Sunny Sebastian

Exposure visits for people's representatives across the country

Initiative of the Independent Commission for People's Rights and Development Four MPs from the north interact with people in Bangalore Five MPs discuss burning issues of the region in Jaipur

JAIPUR: Some of the initiatives taken by the Independent Commission for People's Rights and Development (ICPRD) during 2005 stand out as shining examples of attempts to restore the citizens' faith in democracy. With two "exposure visits" by select Members of Parliament - first to Bangalore and then to Jaipur - ICPRD has shown that people's representatives can well be social activists aspiring to create a better life for the vulnerable sections.

A three-year programme - aimed at enhancing MPs' commitment to development and poverty reduction issues - launched in September this year by ICPRD found four MPs from the north in Bangalore interacting with a cross-section of society. "It was designed as a continuous dialogue between parliamentarians and civil society agencies to interact on and with best practices at the field level through exposure visits," says Nandini Azad, Member-Secretary of ICPRD, the brain behind the initiative.

Bharat Darshan

In November, there were five MPs in Jaipur - three from the south and two from the host State, Rajasthan - discussing the burning issues of the region. On the Bangalore exposure visit, four of the participants were MPs from the north, making it a meaningful "Bharat Darshan".

The exposure visits provided the MPs with an opportunity to learn about the issues in the States from their Governors. They also joined - sometimes as protagonists - ICPRD's unique National Theatre Workshop for Youth on Gender Violence. Both exposures were highly acclaimed by the MPs and the distinguished guests at the round-tables.

These included eminent personalities such as Alan Nazareth, former Ambassador, and Mohandas Pai of Infosys.

The participating MPs in Bangalore were: Tathagata Satpathy of the Biju Janata Dal from Orissa; Lal Singh of the Congress from Jammu and Kashmir; Kiran Maheshwari of the BJP from Rajasthan; Justice Hanumanthappa of the Congress from Karnataka; and Moolchand Meena of the Congress from Rajasthan.

Those who interacted with the group included Samuel Paul, Chairman of Public Affairs Centre, Clinton De Souza from the Alternative Law Forum, Vijay Kumar from the National Law School, Narenda Pani, senior editor of The Economic Times, and Rajiv Gowda from the Indian Institute of Management.

For the Jaipur round, the participating MPs were Jamuna Devi Barupal of the Congress (Rajasthan), Chandra Sekhar Reddy of the Telugu Desam Party (Andhra Pradesh), Girish Kumar Sanghi of the Congress from Andhra Pradesh and Anand Kumar Hegde of the BJP from Karnataka, besides Kiran Maheshwari from the host State. Among others they interacted with Surjit Singh and Pradip Bhargava from the Institute of Development Studies, Sudhir Verma of the Institute of Social Policy Research, Barun Kanjilal of the Indian Institute of Health Management and Research, Chandra Kant Naidu, Resident Editor of Hindustan Times, Jaipur, besides activists in water and environment sectors M. Mehta and Harsh Vardhan.

Dialogue on governance

The round-tables, "Meeting of Minds", brought together multi-stakeholders and policy-makers for an advocacy dialogue on governance, public affairs, urban development and innovations, with emphasis on accountability and poverty reduction.

In Bangalore, the round-table highlighted the best practices available in Karnataka in terms of innovative advocacy at the city level.

The main debate emerged around Information Technology taking over governance or governance supporting IT initiatives. In Jaipur it was more of the basics - drinking water, fighting social evils (girl child discrimination, Dalit atrocities, child marriage), farmers' issues, health security and drought proofing.

Caucus for development

Dr. Nazareth, who congratulated Dr. Azad on initiating a "caucus for development issues in Parliament", said the pains revived the memories of Mahatma Gandhi.

"India seems to be shining only in the cities, and there has been little development in rural areas," he said.

"We may dream of a global village. We must think globally but act locally," Mr. Hegde said.

Seen as path-breaker

The MPs, who acknowledged their predilections in public life with the requirement of fulfilling populist demands from the electorate, said the initiative would serve as a path-breaker. Some of them were forthcoming on their shortcomings.

"The present level of debate in Parliament is not up to the mark, and political reasons are to be blamed for this. There is hardly any time left after walk-outs and dharnas," Mr. Reddy said.