Bobby Ramakant


India along with 193 countries had promised to halve deaths and serious injuries on the roads by 2020 (as part of UN Sustainable Development Goals). But we have failed to keep this promise as the year 2020 passed by. In 2015, number of road traffic accident deaths in India were 146,133. In 2019, instead of declining (by half), the number of people who died in road traffic accidents had increased to 154,000 in India. Moreover, a lot more people were injured or left with disabilities. More shockingly, most of these accidents were due to over-speeding (almost 60%). It is high time we recognize the writing on the wall: every single injury or death due to road traffic accident is preventable and untimely, and could have been averted. Worldwide, road traffic injuries are the tenth leading cause of death, responsible for around 1.3 million deaths each year and over 50 million injuries.

Government of India is observing National Road Safety Month from 18 January to 17 February 2021 as road accidents are essentially avoidable, and so is the economic hardship and emotional trauma faced by the survivors and their families. Indian government also recognizes that “there is an urgent need to make our roads safer as the loss of lives and limbs cannot be accepted as the price of mobility.”

Governments of 194 countries had declared the entire decade of 2011-2020 as Decade of Action for Road Safety and despite of tall promises of SDGs to halve deaths due to road accidents, the loss of lives has only increased.

An advertisement from Indian state of Uttar Pradesh says that 400 people die of road accidents every day. But it also identifies that main problem is lack of awareness of road traffic rules. There is no doubt that everyone must follow all the road traffic rules. But this alone is not going to make roads safer for everyone, especially those who commute by non-motorised vehicles or walk. Majority of road traffic accidents happen due to over-speeding, and those who get injured or die are not just the ones who use motorised vehicles. Cyclists, cycle rickshaws, e-rickshaws, pedestrians, roadside vendors, homeless people, also get injured, disabled or die in road accidents. Everyone needs safer roads. Roads belong to every person, and not just to very tiny minority of those who have cars or use motorised vehicles for commuting. The goal is NOT to make roads safer ONLY for those who use motorized vehicles. The goal is to make roads safer for EVERYONE.

The solution is not to increase number of privately owned vehicles but to take urgent radical steps towards eliminating the need for any privately owned vehicles for commuting purposes. This is only possible if we strengthen and improve public transport so that people do not need a privately owned motorised vehicles. Doling out loans to lure people in buying new motorised vehicles is taking us away from making roads any safer. Governments are shying away from its responsibility to eliminate the need for privately owned transport, which is only possible if governments ensure comfortable, safe, affordable, and accessible public transport options for everyone. Just to remind the governments that one of the promises enshrined in SDG target 11.2 aims to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable public transport by 2030.

I use a cycle for public commuting in Lucknow, state capital of Uttar Pradesh in India (and have also cycled in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Boston, US). In my own experience of cycling for years for longer distances (up to 60km), I have found that the benchmark we use for ‘modern safer roads’ (like model highways/ expressways/ or other downtown or urban roads), may be making roads unsafe for cyclists, and others using non-motorised vehicles or walking. I feel most safe in crowded lanes and bylanes and roads of old city of Lucknow, and most at risk of being hit on modern, trendy, and so-called ‘safer’ roads or highways. Roads belong to everyone, and not just to car riders. Then why are car riders or motorised vehicle riders are kept in mind while designing urban development? Is it because of the car industry or other businesses that thrive on growth of motorised vehicles and development of necessary infrastructure? Governments are accountable to its people and so interest of the people (and not profits of the industry) should take primacy when it comes to road safety, and development.

Bobby Ramakant

(Bobby Ramakant is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General’s WNTD Awardee 2008, and part of CNS (Citizen News Service), Asha Parivar and Socialist Party (India). He returned to cycling in 2014 (after 1998), and eventually sold his car in 2015, and did not renew his driving license which expired in 2018.

Medha Patkar speaks at the “Valediction Week” of Gandhi’s 150th Year, organised by The Public India from Sep. 26 to Oct. 02, 2020

It is high time to move beyond mere tokenism when we commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, and begin truly embodying Gandhian values in all aspects of our lives. This rallying call was given by Medha Patkar, who is among the most respected development justice activists today. She was among the keynote speakers of the ongoing Valedictory Week to mark 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi being observed from 26 September to 2 October 2020 by The Public India.

