Hotel Middleton Chambers, Kolkata, January 27-28, 2006
CUTS organised the Second National Training Seminar under the project, ‘Grassroots Reachout and Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)’, on January 27 & 28, 2006 at Middleton Chambers in Kolkata. The nodal persons and the programme coordinators of each GRANITE state attended this two-day seminar along with the National Coordinating Unit (NCU) members. The two-day seminar served a multi-fold objective of imparting skills to articulate and analyse sectoral issues (agriculture and textiles) and also focused on evaluation of the activities under the GRANITE project in its first year of implementation (from January 2005 to December 2005), in eight selected states i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The seminar discussed at length the experiences and learnings gained by the project partnering organisations by participating in the Sixth WTO Ministerial held at Hong Kong in December 2005. All state partners shared their respective experiences of implementing the project in their state in the year 2005. While discussing the accomplishments under the project, each partner shared the issues that hampered the fulfilment of the desired goals and objectives. This was followed by assimilation of these experiences based on which the future course of action for the year 2006 was decided. GRANITE Phase II (Post 2006) was discussed with all the participants in order to get their viewpoint. The widening of the scope of project activities in the existing partnering states as well as inclusion of new states in the project was discussed.
- Revisited the intervention strategy of GRANITE.
- Participants shared their achievements and problems faced by them during the execution of the project. A detailed analysis of project activities, its outcomes, and advocacy tools used under the project was done.
- A number of micro issues related to local concerns came up in the course of discussions and the partners were provided enough flexibility to run the activities in a state-specific mode.
- A concrete list of outputs under this project was prepared and responsibilities were shared among the partners.
- The future roadmap was also successfully traced during the meet.
- The role that the partners will play at the UNCTAD Meeting was left undecided.
- Bipul Chatterjee, Director, CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment welcomed all at the Second National Training Seminar under GRANITE and briefed the participants about the objective and agenda of the meeting. He also requested them to share their concerns from the respective field areas of work. He asked for suggestions from the participants on reshuffling or altering the agenda of the meeting if emphasise on any particular issue, which has not been sufficiently dealt with in the circulated agenda, was required.
Participants discussed the latest developments at the 6th Ministerial of WTO at Hong Kong. Participants provided experiences and impressions of the ministerial meet. Milind Murugkar stated that EU and US portrayed a liberal stance at WTO. Harini Narayanan also briefed about the role played by the civil society organisations at the Hong Kong Ministerial.
- This was followed by an open floor discussion where the participants put forward their views and suggestions. Anil K Singh pointed out that a more intensive approach is required to ensure percolation of GRANITE activities to the lower most strata of society. He said that small case studies on Agriculture, Non Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) and Services should be prepared in local languages incorporating local examples. This would help the people at the grassroots in understanding and identifying themselves with these issues. Adding to this, Y G Muralidharan pointed out that partners should decide on the stance they are going to take on WTO issues and CUTS should prepare the position paper in the context of GRANITE, which would be circulated among the partners. At this Bharat Jairaj remarked that the overall objective of the project is to build up the capacity of the partners on trade and development issues. Already a year has elapsed and the partners have received enough exposure and training to bring out their own position papers linking the local, state and national concerns.
- The participants revisited their plan to form a State Trade Policy Council (STPC) as envisaged in the project proposal. The functions to be performed were identified to be similar to the work of the existing WTO Cells i.e. disseminating information about WTO & its impact on local economy and involving greater number of stakeholders from grassroots in decision-making. Thus, the relevance of STPC in the wake of existing WTO Cells was ruled out. Analysing the status of WTO Cell in the partner states it was found that the cells were formed in all partner states except West Bengal and Maharashtra, although most of them are not functioning proactively. Besides, there is no synchronisation in the activities that the cells are performing in different states. It was also noted that they are not under the same department in different states. A consensus was reached that the activities of the WTO Cell in each partner state shall be documented. With the aim of making the cell proactive, all partners would use this document as an advocacy tool.
- The participants also discussed on the idea of a signature campaign for bringing in pro-poor policy change, this idea was put forward by Anil K Singh. Dalia Dey, Bharath Jairaj and Narasimha Reddy pointed out that the project is still in its nascent stage, and that a lot of capacity building and empowerment is still required at the field level before such an initiative can be taken up. That the masses should understand the issue clearly before signing on any document. This was supported by other participants.
- The participants put forward their views, that GRANITE should make concrete efforts to highlight specific state concerns in national policy documents. In this regard it was proposed that a critique of national policies like Seed Bill, Textile Development and Consumer Protection Bill should be done, keeping in mind the uniqueness of the respective states.
