Human development is identified with expanding the richness and dignity of human life and reduction of distress and poverty. It is the ultimate goal of any welfare, social policy or public initiative. Still, the measurement of Human development is a contentious subject. Some economists and policy makers treat economy’s GDP-driven growth rate as a marker of Human Development. However despite intrinsic connections between the expansion of GDP and overall development, the approach is problematic due to occurrence of jobless and unproductive growth.
That is why development agencies like the UN, World Bank, think tanks, NGOs and governments look for more composite and multifarious methods of measuring human development. Some of these include a study of per capita calorie intake, income, expenditure and social well-being. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index of life expectancy, education, income and a host of other socio-economic indicators. The HDI also explains how a country with a lower GDP growth rate can score better on human development index.
In the recent years more robust and multi-dimensional methods of measuring human development are being developed. These take into account non-monetary indicators like education, health, sanitation, water, electricity and employment opportunities. The multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is not a replacement for HDI but is increasingly being seen as complementary to it not only for defining poverty but also for targeting under-development with policy interventions.
India’s track record in dealing with the issues of human development is worse than the poorer neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, according to economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Since liberalization of its economy in the early nineties, India has witnessed impressive economic growth but we are among the worst performers on the HDI front featuring a dismal 135th rank among 187 countries. In contrast our Asian neighbours like China (91) and Sri Lanka (73) are doing much better.
For Common Cause, human development is not an area of core competence but we have always been concerned about issues like malnutrition, unemployment, inequalities, poor quality of schools and hospitals, lack of opportunities and vulnerabilities of large sections of our people. We have also been taking up issues of transparency, accountability and good and responsive governance which have a direct bearing on issues of poverty eradication and human development.
Following are some of the interventions made by common cause through PILs and advocacy programmes involving issues of human development:
Right of Construction workers of C’wealth Games projects
In 2010, the Commonwealth Games brought laurels for the country and helped in projecting India as an economic powerhouse. But in the process, reports emerged about flagrant violations of labor welfare legislations and neglect of safety norms during the construction boom in the run up to the games, leading to a high incidence of fatality of construction workers in games projects.
The plight of the construction workers, prompted a number of civil society organizations, including Common Cause to come together and form a coalition collectively known as Common Wealth Games – Citizens for Workers, Women & Children (CWG-CWC). The coalition initiated a campaign for securing the rights of the construction workers.
Eventually, a PIL was filed jointly by Common Cause, the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, and Nirmaan Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam in the Delhi High Court, seeking the following orders:
- Direct the respondents to ensure compliance of the provisions of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and the rules made thereunder relating to health and safety of construction workers are duly complied with;
- Direct the respondents to ensure that all construction workers employed in connection with the Commonwealth Games 2010 are registered with the Welfare Board constituted under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996
- Direct the respondents to provide all such construction workers with appropriate documentation as required under the Act and give due benefits with retrospective effect from the dates of starting work.
- Pass an order directing the respondents to ensure that all the workmen employed in connection with the Commonwealth Games are given identity cards, insurance cover under Jan Shree Bima Yojana/Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, Wage slips, at least the minimum wage, double wages for overtime, a paid weekly off, proper medical facilities, workmen‟s compensation in all cases of accidents, clean drinking water and toilet facilities.
- Pass an order directing the respondents to ensure that the quarters where the workers are staying are properly designed and maintained and have secure doors, electricity supply, adequate number of toilets which are cleaned daily, and have hygienic surroundings.
The Delhi High Court in a series of orders issued directions to the Labour Department and other concerned authorities for registration of all construction workers, issuing pass book to them and ensuring that they receive the benefits due to them. The High Court gave specific instructions with regard to the children’s education scheme, medical benefits, maternity benefits and death benefits. The Court in another order directed that payments to construction workers should be made through ECS transfer as under NREGA and that that safety equipments and medical facilities be provided to the workers within one week.
The final order of the Delhi High Court, pronounced on 20.09.2010, was couched in advisory terms and takes stock of the compliance by the respondents of the directions issued by the Court in a succession of interim orders and makes elaborate recommendations on measures to streamline the administration of labour laws and the implementation of labour welfare schemes. The order did not contain any clear directions to be executed within a fixed time schedule. The redeeming feature of the order was that an action taken report was to be filed in six months.
Rights of school teachers
Improving educational infrastructure in schools and providing quality education has been one of the primary goals of Common Cause. We have been receiving oral complaints from various sources that teachers on contract with private schools were being maltreated. The victims were unable to raise their voices for fear of being thrown out. A study conducted by our organization confirmed the rampant malpractices in private schools. We took up the matter with the Department of Education, Government of NCT of Delhi and requested them to introduce a monitoring system for watching over the teachers engaged by private schools and make their working conditions more conducive for imparting quality education to children. As we did not receive any reply, we filed a Writ Petition in the High Court of Delhi. The Court ordered that the Director of Education, Government of NCT of Delhi should investigate within six weeks the cases referred to it by Common Cause and take appropriate action under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973, taking due care to conceal the identity of the complainants.
