Mr. Arjun Singh on Auroville in UNESCO
19th October 2007
Paris : Mr. Arjun Singh, India's Minister of Human Resource Development (HRD) said the following while Addressing the 34th session of the General Conference of UNESO.
"May I thank UNESCO and its Executive Board for the support it has given to India 's initiative to strengthen UNESCO's association with Auroville in the context of the commemoration of its 40th Anniversary. UNESCO has been involved from the very inception with Auroville, including the founding ceremony in February 1968, when youth of 124 Member States participated in this ceremony by depositing soils from their countries in the foundation urn to symbolize the coming together of the nations of the World."
Following is the full text of the address of Mr. Arjun Singh.
"The 34th session of the General Conference is being chaired by Ambassador Anastassopoulos from Greece , a country with whom India shares historical and civilizational links. Sir, my warmest greetings. Let me also pay tribute to Ambassador Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan of Oman, who provided leadership as Chairman of the last session of the General Conference. We also welcome Singapore 's re-entry into UNESCO.
We live in times that are rapidly, and even bewilderingly, changing. We see these changes in our countries and across the world. Change which helps to reduce illiteracy and disease, and which leads to the spread of knowledge can only be regarded as being a force for the good. But not all change is desirable. There are also situations that do not see the change they warrant. In the 21st century there are still, across the world, pockets of abject poverty. So while there is much to celebrate there is even more to cause concern. UNESCO, the heart and mind of the UN system, must be equipped to address these challenges.
The Thematic Debate organized on 2nd October, 07, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, is a positive step towards understanding UNESCO's contribution in facing the challenges of knowledge societies and global climate change. The Executive Board's decision, which was initiated by the Asia-Pacific Group and which recalls Gandhi's adage that "Welfare of the last and impact on the least privileged is of immediate importance", invites the Director General to continue contributing to the global efforts to address climate change within UNESCO's mandates and competencies.
It is heartening to note that the efforts of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change headed by Dr. R.K. Pachauri in raising the awareness about the 'Climate Change', have been duly recognized by the International Community by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, to be shared jointly with Mr. Al Gore.
South-South Cooperation and North-South-South Cooperation, particularly for education, is a key mandate of UNESCO. India is glad that its contribution of US $ 20,000, the first such, has led to the establishment of the South-South Cooperation Fund in Education. Pilot projects should now be developed for developing countries in conformity with the requirements of different regions.
Education, defined broadly, is at the heart of UNESCO. Literacy is one of our core mandates as are Technical and Vocational Education, Skill Formation, Non-Formal Education and Adult Education. The Dakar Goals must remain in focus.
The Government of India is committed towards EFA. We have made strenuous efforts to increase domestic funding of our core programmes. We have concentrated on elementary education. India 's initiative in running the largest school children feeding programme is now duly recognised in having brought nutrition to the forefront in pulling even the most disadvantaged children to the schools through the Mid-day Meals prepared with the full participation of the mothers and the local community.
We anticipate an exponential growth of demand for secondary education. However, the lack of resources and donor fatigue pose a serious challenge for further expansion of EFA in the E-9 countries. The General Conference must set the tone for the discussions of the High Level Group on EFA in December 2007.
We are targeting to increase Gross Enrolment Ratio for higher education from the present 10% to at least 15% in the next five years. We are also working towards increasing the public expenditure on education to the level of 6% of GDP over this period.
We have in recent years taken several affirmative actions to extend the benefits of education to the underprivileged and deprived sections of the society.
Mr. Chairman, it is often forgotten that the "S" in UNESCO represents Science. Our mission is in science education, the popularisation of science and the development of a scientific temper.
Our concerns regarding the development of Science Education, training of teachers for Science and Mathematics and the encouragement of R&D has been reflected to some extent in the C/4. India participated as a member of the High Level Review Group on Major Programmes II & III.
We remain committed to both Programmes and look forward to participating in the separate Round Table on "Science and Technology for Development" as well as in the deliberations on this issue at this session of the General Conference.