Mahatma Gandhi had said, “I think of the poor of India every time that I draw a thread on the wheel of ‘Charkha’ (spinning wheel”.” Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and noted Gandhian leader is spinning the Charkha daily, even during this online event. He said that Gandhiji showed us a path of simplicity that would give us a different kind of prosperity which is essential for just and sustainable development. Gandhian economy is the real socialist, sustainable, and equity-based economy. When we want to address the problem of employment, we realise that it could only be through production by masses and not mass production. So, the change must be in everything – in life, lifestyle, and sources of livelihood.

If we follow the Gandhian path then the lifestyle changes will again be based upon his conclusions, that the Earth has enough to fulfil every one’s need but no one’s greed. And hence our lifestyle needs to be based on as minimum resources as possible. Gandhi ji’s model becomes even more critically relevant when the world is reeling under financial meltdown and cascading humanitarian crises due to the pandemic.

Watch the video of Day-3 at Valediction Week of Gandh’s 150th Year

Medha Patkar questioned if we treat the contractual workers and contracts between companies and the government alike? She said that because of corporate rule and growing dominance across the sectors, labour laws were diluted or abolished – 44 central Acts have been abolished or repealed. Our courts do not even equate the contract labourers with other labourers even if they are carrying out the same work. Social security and support that were granted to the disadvantaged sections within the working class earlier, are slowly vanishing. As the legal framework is being changed it is very clear that the contracts are being very vulgarly carried out between not just the labour and the employer but also between the millionaires or billionaires and the state (government) itself when the public sector units are being finished off. 

She stressed that rapid privatisation of public services will also imply an end to the reservation which was to protect interests of the underprivileged and historically marginalised sections of the society. Based on the principle of positive discrimination, the benefits as per our constitution, which were being given as a matter of right, to those who come from underprivileged or needy sections of our population, are being rolled back. 

Community is the real cooperative
If we are to deliver on the promise of sustainable development goals where no one is left behind, then the only way forward lies in cooperatives. Mahatma Gandhi had suggested that local community is the real cooperative, and he advocated for village republic (‘gram swarajya’ or self-sufficiency at local level). Medha Patkar said that cooperatives can usher an era towards ending contract-based system which provides the fertile ground for range of exploitation and abuse. Instead we are sinking deeper into contract-based system with the recent push for contract-based farming. Not only we have watered down laws and policies for our farmers, but the government has also got 3 ordinances passed during the lockdown which is going to make life of farmers even more difficult. Whether it was the struggle of Indians for freedom from British Raj or the struggle of landless workers against feudal landlords, Gandhi ji led people from the front in campaigns for social justice. Likewise activists who are deeply rooted in social movements and people’s struggles today, will have to step up and stand with those facing injustices.

Human rights get primacy over legal justice 
Are criminal laws serving as a deterrent for hardened criminals and hooligans? Medha Patkar rightly emphasised on the critical need to give primacy to human rights and humane justice over legal justice. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia had said that Gandhi ji is his Guru. Dr Lohia led the Congress Socialist Party that had its root in Congress way back in 1934 for those who believed in socialism (presently active as Socialist Party (India) led by Pannalal Surana as its President and Dr Sandeep Pandey as Vice President). It is important to understand that even though there were differences in some viewpoints between Gandhi and Ambedkar, and Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, but all of them had unflinching commitment to nonviolence. In Justice Singhavi’s judgement Bhagat Singh had also stated that we cannot end exploitation and injustice with violence.

Medha Patkar speaking at the Valediction Week of Gandhi’s 150th Year, organised by The Public India, while Dr. Sandeep Pandey spins the Charkha daily during the event.

Medha Patkar said that the contractual system was opposed with non-violence and satyagraha means by not only Gandhi ji but also by Baba sahab (Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar), Bhagat Singh, Marx, Dr Lohia among others. This is where the key lesson lies for all of us who want a just and social order for everyone: Nonviolence and Satyagraha.

