NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In his first 100 days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has protected the food security of millions of Indians on the global arena, but early trends suggest his government's pro-business policy will hurt the environment and the poor.
In "100 days review of NDA government" – a report released on Tuesday, focusing on issues faced by the country's poor and marginalised - civil society groups delivered a mixed verdict on Modi's coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which swept to power in May.
Compiled by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), a coalition of more than 4,000 civil society groups, the report examines early trends and emerging policies in governance, environment, health, education and the rights of women and marginalised groups.
"There are several reasons to be optimistic such as India's robust position regarding food security on the global stage, a mission mode attempt to end financial exclusion, plethora of schemes announced for women," it said.
Last month, Modi's government vetoed the adoption of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaty to streamline rules for shipping goods across borders.
The deal was blocked as the government wanted more attention paid to WTO limits on stockpiling food which it feared would impact its subsidised food distribution programme that aims to feed nearly 850 million people.
The WNTA - which includes charities such as World Vision, Jagori, Water Aid India and India Alliance for Child Rights - praised commitments to stem the rising reports of violence against women with efforts such as the establishment of 660 One Stop Crisis Centres for rape victims.
The NGOs also lauded Modi for a decision to make 50 essential generic medicines free of cost, commitments to build toilets in every home, and the better functioning of parliament.
BUSINESS OVER ENVIRONMENT
One of the most worrisome trends in Modi's first 100 days was a policy to expedite environmental clearances for industrial projects.
"The environment minister has declared that the environment ministry is no more the 'roadblock ministry', but one where decisions are being taken faster," the report said.
"The civil society is concerned that haste or efficiency could be at the expense of justice and the well being of the environment, natural resources and community."
It said within a month of assuming power, the NDA's rural development minister hinted at diluting the amount of say local communities have in the exploitation of their natural resources.
Expansion of coal mines has been exempted from public hearings, and mid-sized polluting industries can now operate within 5 km of national parks and sanctuaries, as opposed to 10 km as indicated in a Supreme Court directive, it said.
The charities also said they were "unsettled" following the leak by the NDA of an Intelligence Bureau report that criticises organisations such as Greenpeace India, ActionAid India and Oxfam as being anti-development and funded by foreigners with interests against India.
"I don't think it’s good to be naming groups who are giving a voice to the marginalised. We are not anti-development, and we are hoping that this is not a move to shrink the space of civil society," said Paul Divakar, WNTA's convener.
The report criticised lawmakers for failing to pass key bills such as those aimed at politically empowering women and protecting low caste and tribal communities from violence.
It also questioned a decision by the NDA - which is led by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - to amend a law to allow juveniles found guilty of crimes such as rape and murder to be given the same punishments as adults.
It said this was a populist demand following outrage after the high-profile Delhi murder and gang rape case where one of those who was convicted was a juvenile and was given only three years in a detention home.
The report also noted trends that did not bode well for Muslims, who account for about 15 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. Many Muslims continue to live on the margins.
It said some religious Hindu radical groups gained prominence soon after the government took office, and there has been a spate of anti-Muslim statements by some BJP leaders and religious groups.
Furthermore, there have been false rumours that Muslim men are conducting “Love Jihad” by ensnaring Hindu girls and forcibly converting them to Islam – which has alarmed Muslims and could lead to increased communal tensions.
(Editing by Alisa Tang: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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