Monday, July 26, 2010

Green power is the need of the hour

By Samir Nazareth
23 Jul 2010

India's policymakers have long been known for their short-sightedness. Now, instead of tapping the huge renewable energy resources, government is blueprinting fuel-based projects to meet power needs, overlooking their harmful consequences and the vast alternative energy resources the nation sits on.

Renewable energy is probably India's best bet to address the country's escalating power crises and the fact that various regions are delightfully abundant in such energy resources makes it the most sensible and viable path too. Unfortunately, despite sitting on a gold mine, India is suffering from acute power shortage in most of its regions, thanks to the customary lack of will and plenty of inefficiency.
There is a lot of potential in India to generate energy from renewable sources. The GWC's report Indian Wind Energy Outlook 2009 estimates that there is potential of around 90,000 MW for power generation from renewable energy sources. This includes 48,561 MW from wind, 14,294 MW from small hydro power and 26,367 MW from biomass. Added to this is the potential of generating 20 MW/sq km from solar energy. There is also a lot of scope to improve the efficiency of electricity usage. In fact according to a 2006 UNEP release, India's potential energy efficiency market is approximately $3.1 billion which in turn would save 54 terawatt hours annually.

The government, however, seems quite unaware of these facts and also of the irreparable environmental damage done by fossil fuels. Case in point is Vidarbha region of Maharashtra where 43 new coal-fired thermal power plants have been proposed and the government is promising uninterrupted power supply in the region. The absurdity of this plan stems from the fact that Vidarbha endures daily power outages despite being power surplus and its thermal power plants contribute almost 60% of State's power company Mahagenco's total energy generation.
However, a report on the renewable energy potential in Vidarbha by Dr Sanjay Khadakkar points out various renewable hybrid systems put up by the government in various institutions of Vidarbha.

One such 10 KW wind-solar hybrid is set up in the Mahalakshmi Jagdamba Sanstha. The irony is that though this institution is situated between two thermal power stations, it faces 5-6 hours of power cuts. Institution's manager Mr Rajniti Gupta says that hybrid is the answer to their power cuts. Though enough electricity can be generated to power the entire campus, a problem with the batteries has reduced its efficacy, but storing enough electricity to see them through the power outages. The system was set up in 20 days at a cost of Rs 28,80,000.

Another example is the Bhodisatva Nagarajun Anusandhan Kendra in Mansar, 37 kilometres from Nagpur. The 5 KW wind-solar hybrid is used during the frequent power outages and even powers electric tools used for carving stone statues.
The report states that solar-wind hybrid systems of 62.8 KW have either been installed or are being installed and proposals for another 6 projects of 10 KW each have been sent to the government.

Dr Sanjay Khadakkar states that because of load shedding, 'alternative sources of energy are a must to fulfil the need of energy'.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Empty rhetoric for empty stomachs

By Devinder Sharma
18 Jul 2010

The establishment needs to think beyond entitlements to completely remove hunger and malnutrition from India. Unfortunately, the proposed National Food Security Act fails to inspire much confidence.

How long the poor and the hungry will have to wait for their miseries to end?
(photo: Gaurav Sharma)

There can be nothing more disappointing. After 63 years of Independence, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has also expressed its helplessness in feeding the country's hungry.

The hungry must live in hunger. That's the clear verdict.
For a country which has the largest population of hungry in the world, and given that half of all children in India are under-nourished according to the National Family Health Survey III (2005-06), I was expecting Sonia Gandhi to spell out a time-bound programme to make hunger history, and at the same time overhaul the corruption-ridden public distribution system (PDS). But from what we read in the newspapers, the NAC recommendations will not make any significant difference to the life of millions of hungry and malnourished.

From what I gather, Sonia Gandhi did probably make the effort. But it is her NAC team which failed to match her enthusiasm. If the NAC members had meaningful ideas and suggestions, there is no reason why the NAC couldn't make the right recommendations. Come to think of it, the NAC recommendations will only bring cheers to the grain traders.
Promising to provide 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3/kg to below the poverty line population, and ensuring 25 kg of grains to the APL households in 2000-poorest blocks in the country, is actually a clever move to move away from universalisation of food entitlements. I have never been in favour of a universal food entitlement approach. The middle class is capable of feeding itself. If they can buy swanky cars and consumer durables at the drop of a hat, they can also meet their food requirements.
Unlike India, which exports foodgrains and other agricultural commodities by keeping its own people hungry, China has emerged as a major importer of food and agricultural products primarily to feed its teeming millions.

