kitchens are being set up at the Medical College Hospital and Beach Hospital. The meals prepared at these centres would be distributed by the Corporation authorities at select centres.

These centres will be determined based on the need.

Meals will also be provided free of cost to the patients of these two hospitals. Health Minister P K Sreemathi who visited Kozhikode on Monday held discussions with the Corporation authorities to give a final shape to the programme.

Kozhikode has been selected as a pilot project under this scheme. If it succeeds, it would be extended to other parts of the state. Earlier, the Social Welfare Department had planned to provide meals for Rs 2/-.

But the Corporation authorities took up the initiative to provide it absolutely free of cost with the support of NGOs. This would be a first-of-its-kind initiative in the country.

The social security mission was set up to carry out special projects for the protection of the elderly, care of children affected by cancer and improvement of institutions for the care of the weak.

It will also undertake training of organisations for social service. Besides, it would be involved in research and data collection on social issues.

The first project of the mission was to provide free cancer treatment for children below 18 years, which was launched recently. The hunger-free city is the second project being undertaken by the mission.

The mission has a corpus of Rs 65 crore and will strive to revamp institutions under the Social Welfare Department to make them more useful to the weaker sections, create facilities for distribution of free food to the poor undergoing treatment in the Government hospitals and rehabilitate destitute patients discharged from hospital.

Source :

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Palestinian children get a helping hand

"I don't know what I want to be in the future. There are no opportunities in Khalil, (West Bank)," said 10 year old Islam Samouh, who came to Dubai to get fitted with a prosthetic limb.

He lost his right arm following an electric shock while trying to place a Palestinian flag on the roof of his house.

Due to political restrictions, the environment these underprivileged children are forced to live in, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is unsafe.

Poorly maintained construction sites and hanging electric wires in households cause misdiagnosed illnesses and accidents.

One such case is Yousuf Mahmoud, an 11 year old child who lost his right foot when a heavy piece of iron fell on it while he was playing at a construction site in Khalil, West Bank.

Poor diagnosis

According to his mother, Ebtisam Asfoor, his medical condition was wrongly diagnosed. The doctor said her son had only a fracture but later on they found out he also had three sliced veins, leading to three days of internal bleeding and excruciating pain.

The boy's mother finally demanded that the doctors open the cast, they found his foot completely black from gangrene.

Not only was his foot then amputated, but the boy was given a poorly fitting prosthetic limb causing his right knee to dislocate, said Islam while showing his injuries to a room of journalists.

"I am confident I will get the right treatment and limb in Dubai as we heard of the great facilities here. I already feel important and welcomed," said Islam.

The Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF) - based in Ramallah - in coordination with the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment are arranging for the treatment of seven children from the West Bank and another eight from the Gaza strip.

The expenses of their stay in Dubai will be completely covered by the Charity.

Most of these children are living in poor conditions and survive on aid handouts, as it is difficult to get steady job in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A report, published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), found the highest unemployment rate was among the young people of the Palestinian population.

In 2006, PCBS revealed that the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip is 30.33 per cent and 20.3 per cent in West Bank.

Rolla Fataitih lost her left foot due to a childhood illness and the lack of proper medical care in her area, according to her mother.

There are six children in her family living off aid, since her husband is unemployed - a common situation in the Palestinian territories.

"I would love to take this opportunity to sincerely thank His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai for giving us the chance to walk normally again and become active members in the society," said Rolla.

The emotional trauma of dealing with a missing limb has significantly impacted on both children's academic and social interaction, said the children's mothers with one parent adding, "It is difficult to see your child suffering from within and you can't do anything about it. It is becoming common to see such incidents in the West Bank."

Dubai is still expecting the arrival of 15 additional Palestinian children within a month, eight are expected to arrive from the Gaza Strip next week.

Source :

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Last Chance to Attend: International Conference on Ageing in Mumbai, India


S.V.T. College of Home Science (SNDT College,Juhu) has planned for this International conference on “MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO HEALTHY & PARTICIPATORY AGEING” which is also coinciding with the Golden Jubilee Celebration of S.V.T. College of Home Science.