- Bipul Chatterjee also informed the partners of the mindset of the donor agencies. GRANITE would move into its second phase from 2007, the second phase will be for a period of three years. Govt. of Norway has agreed to support the NGOs in India only through institutional cooperation. Keeping this in mind CUTS is trying to tie-up with an international research institute from Norway, which would be responsible for providing technical support to the project.
- In the context of expansion GRANITE network, it was decided that some more states should be involved, especially Assam, the most important North Eastern State and Chattisgarh. Even in the existing states the scope of activities has to be widened. It was informed that CUTS has received a request to implement GRANITE-type activities in Uganda, Malawi, etc. Under these circumstances the partners from GRANITE states in India may need to visit these countries as resource persons to build the capacity of the project implementers there.
Dissemination of information in local language was found extremely important and effective for empowerment of the people at the grassroots. In addition, it was pointed out that documentation of cases from the concerned states would be an important tool in proposing certain recommendations that would be beneficial for the farmers and artisans. The participants agreed on handloom sector as one topic for the preparation of case study and the present status of agricultural market in the respective states as the second. However, there was a debate on whether to select state of affairs in mandis in the light of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act or crop insurance scheme.
- Bipul Chatterjee informed that Novib has selected GRANITE for their Knowledge Infrastructure Counterpart (KIC). The KIC initiative aims “to improve the connectedness of counterparts, and to boost the exchange of relevant experiences between counterparts and the joint learning thereabout”. Novib will be coordinating this work of gathering “good, bad and new practices” from its counterparts. Under KIC each of the partners would prepare a case study on the skills and tools used for advocacy and study how far it is effective in fulfilling the project’s objectives. But before that the partners should take initiative to make these skills and tools more organised, which would help to evaluate their impact in a more objective manner. Other activities in this direction could be – documenting the existing efforts, preparing case studies on the success stories as well as the problems faced and finally holding a round table conference of all the key stakeholders to undertake analysis of the project’s outcomes.
- Documentation and information dissemination were emphasised upon. The partners decided to translate the technical terms from documents under WTO. A special page may be added as an insert in the respective state-specific newsletters that would contain a glossary of these terms and try to demystify them citing local examples.
It was informed that the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, Govt of India is keen to receive feedbacks and inputs from the state officials in order to highlight their concerns and negotiate more effectively at WTO. Thus, the partners should exploit this opportunity to intervene and influence the state government officials to send their reports to the centre, highlighting the same.
- Partners stressed upon involving Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in a more structured form under GRANITE. The basic ideology behind this is that panchayats should be empowered for taking more informed decisions. But, as most of the partner organisations are not working at the district level, the intervention at the pachayats would be impossible at this stage. However, it was discussed that this could be one of the future agenda of work. Through its intervention at the panchayat level, GRANITE would be more action oriented and this would lead to more vertical rather than horizontal penetration. It was suggested that such an active penetration should be done via tie-ups with active local organisations working intensively at the block and district levels in our country.
- As far as the focal points under this project are concerned agriculture will continue to be one of them. But the partners will have choice to focus on the handloom sector or take up textile sector as a whole. Bipul Chatterjee informed that donors would continue their support as long as the core objective of the project i.e. to bring pro poor policy change is met.
- The partners agreed that a more focussed approach is needed to bring pro-poor policy reforms. Certain important issues like dissemination of information in vernacular language, strengthening of WTO Cells within the states, ceaseless follow-ups with the concerned ministries/departments in order to make them formulate pro-poor changes and acting as a watch dog for ensuring enabling policy environment and proper enactment of the laws, came to the forefront.
- As far as concrete outputs are concerned project partners would prepare Briefing Notes on Agriculture (Milind Murugkar), NAMA (Shanu Somevanshi) and Services (Prof Manu) and would transliterate these into local languages in order to make the issues understandable to the people at the grassroots.
- Two Bill Blow Ups would be prepared under GRANITE. It was identified that Bharath Jairaj would be preparing the blow up on Seed Bill and Diwakar Babu would do the same in context of Textile Development and Consumer Protection Bill.
- Narasimha Reddy would be preparing a critique on the textile policy and how it should be more pro-poor.
- Linkages between micro and macro issues under GRANITE also cropped up as an important issue to be dealt with. Manas Ranjan Kar would be preparing a concept note on the issue stating reasons for doing it as well as the way to do it.
- Bipul Chatterjee would prepare a note on possible future work under the project, including the involvement of PRIs and structuring of KIC.
- It was also suggested that the outreach meeting reports could provide an important source for selecting the topic of case studies, as they are very much state specific. It was agreed that Swati Chadha and Punyarupa Bhadury would go through the reports of state outreach meetings and suggest probable issues for advocacy. The same would be done by mid-February 2006.