The challenge is to feed the hungry. According to ICMR norms, each able-body person needs a minimum of 14 kg a month. Given that an average family comprise five members, each household would need 60-70 kg of grains. By providing 35 kg only, we are ensuring that the hungry remain perpetually hungry. They continue to sleep with an empty stomach. In any case, this quantity was being made available to them earlier too. The purpose of bringing in a National Food Security Act (NFSA) is not to simply legitimise what was being delivered through the bogus PDS all these years.

The argument against increasing the food allocations is that the annual procurement on an average is around 50 million tonnes and by promising more than 35 kg per household, the government will fail to provide the entitlement. Well, in my understanding this is merely an apology. Although food production in India remains stagnant over the years, and even then much of the procured foodgrains rot for want of proper storage, the fact remains that given an attractive price, Indian farmers are capable of doubling production.

Let us look at China. Its population is approximately 200 million more than that of India. Against India's foodgrain production of 230 million tonnes, China produces 500 million tonnes of foodgrains. Even with more than double food production, it imports huge quantities every year to meet the domestic needs. Unlike India, which exports foodgrains and other agricultural commodities by keeping its own people hungry, China has emerged as a major importer of food and agricultural products primarily to feed its teeming millions.
In India, the average per capita availability of foodgrains is less than 500 gm a day. On the other hand, China provides six times more at 3 kg per day. No wonder, while India is trying to ride the high-growth trajectory with empty stomachs and emaciated bodies, China is building a healthy nation knowing well that a well-fed population is not only a political necessity but makes strong social and economic sense.
Also, agriculture and food security is the first line of defence against insurgency. Resurrecting agriculture therefore should have been the first step to ensure long-term food security.

I had therefore expected Sonia Gandhi to have over-ruled the mandarins from the Planning Commission, as well as from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, to lay out a blueprint for feeding the country for all times to come by incorporating measures like extending sustainable farming practices which do not acerbate the environmental crisis, and also making agriculture economically viable; by redesigning trade and development policies that do not open the floodgates to highly subsidised agricultural commodities, and also shifting the focus from corporate agriculture back to making small farms profitable and environmentally sustainable.

There is no justification for India to fare below Sub-Saharan Africa in hunger and poverty rankings. Most of the African nations are torn by strife and have unstable governments. If those African countries had stable governments like India, I am afraid India would have been relegated to the bottom of the pile.
Local production and local procurement is the key to any successful food security initiative. The proposed NFSA therefore should be overarching enough to incorporate suitable policies and plans that not only cuts into the domain of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, but also extends to Ministry of Environment & Forests as well as the Ministry of Science & Technology. It will require an overall economic policy shift to ensure that agricultural land is not acquired for the industry, and technologies like GM crops are not thrust upon the farming communities.
Knowing that enhancing production remains outside the ambit of the NFSA, merely making a mention of it will not help. If the objective is to make some political appointments by creation a new position of Food Commissioner (with the rank of a Supreme Court judge) at the national level, and a series of State Commissioners (with the rank of a High Court judge), then the basic objective of feeding the hungry is lost.
Although the NFSA has created a new category of "socially vulnerable" it is not sure as to how will that be implemented. On the contrary, it leaves a lot of room for misappropriation and corruption. The better option should have been to extend the 'below the poverty line' to 55 per cent of the population so as to also include those who are on the margins.

In fact, this would be in tune with the latest multi-dimensional poverty estimates developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Accordingly, eight States - Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal - have more desperately poor people than 26 poorest African nations. As per the last count, India ranked 66th in the Global Hunger Index prepared for 88 countries.

There is no justification for India to fare below Sub-Saharan Africa in hunger and poverty rankings. Most of the African nations are torn by strife and have unstable governments. If those African countries had stable governments like India, I am afraid India would have been relegated to the bottom of the pile. I don't know how long we Indians can remain indifferent to growing hunger and malnutrition. Sadly, the NAC, after raising a lot of expectation in the beginning about the intent and scope of NFSA, has again failed to hit the nail on its head.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing games with the poor

By Gaurav Sharma
16 Jul 2010

Delhi's makeover for the Commonwealth Games 2010 has brought unending suffering and misery for thousands of poor living in the city as hundreds of slums accommodating them are being demolished for the city's beautification drive.

Come October 3, Delhi will be all decked up to exhibit its splendid and metamorphosed image for thousands of international tourists, who will throng grand stadiums across the city to watch their respective countries' sportspersons participate in the Commonwealth Games 2010.

However, the cheer and excitement in the run-up to the Games is accompanied by the painful cries that were drowned by the roar of bulldozers. Behind the frothy fa├žade, lies an unpleasant story of forceful eviction, demolition, homelessness and helplessness.

With its ambitious plan of taking Delhi's infrastructure to an international stature, the government is trampling upon the poor's rights in the name of beautifying the city. This mega sporting event has robbed millions of poor of their shelters who are bearing the brunt of beautification drive for the 12-day extravaganza. By the end of the Games, as Delhi's Chief Minister herself as accepted, three million people will not have roof over their heads.

