Thursday, April 30, 2015

NGOs and agrarian crises by Kuldip Nayar (The Statesman April 30th 2015)

NGOs and agrarian crises
Kuldip Nayar
It is unfortunate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is harassing and hounding NGOs. Probably, the party’s leaders do not realise that many of their members were once themselves part of NGOs. When the Jana Sangh merged into the Janata Party after successfully resisting the authoritarian rule of Mrs Indira Gandhi, they were part of the struggle to uphold human rights, which the then ruling Congress Party had trampled upon mercilessly. How can those very people be anti NGO now?
Accounts of voluntary organisations are audited and checked by the Finance Ministry on a regular basis. All foreign funds come through official channels. There is little scope for any hanky-panky. The change of procedure is nothing but harassment. Prior government sanction means endless waiting for the funds urgently needed in the fields where the activists work.
I am surprised how the BJP has forgotten the Gandhi Peace Foundation was hauled over the coals after Mrs Gandhi came to power in 1980. The then Jana Sangh workers were chastised unnecessarily. The BJP is only a new avatar of the Jana Sangh, which took part in movements for the assertion of individuals’ right to liberty and free speech.
I know both Teesta Setelvad and Javed Anand. They enjoy an impeccable reputation for integrity. Their relentless fight against communal forces is the bright chapter in the annals of secularism. That the BJP is tilting towards Hindu ideology is unfortunate, to say the least. But that does not mean those who are fighting against parochialism to underline the secular spirit of our Constitution should be getting the wrong end of the stick.
After winning freedom, the constituent assembly discussed many forms of governance. But what came to be supported by all sections of the society was a secular polity. To undo that would mean mocking at the sacrifices which millions of people made to establish a democratic, secular republic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was reportedly behind the Gujarat riots which killed thousands of Muslims, has himself realised the futility of dividing the society on religious basis. It is a healthy development that Modi himself now publicly says: sab ka sarkar, sab ka vikas (Everybody’s government for everybody’s progresses). Unthinkingly some BJP members, who are under the influence of the RSS, are picking on members of minority communities and going to the extent of vandalising churches or indulging in conversions in the name of ghar wapsi .
Modi should intervene at some stage to stop them from bringing a bad name to India which is admired for its spirit of tolerance and sense of accommodation. I remember a Jews’ delegation calling on me when I was India’s High Commissioner at London. The delegates wanted to convey their gratefulness for the tolerance India had come to signify.
They said that it was the only country in the world where Jews had never faced any kind of discrimination. At that time New Delhi had not given recognition to Israel. Still they did not make any issue of it. What is disconcerting is that secularism which should have deepened its roots by this time has failed to do so. India has developed economically as it should have in the last 68 years since independence.
Maybe, rapid economic development is the answer. In this context, the backwardness of villages testifies to our failure. Farmers are the backbone of India’s economy. But they are suffering the most. Their countrywide suicides indicate that the benefits of production have not reached them. Even a basic amenity like clean drinking water is a mirage.
Another farmer has committed suicide in the well-off state of Maharashtra. He is the ninth since March. The news from other states is too distressing. The farmer cannot afford the rising cost of production at the farm. After a farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide at a public meeting in New Delhi, I thought that his death would touch the respondent chord and the nation would focus its attention on how to improve the plight of the farmers. I must admit that I was wrong. There was a furore in parliament all right. Prime Minister Modi too expressed his grief. Yet, it was business as usual soon after. The farmer was forgotten. I have not been able to draw up a blueprint on how to improve the farmer’s lot.
In fact, the introduction of land acquisition bill in parliament showed that the corporate sector has had its way. The concerns of the farmers, a pre-requisite, have been dropped. The matter has been pushed into the background. Even the opposition's march, led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is an event of the distant past. I do not have to remind that some 67 per cent of the people in the country depend on fields which are increasingly becoming killing fields.
Showing preference to the corporate sector, which no doubt provides jobs, will be against the ethos of the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi focused attention on people in rural areas and moved from a bustling city to a small place, Wardha, which later became an important town in the country. NGOs are carrying on the work of the Mahatma. The sanction to some 900 NGOs has been withdrawn because they have not kept accounts properly. The purpose of auditing their accounts should be to see whether there is an overall pilferage of funds.
Expecting them to maintain accounts is not wrong. But checking even the last paisa spent is asking for a little too much because these activists are engaged in day to day work at the grassroots level. The task which Teesta and Anand have embarked upon may not be to the liking of the ruling party because ideologically they are poles apart. One stands for a composite society while the other is engaged in a task which is divisive. Both cannot coexist. Freedom was won for a secular democratic society and the society should stay with that purpose.

Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm

Pope Francis is to deliver an encyclical this summer on how climate change affects the poor.CreditAndreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.
But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.
As part of the effort for the encyclical, top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate changeaccord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.
The Vatican summit meeting will focus on the links between poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address.
Vatican officials, who have spent more than a year helping Francis prepare his message, have convened several meetings already on the topic. Last month, they met with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.
In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.
But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.
“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of theHeartland Institute, said in a statement. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”
The institute plans to hold a news conference and panel event in Rome on Tuesday in protest of the Vatican summit meeting.
But climate policy advocates see a scheduled address by the pope to Congress in September as a potent moment — about 30 percent of members of Congress are Catholics, more than belong to any other religion, according to a study published this year by the Pew Research Center.
Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for some uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.
“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’? ”
In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.
Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.
Maureen Mullarkey, a painter and writer, said in the conservative journalFirst Things that “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.”
Timothy E. Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation, said: “We’ve never seen a pope do anything like this. No single individual has as much global sway as he does. What he is doing will resonate in the government of any country that has a leading Catholic constituency.”
Francis, however, is not the first pope to push an environmental message. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, called the “green pope” by some, wrote about the environment and the impact of climate change in documents that have been collected in a book, “The Environment.” But Catholic and climate policy experts acknowledge that those works had little substantive impact on global warming policy.
Francis’ policy moves on climate change, particularly his use of the encyclical, go far beyond what has come before. Catholics point to other papal encyclicals that have had public policy impacts: Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on labor and workers’ rights is believed to have spurred the workers’ rights movement and led to the creation of labor unions.
“I think this moves the needle,” said Charles J. Reid Jr., a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “Benedict was an ivory-tower academic. He wrote books and hoped they would persuade by reason. But Pope Francis knows how to sell his ideas. He is engaged in the marketplace.”
Francis, who chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, has had far more influence on the church and public. Born in Argentina, Francis draws cheering crowds from around the world and millions of followers to his social media accounts. He has been embraced for his humility, antipoverty agenda, progressive statements on social issues and efforts to reform the Vatican bureaucracy.
This month he said in a Twitter post: “We need to care for the earth so that it may continue, as God willed, to be a source of life for the entire human family.”
The pope’s influence on the Paris climate accord may be strongest in Latin America. In past years, Latin American countries have resisted efforts to enact climate policy, arguing that developing economies should not have to cut emissions while developed economies continue to pollute.
But over the past year, some Latin American governments have signaled a willingness to step forward on climate policy, and this year Mexico became one of the first nations to submit a plan ahead of the Paris talks.
“This pope is more than just a church leader — he is a political leader, particularly in Latin America,” said Romina Picolotti, president of theCenter for Human Rights and Environment in Argentina. “Youth in Latin America are really following him closely.”

LARR :Five important aspects of the proposed amendment:

[Five important aspects of the proposed amendment:

* The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition,
Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 seeks to Amend
the Act of 2013 (LARR Act, 2013) and thereby create five special
categories of land use: 1. defence, 2. rural infrastructure, 3
affordable housing, 4. industrial corridors, and 5. infrastructure
projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the
central government owns the land.

* These five categories are exempted from the provisions of the LARR Act, 2013.
In this act, consent of 80 per cent of land owners are required for
private projects and 70 per cent of land owners' consent are required
for PPP projects.

* Social Impact Assessment to identify those affected will not be
required for these five categories.
Restrictions on the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land
imposed by LARR Act 2013 will also be held nullified.

* The Bill brings provisions for compensation, rehabilitation, and
resettlement under other related Acts such as the National Highways
Act and the Railways Act in consonance with the LARR Act.