Last date for registration: 5th January 2009

A silent revolution has been occurring in the last 100 years - unseen, unheard, and yet so close as people 65 years of age and older have been the fastest growing segment of the different countries around the world.

In a rejoinder to this dramatic demographic trend, it is important to focus on the challenges of ageing in the 21st century. To facilitate their active integration in the life of the society, it requires collaborative efforts, which involves not only the family, but also the community and the Government - Consequently it points to the important fact that different groups of people need to network. Keeping with this, This conference is aimed at engaging the various sectors of the rural and urban community in a process of reinvesting the concept of ageing and rethinking policy, through an intergenerational, cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary approach. The conference hopes to address the many key questions central to the ageing population by bringing together different professionals engaged in working for the elderly to share their ideas and research findings.

The specific objectives of this conference are manifold:

  • To review and address the realities and issues related to ageing in the contemporary society.
  • To create awareness about the needs of the elderly and also appreciate the contribution that older persons make to own societies,
  • To highlight the resources/facilities necessary to deal with the increasing population of the elderly
  • To identify the innovations enhancing the lives of older people to ensure independence, participation, fulfillment and dignity.
  • To deliberate on the sustainable policies of care for the elderly to ensure that the well-being of elders in need is effectively safeguarded by our society
  • To strengthen the networking of different governmental and nongovernmental professionals working in this field so that the beneficiary i.e. the elderly in a country can benefit.

Last date for registration: 5th January 2009

SPECIAL rates for Senior Citizens : Rs.1800/- only

Fee for individual professionals : Rs. 3000/- only.

SPECIAL Discount for students : Rs. 1000/- only.

S.V.T College of Home Science,SNDT Women’s University,Juhu Complex

Participating Organizations:
International Longevity Center - India
HelpAge India

Supporting Organizations:
Silver Inning Foundation
Geriatric Society of India

Mrs Archana Jain on 09821488790
MAHPA 2009,
S.V.T. College of Home Science,
S.N.D.T. Women’s University,
Sir Vithaldas Vidyavihar,
Juhu Road, Santacruz (West),
Mumbai , Maharashtra, India
Pin: 400049
Tel: 022-26602504/26608179 ;
Fax: 022-26606427

Hurry take advantage of Early bird discounts:

Looking forward to having your participation in our endeavour in January 2009.

This conference is Supported by Silver Inning Foundation and Geriatric Society of India.

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Social responsibility remains unaffected by recession

For the uninitiated CSR can mean Customer Sales Representative. But for corporate types, it stands for Corporate Social Responsibility.

CSR is serious business in the IT sector in India. There is the obvious attempt by corporates to reach out to the larger community and make a difference. But there are less obvious benefits that goes with CSR – brandbuilding.

Come the meltdown. What’s going to happen to CSR? Apparently, the financial whirlpool and job insecurity has not dampened the corporate do-good spirit. At least that’s what some prominent IT companies are saying.

Cisco, for instance, continues to be a significant contributor to the Akshaya Patra Foundation, an organization that has managed to draw the attention of US President-elect Barack Obama, for its efforts in providing lunch for underprivileged children in government schools.

Cisco also claimed that it has succeeded in its target to provide the mid day meal to 20,000 children, through its ‘Harvest of Hope’- Hunger Relief campaign. In India, the campaign is referred to as ‘Feed a child’ campaign. The company employees gave gadgets like Nintendo wiis, iPods, pearl necklaces, etc in auction to raise funds. The employees still have the option to donate till December 31.

As every year, employees from 24/7 BPO employees continued to support Parikrama, a non-government organisation involved in providing education to underprivileged children. The company employees voluntarily contributed half-day’s salary once in a month, or in a quarter or a year.

Intel employees across the world volunteered a million hours towards community efforts just this year, its fortieth anniversary. Shelly Esque, Intel vice president for Legal and Corporate Affairs said, ‘The impact of 1 million hours of volunteering, coupled with the Intel Foundation’s volunteer matching grant of approximately $8 million for non-profits and schools, makes a big difference for the communities in which our employees live and work.’