The demolition drive has been on for quite some time. Monday, January 9, 2009, was a doomsday for 605 inhabitants of Prabhu Market slum cluster in Sewa Nagar in South Delhi. Their houses were reduced to rubble in front of their eyes. All the houses were flattened by MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) bulldozers to pave way for the construction of a huge parking lot for the opening and closing ceremony of the Games.
With its ambitious plan of taking Delhi's infrastructure to an international stature, the government is trampling upon the rights of poor in the name of beautifying the city.

57-year-old Shanti Devi, is one of the hundreds to have suffered for the 'world-class' event whose Jhuggi was razed down to ground. With their Jhuggi flattened, her ailing husband succumbed to cold during the chilling nights of January 2009, leaving her with nothing but piles of broken bricks.

"An officer would lose patience if he doesn't find his chair in the office at the right place. Imagine our plight; we have no roof over our heads for the past one-and-a-half years. We have lost everything and now have nothing except memories of our home," says Sunil, another slum resident.

The people of this slum cluster were residing there for the past 40 years. All of them claim to have ration cards or voter ID cards. Either of the two documents makes them eligible for relocation in case evicted from their land. The residents have been running from pillar to post for their right but their struggle remains futile.

On January 12, 2009, in response to a writ petition filed by these slum dwellers, the Delhi High Court had ordered MCD to relocate them as soon as possible. Ironically, not a single resident has been accommodated till date. This amounts to contempt of court but the government is unperturbed.

To avoid possibilities of collective protests, demolitions were carried out in parts and without warnings. "The authorities did not serve any prior notice to us. They came with police force and demolished our houses within minutes," says Dinesh Kumar.
He also alleges that just after two days of the demolition, the Election Commission wrote off their names from its records so that they can't claim their resettlement.
"We have lost all hopes as no one listens to us. We approached a lawyer to file the case in the court. The lawyer demanded Rs 50,000 which we barely managed to collect and paid to him but thereafter nothing seems to be going ahead on that front as well," rues Shri Ram who is a street vendor in the Prabhu Market.

Blinded by the beautification drive, the insensitive government did not even spare the localities earlier planned for the physically challenged persons.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Planners and engineers have contempt for commoners: Dinesh Mishra

By d-sector Team
15 Jul 2010

The absence of information flow between the development planners and the common people who have live experience of grass root realities is the biggest hurdle in the flood management efforts, says Dr Dinesh Mishra in a dialogue with d-sector.

An acclaimed authority on cause-effect relationships of floods, Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra, convenor of Barh Mukti Abhiyan, has virtually spent better part of his life wading through the sprawling river basins of flood-ravaged north Bihar to get a first-hand account of not only the nature of floods and associated human misery but also the politics behind it. In his factually accurate biographies of all the major rivers, Dr Mishra has delineated the contours of the manmade crises that have remained privy to engineers but at an incredible cost to the unsuspecting masses. His contention is that rivers should be allowed to flow freely and by constructing embankments, planners have only aggravated the risk and severity of floods. The political economics of floods, he laments, may never allow the annual ritual of floods' havoc to be seen beyond the relief syndrome.

A walking encyclopedia on Bihar floods, Dr Mishra is always on the move 'to learn more about the rivers and floods' and to write his observations. An excellent communicator with a flair for poetry and Urdu shayari, he quotes extensively from the ancient scriptures and has innumerable anecdotes to share. Though this IIT Kharagpur alumnus, who sacrificed family life and career to better understand behaviour of rivers, was busy giving finishing touches to yet another biography on river Bagmati, he readily responded to the queries put forth by d-sector in his own inimitable style.

Q. In your three decades of work in understanding and chronicling the human induced floods in the north Bihar rivers including Kosi, what has been the essential message that you think the planners and politicians have missed out and still continue to do so?
A. The planners and engineers have contempt against the people living within the flood plains for centuries and treat them as 'laymen'. If floods or the rivers' behavior had been problematic the way the engineers believe they are, all the people living within the flood plains would have migrated to Rajasthan or Rayalseema. There is no dialogue between the self professed experts and the so called 'laymen' who live and grow along the river and can predict the river behavior with reasonable accuracy without any gadget. Unfortunately, the 'laymen' do not possess the computing skills of the engineers and the engineers lack experience of living with rivers. The 'laymen' in turn, doubt the moves of the engineers as mischievous and the mistrust between the two is a reality. Unless the trust is built up, and that is only possible through regular dialogues between the two, no tangible result would be possible.

