May 11, 2020
To: Mr. Donald J Trump
The President of the United States
CC: Mr. David Malpass
The World Bank Group
CC: Mr. Mike Pompeo
The Secretary of State
Dear Mr. President:
We are encouraged that the World Bank has allocated 1 billion US Dollars to India for COVID-19 related testing and management. However, while we are aware this is much needed assistance in the overall interest of the United States, we are also very concerned about some issues relating to the use of funds and the implementation of programs on the ground.
The Scroll has reported that, “The Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), after surveying over 11,000 migrants across India, reported that by April 9, there had been at least 189 documented lockdown-related deaths (compared to 169 Covid-19 related deaths). The causes of death included suicide, death during the journey that migrant workers made to their home states, hunger and police brutality.
“It is no longer a trade-off between lives and livelihoods but between lives and lives,” the SWAN report said.
SWAN continues, “As has been documented in horrendous detail, the decision triggered a massive reverse migration. Since it was implemented without detailed planning, the lockdown put millions of low-skilled migrant workers in danger of starvation, subjected them to health risks and mental trauma as they lost the daily wages on which they depended for survival. Tens of thousands started walking back home with their families. But in many places, the police cracked down on them. As a result, many interstate migrants are stranded far from home, with no money or food.”
As of April 15, the report prepared by SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network), reveals that only 51 percent of over 11,000 workers who were surveyed, had rations left for less than one day, while 72 per cent said they would run out of food in two days.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of the Catholic Diocese of Behrampur said that, “A priest was arrested recently for allegedly violating lockdown regulations. A Catholic priest in Mohana, was taken into police custody for crossing the street inside a Catholic parish compound,” the prelate explained. “He was going from the hostel to the refectory building for lunch when the police entered the compound and detained him for a few hours”.
The government is detaining people of certain non-Hindu religious faiths in isolation facilities even when they do not test positive for the virus. Such detained people are held together in the same facilities that are holding people who have tested positive. We strongly believe this is due to malicious intent, and religious, bias tacitly promoted by the Modi government.
The government is using police forces to target migrants, Christians, and other religious minorities, to harass and intimidate during the COVID19 lockdown and testing.
The courts and judiciary system in general have been a reliable institution in India for addressing public grievances effectively in the past. But now, almost everyone in the country understands that a good number of judges are compromised either because bias is tacitly approved by the Modi government, or because of the threat and punitive actions by the government against judges for saying anything that could be construed as unfavorable.
So, the public, especially people from non-Hindu communities, are afraid of going to authorities. They are left with no recourse to address legitimate serious grievances that affect their fundamental rights in such a flagrant manner.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also transferred billions of rupees from a fund called “The Prime Minister’s Relief Fund” that was subject to auditing and public accountability, to a “PM Cares Fund” that is outside of the purview of public scrutiny and accountability. This is a major concern as it allows the Prime Minister to channel funds to organizations of his personal choice with no public disclosure. While not proven, it is technically feasible to transfer a large chunk of relief aid into this fund to avoid accountability for relief funds.
Thus, in the light of many reports and eyewitness accounts coming from India in regard to COVID-19 related abuses, we feel strongly that an advisory level monitoring committee must immediately be empaneled by the World Bank either here in Washington, or in India.
Please find the following specific suggestions to be put in place to avoid the misuse and abuse of the funds meant for dealing with the Coronavirus emergency.
1. To effectively monitor the efforts and grievances, we recommend that a non-governmental body of eminent social workers and economists representing all major religious faiths in India and in Washington be empaneled immediately.
2. It is important to make sure that this body is not stacked with people who are politically aligned with the ruling parties. We recommend the list below of people who will have the stature and knowledge on these matters from various religious communities and different regions of India.
3. We believe, for transparency and accountability, the committee should be appointed by the World Bank, rather than the government of India.
4. This body must be an independent body free to talk to the press should there be an extraordinary situation.
5. This body shall monitor and investigate reports of religious discrimination, corruption, virus testing protocols, the discrepancies in the data disclosed by the government, reports about unauthorized detainment of people testing negative to the virus, proper and timely medical care of those detained, effectiveness of the distribution of relief material, and report to the World Bank.
6. Due to the urgent matter, concerns and recommendations raised by the committee need to be considered immediately by the World Bank.
7. If the World Bank finds merit in the recommendations, India must face real and measurable consequences.
Listed below are recommendations of candidates to serve on a World Bank committee representing all major faiths in India:
· Dr. Amartya Sen (Nobel Laureate and economist)
· Prof. Raguram Rajan (Former Governor of the Reserve bank of India)
· Dr. Amitabh Kundu (Professor of Economics Chairperson for Technical Advisory Committee on Housing at the Reserve Bank of India, Delhi)
· Dr. Rakesh Basant (Prof of Economics Indian Institute of Management)
· Kalpana Kannabiran (Attorney, Sociologist, Director of Council for Social Development, Co-founder of the ASMITA Resource Centre for Women, a women's rights group)
· Mr. Harsh Mander (former Indian Administrative Service officer and a social worker)
· Archbishop Vincent Concessao (Former Archbishop of Delhi)
· Prof. Jeemol Unni (Former Director of Institute of Rural Management)
· Dr. Bobby John (Policy Consultant for the rural health industry)
· Rev. Vijayesh Lal, (General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India)
· Dr. A.C. Michael, (ADF India)
· Dr. Abusalh Shariff (Retired Chief Economist at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, The Author of Sachar Commission Report)
· Dr. Amirullah Khan (Prof. Indian Institute of Business)
· Economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Former Chair of the Planning Commission, India)
· Thol Thirumavalavan (Dalit social worker and a Member of Parliament)
· Dr. Balachandra Mungekar (Former member of the Planning Commission of India and a Member of Parliament)
· Ms. Sanghapali Aruna, (Executive Director of Project Mukti. Dalit women's rights)