Random Reflections

Our country has a debt of $21.23 trillion (Rs.155.77 lakh crores in March 2023) estimated to increase to Rs.172.50 lakh crores by March 2024. IMF has projected it to reach 100% of GDP by 2028 which the Union Government is disputing. In 2014, this debt was just Rs 53.11 lakh crore, which went up by 174% in the last 9 years.

Where is the money going? To provide tax concessions to the richest, viability gap funds for the corporates, profit-linked incentives to the corporates, write-off of loans by providing capital to the banks, reducing interest rates on large loans, handing over public sector undertakings and public services to the richest, selling assets in the name of monetization and many more concessions to the richest. Also, spending a little for the poor in the form of 5 kg rice or wheat which is a pittance for a family benefitting just 81 crore people out of 140 crore population, providing Rs 12000 to a limited number of farmers (1.15 crore) though 56% of the population (15.1 crore families) still depend on farming.

In the last nine years, wealth tax was abolished, corporate tax was reduced and the maximum income tax is 30% for you and me as well as Adani and Ambani. There is no inheritance tax. The bottom 50% of the people pay 64% of GST while the richest 10% pay only 4% GST. The Oxfam report gives more details of inequality; more than 40% of the wealth created from 2012 to 2021 went to 1% of the population.

  • Four percent tax on the wealth of 98 billionaires can take care of the Mid-Day- Meal programme of the country for 17 years or Samagra Sikshya Abhiyan for 6 years.
  • One percent wealth tax on 98 richest billionaire families would finance Ayushman Bharat for more than seven years.
  • One percent tax on the wealth of 98 billionaires in India can take care of the total expenditure for school education and literacy.
  • Four percent tax on the wealth of 98 billionaires would be enough to fund the Mission POSHAN 2.0 (includes Anganwadi services, POSHAN Abhiyan, Scheme for Adolescent Girls, and National Creche Scheme) for 10 years.
  • India’s 2021 budget allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development is less than half of the total accumulated wealth of the bottom ten of India’s billionaire list. Just a 2 percent tax on individuals with an income of over 10 crores could increase the Ministry’s budget by an astounding 121 percent.
  • If the wealth of the first hundred billionaires is accumulated, they could fund the National Rural Livelihood Mission scheme, responsible for creating Self Help Groups for women, for the next 365 years.

(All data from Oxfam Report- Inequality kills)

In this background, Vikalp Sangam consisting of 85 grassroots organisations working on alternate path of development released a People’s Manifesto with 21 demands to the political parties and people of India. It was released at the Press Club, Delhi on 13th December 2023.

India needs a fundamental re-orientation of the economy, society, politics, culture, and environment, in order to resolve the growing crises of unemployment, malnutrition, social conflict, ecological collapse and decline in democratic rights.

We urge the following action through full public support in public policies, programmes and adequate finance including budgetary provisions. The gist of the demands are as follows:

  1. Vulnerable sections of society, including women, sexual minorities, Dalits, Adivasis, people with disabilities, and other economically vulnerable populations, be given priority in welfare schemes, while their human rights are protected and their central participation in decision-making is enabled.
  2. Specific measures to reduce gross economic inequalities, including caps on salary levels, basic minimum income and employment guarantee for the most vulnerable, pension for all workers in the primary sector, high taxation on income, wealth and inheritance of the rich, restraints on luxury and wasteful consumption, and steps to curb the enormous ‘black economy’.
  3. Programmes for re-establishing harmony amongst people of different faiths, ethnicities, languages, and cultures, and prompt action against those spreading misinformation, hatred, and enmity.
  4. Full democratic rights to gram sabhas and urban area/mohalla sabhas, including financial and legal powers, and mandatory prior informed consent for any activities affecting them especially related to land use.
  5. A comprehensive policy and law to ensure accountability and transparency of all institutions of the state, political parties, corporations, financial institutions, and media houses.
  6. Repeal of laws/provisions that enable stifling of democratic dissent or provide draconian powers to police and armed forces, including UAPA, NSA, and sedition clause of IPC.
  7. Promotion of livelihoods that combine traditional and modern skills, with highest priority to agriculture, crafts, and small manufacturing at decentralized levels, and ecological regeneration; and extension of MNREGS and other employment security schemes to urban areas.
  8. Reservation for micro/small/medium scale, especially handmade, of all products/services that can be made through community-based producer collectives (such as textiles, footwear, household goods).
  9. Framing of national land/water use plan and policy, through widespread consultation, for conservation of ecosystems and the commons, wildlife and biodiversity, ensuring collective rights to communities dependent on them (e.g. laws similar to the Forest Rights Act, for rivers, marine areas, grasslands, etc).
  10. Budgeting for a country-wide programme of localised land/soil and water regeneration oriented at creating sustainable natural resource assets for local community economies.
  11. Mandatory environmental and social impact assessments of projects, programmes, schemes and sectors, through independent agencies, with full participation of affected communities, and ensure at least a full year of ecological assessments.
  12. Replacement of all chemicals and other substances that are harmful to human or ecosystem/animal health, by ecologically sensitive substances.
  13. Ensuring universal access to adequate, safe food, water, and energy, through ecologically sensitive, decentralized, and democratic means. This includes all food production through organic, biologically diverse methods, giving priority to small farmers, pastoralists and fishers; decentralized water harvesting and management by communities; and decentralized energy production including rooftop and on-farm methods.
  14. Revisions of the National and State Action Plans on Climate Change, and Disaster plans, to fully support vulnerable sections cope with and adapt to the climate crisis and other disasters.
  15. Steps to make urban and rural settlements dignified, liveable, and sustainable, with full rights of access to land, housing, and other amenities for vulnerable sections, and priority to public transport, cycling and walking.
  16. Transformation of all learning and education towards activity-based, enjoyable, culturally and ecologically rooted, mother-tongue-based approaches, including through relevant amendments to the Right to Education Act; dedicate at least 6% of the GDP to this.
  17. Programmes to ensure conditions for healthy living and health services for all, through the integrated use of multiple health systems, linkages with other determinants of health (food, social, mental and physical environment, education, etc), community governance and monitoring. Dedicate at least 3% of GDP to this.
  18. Actions to democratise innovation, technology and knowledge, recognising the creativity of ‘ordinary’ people, placing knowledge in the commons, respecting diversity of knowledge systems, and mandating democratic review of all technologies (including those of the corporate sector) under development.
  19. Encourage democratic flourishing of the arts and sports, removing caste, class and gender discriminations embedded in some of them, making them accessible to all, and ensuring the independence of public institutions promoting them.
  20. Re-establish India’s global role as a champion of human rights, peace and demilitarisation, and ecological sustainability, including revitalising the United Nations, removal of veto powers, and supporting people’s participation in it.
  21. In all the above, give special attention to the empowerment and facilitation of India’s youth, enabling their voices in determining the present and the future with dignified employment.

The political parties who must have started the process of preparing their election manifestos must look at this manifesto, the Dalit manifesto, the manifesto of the People’s Commission on Public Sector and Public Services and the manifesto of the Kisaan Mazdoor Commission. Taking a clue from these, the political parties must promise people that the policies and budgets of the nation will be reoriented to the majority and not the minuscule minority.

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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