Q. Will there be a time when the suffering masses within and outside the jacketed rivers rise up to make them understand it?
A. The possibility of masses taking up the issue with engineers and planners reminds me of the story about a monkey and two cats. The monkey will ensure that the cats continue to fight with each other, while pretending to solve their dispute over share he could eat the full loaf. The planners have successfully split the people among those living on the countryside of the embankments and those living on the riverside. Their interests appear contradictory and the establishment has the last laugh as the two groups would never be allowed to resolve their differences. Unless these victims of travesty of technology and politics realize that they are being taken for a ride, their condition would not improve. As of today, they have been systematically cheated by the politicians, engineers and the contractors' nexus and are a resigned lot. They will retaliate the day they realize they have nothing to loose.

Q. One would have expected the engineers to understand you better as you are one of them and speak their language but that doesn't seem to be the case so far. Can the subject of civil or water engineering be more empathetic to the concerns you have raised or will it remain an unrealised wish?
A. Engineers speak the language of the rulers. The British establishment decried embankments, their engineers supported their views. The establishment of independent India projected embankments as saviour of the people living in flood plains; its engineers soon discovered virtues in the embankments. The engineers are employed by rulers and not by egg plants like us.

However, if I had no hope, I wouldn't have devoted my life for the people living in the flood plains. Some day the engineering establishment would realize that I was right. Many of them do it even now but after the office hours.
Q. Has your single status got anything to do with your romance for the rivers?
A. A single person's sentiments, passions and curiosity remain intact and do not fade with time. This must be getting reflected within the society in some form or the other. For a romantic person only the object changes, rest everything remains the same.
Engineers speak the language of the rulers. The British establishment decried embankments, their engineers supported their views. The establishment of independent India projected embankments as saviour of the people living in flood plains, its engineers soon discovered virtues in the embankments. The engineers are employed by rulers and not by egg plants like us.

Q. Why would you not romance 'Boodhi Gandak' or for that matter 'Brahmaputra'?
A. I find it objectionable when the adjectives of 'boorhi' (old) or 'mara' (dead) or 'chharan' (abandoned) are used in context of rivers. These words kill the charm that the rivers are known to possess. Try using these words for your family members and see where you land up. These words may lead you to respect, condole or sympathize with someone but never to love. Brahmaputra is known as Baba (Grandfather) and suffers from the same complex. Talking about Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narayani, Malini, Kosi, Nanda, Sunanda, Padma, Soni, Dhauri, Kali, Kapila, Bhargavi, Cauvery or Chandrabhaga etc takes you to a different world altogether.
Q. Would you say that the society that doesn't value its rivers doesn't respect its women too?
A. I think we are the only nation that has assigned gender to rivers. For others, it is just a matter of grammatical convenience. Traditionally, we have said a lot in honour of women but in practice our actions have always been questionable. Of late, we have started taking our rivers for a ride. Earlier we used to praise them that bathing in a particular river (snana), drinking its water (pana), paying respect by visiting it (darshana) or even remembering some of them (dhyana) was enough for salvation. All that is gone and our rivers have turned into cesspools. I would not suggest drawing a parallel between women and rivers in the context and leave it to others to contemplate.

Q. Which of the characters in river folktales resemble you the most?
A. Humayun, the Mughal emperor, after his defeat to Sher Shah in battle near Chausa, was running away from his enemies when his horse fell into river Ganga and he was nearly drowned when a Bhishti (a person assigned to carry water in leather bags) rescued him. When the emperor was successfully dragged out of river by the poor water carrier, Humayun promised his saviour that for one day he will offer the throne to him for his courageous act and faithfulness. Humayun fulfilled his promise and the Bhishti, during his one day reign, started a currency made out of leather. If you ever come across an autobiography titled "The Leather Coin", it would be written by me.

Q. Does it bother you that the world remembers you only when the rivers are in spate?
A. Not at all. Barsaat ka mausam to leharane ka mausam hai (The rainy season is to enjoy). It is better to be remembered by all and sundry when it is raining and the rivers are in the best of their glory. That gives you energy for the rest of the year. I am sought when the engineers who construct embankments and dams fail. But then, hamara choona lagane walon se kya muqabila? (I am not among those engineers who dupe the system while pretending to build infrastructure.)

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Revenue rules over rights

By Hartman de Souza
12 Jul 2010

Environment ministry of India says the Dongria Kondh tribals are threatened by the proposed Niyamgiri mine in Orissa. Yet, Prime Minister's office is keen to grant it approval. Do these poor tribals not qualify as being people under the constitution?

It is now common news that the office of the Prime Minister has written to the Environment and Forests Ministry asking it to clear Vedanta's proposed Niyamgiri mine in Orissa. An agency report quotes an Adivasi, a Dongria Kondh tribal, from the area telling Survival International that the mining of ore only makes profit for the rich and that his people will be reduced to being beggars if the company destroys their mountain and forest for mining.

