Gist of The Hindu: February 2015
Development as a people’s movement
Development was a key issue in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
In his very first speech after taking over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
asserted that his government is committed to carrying on development as a
people’s movement. This, he has asserted, will draw upon India’s democratic,
demographic and demand dividends. But are we genuinely moving towards organising
development as a people’s movement while building on these strengths? To cater
to India’s massive population of consumers, people should have adequate
purchasing power, such as that enjoyed by people employed in the industries or
services sector. Unfortunately, as the malnourishment statistics indicate, a
vast majority of Indians are poor, with barely 10 per cent employed in the
organised sector. We are being convinced that vigorous economic growth is
generating substantial employment. But this is not so.
When our economy was growing at 3 per cent per year,
employment in the organised sector was growing at 2 per cent per year. As the
economy began to grow at 7-8 per cent per year, the rate of growth of employment
in the organised sector actually declined to 1 per cent per year since most of
the economic growth was based on technological progress, including automation.
At the same time, the increasing pressure of the organised sector on land,
water, forest and mineral resources has adversely impacted employment in
farming, animal husbandry and fisheries sectors. People who are being pushed out
of these occupations are now crowding in urban centres. This is in turn leading
to a decline in the productivity of the organised industries and services
sector. Evidently, the ship of our development is sadly adrift.
Undoubtedly, people aspire for development. But what is
development? Joseph Stiglitz, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics and
one-time chairman of Bill Clinton’s Economic Advisory Council, offers an
insightful analysis, asserting that development should result in an enhancement
of the totality of a nation’s four-fold capital stocks: the capital of material
goods, natural capital such as soil, water, forests and fish, human capital
including health, education and employment, and social capital comprising mutual
trust and social harmony. Our current pattern of economic development is by no
means a balanced process resulting in the overall enhancement of the totality of
Thus, for instance, mining in Goa has severely damaged the
State’s water resources and caused high levels of air and water pollution. The
ever-increasing content of metals in drinking water reservoirs has adversely
impacted health. When thousands of trucks were plying ore on the roads of Goa,
the resulting chaos in traffic and accidents seriously disrupted social harmony.
Evidently, the single-minded focus on industrial growth is not leading to
sustainable, harmonious development, but merely nurturing a money-centred
In Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts of Maharashtra, both
of which are Naxal-torn, there are hopeful examples emerging of how development
may be nurtured as a people’s movement. A number of tribal and other traditional
forest-dwelling communities of these districts now have management rights over
Community Forest Resources under the Forest Rights Act. The state retains
ownership over such resources, and these cannot be diverted to other purposes.
But now these resources are being managed holistically with a fuller involvement
of the people. The citizens of Pachgaon, for instance, have, through two
full-day meetings of their entire Gram Sabha, decided upon 40-odd regulations.
Tendu leaves are a major forest produce, but their harvest entails extensive
lopping and setting of forest fires.
So, Pachgaon has decided to forego this income and instead
focus on marketing the edible tendu fruit. By stopping the collection of tendu
leaves, the trees are healthier and both fruit yield and income from its
marketing have gone up. Incomes from bamboo harvest have also gone up manifold,
and for the first time the people are moving out of the earlier precarious
existence. Notably, they have on their own initiated protecting part of these
forests as newly constituted sacred groves. Such community management of forest
resources is the only sane way to combat extremism, and I have every hope that
the new government, with its commitment to making development a people’s
movement, will wholeheartedly support these initiatives.
Furthermore, Goa could revive its currently stagnating mining
business through novel people-oriented initiatives such as the proposal from the
tribals in Caurem village in Goa’s Quepem taluka. There, extensive community
lands that harbour a large sacred grove — lands that ought to have been assigned
as Community Forest Resources — have been encroached upon by palpable illegal
mining, which has damaged water resources, affected farming, and created social
dissonance. The mines are currently closed because of the illegalities, and the
Gram Sabha has unanimously resolved that if they are to be restarted, this
should be done through the agency of their multi-purpose cooperative society.