Infosys was emphatic in stating that the company’s CSR had ‘not at all’ been affected in any way by the global economic recession. However, instead of direct disclosure of its initiatives, a visit to the site, Infosys Foundation, was recommended. Infosys Foundation is a public charitable trust, founded in 1996 by Infosys Technologies for the purpose of serving the aspects healthcare, education, social rehabilitation and the arts.

Microsoft too remained unaffected by the economic meltdown. Vikas Goswami, Lead CSR from Microsoft said, ‘Access to information and communication technology is a catalyst for creating a more equitable order of economic opportunities and sustainable development. As has been our focus, we will continue to work towards empowering and enabling the marginalized sections of society by providing IT training, skills and tools to create social and economic opportunities that can transform communities and help people realize their potential.’

If the IT majors are to be believed, it is full steam ahead as far as CSR is concerned.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dispensing clothes, not cash : Clothes Bank for the poor

For thousands of poor and downtrodden families living on embankments, relief camps, and slum areas in Assam, buying a pair of clothes or winter garments are luxuries that they cannot afford. In sharp contrast, for thousands of families in Guwahati city and other urban areas as well as well-off families in rural areas, every time they buy a new pair of clothes or new winter garments they do not feel like using the old ones. They, however, happily give away the old clothes to those needy, who knock their doors and ask for used clothes either for themselves or for their children.

Keeping this untapped resource in mind the Xavier's Foundation in Guwahati has opened a clothes bank, similar to the ones running elsewhere the country, to undertake cloth charity for thousands of poor and needy people in Assam and other northeastern states.

For a start, the Xavier's Foundation has started collection of clothes in different localities of Guwahati. It plans to install drop boxes shortly in busy areas including commercial hubs, shopping malls and financial institutions so that people willing to donate clothes to the Clothes Bank will be able to drop their used clothes whenever they visit these places. The Clothes Bank was formally inaugurated in Guwahati on December 2 by popular Assamese film actor Kopil Bora. Former Assam Chief Secretary Haren Das received a packet of clothes on behalf of Xavier's Foundation from Examination Controller of Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University Dr. P B Lahkar at the launching of the Clothes Bank to mark the symbolic beginning of clothes collection drive. The Foundation has appointed a team of volunteer and employee for the purpose.

After collection, the collected clothes will be properly washed, mended and segregated into different packets for children and adults. Apart from the dresses, other cloth materials including blankest, bed covers will also be collected and suitably converted into smaller blankets or bed-sheets to cater to the requirement of children in need.

The Foundation has estimated that on an average one cluster of 20 households generate up to 500 sets of reusable clothes in a year. With little repairing and redesigning these clothes can easily be converted into nice looking and attractive pair of dresses and can be provided to the needy in a dignified manner.

The poverty situation in the state reveals that large number of poor people are living in acute misery. According to statistics tabled on the floor of the Assam assembly in December 2007, there are 12 lakh Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders in the state. the average annual income of these BPL families is only Rs.1250 a month, which clearly reveals acute poverty condition in which they survive. There are over 400,000 homeless families in the state.

Ravaging annual floods and erosion caused by river Brahmaputra and its tributaries have made a sizeable 64,000 families to live on embankments in acute poverty and without all basic human amenities including housing facility, livelihood support, health, education and others. The state has as many as 149 flood and erosion prone rivers. Chief minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi in a press conference told reporters in September this year that between 1954 and 2007, the state has lost 4,25,932 hectares of its land due to erosion, which amounts to a size of a district.

The state also has a large number of internally displaced persons living in relief camps for more than a decade without any livelihood support and proper housing. These people were displaced from their orginal habitats due to series of ethnic clashes in different pockets. For instance, during a series of clashes in 1993, 1996 and 1998, between the Bodos - the single largest plains tribe in Assam - and the religious minority community and Between Bodos and Adivasis altogether 3,14,000 people were displaced in lower Assam's Kokrajhar district. Of them 65,000 people still live in relief camps in sub-human condition.

Those who returned home have to face similar livelihood risks in their villages, as the state government has no scheme to rehabilitate conflict induced displaced people. The clashes between the Bodos and immigrant Muslim settlers in early part of October this year, displaced more than 200,000 people from their original places and thousands are yet to return home. Apart from food and social security, clothing is a big issue for these people, particularly during winters.