His words parallel a report commissioned by the Environment Ministry to investigate Vedanta's plan earlier this year that warned that the Niyamgiri mine could 'lead to the destruction of the Dongria Kondh people'.

The Ministry on its part appointed yet another team of experts to conduct further investigations, before making a decision on granting official clearance urging it to report back by the 29th July - the day after London-based billionaire Anil Agarwal's FTSE100 company Vedanta holds its Annual General Meeting in London. The expert team will investigate the mine's potential 'impact on the livelihood, culture and material welfare of the Dongaria Kondh' and its 'impact on the Wildlife and Biodiversity in the surrounding areas' as if the world and its mother did not already know.
One suspects the position that may be taken by the new expert panel thanks to a diktat from a GDP growth rate-obsessed Government or, for that matter, by a new cash-strapped government in the UK. Just last year the then UK government condemned Vedanta, declaring that it 'did not respect the rights of the Dongria Kondh' and that a 'change in the company's behaviour [is] essential.'

Not to be left out of the critique, the Church of England, the Norwegian government and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust were among the high-profile investors that sold their Vedanta shares over serious human rights concerns, and as Survival's director Stephen Corry rightly noted: India's Prime Minister "ought to be protecting the rights of India's most vulnerable citizens, not helping to railroad through a project that government experts have warned could destroy them".

Even as this is being written, the Dutch Asset management firm, PGGM has disinvested its €13m stake in Vedanta Resources, including its subsidiaries Sterlite Industries, Hindustan Zinc and Sesa Goa citing the company for "persistently ignoring environment and human rights. The firm which manages the €91billion healthcare scheme PFZW, said it had exchanged letters and held numerous talks with the company over the last two years regarding its mining activities in Orissa, but that the company made no concrete improvements. It further noted Vedanta's refusal to co-operate on environmental and human rights issues had increasingly put the company's reputation at risk, which, PGGM felt, translated into a financial risk.
Perhaps most damning is that Vedanta declined to participate in a roundtable meeting with experts - initiated by the group of investors - to discuss possible solutions for problems in Orissa.

Through all this, one must perforce ask why the Prime Minister's office is determined on bringing this company to our Adivasi lands. Does this population of ours left dangling at the antipodes all these years not qualify as being people under the constitution? Our English TV Channels in Delhi covering the problems in our eastern Ghats are quick to refer to the misdirected Naxalites as 'butchers' although there are some facts, courtesy publications of the Centre for Science and Environment, that they ought to engage with:
Mining royalties in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand contribute only 10 to 13 percent of total revenue receipts; in Orissa it is 5 to 6 per cent; in Andhra 3 per cent. Is there reason to suspect that the Adivasis are angry at losing their livelihoods?
In 1995 to produce 1 crore tonnes of ore, the mining industry employed 25 people, in 2005 this number dropped to 8, a decrease of 70 per cent. Where will the jobs come from? As there is no comprehensive date on people displaced by mining, available data suggests less than 25 per cent have been actually looked after.

For every armed Adivasi there may be close to 10 armed government personnel. In the same areas the average landholding is less than half a hectare and perhaps one drinking water source for 1,000 Adivasis. It makes one wonder what is really more obscene: a reluctant Adivasi with an AK 47 in his or her hand, or bulldozers taking away sacred shrines, forests and traditional water sources at the behest of a mining baron who probably doesn't even know what Adivasi means or stands for.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Democratic rights under attack

By Devinder Sharma
06 Jul 2010

The schizophrenia displayed by industry organisations over nation wide protests against price rise indicates their rising intolerance for people's movements. If the suffering people are not even allowed to raise their voice what options they will have other than taking recourse to violence?

It was expected. As people observed a successful nation wide Bandh against rising prices of essential items, the industry and its mouthpieces went into a tizzy. The Economic Times shrieks: "Bharat is left badly bruised as age-old bandh politics over fuel price hike hits industrial activity and disrupts normal life." Its sister publication The Times of India is a little restrained when it says: "Opposition parties on Monday joined forces to enforce a countrywide strike against rising prices, in an effective protest that marked the return of a hot-button political issue and is being seen as a wake-up call for the UPA regime."

The opposition parties had given a call for a nationwide protest in the form of a 'Bharat Bandh' against high inflation and a sharp increase in fuel prices. The Bandh as a newspaper headline says: put India on hold.

All through on Monday, most of the TV channels went on chanting the Corporate mantra: "Monday's Bharat bandh, which disrupted life, stopped work, created loss and damaged property, not so much articulated democratic rights as abused them." All of them quoted imaginary figures of collateral damage that the three industry lobbying groups put up. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimated a loss of Rs 3,000 crore; the Assocham raised it to Rs 10,000 crore; and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) put both the figures together and came out with a magical estimate of Rs 13,000 crore.