* Acquisition of land by 'private companies' mentioned in LARR Act,
2013 will be changed to acquisition for 'private entities', which may
include companies, corporations and nonprofit organisations.

(Source: <>
and <>.)]

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pope tells priests not to live for their 'own pleasure' or act 'like a peacock'

Pope tells priests not to live for their 'own pleasure' or act 'like a peacock'

Francis urges new priests to nourish congregations with homilies, while making sure they are not bored.


Vatican City: Pope Francis presided over the ordination of nearly twenty men to the priesthood on Sunday, where he warned them against being vain  priests who live first for their own pleasure rather than for God’s.

“A priest is ugly who lives for his own pleasure,” the pope said, adding that such a priest “acts like a peacock”.

Pope Francis presided over the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, during which he, as the bishop of Rome, ordained 19 men for the Roman diocese.

During the ordination Mass, the pope delivered the standard homily based on the Italian edition of the Pontificale Romanum for the ordination of priests, but digressed from the text several times to offer advice to the men about to be ordained.

In these remarks, he said priests should nourish God’s people with their homilies, while making sure they are not bored.

Ensure “that your homilies are not boring; that your homilies reach the heart of the people, because they come from your hearts,” he said. “What you say to them is what you have in your heart.”

The pope also warned against proclaiming God’s Word without giving a good example.

“Words without example are empty words,” he said. “They are ideas that do not reach the heart, and may even cause injury.”

Pope Francis gave the men further advice in executing their responsibilities as priests.

In presiding over Mass, he told them not to “rush” through the celebration. Rather: “Imitate that which you celebrate,” because “it is not an artificial rite.”

Speaking of their responsibilities as priests in distributing the Sacraments, the pope said to “never refuse Baptism to whoever asks for it”.

With regard to the sacrament of Penance, he told the new priests the confessional is a place where they are called “to forgive, not to condemn.”

“Imitate the Father who never tires of forgiving”.

After the Mass, Pope Francis delivered his Regina Caeli address from the Papal Palace overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, explaining that the newly ordained priests are called to have a pastoral life based upon the Good Shepherd.

Recalling how the Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the pope said this day is an occasion to reflect on Jesus’ gift of Self, through His passion, death, and resurrection.

The Good Shepherd, he said, “gives life, has offered his life in sacrifice for all of us”.