Some years ago, India hosted a Ministerial Conference on the Dialogue Among Civilizations. The complexities of promoting such a dialogue can be addressed through the "New Delhi Declaration on Dialogue Among Civilizations" and through actions in UNESCO's domain, particularly by integrating new perspectives and innovative modalities. India is also concerned at a perceived shift in UNESCO's policy regarding protection of cultural objects and their return to the place of origin.
For this reason, India along with Greece , Iraq , Italy , Mexico and Senegal have inscribed a new agenda item on this session of the General Conference on "Enhancing the Protection of Cultural Objects Through the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Them and the Development of Museums in Developing Countries". UNESCO must play a lead role on this matter.
Mr. Chairman, the preservation and celebration of the world's tangible and intangible heritage is the most public face of UNESCO. It is this that gives us both recognition and prestige around the world. We should do whatever it takes to strengthen the World Heritage Centre (WHC).
Reform of the WHC should not result in over-centralization and must maintain flexibility. India is home to 22 historic cultural sites and 5 natural sites, with the Red Fort at Delhi being the most recent addition. As a member state with a fundamental interest in the stature of our Heritage activities we urge that UNESCO, in its different wings, forges a commonality of approach and unity of purpose.
India has played an active role in the World Heritage Committee and supports Africa and the Pacific in their legitimate quest to have sites inscribed on the List, so as to make it truly representative of all regions and civilizations.
Intangible Heritage is of utmost importance. We are, along with other Asian countries, playing a lead role in the Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage and would encourage non-represented regions to ratify the Convention in the common quest to safeguard this precious heritage.
Similarly, we are proud to be elected to the Committee on Cultural Diversity, which would be meeting for the first time soon after this session of the General Conference.
May I thank UNESCO and its Executive Board for the support it has given to India 's initiative to strengthen UNESCO's association with Auroville in the context of the commemoration of its 40th Anniversary. UNESCO has been involved from the very inception with Auroville, including the founding ceremony in February 1968, when youth of 124 Member States participated in this ceremony by depositing soils from their countries in the foundation urn to symbolize the coming together of the nations of the World.
Similarly, the Director General and the Executive Board have been very supportive of our initiative to seek UNESCO's association with the production of an international feature film on the great humanist, philosopher and poet, Mawlana Jalal-ud-Din Balkhi-Rumi produced by the acclaimed Indian filmmaker Muzaffar Ali.
We have a comprehensive plan for bridging the digital divide by ensuring universal, sustainable and affordable access to ICT to all including those in remote and marginalized areas. We are implementing a National e-Governance Plan with the objective of making all government services locally accessible to the common man. India has put in place a Right to Information Act to enable free access of information and to foster transparency in Government.
India is organising several major UNESCO conferences in the near future. At the global level, there is the IVth International Conference on Environmental Education in Ahmedabad, a successor Conference to those held with the support of the UN system in 1977, 1987 and 1997.
We are also happy to be hosting the Regional Conference on Global Literacy, a follow-up to the White House Conference held in September 2006, specifically for the countries of South and Central Asia . We are also looking forward to the meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Social Development of South Asia in February 2008. We seek the cooperation of all Member States in the success of these Conferences.
Our experience in organizing these events has revealed that UNESCO, New Delhi office needs to be further strengthened and provided greater support.
India co-chaired the Drafting Committee, along with Nigeria , of the Draft Medium Term Strategy and the Draft Programme and Budget. We strongly supported Director General's original scenario of US $ 648 million and we note with concern that the new scenario of US $ 631 million with a projected growth rate of 3.4% may lead to cut in Programmes, especially in the Science Sector.
We believe that some adjustments must be made in administrative costs and costs of travel, so that vital Programmes are not affected.
The United Nations has declared 2nd October as International Day of Non-violence. All of us in India have been moved greatly by this gesture. But Gandhi, whose memory is invoked by that date, belongs not only to India , but also to the world.
Gandhi represented the very spirit and soul of UNESCO and its Constitution, which states: "The wide diffusion of culture and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of men".
Many parts of the world are caught up in violence and disharmony. We need to reinforce UNESCO's role as truly the heart of the UN system and as the symbol of truth and non-violence".
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