If a day's protest has cost the country Rs 13,000 crore, industry lobbyists should demand making it compulsory to work for seven days a week. Why should we have a five-day week? In fact, FIICI should even consider seeking an extension in work hours. If we believe such bogus industry claims for a day of protests, the amount nation loses every year on account of a 5 day week should be phenomenal!

Nevertheless, the media's reaction is a reflection of what India Inc thinks. And India Inc is willing to go to any absurd length to defend the decisions of the incumbent UPA government, which actually is a government of the industry, by the industry and for the industry. So let us not unnecessarily worry about what the media says or be carried away by the 'pro-people' cliches on TV by our impotent netas.
During the day, I was asked by a TV channel whether bandh is the right form of protest. My response was that there are only two ways of expressing your anger and protesting against the high-handedness of the government: using the democratic form of protest or by picking up the gun like the naxals have done in 230 districts of the country.

The other argument against bandh is that it is the people who bear the brunt of such protests. But what about the sufferings of people who have been reeling under the stupendous rise in prices for over a year now? They have been bearing the brunt silently. How long do you want the poor to go to bed hungry unable to buy two square meals a day? What about those millions who cannot afford to buy their daily quota of dal and chapati?

Anyway, the media decries bandh. The media also slams the opposition for disrupting the proceeding in Parliament if ever the Opposition parties come together on popular issues. What is the choice then? Should the people be left to adopt militant means? Or the media expects people to write letters to the editor? Even that space has disappeared in most newspapers, with hardly few inches of space left for public feedback.

It is not only the newspapers which have drastically curtailed space for public opinion, increasing privatisation is actually taking away the right of expression. Let me illustrate this. Some years back, I was in Manila to attend a conference. In the afternoon, we heard slogans outside the hotel. There were groups of farmers and activists who were protesting against the corporatisation of agriculture. Within minutes the police arrived telling the protesters that they can't demonstrate inside the hotel's boundary walls.

The protesters moved to the road outside. Again, they were told that the road was also a private property. They then went back to the small park in front of the hotel. They were then told that the park was also a private property.

In reality, India Inc is trying to take away all democratic spaces. They do not want any finger to be raised at the usurping of resources that the business and industry is engaged in. The economic loot that goes on with the support of the government is something they don't want to stop. Obviously the share prices go up, and that keeps the middle class happy. Those who suffer are not allowed to raise their voice. With the dominant media on their side, Corporates are trying to muffle all democratic options and voices. In other words, it is actually an assault on the fundamental right of expression.

We are therefore at a very crucial stage in history. If we let the debate over democratic norms be defined by the Corporates and their agents (and I am including the economists in this list), it is time to say goodbye to democracy.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sacrificing the commons

By Kuldeep Ratnoo
01 Jul 2010

Despite knowing well that violence will never help the poor tribals, many civil society activists continue to defend Maoist brutalities. Can they remain indifferent to the cries of those who lose their loved ones in a futile battle? At the same time, the government and the industry can not be allowed to marginalise and exploit the poor tribals.

Indians love to talk, extol, criticise and give extreme opinions on all and sundry issues. Their opinions could vary from astute to obtuse, and solemn to hilarious, depending less on their intellectual abilities and more on the relevance of the issue with their beliefs and self-interests. But very rarely one encounters the frivolity and gibberish that have clouded the debate and discourse on the marginalisation and exploitation of poor tribals in some states of India and the violent actions of Maoists on the pretext of avenging the alleged oppression by the industry and the government.

On one end of the spectrum are leftists of varied hues and views, whereas the market worshippers occupy the other end in this verbal warfare. Though miniscule in number, these fringe elements on both sides have access to powerful platforms to distract the public and shout down the reasonable queries. The voiceless citizen suffers silently the verbal junk dispensed liberally by these communist and capitalist extremists. Sadly, in their madness to defend their exploitative ideologies, they have no qualms in overtly espousing violence as a means of ensuring justice. Whether they call their actions 'green hunt' or 'red revolution', the casualty is always a commoner, either an innocent tribal or a poor jawan of police forces. The real perpetrators remain ensconced firmly in their safe heavens giving orders to the security forces or sponsoring lengthy essays to portray Maoist brutalities as noble actions.