Only option now is ‘Satyagraha’.
Reflecting upon current governance and context, she said that the only ray of hope lies in Satyagraha. When government itself indulges in shrinking or closing spaces for dissent in a democracy, that is also a form of violence. Violence is also being resorted to in name of ‘development’ or in form of slapping false charges and jailing activists who are known for their unwavering commitment to nonviolence, justice and truth, or in form of interference with every pillar of democracy. It is important to understand that if we do not act rooted in Gandhi’s Satyagraha then we will not be able to reach the goals we aspire to for a just and social order for everyone. Using any form of violence to reply to violent means can never be considered as a response, we need to clearly understand that.

We have also learnt from our social movements and people’s struggles that had we raised even one stone our campaigns would have met an early end. That is why real power and true hope lies in nonviolence and Satyagraha approaches of Gandhi. Absolute resolve, commitment and integrity of women and Adivasis of Narmada Bachao Andolan has been the backbone of the struggle. Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (save homes, make homes movement) is another sterling example how people from different castes, religion, ethnicities, or regions united when over 75,000 houses were demolished. These are recent examples why nonviolence and Satyagraha approaches of Gandhi are not only relevant but the only path forward if we are to advance towards an equitable, just and fair world for everyone.

Medha Patkar launches youth led Towards A Better World campaign

Senior activist Medha Patkar launched a youth led, Towards A Better World campaign, in an online session where several youth leaders of Fridays For Future (a global movement led by Greta Thunberg) and other youth activists took part. We must change our life, lifestyle and sources of livelihood for a sustainable and just development, said Medha Patkar. “People should commit to at least one thing they will do to make this world a better place” appealed Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and Vice President of Socialist Party (India). Dr Pandey is also a key inspiration that has motivated the young people to step forward and launch this campaign.

Watch the Panel Discussion on the launch of Towards A Better World campaign

This newly launched campaign is aimed to encourage everyone to take individual actions to “Be The Change” and make this world a better place. “If you want to make a positive impact on the world and make the world a better place, we urge you to take positive steps that you find worthwhile. Kindly consider committing to Be The Change that you want to incorporate in yourself or have already incorporated. This will help to concretize your personal journey and inspire similar changes in others” said Abhay Jain, who is a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India and aspiring fair-trade entrepreneur.

Founder-editor of The Public and noted socialist, Anand Vardhan Singh, said that although COVID-19 pandemic is perceived as a threat, but environment is not. Environment crisis has been brewing since long – but even then climate emergency is not getting the due attention it warrants to save our planet. He shared a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Nature works unceasingly according to her own laws, but man violates them constantly.”

Ariadne Papatheodorou, 16 years old climate activist from Fridays For Future movement in Greece said “We as teenagers have to act because global leaders are ignoring the call for urgency over and over again – and because we want to have a future which includes gender equality, human rights and climate change.” She also raised the concern for immigrants and refugees.

Ayesha Imtiaz, a 16 years old climate activist from Fridays for Future in Pakistan shared how the plight of indigenous peoples impacted by pollution had motivated her to step forward and act upon climate crisis. “Pollution also contributes to climate change and spread of diseases. We all need to unite – rather than thinking as a country we need to think as a planet – we are the ones who are causing the problem for our mother Earth and it is our responsibility to change it. Every individual has a power to bring in a change. We should fight climate change together” said Ayesha.

Kingsley Odogwu from Fridays For Future in Nigeria shared how the government had initially used a terror law to shut down the website of Fridays For Future but later revoked the order. “It is the step in right direction as it was an attack against our future.”
Zeno from Youth For Climate in France called for restarting the economy with climate measures in it. “We [rich nations] are in large part responsible for it [climate crisis] and our leaders refuse to see that. That is why we need to work and that is what motivates us.”

Shelani Palihawadana, Sri Lanka’s youth activist on disability and gender rights, said that the island nation is among the top ocean polluters in terms of releasing plastic.

Social Activist Medha Patkar speaks on the launch of Towards A Better World Campaign

Among the most respected development justice activists, Medha Patkar, said that even though everyone agrees “climate change is a big issue internationally” but our governments are not acting on the climate emergency. “Governments are supposed to be fulfilling their duty towards the environment, socio-cultural diversity, as well as unity, equity and justice (as per our constitution). These values form the framework for not just our lives but also the governance in this country” reminded Medha Patkar.

There can never be any dichotomy between environment and development. “A present leader said in the parliament that people have to choose between environment or development” said Medha Patkar. “Environment is not just ozone or coal – as it really consists of all sources of livelihood as well as is also the life support.” As it is the humanity which owns the land, water, forests, minerals, air, and other natural resources, so the people must protect them too, said Medha.

As we cannot just depend on the governments alone to protect it.

Medha Patkar

“The youth has to fight against killing, destruction and exploitation of nature, as same cannot be compensated, and losses are such that these are not necessarily quantifiable – as they are qualitative, and damage is irreversible. This happens when the rivers are polluted, groundwater is extracted to an extent that aquifers are also emptied, when glaciers are coming down, and even the agriculture land is being diverted and food security is lost” she added.

Production by Masses and not Mass Production

Medha Patkar reminded the young people about Gandhiji’s message “my life is my message.” She said: “Gandhiji showed us a path of simplicity that would give us a different kind of prosperity which is essential for just and sustainable development. Gandhian economy is the real socialist, sustainable, and equity-based economy. When we want to address the problem of employment, we realize that it could only be through production by masses and not mass production. So, the change must be in everything – in life, lifestyle, and sources of livelihood. If we follow the Gandhian path then the lifestyle changes will again be based upon his conclusions, that the Earth has enough to fulfil every one’s need but no one’s greed. And hence our lifestyle needs to be based on as minimum resources as possible.”

She was speaking from the Narmada valley and said: “I have seen how Adiwasi lifestyle has tried to save the forest, river, and land in the valley of Narmada and they have saved the living beings as well. So, when they fought this battle it was not just for themselves (not only for getting rehabilitated) but also to save the river valley resources because without forest the river cannot flow. And without the river flowing the sea cannot be stopped from coming in. The sea ingress has come into the Narmada up to 50-80 km in past years. We must realize that how badly these development projects are damaging the natural resources. People’s struggle is also a constructive work and a positive statement of what they value.”

Swayam Nirbhar Gaon is must for Atma Nirbhar Bharat

“If we have to go for Atma Nirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) it cannot just be a slogan as we have to have a Swayam Nirbhar Gaon (self-reliant village). Urban communities have already polluted the air – it is not the poor as they pollute the least, but it is the urban rich or elites who pollute it and then shift urban poor into slums in these areas” rightly said Medha Patkar.

Dr. Lubna Sarwath, Environmental Activist

Noted ecologist Dr Lubna Sarwath who is also the Telangana General Secretary of Socialist Party (India) said that “young people want their world leaders to see the crisis as a crisis. But leaders are failing to see the crisis as a crisis.” She called upon the young to act upon to save the right to water which is the elixir of life. “We must ensure that every water body is not polluted in our vicinity. Ground aquifers should not be polluted.”

A discussion led by Mallika Bhanot and moderated by Gurumoorthy Mathrubootham was held on environmentally destructive Char Dham highways project in Himalayas connecting Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath on which Chairman of a High Powered Committee appointed by Supreme Court, Ravi Chopra, has given a report with which majority of the members of committee, presumably under the influence of BJP government, do not agree, was also held.

In May 2019, all 194 countries that set the agenda of the World Health Organization met at the 72nd World Health Assembly and endorsed the establishment of World Patient Safety Day to be marked annually on 17 September. But this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled the huge challenges and risks healthcare workers are facing globally including hospital-borne infections, violence, stigma, psychological and emotional disturbances, illness and even death. Furthermore, working in unjust, abusive and stressful environments makes healthcare workers more prone to errors which can lead to patient harm. That is why the theme of 2020 World Patient Safety Day is “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety.”

Safe Healthcare Workers, Safe Patients

“Even though there is a laudable move from the Indian government to safeguard healthcare workers from physical attack by patients, relatives or other people, but healthcare workers should also be protected from frequent burnout, psychological distress, exposure to pathogens, long working hours, fatigue, and many such issues that also affects safety of both: workers and the patients” said Jibin TC, National Working Secretary of United Nurses Association (UNA), India. He was speaking on a panel co-organized by Public Services International (PSI).