In the initial years of their displacement, clothes were provided to some of the displaced families by various organizations. Similarly, help do come in the form of distribution of clothes, medicine, food items among the flood affected people but this happens only during the flood period and such charity is done in a systematic and sustained manner. While many families, particularly those affected by erosion, are forced to live in makeshift camps for months and sometimes years together such one time charity fail to provide relief. These families have to wait for elections to come to get only one blanket and sometimes mosquito nets distributed among by the candidates of some parties seeking votes. This is more common in tea-garden areas as garden workers and their families live in penury.

Another group that could benefit from clothes distribution is those formerly employed with the tea industry. The state has 780 tea-gardens with a workforce of over 5 lakhs. With the liberalisation of Indian economy that was introduced in the earlier part of the 90s, the tea industry has been suffering form several critical issues resulting in huge number of joblessness. At least 70 plantations in Assam have been closed down since the late 1990s, with almost a 100,000 people being rendered jobless.

Hence Xavier's Foundation wants their Clothes Bank to run in a professional and systematic manner so that it can cater to the constant need of clothing among these underprivileged people, and not restrict the activity to a one-time charity. The foundation also plans to involve the panchyats, NGOs and various charity organisation to reach out to the maximum number of needy people.

By Ratna Bharali Talukdar


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pak theatre group here with message of peace

Being the first theatre group from Pakistan to perform in India about 20 years back, Lahore-based Ajoka Theatre is keen to diffuse the unease and distrust between the two neighbouring countries following the Mumbai terror attacks last month.

It is our small attempt to help and diffuse the tension. We can’t afford all this tension, this war hysteria. Peace activists and artists like us have worked very hard to build this peace process. It is heartbreaking to imagine that it may get derailed,” said Madeeha Gauhar, well-known Pakistani theatre actor and Artistic Director of Ajoka Theatre.

Ms. Gauhar and her 22-member troupe, including three Indians, have been invited by the Sangeet Natak Academy, Kerala, to participate in an international theatre festival.

The group, which will perform its popular play “Bullah” at the festival, was hosted by the activists of the Students’ Federation of India-All India Students’ Federation at Jawaharlal Nehru University here on Tuesday.

The Ajoka Theatre troupe performed a Sufi “qawwali” and extracts from its play on the JNU campus on Tuesday evening.

“We are here to bring the message of the great Sufi poet Bulleh Shah that is extremely relevant in today’s turbulent times. His message was on humanism, peace, love, tolerance and looking beyond religious divide,” said Ms. Gauhar.


The theatre personality said there was a lot of apprehension from different quarters in Pakistan when her troupe decided to visit India in the wake of heightened tension between the two countries.

“When the Indian cricket team’s Pakistan tour was called off, there was a lot of negative reaction in our country.

It was very disappointing. Cricket diplomacy had generated a lot of goodwill. People questioned us why we were going to India. But there have to be some voices of sanity in these insane times,” she maintained.

Ms. Gauhar also blamed the media for creating “war hysteria”.

She said the commoners in Pakistan condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai.

“People came out in open to condemn those terror strikes. There were peace marches and human chains in Karachi and Lahore in solidarity with the Mumbai victims. We must remember that Pakistan is a bigger victim of terrorism than India,” the actor said.

“The democratic government in Pakistan will be destabilised if India adopts a tough stance and that will hurt Pakistan as well as India. The two countries have to fight terrorism together. War is not an alternative. We have to open up the dialogue as soon as possible,” Ms. Gauhar concluded.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Over 70 percent of Indian youth never heard of globalisation

A section of Indian youth are still conservative in making friends outside their religious circles and more than a two-third have never heard about globalisation, said a report released here.

The report 'Indian Youth in a Transforming World: Attitudes and Perception' was released by Centre of the Studies of the Developing Societies (CSDS) yesterday in collaboration with Konard-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), an international organisation with German roots.

The report said that only 29 per cent of the Indian youth have ever heard about globalisation while 66 per cent of them still consider alcohol as taboo. About 48 per cent said they have strong faith in the democratic values while 27 per cent were indifferent to these issues.

