NHRC Open House Discussion on Rural Development and Human Rights concludes with several important suggestions seeking to reduce gap between the policies and their implementation (27.02.2019)

New Delhi, 27th February, 2019

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India organized an Open House Discussion on Rural Development and Human Rights at Manav Adhikar Bhawan, New Delhi today on the 27th February, 2019. In his inaugural address, Mr. Justice H.L. Dattu Chairperson, NHRC said that the objective of the Open House Discussion is to raise awareness amongst all the stakeholders with regard to the linkage between Rural Development and Human Rights.

He said that the grass root level democracy ushered in by a constitutional amendment at the village level, defines the legal framework of the Rural Development Institutions in India. It has a close link with the rights based approach to development. He said that the Commission has come across several complaints with regard to non-availability of basic facilities in rural areas, including roads, electricity, schools or teachers without schools, among others.

Justice Dattu referred to a complaint received in the Commission alleging that children had to cross a river to attend their school in the absence of a bridge. It was constructed after the intervention of the Commission. He said that rural development implies both the economic betterment of people as well as greater social transformation, which can be ensured with the participation of government agencies, civil society organizations and NGOs.

Mr. Amarjeet Sinha, Secretary Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India highlighted various welfare schemes of the government aimed at improving the life and living standards of people in rural areas of the country. Quoting the global multi dimensional poverty index 2018, he said that India has made momentous progress in reducing multidimensional poverty, which was almost halved between 2005/6 and 2015/16, climbing down to 27.5% from 635 million poor persons to 364 million. He said that making a difference to rural poverty is the way forward to ensure people’s rights, opportunities and their well being.

Mr. Sinha said that in order to ensure transparency in the delivery mechanism, the government has also started geo tagging of the beneficiaries with their assets. The focus of the government programmes and schemes is to improve the lives of rural household from prism of opportunities, human rights and poverty alleviation, which is very much in tune with the Sustainable Development Goal, SDG-17, which mostly pertains to rural development.

Mr. Sinha said that the lack of health and education facilities dominated the social sector neglect, which is now the key area of government’s focus. He said that despite Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the learning outcomes are unsatisfactory and therefore, efforts are on to improve the situation because education holds the key to poverty alleviation. Citizen centric Apps are being developed to provide an interface locally for grievance redressal. Public information campaign is also been encouraged. All Gram Sabhas have been requested to put a notice board highlighting the welfare schemes for awareness. Social audit tools have been developed, which can be used to audit any schemes. Allocation for rural development has gone up steeply. Mr. Sinha said that Anganwadis require having their own good buildings for which the Centre is providing financial assistance but the States also need to pitch in their efforts for this. The housing in rural areas is being promoted with a human rights perspective by provisioning the construction of houses having a dignified space of at least two rooms with an attached toilet, kitchen and a veranda in 25 sq. meters area. Employment alternatives are being worked out for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers.

Prof. Dr. Nupur Tiwari of Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi raised concerns on the Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, PESA. She said that the implementation of schemes is uneven across states. The role of Gram Sabha and Gram Panchayat lack clarity. The participants generally felt that there was still a gap between the policies and implementation thereof at the ground level.

Earlier, Mr. Jaideep Govind, Secretary General, NHRC said that the NHRC through its various interventions has been ensuring the benefits of all the welfare schemes as well as the basic amenities to the people in different parts of the country. It has also linked its online complaint registration mechanism with Common Service Centres to expand its outreach to the people in order to get redressal of their grievances related to rights violations.

Some of the important suggestions emerged during the discussions were as follows:
1. Increase the number of days of assured employment under MGNREGA with wages commensurate with the provisions of Minimum Wages Act;
2. Ensure mechanism for excess to justice in rural areas;
3. Improve payment system for Anganwadi centres as a number of children still remain malnourished;
4. Road connectivity and other facilities apart, ensure availability of potable water as a major challenge;
5. Ensure rehabilitation of displaced persons;
6. Ensure that books and uniforms reach the school going children in time and not towards the end of the academic session in rural areas;
7. Give some powers, including judicial and financial to Gram Panchayats;
8. Synthesize the work related to various welfare schemes under different Ministries in a manner so as to ensure that the prospective beneficiaries do not have to run from office to office in different departments under various Ministries;
9. Constitute a special task force to indentify the places of dry latrines to end the menace of manual scavenging;
10. NHRC in collaboration with SHRC and civil society should ensure access to the grievance redressal mechanism in rural areas
11. Eligibility criteria for providing skill development training for rural people is very high, which, specially for the rescued bonded labour, needs to be scaled down to make it useful for them;
12. Each department under various Ministries should have a rights cell;
13. Human Rights Defenders, who raise concerns on the rights violation of others, should be defended in collaboration with civil society organizations;
14. Partnership with media should be encouraged to build awareness on various welfare schemes with a rights perspective;
15. It should be ensured that the victims of Kamaiya system also get employment under MGNREGA and the benefits under skill India programme

Besides the NHRC Members, Mr. Justice P.C. Ghose and Mrs. Jyotika Kalra, the participants included civil society representatives Ms. Maja Daruwala and Sanjoy Hazarika, CHRI, Dr. Nupur Tiwari, Associate Prof., IIPA, Mr. Surendra Kumar, AVARD, Ms. Suman, FIAN, Mr. Bejwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan, Ms. Neha Khandoori, Ms. Tina Kuriallose, Mr. Vinod Agarwal, Spl. Rapporteur, NHRC, Mr. Surajit Dey, Registrar (Law), Mr. Dilip Kumar, JS(T&R), Dr. Ranjit Singh, JS(P&A) and other senior officers of the Commission.