09/03/2014, 00.00
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Narendra Modi's first 100 days, good for business, bad for religious minorities

Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a coalition of NGOs, releases a review of the government's first months in office. Some signs are positive, in areas like poverty, but others are worrisome. The latter include Hindu radicalism and pro-business policies, which could degrade the country's environment and overuse its natural resources.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken some good steps its first 100 days to address endemic problems like hunger and power. however, it has also created a sense of fear and insecurity in the country's ethno-religious minorities, this according to Pradeep Baisakh, national coordinator for Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), which means 'Don't Break Your Promises', a civil society coalition of more than 4,000 NGOs.

The group's goal is to ensure that the concerns and aspirations of Dalits, Adivasis, nomadic tribes, women, children, youth, disabled people and people living with HIV-AIDS are incorporated in the government's programmes, policies and development goals.

Before this year's union elections, the WNTA consulted 16 million people in order to draft a People's Manifesto on development, rights, services, governance and accountability.

It complied a report released on Tuesday on the first 100 days of Modi's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government, led by Hindu ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"There are several reasons to be optimistic, such as India's robust position regarding food security on the global stage," the report said.

Last month in fact, the Modi government vetoed the World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaty to streamline rules for shipping goods across borders.

The government blocked the deal because it wanted more attention paid to WTO limits on stockpiling food, which it feared, would affect its subsidised food distribution programme, which was adopted by the previous Congress administration in order to help feed more than 800 million people.

In addition, some interventions proposed for health, education, sanitation such as 50 medicines available free of cost or a commitment to attain universal sanitation in three years, are to be commended for their intent, Baikash said. Others, however, have raised concerns.

"Some of the most worrisome trends in Modi's first 100 days were a policy to expedite environmental clearances for industrial projects, the rising communal violence, and an insidious ways to stifle dissent," said the WNTA national co-coordinator.

"Even the arbitrary transfer of governors and the shutting down of the Planning Commission -essential for vulnerable and marginalised people - are a threat of a healthy democracy," Baikash  noted.

At the same time, the report criticised parliament for failing to pass key bills such as those aimed at politically empowering women and protecting low caste and tribal communities from violence.

Furthermore, false rumours spread by some radical Hindu groups - like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - have set off alarm bells that Muslim men are conducting 'Love Jihad' to ensnare young Hindu women and forcibly convert them to Islam.

The report noted other trends that did not bode well for Muslims, who account for about 15 per cent of India's 1.2 billion people. Many Muslims continue to live on the margins of society.

Finally, "haste or efficiency could be achieved at the expense of justice and the wellbeing of the environment, natural resources and community," Baisakh warned.

Within a month of taking office, the Rural Development minister suggested reducing local community input in the management of their natural resources.

Expansion of coalmines has been exempted from public hearings, and mid-sized polluting industries can now operate within 5 km of national parks and natural sanctuaries, as opposed to 10 km as indicated in a Supreme Court ruling.

India's first independent government established the Planning Commission in 1947 to draft five-year plans to plan the country's development with its most vulnerable groups in mind.

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