Presiding the event, noted psephologist Yogendra Yadav from CSDS said "the survey exposes the underlying attitude of the youth and tries to study political and social values prevalent among the India's youth population."

Family remains a key institution among the Indian youth with parental authority continuing to be crucial, with 60 per cent saying that final decision on marriage should be taken by parents. "Family support system is invaluable." While 27 per cent of country's youth reported that they did not have friend from other gender, religion or caste.

Commenting on the fact that youth of the country is transforming but the politics is not, Lok Sabha MP Sachin Pilot a panel member said, "India politics is also changing and we will see much transformation during the next decade."

"There is disconnection between golabalisation and the 'Dalit youth' of this country because youths belonging to that segment of the society are still concerned about social and political security like right to vote," a panelist, Bhanwar Meghuvanshi of Dalit Adhikar Avam Ghumantu Adhikar Abhiyan from Rajasthan said.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Calling Volunteers for Electing a NEW 'National Animal' Campaign

Calling Nature enthusiasts and animal lovers to support ''SPROUTS'' in its 'Elect a New National Animal' initiative. The campaign is pitched at electing a NEW National Animal, replacing the current (Tiger). The logic, since we aren't doing enough to save the current national animal, we may as well start preparations for a NEW National Animal.

The candidates are: Elephant, Langur & Buffalo. Teams of campaigners will campaign for 'their' candidate and discuss the issue with general public. Public votes via sms, emails and by secret ballots at various venues mentioned below will be solicited. We are aiming at generating mass awareness our National Animal and showing them a vision of the future possibility… (the main aim of the campaign will be disclosed to the audience right at the end on Dec 28, 2008).

We require a minimum group of 4volunteers at each venue/location, but 6Volunteers per location is preferred. If you have a group of your own, it is best or we shall team you with our other volunteers, at the venue you select in Mumbai , India.

Students can continue the activity in the respective colleges on 29th & 30th!

Please confirm your availability by calling Anand (98201-40254) or Gaurav (98705-05785) URGENTLY by Monday, December 22, so that we can perfectly co-ordinate the event and all volunteers at each venue.

Thanks in advance for all your help and support.


Anand Pendharkar

Director, SPROUTS


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

The Manhattan Institute Award Social Entrepreneurship Awards 2009

The Manhattan Institute Award for Social Entrepreneurship honors non-profit leaders who have found innovative, private solutions for America's most pressing social problems.

Throughout its history, the United States has been marked by the capacity of citizens to solve social problems through their own initiative. Americans come forward to organize volunteer and non-profit action to improve American society. Winners of this award will exemplify this tradition.

Applicant organizations are assessed according to the following criteria:

  • Energetic founding leaders;
  • Strong vision;
  • Committed volunteers;
  • Creative, entrepreneurial ways of conceiving and meeting goals;
  • Significant private sector financial support;
  • Sustainability or permanence;
  • Clear, measurable results;
  • Commitment to sustaining the vitality of civil society.

All nominations are submitted to the Social Entrepreneurship Selection Committee. After review and discussion, the Committee selects a small group (up-to-ten) as finalists. A representative of the Manhattan Institute visits each of these finalists. The Committee then makes the final selections.

Recognition is reserved for those organizations whose guiding purpose and function stem from private initiatives and ideas. However, accepting government funds does not, in itself, preclude consideration.

The award recognizes the creative energy of the non-profit sector by highlighting new ideas and approaches even by mature organizations.

Any non-profit organization that provides a direct service within the continental United States to address a public problem can be nominated for this award. Examples of the types of organizations we want to recognize include:

  • Private social service groups that assist poor families with housing, health care, job training, and other similar needs;
  • Reformative organizations that help people cope with moral or psychological problems, such as drug addiction or criminal behavior;
  • Education groups that through mentoring, counseling, or other after-school programs improve children's educational achievement and possibilities;
  • Community groups that improve the quality-of-life in their neighborhoods;
  • Conservancies that use private donations from corporations or individuals to purchase land and preserve it from development.

Non-profit organizations that engage in political advocacy or that bring legal actions, or whose primary activities are in response to government RFPs are not eligible for this award, nor are individual charter or private schools.