Although this petition was disposed of, the case of victimization of a school teacher, by the management of Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School, Brijpuri, Delhi, was actively pursued by Common Cause in the High Court under its Contempt jurisdiction. Concerned over the undue delay on the part of the Directorate of Education in completing the inquiry, the Court ordered the Directorate on October 13, 2009 to complete the inquiry against the management of the school within two weeks. On completion of the inquiry, the Directorate ordered the reinstatement of the complainant. As the school did not comply with the order of the Directorate, the Court directed that the school be made a party to the proceedings. In the hearing on December 3, 2009, the school appeared and filed its reply alleging that the complainant teacher had abandoned her services. This was contested by Common Cause. The High Court directed the Directorate of Education to record the teacher’s statement and give a report to the Court. The matter was finally disposed of on April 28, 2010 when the High Court ordered the Directorate of Education to take action against the errant school expeditiously.
Exploitation of children by begging mafia
Children under organized mafia begging near red light junctions are a common sight in Delhi and other big cities. An indication of the magnitude of the problem was furnished by an operation mounted in Bangalore toward the end of 2011 in the context of a public outcry against child beggary. The operation was the combined effort of Bangalore city police, Child Welfare Committee, State Departments of Health, Education and Social Welfare and seven NGOs working against human trafficking. According to a news report which appeared in the Dec 13, 2011 issue of Bangalore Mirror under the caption ‘Drugging Kids is Childs Play for Begging Mafia’, 106 infants and an equal number of child beggars between the ages of two and ten were rescued from a well-organized begging mafia during one of the drives under this operation. Many of the rescued children were from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Medical tests confirmed that the infants had been dosed with cough syrup, sleeping pills and injected with narcotic substances. The babies, who were in a state of stupor even three days after their rescue, had been doped with depressants for two reasons: it made the work of the adult beggars much easier and also exerted a stronger pull at the heart strings of the alms-givers.
The prevalence of this barbaric practice in Mumbai was highlighted by DNA, Mumbai in a news report titled ‘Doped babies on rent for begging’, published in its issue of July 17, 2012. It carried heart-rending stories of infants, sometimes as small as two months old, being rented out for begging. More often than not, they were sedated with opium in order to keep them quiet.
The picture is not too different in the National Capital too. Common Cause drew the attention of the concerned authorities by submitting representations with photographic evidence on such rampant exploitation of infants and young children by professional beggars and begging mafia all over the country. These photographs contained heart rending pictures of apparently sedated infants being used for the purpose of begging at busy traffic junctions in the National Capital.
We emphasized in our letters that the issues involved were not limited to the protection of child rights but also impinged on the domain of social welfare. We requested these authorities to play a proactive role in a concerted effort to wipe out this shameful blot on our national conscience. Following our representation, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights sought help from Delhi Police to investigate a child kidnapping racket.
The issue raised by us was also featured in the Times of India on May 5, 2013.
Right to education (RTE)
Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits.
Common Cause is much concerned about the abysmal learning outcomes in the government school system as highlighted in Annual Status of Education Reports (ASER) brought out by Pratham and other independent assessments which have corroborated this. A number of initiatives have been taken by our organization for effectuating the Right to free and compulsory education. These are:
- Common Cause and Good Earth Education Foundation organized a brainstorming session in February 2014 with Pratham and other organizations having expertise in the domain of universal education to explore the advocacy options available to civil society for improving the learning outcomes.
- The feasibility of seeking judicial intervention for effectuating the right to free and compulsory elementary education is being considered.
- An appropriate strategy for securing the desired improvement in the outcomes will be evolved after a wider consultation.
- A series of meetings have been held with Video Volunteers, who under their campaign “Pass ya Fail” have shared about 60 videos with us. These videos cover approximately 60-70 districts of Bihar, Jharkhand and UP. These videos document lack of access to clean drinking water, separate toilets for girls and boys, proper mid-day meals and safe buildings, libraries and playgrounds. We are working with the group on evolving an effective strategy for advocacy and legal interventions.
- To prevent the incidence of drop outs, a preventive approach has been institutionalized in place of the earlier curative approach of rehabilitation, in the state of Karnataka. We are liasoning with CIVIC (Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City), an organization based in Bangalore, to explore if similar amendments can be brought about in the RTE Act or RTE Rules of other states to prevent the high incidence of school drop outs.
(To read more on our petitions please visit our case library section)