The ongoing pandemic has placed healthcare workers at an unprecedented occupational risk of morbidity and mortality: lack of or inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), exposure to infected patients, work overload, and/or poor infection control, makes them extremely vulnerable to occupational coronavirus infection. While some of the problems and challenges that healthcare workers face today are specific to the pandemic, many are pre-existing issues that have been exacerbated by it.

“There are many hospitals where nurses are suffering from paucity of basic amenities like masks, isolation gowns, face shield, testing kits, etc. Also, there is a huge shortage of nurses in both government and private hospitals. Ideally speaking every ventilated patient needs to have one nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) but many private hospitals are not maintaining the nurse to patient ratio which is also a big threat to patient safety” added Jibin.

Earlier in the pandemic, shortage of PPE was a major issue for safety of healthcare workers. But now the concern has shifted to quality of PPE which is being handed out to the healthcare workers. “Many hospitals are giving extremely poor quality of PPE to nurses and other healthcare professionals. There is no proper standardization of PPE kits. Also, many hospitals are having 12 hours-shifts with PPE kits for nurses even when the government insists on a 6-hours shift. Nurses are often not given adequate support for isolation and quarantine. There are cases when nurses got infected with coronavirus (or their family members tested positive) but the bills were not covered by the hospital management. Only few hospitals are offering free treatment and management for nurses in case they contract an infection” said Jibin.

“They’ve told us they’re suffering because of a lack of access to timely, effective care, confused by a system that is limited in the services it provides, that is cumbersome and almost too complex to navigate, and angered by a system that fails to put their needs first or even engage them about their health issues.”


For example, when a nurse lost her eyesight (in one of the eyes) due to a blast in the humidifier of an oxygen cylinder, not only she had to leave work, but also the organization did not compensate her by any means. “She will not get a job because she lost her eyesight in one eye” shared Jibin.

He demanded that samples must be collected early enough to identify diseases among nurses, as well as immediate isolation, periodic investigation, and free vaccination of nurses for range of vaccine preventable illnesses must be done.

Safety of Workers and Patients also need Strong Unions

“A unionised workforce does lead to higher patient safety, as well as better public health and of course better conditions for workers. There is ample evidence internationally that the higher levels of union-density lead to better outcomes for both workers and patients. For example, a recent study in the USA found that COVID-19 related mortality was 30% lower in unionised age-care hospice than non-unionised age-care hospice” said Kate Lappin, Regional Secretary for the Asia Pacific region, Public Services International (PSI).

Dr. Rocha Negi from Mumbai, India dances on a Bollywood song in her PPE Suit

Concerns of healthcare workers like nurses, can only be addressed effectively (for the safety of workers as well as patients) if they have a strong voice. “…and that can only happen through a collective process of having a union that not only has enough power to be able to raise specific issues but also to bargain for long term changes both at the workplace level as well as in public policy” added Kate.

When healthcare workers are unionised, they have a clear method to raise concerns about either patient or worker safety that would otherwise be ignored. Other methods like helplines are an eyewash and not effective in addressing these concerns of patients and healthcare workers because there is no guaranteed follow-up. Moreover, healthcare workers like nurses need to be involved in the responses to each situation.

In a non-unionised space, if nurses bring concerns to the attention of the management, they risk losing their jobs. “But in a unionised space, these can be addressed. For example, when there are inadequate PPE or noncompliance to the policies set by the government, these issues can be raised and addressed effectively only through a unionised workforce. In a number of countries around the world we can see that the more unionised nurses have been, higher level of respect they receive, better conditions they have (also in terms of pay and working conditions), as well as a higher nurse to patient ratio. This has been a challenge for nurses’ unions and some of them have not only been able to influence the policies but also helped mandated a law. After many years of campaigning nurses in Melbourne gained a law for 3 to 1 patient to nurse ratio in general wards and one to one nurse to patient ratio in ICU. That of course would not have happened without a clear and powerful union – nurses’ union in Melbourne is the largest nurses’ union in Australia and power they have to protect public health more broadly as well as workers’ health has been very clear” shared Kate Lappin.