Annually, up to five awards of $25,000 are presented at the Social Entrepreneurship Awards Dinner in New York City. In addition, the Manhattan Institute also awards one $100,000 grand prize—The William E. Simon Award—in recognition of long-time achievement in Social Entrepreneurship.

Nominations may be submitted by anyone familiar with a person's or group's activities except for a current employee of that person or group. Award nomination forms for 2009 will be available online from January 23rd until March 20th, 2009.

Questions about the Social Entrepreneurship Awards can be directed to Mabel Weil at


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Japan as ground zero for no-waste lifestyle

Tucked almost imperceptibly into cedar-blanketed mountains an hour's winding drive from the nearest metropolis, Kamikatsu seems an unlikely spot for a revolution.

But try to throw even a candy wrapper away here, and it's quickly apparent that residents are radically reshaping their relationship to the environment.

This is a town singularly focused on banishing waste – all waste – by 2020. The 2,000 people of Kamikatsu have dispensed with public trash bins. They set up a Zero Waste Academy to act as a monitor. The town dump has become a sort of outdoor filing cabinet, embracing 34 categories of trash – from batteries to fluorescent lights to bottle caps.

Kamikatsu has probably pushed the recycling ethic as far as any community in the world. But it's just one small indicator of a national drive by Japan to position itself as a leader in the world's urgent quest to live greener.

The momentum cuts across a broad base – from individual recycling to factory efficiency to trading in electronic trash.

Just four decades ago, this small island nation had become an environmental cautionary tale, some of its cities synonymous with the high health costs of rapid postwar industrialization.

But the strengths that propelled Japan toward economic superpowerdom – efficient manufacturing and technological refinement among them – have also helped lay the foundation for a more energy efficient and less polluting society.

Last July, Japanese hosted the G-8 summit and gave it an environmental cast, touting how their manufacturers sustained a drive for energy stinginess long after the oil shocks of the 1970s gave way to the cheap fuel and SUVs of the '90s.

More recently, recycling efforts have burgeoned, as has progress in reducing waste in everything from cars to copy machines. And with cellphones and computers becoming obsolete at fiber optic speeds, Japan is emerging as a top competitor in what is known as urban mining – safely extracting valuable metals for industrial reuse.

"Japan has generally been better than [the US] internationally on a number of issues, including reducing electronic waste, recycling, and energy-efficiency," says Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy in New Haven, Conn. "The region sees Japan as technological leaders, and as we move more toward understanding the technological role in making environmental progress, there's a sense that Japan has a lot to share."

At Toyota's Tsutsumi assembly plant in Nagoya, Japan's answer to Detroit, evidence of a more environmentally sensitive car industry is on display before you even walk through a door. What was once a vast, gray expanse of industrial might has come to life – literally.

Large trees – 50,000 were planted in May – dot the visitor parking lot to offer a soothing greeting, says the plant's "sustainable initiative" manager. Insulating vines wend their way up the outside of an employee locker building. Some 22,000 square meters of ex-terior walls are coated with photocatalytic paint that, Toyota says, mirrors the ability of 2,000 poplars to absorb nitrous oxide and process oxygen.

The roof of the visitor center is a mat of grass, designed to reduce waves of heat by 3 degrees C. Solar lights dot the streets and 800-kilowatt solar panels blanket the tops of buildings. Even the red roadside flowers were genetically engineered to absorb noxious emissions and help evaporate water.

Behind Tsutsumi's face lift lies one of the globe's most visible bids to lighten the automobile's carbon footprint: the Prius. Hundreds roll off gleaming Line No. 2 here every day.

To read more click here:

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

UN economic report calls for deep reforms in global financial system

The Global Outlook chapter of the UN’s ‘World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009’, released on December 1, 2008, paints a gloomy picture of the world economy in 2009 and calls for deep reforms in the global financial system.

Among the reforms it suggests are stronger regulation of financial institutions, an overhaul of the international reserve system, adequate international liquidity provisioning and more inclusive global economic governance to prevent a recurrence of the current economic crisis.

According to the annual report, ‘world per capita income is expected to decline next year, export growth and capital inflows will fall, borrowing costs for developing countries will rise as contagion spreads from the major economies, and the US dollar is set to resume its decline, with a possible hard landing in 2009’.

