Vol-CII : November 3, 2012

Dear Colleagues

The change is in the air; here is another set of for your perusal:

1. The movement of citizens against economic hardships is continuing in Europe; Greece and Spain have witnessed massive mobilisations. In comparison, Italy seems to be a bit quiet; despite economic recession and austerity measures, the streets of Rome appear to be full of tourists, not activists; why? It appears that corruption in politics in Italy has been going on for so long that ordinary citizens have lost much hope for any significant changes. However, there is renewed conversation about the separation of rich north from the poor south.

2.  Recent stirrings in respect of the implementation of Right To Information Act in India seem to suggest that many significant aspects of transparency can be adjudicated in the system. However, the institutions of Information Commission need to be operated in a manner that maintains its constitutional stature. If such operating mechanisms are not adequately institutionalized, then the longevity of RTI implementation can suffer. This is beginning to happen as the Supreme Court is now mandating that current or former judges alone should be appointed as Information Commissioners.

3.  A recent study on inequality in America is suggesting a radical new theory—economic inequality ‘drags down economic growth’. It has been now established that during the past 25 years or so, more than three-quarter of all economic growth went into the incomes and wealth of the top 5% of the population in America and UK. Interestingly enough, despite the Occupy movement, nearly 90% of all recovery since 2009 is also being captured by the top 1% of the population. Global economic elites continue to concentrate wealth, and thus power!

4.  The city of Montreal is now buzzing with news of corruption in the city government; it now transpires that a system of corruption was built-in to all construction contracts awarded over the past 2-3 decades. The system was so institutionalized that 2% of value of each contract went to the organized mafia syndicates and 3% went to officials and politicians. When questioned about this practice, the engineers and councilors seemed to imply that they had ‘consumed’ their incomes in bars and casinos of the city only, thereby contributing to public exchequer!

5.  The Britagny region of France has a long tradition of lifelong education; many generations of farmers there went to non-formal education classes to acquire new knowledge and skills. The local associational life is very diverse and thickly organized; mutual aid societies and cooperatives are flourishing there. However, there is a certain awkwardness in using the phrase ‘community’ here since it seems to conjure up images of religious and ethnic associations; and, the French want to ensure that their public life remains secular. So, community level associations in this region are vibrant, but not necessarily so accounted as civil society actors.

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon