Can India afford welfarism based on handouts

By TK Arun ET Bureau| Updated: Feb 03, 2019, 06.16 AM IST

A spectre is haunting India. A spectre of never-ending handouts, which would bring some relief to the really hard-up, remove the incentive to strive for the rest and starve the economy of the funds it needs for investing in productivity boosting human capability and physical infrastructure.

Time was when politicians promised voters a cycle, computer or TV set, won their favour and made commissions on wholesale purchases of the said gifts, and proceeded to live happily at least for the rest of the term. Then came the recurring expenditure on heavily subsidised food. Read more

Pathalgarhi’s long shadow: India’s tribal heartland wants freedom from govt control

What began as a movement against government control has led to ‘autonomous’ villages in Jharkhand, unrest in Odisha and policy changes in Chhattisgarh

RANCHI/ROURKELA/RAIPUR: The signs of change are hard to miss the moment one enters Jharkhand’s Khunti district, birthplace of two tribal rebellions separated by a century. “ Sab se upar gram sabha (gram sabha above all else),” announces the writing on a wall. It all started on March 9, 2017, when Bhandra village in the tribal-dominated district inaugurated its ‘pathalgarhi’, a huge stone slab announcing the autonomy of the village from all forms of government control. The Pathalgarhi movement that erupted from this is still going strong, having spread and made impact in neighbouring Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Read more

Travel time between Mumbai and Nagpur to go down to 6 hours by December 2020

A key official attached with Maharashtra’s fastest highway project, Samruddhi Corridor, says implementation of the new land acquisition act and transparency in compensation helped melt down farmers’ opposition.

In 2016, when Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced building a 701 km super highway between Nagpur and Mumbai that will cut travel time to six hours from the existing 14 hours, nobody believed that the work will ever kick off given the stiff opposition it faced with funds and land acquisition. Read more

In three years, Centre has diverted forest land the size of Kolkata for development projects

The Indian government has diverted over 20,000 hectares of forest area for developmental activities such as mining, thermal power plants, dams, road, railways and irrigation projects in the past three years (2015-’18) across India.

According to the official data revealed by the National Democratic Alliance government in Parliament in December 2018, a total of 20,314.12 hectares of forest land (almost the size of Kolkata) was diverted in three years 2015-2018 (till December 13, 2018). During this period, the ministry had received a total of 4,552 proposals and of those 1,280 (28.11%) got approved.

Under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, forest areas can be diverted by the environment ministry for non-forestry purposes like mining. In lieu of the land, money is collected by the government which is then used by the authorities for afforestation.

But the diversion of forest land for developmental projects has always been a contentious issue and in the past 10 years the opposition to diversion has increased with environmentalists repeatedly alleging that the union environment ministry only works like a rubber stamp clearing whatever projects come to it, seeking diversion of the forest land.

However the ministry officials say this is untrue. “Many proposals are in different stages of approval. Contrary to popular belief, the ministry is very sensitive to giving clearance for diverting forests for non-forestry purposes,” said an environment ministry official on the condition of anonymity.

According to information revealed in the Parliament, Telangana topped the list with 5,137.38 hectares of forest land diverted, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 4,093.38 hectares and Odisha with 3,386.67 hectares of forest area diverted. The three states together account for over 62% (12,617.43 hectares) of the total forest land diverted during the said three-year period.

With close to 70.82 million hectares of forest area, about 21.54% of India’s land is under forest cover.

The reasons for diversion of forest area varied from irrigation, hydropower, road and railway projects to defence, mining, transmission line, schools and wind power projects. Of the total forest area diverted during the said time, the highest amount was diverted for irrigation projects, followed by mining and thermal power plants.

“Proposals for diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 are received in the ministry from the concerned states and UTs [union territories]. The proposals are examined in the ministry [Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change] and after due diligence the proposals are either approved or rejected within the framework of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and its supporting rules and guidelines,” said Indian government’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Mahesh Sharma. while replying to a query in Parliament in December 2018.

According to another set of data of the environment ministry, since the enactment of the Forest Conservation Act 1980, nearly four decades ago, a total of about 1.51 million hectares has been diverted for 27,144 projects. To put it in perspective, it means forest land equivalent to over ten times the size of India’s national capital has been diverted in the last four decades for various kind of developmental projects.

Poor monitoring is a worrying factor
Environmentalists argue that they are not against country’s development but against the procedures and poor monitoring of the conditions on the basis of which such projects are cleared.

“Monitoring of conditions on basis of which forest land is diverted is an important factor but it is poorly done. There are enough cases to indicate that India’s environment ministry does not have the adequate wherewithal to monitor the land it diverts and the numerous conditions they put,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, a senior environmental lawyer in the Supreme Court and managing partner of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm.

“The mandate of the ministry is to be the conscience keeper for every piece of forest land and how it is to be protected. Somehow, we have got lost in the money that forest diversion brings! Forest and forest land are actually irreplaceable, let’s explore all alternatives before losing even an inch” he added.

The issue may find a mention in the Parliamentary elections that are scheduled in the first half of 2019. During his election campaign for 2014 polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted the slow pace of green clearances from the environment ministry and had promised to speed up the process and simplify it.

The NDA government led by Modi did exactly that once it came into power. Since 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has taken series of steps to ease clearance process for the industry as a result of which, by the end of 2017, the average processing time for green clearances came down from 580 days to 180 days. The Modi government has a target of bringing the average time for green clearances to under 100 days.

