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  AOL's Manavta Yatra comes to a glorious conclusion
  Delhi, May 10: The Art of Living's (AOL) 'Manavta Yatra' that flagged off a new era of transformation for slum dwellers in East Delhi has drawn to a close. Spearheaded by AOL Director and socio-political leader Maheish Girri, the yatra that commenced on October 13, 2012, covered 130 slums and re-settlement areas of East Delhi.

Addressing the press briefing, and explaining the reasons that prompted him to take up this prodigious task, Maheish Girri said that India has set many milestones in the field of education, technology, science, space and sports.

However, pitted against these achievements are the stark realities of India’s poor and disadvantaged masses. "Are we really on the path to becoming a developed nation when the desperate cries that emanate from the slums of India are turning louder by the day?", he asked emphatically. The major population of this country still resides in villages and slums. As long as the people of these villages and slums won't prosper mentally, physically and economically, the country cannot be labelled as 'developed'.

The Manavta Yatra was also designed as a mass mobilization initiative to ignite a sense of responsibility among people to take ownership of their surroundings at the grassroots level, and hence achieve the greater good of nurturing and sustaining development in the villages and slums of India.

Throwing light on the objectives, Girri said, "Manavta is what binds and unites us all. It is the true measure of a country's development. To lay the bricks for a progressive society, we have to start by educating the masses on the basic tenets of ‘Manavta’ i.e humanitarianism."

Citing the spiraling crime rates in the capital as a strong indication of the degrading moral values in society, he said, "Most crimes are rooted in the slums. When we scratch the surface, we find that lack of basic amenities, sanitation and inability to fulfill elementary needs is causing a gradual decay in human principles, which manifests itself in unlawful and inhuman acts."

So what is the solution? "Strengthening the legal framework alone would not solve this problem. The need of the hour is to focus on eradicating crime from its very root, and re-establishing the morals and ethics at all levels in the society."

Addressing this need, Maheish Girri embarked on the Manavta Yatra. He dovetailed into the slums of east Delhi to understand the core issues that plague the residents and carve out effective solutions. He found out that majority of children were using some kind of an intoxication. Moreover, their lives being deficient in all aspects -- education, hygiene, health, morals etc, they are easily instigated by local gangsters, who themselves have also been a victim of the same circumstances, to commit petty crimes. It's a vicious circle that needs to be addressed.

"Today in our country, we find various means to fulfill ill-desires, but almost none to cure them, leading to the constant increase in crime rate", said Girri. He further added that those who ruled the country for the last 65 years are clearly responsible for this twisted thought process and ever-increasing poverty. Instead of addressing the concerns of the Indian slums and taking proactive measures to ensure their holistic development, they have only contributed to their growth."

More than seven lakh people attended the Yatras, and many have had life-changing experiences, while others have worked towards their new found aspiration for better living. At each Yatra, Girri personally met all the slum dwellers and addressed their grievances, and implored the communities to exercise their rights, including voting rights without any greed or fear. Serving the larger objective of eradicating the root of crime, his messages especially addressed those who had fallen into crime and wayward activities. To mentally and physically empower the youth and show them the right path, a free character building programme of Art of Living called the ‘Nav Chetna Shivir’ as well as workshops on health, hygiene, physical well being and employment were conducted in these slums, as a follow up to the Manavta Yatra.

At the culmination of each Yatra, people come forward in great numbers to share their grievances and concerns with the Art of Living members, and pledge their support in transforming themselves and their surroundings.
 
   
   
  Amartya Sen calls for restoration of parliamentary democracy
  "Only those who have weak arguments are afraid of debate", says Nobel-laureate Amartya Sen.

With the Parliament unable to function for weeks on end, critical social legislations are being held up. As political parties blame each other for this stalemate, the Indian people – especially the poor – are paying the price. Casualties of this blame game include the Food Security Bill, the Grievance Redressal Bill, and more.

Speaking at a press conference organized to discuss important social legislations that are being held up by the paralysis of Parliament, especially the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) and the Grievance Redressal Bill, advocates and critics of these bills expressed a shared concern about the Parliament;s failure to initiate reasoned debates on these critical matters.

Amartya Sen came down strongly on the irresponsible behaviour of the Opposition parties. If the Opposition had objections to certain practices and policies of the government, he said, the responsible response would be to debate these issues in parliament rather than disrupt and kill all debate. "Killing debate" raised the suspicion that the opposition's arguments were weak.

MR Madhavan from Parliamentary Research Services presented some alarming statistics on the steady decline of parliamentary norms. While in the 1950s and 1960s, the norm was 140-150 working days per year, this has crashed to 50-60 days in recent years. He pointed that even a small number of MPs can disrupt Parliament and hold it to ransom. Informed debate is also a casualty of this situation: Bills are passed without any discussion since there is no space or time for debate.

Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) stressed that the Grievance Redressal Bill was important for a successful implementation of all social programmes, and that all political parties support it. He said that people "cannot wait" any longer for this Bill, which is closely linked to their survival.

Speaking on behalf of the Right to Food Campaign, Kavita Srivastava began by saying that "if there is any Bill that really needs to be passed, it is the National Food Security Bill which would affect the lives of millions". However she also stressed that the campaign has some serious objections to the current version of the Bill, such as the absence of a time frame for implementation and the provision for cash transfers in lieu of food entitlements. She felt that the amendments that have been moved by the CPI-M, CPI, JD-U and the TMC – all parties other than BJP (no amendments have been moved by the BJP) - will strengthen the Bill and must be discussed in Parliament. In particular, she said, the main opposition party must allow these to be discussed.

Responding to Srivastava's criticisms of the Food Bill, Sen agreed that the current version of the Food Bill was a "moderate" bill, yet he argued that it would lead to a substantial enhancement of the entitlements of the poor through the PDS. Whether the Bill goes far enough, he said, is another question, but the case for passing it without delay in the best possible form, he felt, was very strong.

Asked about his views on the Ordinance route for the NFSB, Sen said that he would be very sad if it went the ordinance way. Ordinances, he said, are brought because Parliament did not function and that the correct question then would be, why did the government have to go the Ordinance way? Who is responsible for Parliament not functioning?

In his concluding comments, Jean Drèze reiterated that aside from the food bill and grievance redressal bill, other important social legislations were also being held up by a political paralysis for which all political parties bear some responsibility. The stalemate must be resolved whatever it takes – even an extension of the Budget session of Parliament if need be.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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