Source: Catholic News Agency

Friday, April 24, 2015

Encyclical on environment stimulates hope among academics and activists

Encyclical on environment stimulates

 hope among academics and activists

The encyclical on the environment from Pope Francis is stimulating a great deal of discussion and hope in academia and the environmental movement. The encyclical is expected in June or July.
The pope wants to make the environment one of the signature issues of his papacy. As he explained to reporters three days after his election, one of the reasons he took the name Francis was because St. Francis of Assisi is "the man who loves and protects creation." He went on to say, "These days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?"
Conservationists are hoping that the encyclical's attitude toward animals, especially wildlife, will reflect the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, according to Lonnie Ellis, associate director of Catholic Climate Covenant.
The encyclical is widely expected to give support to those who attribute climate change to human activity since the pope has already said he accepts this scientific conclusion. Although popes are clearly not infallible when it comes to science, Francis is the first pope to have a modern scientific training: He was educated as a chemist and worked as one in Argentina before he entered the seminary.
Christiana Peppard of Fordham University said she hopes the encyclical will affirm that "contemporary science is a marvelous way of knowing the world and that it represents a collective, collaborative way of discerning important realities about the Earth that we share, and thus that there is zero justification for skepticism of climate change among Catholics."
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"The climate crisis is an issue of unparalleled urgency," says Dan DiLeo of the Catholic Climate Covenant. "Scientists generally agree that there is a closing window of opportunity within which to avoid runaway and largely irreversible human-forced climate change."
In order to set the stage for the encyclical and to respond to critics who say the pope should not dabble in science, the Vatican announced plans for a one-day conference at the Vatican on climate change on April 28.
But the encyclical will, of course, need to be about more than science.
"Having worked for a number of years on global climate change concerns," reported Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Nancy Sylvester, "it is clear that data alone will not convert people. We need to 'feel' differently about Earth. Doing what Pope Francis does so well, I'd like to see him to frame the issue in a pastoral way."
This pastoral approach would speak "to a new relationship to Earth that sees all beings as partners and interconnected," she continued. "To stress not stewardship but our responsibility with all of life to work together for not only our survival, but our flourishing as a planetary community. To bring new metaphors and symbols to how we think and feel about who we are on this our Earth home." 
But the encyclical also needs a theological foundation.
Walter Grazer said he hopes the pope "will place our concern for the environment within the theological framework of the Trinity, Genesis, and the prophetic tradition." Grazer, a consultant on religion and environment, is a former manager of the Environmental Justice Program at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Many Catholics wonder why the church is getting into this issue, and it would be helpful for them to know that our ecological concern flows from our theology. Catholics see "the Trinity as relational and social," Grazer said, and "all of creation and life reflects this relational and social notion -- so all creatures are intimately linked and share kinship."
"People need to see that the church's concern about ecology and the environment is not about 'greening the church and Catholic community,' " Grazer said. "Our concern is coming out of who we are and should be."
But, he said, "while Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI strongly called for a respect for the integrity of nature, it was always qualified by references of nature ultimately in service to humans."
"I hope the encyclical will stress that nature and the rest of creation has an integrity of its own as a creation of God," he said. "This does not mean a diminishment of the unique and special place of humans in creation or a hands-off approach, but rather a call for an even greater respect and intimacy with nature and a less instrumental notion. We should be able to both honor the integrity of the rest of creation while still acknowledging that humans are made to reflect the Creator most perfectly and that as part of nature we can utilize nature but not in a rapacious way."
This is a major concern of Dan Scheid of Duquesne University. "The one thing I would most like to see is for Francis to describe a vision of the common good that is non-anthropocentric and that sees caring for the environment not only as a concern for the poor and for future generations but also because human flourishing is only possible as part of a flourishing planet and cosmos," he said. "I would like to see 'human ecology' and 'natural ecology' unified back into what many religious orders describe as a concern for the 'Integrity of Creation.' "
Scheid would like the encyclical "to move beyond dominion and stewardship models and closer to 'partnership' models of ecological theology that celebrate the commonalities between humans and nonhumans." And "since mercy has been a prominent theme of his, I would love it if he expressed the call to be merciful to the Earth and to nonhumans."
Margaret Farley of Yale University agreed that the encyclical needs to offer a new perspective on the relationship between humans and nature. "From relations primarily of utility, domination, exploitation, nature-human relations may instead be based on the intrinsic value inherent in each, and in all non-living, living, non-human, and human beings," she said. "The relationship is one of interdependence, participation and, for humans, the possibility of conscious gratitude and awe."
What is said about the environment also needs to be connected to Catholic social teaching about the common good, solidarity, and concern for the poor. Farley notes that this teaching has helped people recognize that "ethical claims for justice and care" apply "not only in one's own group but in relation to all peoples, including future generations."
Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council is a good place to start for the new encyclical, said Dolores L. Christie of John Carroll University. "There is good stuff in the tradition, but it needs to be applied explicitly to critical contemporary issues. A ravaged earth is not sustainable."
"Ecological degradation compromises the Catholic commitment to protect and defend human life and dignity," argues DiLeo, "especially of the poor and vulnerable." 