As the battle in the heart of India gets bloodier, some pertinent questions deserve answers. As people's power is frequently being hijacked by money power, we need to know the role of a government in a democracy. Ignoring the advice of Mahatma Gandhi to keep the poorest of the poor in mind while making policies, our recent governments have begun to shower all resources at disposal on the richest and the mightiest. Revenues are important but should a government be worried about esnuring profits of corporates just because they pay large amount of taxes (or pay huge bribes to people who run and influence the government)? It is critical to ask who owns the natural resources of a country: people or government? Can we allow few politicians and officials to transfer ownership of the vast natural resources of the country to companies without consulting the people whose livelihoods are destroyed and lives get threatened by such myopic decisions? Development is needed but can we do a long term cost and benefit analysis of development projects in view of their effects on environment and people? Are revenues and investments more essential than health, safety and welfare of people? These and many other questions continue to be brushed aside by the beneficiaries of exploitative system, and therein lies the problem.
This is not the first time that citizens have to bear the cost of development programmes initiated by the rulers. However, miseries of people have multiplied in recent times because shedding all inhibitions the democratically elected governments have refused to acknowledge people’s concerns. If the affected people do not get justice from the government despite pleading and crying for years, what options they are left with? Do our democratic structures provide any hope to increasing number of displaced and deprived? From Dantewada to Delhi, the poorest of the poor bear the brunt of growth obsessed policy makers. But neither judiciary, nor press comes to their rescue except paying occasional lip service.

For Maoists and their sympathizers, continued exploitation of poor, mainly tribals, become good excuse to sanctify their violent struggle to capture political power. Instead of enquiring deeper, most left leaning intellectuals either rationalise or half-heartedly condemn Maoist violence. The reason for their hesitation is obvious. Almost all of them believe or try to make others believe that Maoists are deprived, marginalised and exploited tribals fighting against the greedy capitalists. The general impression is that land grab, displacement and spurt in mining activities have given rise to Maoism. There can not be anything far from the facts.
Many leftist revolutionaries who wanted India to accept communism as its policy of governance, began to criticise democracy and mobilise peasants in some areas of Andhra Pradesh within years of India gaining freedom from the British rule. Highly educated, globally connected upper caste Maoists have been preparing for armed revolution since 1950s. Even during Pandit Nehru's time, these radicals tried several times to instigate landless farmers against exploitative landlords in some parts of the country. After attack by China in 1962, Maoism began to take roots in few areas of West Bengal, not far from China. Though the violent Naxal movement was crushed ruthlessly by the then West Bengal government, the ideology and methods of Maoist militants fascinated few educated people and some splinter naxalite groups came into existence with covert financial, intellectual and logistic support from anti-India forces. These militant groups were committed to Maoism and had organised eight national Congresses by 1970.

The Maoists' violent struggle to overthrow democratic government and 'liberate the people from the clutches of imperialism, feudalism and the big comprador bourgeoisie' continued for decades, mainly in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. These Maoists entered into forests of Chhattisgarh only when they were on the verge of elimination by Special Forces of Andhra Pradesh. No wonder, none of the top Maoist leaders is a tribal. All of them are high caste militants from Andhra Pradesh. They needed dense forests and poorly developed regions to regroup. Obviously, the Maoists, who have pushed thousands of poor tribals into death trap, deeply love their own lives. The forests of Dandkaranya provided them safety and shelter and the exploitative contractors working there shared their 'profits'. On one hand, the Maoists instigated the poor tribals, ignored and exploited for decades, against the corrupt officials and contractors; on the other they made deals with the same 'exploiters' to ensure their safety, security and smooth working. Soon, they began to collect 'security money' from the big corporates having business interests in forest areas and expanded their influence over a much larger region.

Though the Maoists claim to have established a system of governance beneficial to tribals in areas under their control, the facts speak otherwise. In the last few years of Maoist rule in the Bastar region, the condition of tribals has only worsened on almost all socio-economic indicators including education, health, income, safety etc. Obviously, Maoists are least interested in welfare, progress or empowerment of tribals. Poor adivasis are nothing but sacrificial lambs for their larger objective to grab power at Delhi. Unfortunately, the government and the greedy capitalists make their task easier by implementing policies that further marginalise the poor and downtrodden and make his life miserable.

First pushing people to the brink by implementing exploitative policies and then projecting certain individuals and groups as their only saviours is a silly strategy detrimental to the society and nation. Whether Kashmir, North East, Punjab or Chhattisgarh, playing with fire has only resulted in the country paying a heavy price but myopic, corrupt and self-obsessed politicians refuse to learn any lessons. Making political capital out of poverty, fear and insecurity remains their core strategy.
Human lives, whether of poor tribals or of obedient policemen, can not be allowed to be sacrificed by either ruthless Maoists or insensitive governments. The nation can not remain mute spectator to sacrifice of fellow citizens for evil intentions of vested interests. Enough blood has already been wasted in fruitless revolutions around the world and the Maoists know well theirs would not succeed either. Sooner or later, security forces of mighty India will crush their struggle. The only losers will be poor tribals and jawans forced to fight each other. The tragedy is that many civil society activists fail to see the futility of Maoist violence. Do they feel helpless or like politicians they too have begun to make capital out of poverty and violence?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A crime that goes unpunished for 25 years

By Devinder Sharma
25 Jun 2010

Ignored and forgotten by successive governments, over 200,000 Narmada Dam oustees have been waiting for a rehabilitation package for almost a quarter of a century.

