AADHAAR: A Tool of Deprivation
Technological wonders are an organic part of capitalist modernity. This is more pronounced in the age neoliberal capitalism, which makes workers footloose while pursuing its agenda of primitive accumulation.

Very recently, Aadhaar has emerged as a tool of making workers jobless in neoliberal India. Very recently, the central government introduced the Aadhaar-based payment system (ABPS) for MGNREGS workers. From February 1, 2023, payments to MGNREGS beneficiaries were to be made only through ABPS, when only 44 per cent of the total workers in India were eligible for ABPS. It is estimated that in 14 states in India more than 50 per cent of workers were not eligible for the new system of payment. In Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra, where more than 2 crore workers each are enrolled under the MGNREGS, over 60 per cent were found to be not eligible. Reportedly, the ABPS will adversely impact close to 80 per cent of workers in Maharashtra, who are yet to complete the relevant formalities. (See The Hindu, February 27, 2023)

The motive of the central government is quite clear in the amount allocated for the Scheme in the last budget. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj noted with concern in its report that “Budget Estimates for MGNREGS has been reduced by Rs 29,400 crore for 2023-24 when compared to Revised Estimates of 2022-23” (Quoted in The Indian Express, March 16, 2023). In fact, the Budget allocation for the Scheme was slashed by 33 per cent from the revised estimates of Rs 89400 crore in the current fiscal year to Rs 60,000 crore for FY 2023-24. (Hindustan Times, February 2, 2023)

The mainstream media projects Aadhaar as the ideal tool of delivering welfare benefits to the people in a transparent mode. In actual reality, the BJP government in power at the Centre is using Aadhaar as a tool for depriving the footloose people in India of their meagre livelihoods.
Arup Sen, Kolkata

National Conference
The first successful attempt by Indians in the pre-independence days to build an all-India platform was the National Conference. The Indian Association, led by Surendranath Banerjea and Ananda Mohan Bose, convened the first National Conference in Calcutta from December 28 to 30, 1883. The famous educationist Ramtanu Lahiri presided over the conference. Around one hundred delegates, mostly from Bengal but also from Bombay, Madras, and Northern India, attended the conference. Issues discussed included subjects of national interest like representative council, education, the separation of judicial and executive function, and the increased employment of Indians in the public service. The organisers were satisfied with the response received by the conference. In 1884, Surendranath Banerjea attended numerous public meetings across Northern India, exhorting his countrymen to fight for reforms in the civil service. The second National Conference was held in Calcutta on December 25, 26, and 27, 1885. It was convened jointly by the Indian Association, the British Indian Association, the Central Mohamedan Association, and the Indian Union. Delegates from the Bengal Presidency, Bombay, and Northern India were present. The conference reiterated its commitment to the issues raised in its first session. Finally, the conference concluded with the decision to convene every year in different parts of the country. It is interesting to note that when the National Conference met in Calcutta around the same time, the Indian National Congress held its first session at Bombay from December 28 to 30, 1885. The issues raised in the Congress platform were similar to those discussed in the National Conference. Hence, the National Conference merged with the Indian National Congress when the latter held its second session in Calcutta on December 27–30, 1886. Commenting on this, Surendranath Banerjea writes in his autobiography, A Nation in Making, "Henceforth those who worked with us joined the Congress and heartily co-operated with it."(92) Thus, for the sake of national unity, the National Conference willingly subsumed itself in the Indian National Congress.
Visakh S M, Kerala

Bottled Water
Surging global bottled water consumption reflects the failure by governments to improve public water supplies which is putting the UN sustainable development goal of safe drinking water by 2030 under threat, said a UN academic think tank recently.

The bottled water market saw 73% growth from 2010 to 2020, and consumption is on track to increase from around 350 billion litres in 2021 to 460 billion litres by 2030, according to the UN University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

"The rise in bottled water consumption reflects decades of limited progress in and many failures of public water supply systems", the institute's director Kaveh Madani said in statement.

The UN estimates that some 2.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, with the number of people who had access growing by only 4% between 2016 and 2020.

Developing nations depend on bottled water to make up this shortfall. Egypt, facing water scarcity, was the fastest growing market for treated bottled water from 2018 to 2021, the UNU report said.

Singapore and Australia were the biggest per capita consumers of bottled water at 1,129 litres and 504 litres a year respectively, according to the report. Malaysia led developing countries in per capita consumption, at just under 150 litres.

More than a third of Americans said they use bottled water as their main water source.

In addition to concerns over poor access to clean drinking water, rising bottled water consumption also threatens the environment, ranging from concerns that corporations are depleting groundwater to plastic pollution.
Gloria Dickie, London

Police Notice
PUCL, Delhi, strongly deplores the notice of Delhi Police directing Gandhi Peace Foundation (GPF), New Delhi to cancel the meeting on “Media Blackout and State Repression in Kashmir” organised under the banner of “Campaign Against State Repression” (CASR) comprising various organisations [to be held on 15th March, 2023 at the GPF]. The reason given by the police in its letter is that the police had received input about a disturbance to law and order in the area. Another reason given by the police is that no permission was sought from the police for holding the meeting.

It is obvious that the reasons advanced by the police do not hold any ground. The meeting was to be held inside the auditorium of the GPF and no permission is required to hold an indoor public meeting. There is no such law. If the police suspected any disturbance, it could have taken adequate measures to control the law and order situation. Large number of indoor public meetings are held in Delhi on various burning issues and there is no requirement to take permission.

Another reason given by the police is that an anonymous group was organising the meeting and it could not verify the details of its members in spite of its efforts. This reason is also baseless. ‘Campaign against State Repression’ (CASR) is a well-known body of civil rights activists and organisations which has been organising public meetings, demonstrations from time to time in Delhi and its activities are covered by the media. On 5th December 2022 it held a Press Conference at Surjit Bhawan, New Delhi demanding unconditional acquittal of Prof G N Saibaba & others who have been in jail for years in cooked up charges in Bhima Koregaon case. This press conference was also addressed by D Raja, well known leader of CPI. CASR also held a public hearing on 12th January 2023 at Surjit Bhawan demanding release of political prisoners framed under the yoke of laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act i.e. UAPA which was addressed by well-known professors and activists and was very well covered in the media.

This meeting on Kashmir was to be addressed by eminent personalities in public life like Justice Hussain Masoodi, a Rajya Sabha MP and retd. High court judge, Prof Nandita Narain, well known activist and former Chairperson of DUTA, CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami, film maker Sanjay Kak and Mr Shahid Saleem, the Chairman of the United Peace Alliance. All are well known figures in public life. It is quite clear that the law and order problem is not the issue; real motive was to gag the freedom of speech on an important public issue involving rights of the people of Kashmir. Banning an indoor public meeting is totally arbitrary, malicious and unconstitutional. Even during the infamous ‘emergency (June 1975 to March 1977) indoor meeting opposing ‘the emergency’ were not banned. The present government and the police must remember what Gandhiji said as far back as 1921, in a message he wrote in Young India, “In a democracy people are not like sheep. In democracy we must jealously guard freedom of expression and thought and action”.

PUCL Delhi therefore urges upon the government and the Police to desist from following such unconstitutional and unlawful methods which are in violation of the constitutional rights of the citizens and are harmful to the democratic system.
ND Pancholi, President
TS Ahuja, General Secretary
Ashok Bharti, Secretary
People’s Union for Civil Libterties, (PUCL), Delhi
17th March, 2023


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Vol 55, No. 40, April 2 - 8, 2023