To speed up the green clearance process, the environment ministry, in August 2018, released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects. In the same month, the prime minister had also launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) – a single-window online system for green clearances, aimed at further speeding up the system.

Courtesy: Scroll.in

Why We Need to Re-Think Our Relationship With Land, in Chhattisgarh and Beyond

The newly-elected government of Chhattisgarh has come good on one of its election promises. It has declared that the 1,764 hectares of land acquired from adivasi farmers for Tata Steel in Lohandiguda and nine other villages in Bastar, will be returned to them.

Ten years after acquisition, there is no sign of a steel plant. The company appears to have lost interest in the site. With industry not taking off, there is no reason to not return the land to its earlier users.

The action of the Chhattisgarh government is unusual, which is why it has made the national news. At the same time, the predicament of the Tatas in Bastar is quite common. The multiple factors that go into capital taking root: the coming together of land, labour, investment and enterprise in a secure and economically conducive environment – need not materialise.

If this is the case, why does big capital and the governments that facilitate it, squat on land? Why is land put on a linear trajectory of agriculture, grazing or other commons use in the primary sector giving way to industry, infrastructure, real estate or other secondary or tertiary sector activity? Why would most governments rather ‘bank’ or hold on to land unused by industry, instead of returning it to its previous users?

The answers lie in our relationship with land, and with nature more broadly. For a couple of centuries at least, human ‘progress’ or modernity has been identified with the institutional control of nature. Humans and their institutions have measured success through the capture, manipulation and disciplining of nature for producing uniformity, productivity and organised social and economic life. Our dams, mass scientific agriculture, mining, industry, big infrastructure and urban conglomerations are all symbols of this modernity, extracted from our domination of nature.

In this growth and GDP-obsessed mindset, land can go from small scale agriculture and pasture to modern industry. But it cannot go the other way; it cannot be reverted from industry or possible industrialisation to ‘mere’ farming.

That would be anti-development when development equals economic and spatial expansion. As a senior bureaucrat told me in Delhi in 2012: “how long can our people go on digging holes in the ground? We need to enter a 24/7 lifestyle.” The derision for rural Indians ‘digging holes’ was echoed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi in parliament in 2015.

Despite prevailing attitudes, climate change demands that we rethink our relationship with nature. Profound environmental degradation brought about by indiscriminate exploitation has taken us to a point where our continued existence on this planet is in serious question. This moment demands that we break from our established ideas. Our engagement with land is a good place to start. We don’t have to look far to discover that the dominant elite’s ideas of linear land use – going from supposedly less to more productive, or ‘24/7’ use – have challengers.

Since 2008, the Dongria Kondh peoples of the Niyamgiri hills have successfully fought the handover of bauxite mining rights of these forested and inhabited areas, to Vedanta Alumina Ltd. for an aluminium refinery. They have protested what they see as land grab, which has endangered their forest-dependent livelihoods, the local environment and their entire way of life.

Instead of a uni-dimensional engagement with land for extraction or construction, the Dongria Kondh show us a multi-dimensional perspective. Here, land is livelihood, but it is also life itself. It is the air we breathe and the environment we live in. For them, land is also enlivened in hosting that which they hold sacred. Their deity Niyam Raja is believed to reside in the hills of Niyamgiri.

In the linear march of modernity, the views of the Dongria Kondh may be archaic and far-removed from the fast-paced, glass and chrome lifestyles we have come to value. But in a mindset of environmental sustainability tethered to survival, rather than unrelenting economic growth, the Kondh and many others are signalling alternatives to us.

We don’t even have to rely on indigenous groups to rethink what land and nature are to us. My decade-long, field-based research with stakeholders in land – ranging from government officials and politicians to land-brokers and farmers – evinces multiple ways of seeing and engaging with land.

Multi-dimensional land

My interviewees speak of land as the base of economic growth and livelihood. But they also see it as home, as history, memory and ancestry (baap-dada ki zamin ‘land belonging to forefathers’). Land may be considered sacred: spaces in which we pray and invoke that which is holy. Land is territory to be contested, demarcated and secured. Land is politics: it is emotive, worth fighting for, it attracts voters and votes. It is property, over which we have state-adjudicated rights. It is powers of access and exclusion, or the ability to go past the framework of property via mechanisms of possession or kabza.

Land is also materially dynamic, with the boundaries between water, air and land being geomorphologically fluid. In other words, mountains change shape, or beaches appear and disappear as a matter of course. Humans, too, fill water bodies or reclaim the sea, making it hard to distinguish between where water ends and land begins in many contexts.

We engage with land multi-dimensionally everyday. We relate to it through economic, but also social, political, territorial, historical and environmental registers. In a multi-dimensional perspective, land moves in and out of commodity status, if it enters that condition at all. This land can be exchanged on the market but is far from just a marketable thing.

Yet we insist on holding up an artificial, uni-dimensional ideal in our administrative and policy-making discourses. In this view, we fail to look beyond land as a commodity, on an irreversible trajectory of ever-greater making of economic value.

Recent land acquisition legislation, which laudably brings a framework of transparency, participation and fair compensation in the transfer of land from supposedly less to more productive use, continues to fall within a utilitarian, commodity-centric perspective.

In its actions around land identified for the Tata plant, the Chhattisgarh government has shown a broader administrative and environmental vision. With or without intention, it has opened up the space for a much-needed discussion of multi-dimensional land. Apart from various governments’ political longevity, our existence on this planet may depend on changing up the same old ’24/7′ conversation.

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