"An ethical-theological treatment of shared, vital environmental goods, like fresh water," would be helpful, Peppard said. It should articulate "responsibility across geographic space and chronology (including duties to future generations)." 
Ron Pagnucco of St. John's University "would like to see Francis continue to use the concept of 'solidarity' in the encyclical, discussing what global solidarity means in regards to the environment."
"Just as Catholic social doctrine teaches that no person exists without society," said Vince Miller of the University of Dayton, "we need to also learn that our species does not exist without the rest of creation."
"How climate change and related environmental issues connect with other important concerns, including war and peace, economics, and health care," needs to be articulated in the encyclical, according to Tobias Winright of St. Louis University.
"It is very important to discuss the environment, conflict and peace," Pagnucco agreed, since environmental degradation is a "threat multiplier."
The relationship between the environment and the economy is especially important.
"Environmentalists are looking to the pope for continued linkages to poverty and impact of degradation on the poor," said Catholic Climate Covenant's Ellis. Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College would also "like to see the sustainability issues related to climate change woven into issues related to economic inequality."
Environmental problems are also connected to racism, said Alex Mikulich of Loyola University New Orleans. And "it would be important to consider the connection between the desire to dominate the earth/cosmos and domination of women," according to M. Shawn Copeland of Boston College.
One of the reasons environmentalists are embracing religion is because it is one of the few things that can motivate people to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of others.
David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary's University calls for a "forthright confrontation with so-called lifestyle choices."
"It's all the choices we make that cause the per capita carbon footprint of the average American to be roughly twice that of most European countries, and that cause the insanity of California lawns and water-thirsty agriculture," he said. "I'm all for better laws and structures, but until we stop expecting strawberries in February, spacious living quarters, and large SUVs, I'm not sure how those structures change."
Likewise, Scheid said he hopes for "a critique of consumerism and a 'scrap culture' or 'throwaway culture' that uses and then discards as trash people, especially the poor, created goods, and the Earth as a whole. I hope he ties the preferential option for the poor and solidarity with ecological concerns."
Grazer said he hopes the pope "will call upon the larger and more wealthy nations to lead and make the 'sacrifices' needed to make urgent progress regarding climate change, and in particular, helping the most vulnerable people and nations mitigate and adapt to climate change." The pope "needs to call for much greater leadership on the part of wealthier nations and also for sufficient changes in personal and corporate life style, moving away from consumerism," he said.
But Miller of Dayton University stressed that structural change, not just individual choices, is essential. "Our moral and Christian obligation is not simply to change our consumption as individuals, but to collectively build a culture/society/civilization that is sustainable," he said.
It requires "a broadening of moral responsibility to care for creation from individual choice to the larger, structural, policy responses that are required to address the environmental crises we face," he said. "Yes, greed is a problem, but environmental despoliation is cooked into the system we have built."
Peppard agreed that "market processes are not morally trustworthy guides to long-term flourishing of the physical bases on which all life depends" because the markets are oriented "towards short-term profit and economic growth without a recognition of natural capital as a substrate of those developments."
How people and governments respond to the encyclical will be critical. "The theology of the encyclical is important," said Marian Diaz of Loyola University Chicago, "but the implementation or the lack thereof matters more." 
The encyclical is being prepared in advance of the Paris talks on climate change to be held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. 
"It would be good for Pope Francis to set a higher standard and urge nations to be bolder in adopting a broader and more meaningful agreement," Grazer said. "It would be good if he called for full funding for the Green Climate Fund. That would help send a message that the poor of the world will not be left to handle climate impacts on their own. They did not cause the problem, but they do end up paying the price."
Since few people read encyclicals, the teaching of "our vocation to serve and protect creation" needs to be tied to "the one practice that most of us regularly participate in: the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of Christian life in this world," Winright said.
Keenan said he hopes the pope will specifically "appeal to institutions, including Catholic ones, to look to their own internal practices and policies and to their investments to see whether they promote economic equity and environmental sustainability."
Lisa Cahill of Boston College and Peppard said they hope the pope encourages ecumenical and interreligious cooperation and learning on the environment.
And since "environmental issues, like politics in general, is intensely local," John Langan of Georgetown University said after the encyclical is issued, "business leaders [should] be positively involved in discussions of the issues." 
"This is one way of preventing the dismissal of environmental proposals," he said. The lack of such local discussions, he said, "limited the effectiveness of Economic Justice for All," the 1986 pastoral letter issued by the USCCB.
The encyclical has already triggered "reflection and conversation about our natural world and climate change among Americans of many faiths," said Jeremy Symons, senior director for climate policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. "It's a welcome conversation, because protecting the natural world and caring for our children's future are matters that touch all parts of our lives."
When it comes out, the encyclical "will elevate the church's powerful voice on the moral imperative of advancing justice, defending human dignity and protecting the poor and the most vulnerable among us," said Edwin Chen of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It is our duty to do all we can to secure a peaceful and safe planet for this and all future generations. We expect his message will resonate in every corner of the world."
We will have to wait and see if the encyclical fulfills the expectations of academics and activists. They are eagerly waiting for it and will have lots to say about it. 
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]
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