World output will grow at a meagre rate of 1% in 2009 as against the growth rate of 2.5% in 2008 and 3.5-4% in the last four years. Growth rates are likely to fall by 0.5% in developed countries and nearly 4.6% in developing countries.

‘The crisis should have taken no one by surprise,’ the report says. ‘That analysts and policymakers are now expressing bewilderment at the extent of the crisis suggests not only a gross underestimation of the fundamental causes underlying the crisis but also unfounded faith in the self-regulatory capacity of unfettered financial markets.’

The report adds that the outflow of capital from emerging to developed economies continued to be larger than the inflow, and that sovereign wealth funds of emerging markets grew to some $4.0 trillion at the end of 2008.

The cost of external borrowing has since risen sharply for developing countries. Stock markets have dropped, while currency and commodity markets have become extremely volatile, says the report. Along with rapidly decelerating export growth, current account balances of many countries have shifted into the red.

‘To ensure sufficient stimulus at the global level, it will be desirable to coordinate the fiscal stimulus packages internationally,’ the report says.

Several crucial changes must be made in economic policies. This includes a fundamental revision of the structure of government and the role of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for greater international policy coordination and enhanced participation of developing countries.

The report also calls for a fundamental reform of the current financial regulation and supervisory systems to stem past excesses. The reliance on the dollar as the sole reserve currency poses risks for developing countries, since a collapse in the value of the dollar could have severe effects on their earnings.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The loan waiver that failed

The much-hyped Rs 71,000 crore loan waiver has benefited only a small fraction of indebted farmers in Banda district of UP, finds Bharat Dogra. But it has set off a spiral of corruption and further indebtedness.

In 2008, the central government announced a loan waiver for farmers that was supposed to provide relief from institutional debt to the extent of Rs 60,000 crore (this figure was later raised to Rs 71,000 crore). The process was to be completed by June 30.

However, in December, when I asked several farmers and social activists in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh about the extent of relief actually provided to farmers, all of them said that most farmers had not got the expected relief. Even bank officials agreed that the loan waiver had failed.

Such a response is telling, coming as it does from Banda district which is located in Bundelkhand, a region that has experienced drought, farmer distress and indebtedness, in some cases leading to suicide.

In Bigahna village, Mahua block, I spoke to a group of 15-20 farmers. They said that while around 50 farmers were indebted to banks, not a single farmer had received any benefit from the so-called “debt relief”.

One reason for this, explained a bank official, could be that even the most distressed farmers are keen to renew their credit cards as they don’t want to be shown up as defaulters; they value the insurance and other minor benefits that come with a renewal. So the trick is to somehow pay back the loan on paper (even if the farmer has to borrow at a high rate of interest from a moneylender) and then borrow from the bank again, after a few days. Such ‘paper renewals’ have proved tragic for many farmers as the loan waivers exclude those who have successfully renewed their credit cards by paying back their loans.

According to social activist Raja Bhaiya, middlemen who hang around rural banks are often in collusion with officials and arrange such ‘renewals’ in return for payment.

Raja Bhaiya’s estimate is that in Naraini block, where he works, only 10% of farmers who are in debt with banks actually benefited from the scheme.

“What’s more,” a bank official says, “those who were careless enough not to renew got the benefit, while those who took great care to renew despite the hardships did not get any benefit. In my bank, 15% got the benefit and these are not the most deserving ones.”

“We’ve failed our honest customers. We didn’t stand up to get a fair deal for them,” another bank official says.

Senior social activist Gopal Bhai adds: “Such a scheme sends the wrong signal in the credit system -- that the more honest will get the least consideration.”

Back in Bigahna, farmer and teacher Chunni Lal Kuswaha says: “We heard that it is a huge scheme of Rs 60,000 crore which has been expanded to Rs 71,000 crore. So imagine the disappointment of farmers when they found, at the end of all this, that they have not got any relief at all.”

One farmer in the village, Ramnarayan Kuswaha, was told by the bank manager that his Rs 31,000 loan could be waived as it was within the category of waived loans. However, he demanded payment (a bribe) of Rs 5,000 to implement the waiver. And because Ramnarayan could not arrange for this money he was unable to get any relief!

