Past Conferences

10th Commonwealth Study Conference

March 16 – 29, 2007
New Delhi, India

Submitted with thanks for the opportunity and Solidarity,
Candace Rennick
CUPE RVP, Ontario

I had to fill out an essay type application for consideration after my nomination and at the end of December 2006, I received an acceptance letter from the selection committee. At the end of January I attended a briefing session with the Canadian organizing committee, past alumni and delegates attending the conference from Canada and the Caribbean. This session was an opportunity for folks to meet, receive a briefing on the situation in India, learn about the history of the conference and basically clear up any questions we had.

Group 4 – 13 people representing 9 countries

This report is intended to provide you an overview of my experience and observations – but is in no way inclusive of all of the things I saw and felt. (That I can write a book on.)

On March 14th I arrived in New Delhi to participate in the 10th Commonwealth Study Conference with a theme of “Working Together for Inclusive Growth and Development” joined by almost 200 leaders from 30 different countries. The sounds, sites and smell were overwhelming and it became clear very quickly that I was about to spend 2 weeks completely out of my comfort zone. The theme my group had been assigned was “tourism as a sustainable growth option” traveling from Delhi to the states of West Bengal and Orissa.

My group consisted of 13 people from Australia, Africa, Bermuda, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, the UK and of course, Canada. I had a vague idea of India’s characteristics – I had heard about the extraordinary economic growth, the boom in its IT services, its exploding population and associated poverty, its natural beauty.
The two weeks I have spent on this study tour provided an opportunity to see just a tiny proportion of the diversity of the people and places that are behind those perceptions and the opportunity to learn about many other issues affecting the Country.

I have witnessed the great extremes of wealth and poverty, peace and conflict, the presence and lack of democracy. The key issue is how can India harness the great potential stemming from its people, culture and natural resources to ensure that economic growth is accompanied by social justice.

The poverty on the streets of Kolkata

GDP rates in India are increasing at a rapid pace – pushing double-digit growth. All projections suggest they will soon be within the top 3 economic world powers within a few years.

But is this growth inclusive? And more importantly …. Is it sustainable? Those were the questioned I asked myself throughout this journey.

What does it mean to have a booming double-digit growth when hundreds of millions of people living in the Country don’t have access to basic infrastructure, health care or education? Two thirds of the Countries families living on less than $2.00 a day, children malnourished and living on the streets, families bathing on the streets with dirty run off water or in the Gange river which is among the most polluted in the entire world. Or what good is this economic boom when streets are littered with garbage and roads in some communities are barely passable, or when electricity is a luxury or when the minimum wage is based on 3 meals a day allowing families to merely exist – but not to thrive and grow.

A picture of wealth – the pool at the Taj Palace Hotel - Delhi

The government in India is creating spaces for Industry called “Special Economic Zones”. Industry within these zones are considered to be ‘essential services’ and no, they are not hospitals or schools, they are diamond making factories and other multi million dollar industries. The workers employed in these zones don’t have the right to strike. Resistance of any kind becomes difficult. Worker protection is limited and for every worker – there are 10 lined up to replace that person. My personal feeling was these zones are a way to cater to industry at the expense of workers.

' Workers in the Diamond Factory in the special economic zone I fail to see how a diamond-cutting factory is an essential service, especially when it doesn’t provide direct benefits back to the community. One particular corporation has been exempt from paying any kinds of taxes. For importing material or exporting goods.

The government in India is pursuing a policy of compulsory land Acquisition to create these types of Zones.

The day I arrived to India 14 farmers were killed in the state of West Bengal by police in an attempt to take over 10,000 acres of the most fertile land in the region to create a chemical special economic zone. The farmers resisted clashing with police, which resulted in the police killing 14 farmers

On the way to Bhubaneshweaar

I don’t claim to be an expert on the issue of land reclamation in India. But this does raise very fundamental questions for me. Why is the government attempting to take over some of the most fertile land in the region? This for me clearly highlighted the difficulties India faces in reconciling its development objective of industrialization with the reality of an agriculture-based society. The crisis also showcased the robust nature of India’s democracy and free press as the government was forced to retract its plans and rethink its consultation process.

One thing is for certain – Industry and agriculture needs to be balanced. This is a process of give and take. Local communities need to be involved in the decisions. Where they are affected there is a real need for support from the government, business and NGOs to ease the transition and this requires a commitment to invest in India’s people and to look for creative community solutions.

A question of preservation of culture was present in our visit to NALCO – a National Aluminum company that has reclaimed land from local tribes for its mining operations. This industry is touted as one of India’s success stories. A government owned profitable business.

NALCO has created infrastructure in villages surrounding their operations for communication, education, health care, and drinking water.

Through government regulation and its influence it can ensure those who had their land taken away are fairly compensated through training, employment and environmental projects. Despite having a model of fair compensation – the question remains – can all of this really replace the culture and financial heritage of these people?

On the way to Shantineketan
A government initiative requires government owned corporations to spend at least 1% of their profits towards corporate social responsibility. My opinion is that 1% is not enough given that the corporation benefits so significantly from India’s growth. I believe the responsibility is much greater than 1%. In order to create a more stable society the goal should be to spread the wealth inclusively and all corporations have a role to play in this – not just government owned corporations.

One of the key themes emerging from our visits was the issue of how one can industrialize a country where 70% of the population still relies on agriculture without loosing the history and culture that makes it so unique. In visiting Shantineketan, a university set up by one of West Bengal’s great thinkers and visionaries, Rabindranath Tagore, whose ideas mirrored the tensions between modern day globalization even back to the turn of the 20th century on questions such as education, rural development, caste, gender, the east west divide and creating unity between the religions. We were confronted by the question of how plans for tourism can strike a balance between ensuring that the culture of the village, which prides itself on peacefulness, will not be disrupted while at the same time drawing more tourists to the area in order to create local employment opportunities as well as showcase the teachings and legacy of this visionary.

Delegates of the 10th Commonwealth Study Conference visit to Anand, March 21, 2007

Fifteen Delegates from the Commonwealth Study Conference comprising senior personnel of various organizations in the Commonwealth came to Anand on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 for an exposure visit. The delegates came from Nigeria, Malaysia, Canada, The Pacific Islands, Australia, The Caribbean Islands, Malawi and India. They had an interactive session with faculty members at the Institute of Rural Management, Anand and with Shareri B. M. Vyas, Managing Director, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. The visit to Navli Village Dairy Co-operative Society made an impact on them. They praised the efforts of the Co-operative sector in helping India emerge as the largest milk producer in the world.

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