For 25 years now, they have struggled to get justice. In a peaceful and democratic manner, over 200,000 people displaced from the rising waters of the Narmada dams, have waited endlessly for a rehabilitation package, which is their legitimate right. But, justice has been denied to them.

On July 24, about 200 displaced people were present in the Gandhi Bhawan, in the heart of Bhopal city, to listen to the conclusions and recommendations of the three-member Independent People's Tribunal on displacements in the Narmada valley. The People's Tribunal was chaired by Justice (Retd.) A P Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi and Madras High Courts, and I had the privilege and honour of being part of the panel. We had travelled through some of the affected areas in the Narmada valley in the first week of the June, and then spent some days putting it all together in the form of this report.

Twenty five years after the work for a series of dams on the mighty Narmada began, the displaced people, a majority of them being adivasis, have been treated worse than cattle by successive governments. Looking at their plight, and their lost years, and knowing that they will continue to be deprived of justice, I wonder why these people have not picked up arms? At a time when the UPA government is asking the naxalites in neighbouring Chhatisgarh State to give up arms and come to the negotiating table, I fail to understand why the government is not talking to those who never picked up the gun?

I bow my head before these poor and hapless tribals for teaching us the true meaning of ahimsa. And yet, the nation has failed them. Every political party is responsible for this crime, a crime against humanity. Every bureaucrat who has been posted with the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) is guilty. Ministry for Environment & Forests, Ministry for Water Resources and Planning Commission have been willing partners to the crime.

I am saddened by what I saw, by what I heard. I can never forget the pain in the eyes of the women whom I met, the tears all dried up in the long drawn struggle for the past quarter of a century. We as a nation are responsible for inflicting these displaced people with so much of scorn and indifference that deep down in their hearts they know their struggle to gain independence from British rule has not yielded results.

And yet they have not given up on hope.

Considering their plight, the People's Tribunal in its report noted:

1. It is clearly established that the Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat have violated the rights to life, livelihood and rehabilitation of thousands of oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project, guaranteed by the Constitution and re-affirmed by numerous international conventions ratified by India by causing illegal and unjustifiable displacement of adivasis, and other farmers.
2. We wish to state at the very outset that our Tribunal was shocked to note as to how the NCA and the NVDA have stated that there are 'zero families' who are to be rehabilitated, when in fact, in every village, hundreds of people not only welcomed us, but demonstrated to us the full community life, with the houses in various mohullas, schools, panchayat, bhawans, temples, masjids, agricultural fields, trees etc and narrated not just their individual complaints but the overall situation and problems with adequate analysis.
3. The Supreme Court in its judgement of Mar 15, 2005, whereby it upheld the Narmada Award 1979 and reiterated that land based rehabilitation of project affected persons (PAF) along with provisions of house sites with requisite amenities must be completed one year before submergence. The judgement admitted the entitlements of minimum of 2 hectares of cultivable, irrigable and suitable agricultural land to all major sons and unmarried daughters of landholder PAFs.
4. As a consequence of the progressive Rehabilitation Policy, as a part of the Narmada Tribunal 1979 and protracted struggle by the people, about 10,500 adivasis families have been given land in lieu of the land submerged or acquired for the project in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but to this date not a single family has received acceptable agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh.
5. Madhya Pradesh government has expressed its inability to provide 'land for land' saying it has no surplus land for rehabilitation, and nor can it buy land for the oustees since the land prices have gone up in the recent past. But it expects the oustees to purchase suitable land with the compensation package being provided under 'Special Rehabilitation Grant' that replaces land allocation with a cash package. However, in case of Madhya Pradesh, the Writers and Publishers Limited, Indore, nationally the 7th largest multi product Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in terms of area, is slated to come up on 4,050 hectares of land and has already received the "in principle" approval. The total land that this one single SEZ occupies is approximately equal to the land required to rehabilitate most of the SSP oustees.
6. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan while addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Sammelan in New Delhi, Jan 2010, had invited the NRIs with open arms to set up industrial units. "Madhya Pradesh has no law and order problem, land is available in plenty, and clearances for setting up industrial units can be achieved very fast."

As we can see, there is no limitation of land for industries and SEZ, but no intention of providing land to the oustees, even going to the extent of defying the Supreme Court orders. As an oustee asked us at the Public Hearing at Badwani on June 3: "Does the Supreme Court apply its contempt laws on the State governments also? Or is it only meant for lesser mortals like us?"