Similar complaints of bribes being demanded were made by others too. One person said that, in some cases, if an adequate bribe is arranged, a new file can be prepared to ensure that the loan, whatever its status, gets covered by the waiver.

These are individual complaints; the more general and widespread issue is that most loans are not covered by the well-intentioned but badly framed loan waiver.

As reported by the National Sample Survey on the basis of its 59th round of surveys (2003), 48.6% of farmer households were in debt; 61% of indebted farmers had operational holdings of less than one hectare; 57.7% of the outstanding amount was sourced from institutional credit, and the remaining 42.3% from moneylenders, traders, relatives and friends.

The Expert Group on Agricultural Indebtedness estimated, in 2003, that non-institutional sources accounted for Rs 48,000 crore of farmer debts. Of this, Rs 18,000 crore was availed of at an interest rate of 30% per annum or more.

Responding to this crisis situation, India’s 2008-09 budget presented a scheme of debt waivers as well as partial cancellation of some farmer debts. The scheme applied only to loans taken from banks and cooperative credit institutions. Small and marginal farmers who owned up to two hectares of land were promised a complete loan waiver; farmers above this limit were promised a 25% loan cut, and that too only if they were able to pay back 75% of the loan till June 30. Implementation of the scheme was to be completed by June 30, 2008.

It was evident from the outset that the farm loan waiver scheme announced in the budget suffered several constraints:

  • While loans were waived for marginal and small farmers, nothing was said about loans of the weakest sections of landless farm workers and landless rural artisans. Several landless households are indebted to banks due to mismanagement of Integrated Rural Development Programme-type schemes and frauds in which influential villagers and landlords have taken loans in their names.
  • While bank and cooperative loans of marginal and small farmers were waived, nothing was said about loans taken from private moneylenders. As private moneylenders frequently charge very high rates of interest, loan amounts increase rapidly.
  • Small and marginal farmers could have been defined differently for non-irrigated areas so that farmers with up to 10 acres of non-irrigated land could also benefit.
  • The stipulation regarding a precise due date implies that several bank loans of small and marginal farmers were not covered by the waiver. Particularly noteworthy is the case of farmers who had borrowed from private moneylenders to pay back their bank loans by the stipulated date, as they did not want to be considered ‘defaulters’.
  • The harmful role of middlemen attached illegally to many rural banks was ignored.
  • To prevent future indebtedness, there was no mention of lowering bank interest rates for farmers or special efforts to promote cheap, local resources-based technologies.
  • Relief for middle-level farmers, many of whom are heavily in debt, was minimal as they had to meet one tough condition -- they had to pay back 75% of the loan by June 30 in order to avail of a 25% concession!

Datta Patil, coordinator of Yuva-Rural, a voluntary organisation active in promoting low-cost organic farming in Vidarbha, says: “In Vidarbha, most farming is rain-fed or non-irrigated, so even farmers who have relatively large holdings need relief. In fact, the debt problem is more acute among farmers with landholdings ranging from 8 to 20 acres. They will get very little relief from what the Union budget has offered. To provide real relief from debt in Vidarbha, the budget waiver should be extended to middle-level farmers too.”

Partly by public announcement and partly by issuing new directives to banks, the government has tried to meet some of these criticisms at least halfway. At the same time, however, there has been a lot of confusion in many rural banks.

In late-May, around three months after the loan waiver was announced, a villager from Lalitpur district in the Bundelkhand region, told me: “I am a farmer as well as a bank official. So I get very worried when so many farmers approach me for information about their debts as I am myself not very clear about the precise guidelines, nor are my colleagues in the bank.”

A few days later, when I went to Chitrakoot district, I made it a point to meet a bank manager. What he told me was disturbing. He opened his files (but did not show them to me) and said: “The position in our bank is that not more than 20% of affected farmers will benefit from the loan waiver as per the existing guidelines.”

It is clear that although weaknesses in the loan waiver scheme have emerged at an early date, adequate remedial measures have not been taken. It is not too late to include new stipulations so that the waiver covers most farmers in distress.

By Bharat Dogra an independent writer based in New Delhi.


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