An imaginative deal
The 160-member World Trade Organization (WTO) wrote history
last week when its General Council approved its first major global trade deal
since its inception nearly two decades ago. The WTO got into a logjam when New
Delhi put its foot down, and refused to sign the trade facilitation agreement
unless a solution was found to the food stockpiling issue. The resultant impasse
had even put a question mark over the very future of the WTO. Sensing the
disastrous consequences of a WTO failure, Washington swiftly went into a
bilateral huddle with India. Once the two sides agreed on a solution to the
contentious issue, the decks were cleared for the WTO to ink its maiden trade
agreement. Quarantining the public food stockpiling issue has ensured that the
members’ commitment for a multilateral trading system remains intact. India and
others felt that the Bali agreement put at risk their food security policies.
The WTO General Council has now agreed to keep the
negotiations for a permanent solution on public stockholding for security
consideration independent of the outcomes on talks on other issues. It has also
decided to let the peace clause, agreed in Bali, to remain in force until a
permanent solution is found. The agreement clearly addresses India’s concerns.
The WTO has set for itself an accelerated time frame of December 2015 to arrive
at a lasting solution to the issue. A stricter deadline reflects a sense of
seriousness in not letting the issue linger indefinitely. In a way, it also
assures the developed world that its concerns over the trade-distorting food
subsidies remain a priority focus. With the General Council adopting the
Protocol of Amendment, the process of implementation of the Trade Facilitation
Agreement has finally begun. Essentially, it is aimed at modernising the trade
infrastructure and easing regulations to smoothen global trade.
Since the Doha Round, the WTO has been struggling to be
relevant in the midst of diverse interest blocs. It is hoping to shore up its
image with the less-ambitious but procedurally significant trade facilitation
agreement. The public stockholding issue almost spoiled the party for the WTO
but now there is no need to redo Bali. Significantly, the WTO General Council
has also given itself a deadline of July 2015 to agree on a work programme to
implement the Bali Ministerial Decisions. If it reveals a prudential compromise,
the historic deal also underscores the acute anxiety among members to work
towards strengthening the multilateral trading system. Surely, the deal must
spur member-nations to discover ways and means to deliver fast on the Bali
decisions. The moot question, however, is: will the deal embolden the WTO
attempt liberalising the more sensitive areas of trade as was intended by the
No closure for Bhopal
For thousands of residents of Bhopal, the disaster began the
night they choked on the air which smelt of burnt chillies, and it hasn’t ended
yet. The survivors got a pittance as compensation, thanks to an out-of-court
settlement by the Indian government, and the late Warren Anderson, then chief
executive officer of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), was not extradited for
trial in India. Justice seemed remote then, and 30 years later even more so.
Bhopal will be remembered for the horrors of industrial negligence and the havoc
caused by methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals, and equally so for its
aftermath of apathy and criminal callousness.
Recently, survivors appealed against a court ruling to reverse the decision that
a U.S. firm could not be sued for ongoing contamination from the chemical plant.
According to official estimates, 3,787 persons died and over 550,000 were
injured, while unofficial estimates put the death toll much higher. The affected
population continues to suffer from severe long-term health impact. The plant,
which has tonnes of toxic waste, is yet to be cleaned up, and various agencies
are still wrangling over whose responsibility it is and who will pay. UCIL’s
plant manufacturing the pesticides Sevin and Temik was dumping waste on 6.4
hectares on the premises. Tests of the groundwater and waste dumps have shown
the presence of mercury and other toxic substances, and chemical contamination
has made water in the tubewells around the plant unfit for drinking.
According to the law of the land, UCIL was fully responsible
for the wastes and for the clean-up. The question of criminal liability was
never really settled, though in the minds of the people there was no doubt about
it. Andersen and the company were spared a trial while thousands of survivors
continue to lead a life of pain and trauma. Some UCIL employees and its former
chairperson Keshub Mahindra were convicted of causing death by criminal
negligence and sentenced to two years in prison in 2010, but they were released
on bail. If anything, the disaster should have taught some important lessons in
environmental protection and law, compensation and criminal liability, but it
Bhopal was not a tragedy, it was a disaster waiting to
happen. What is tragic is the predictability of events even after the gas leak:
the lack of sensitivity and concern for the survivors, not even bothering to
clean up the mounds of toxic waste, not attending seriously to the health
issues, and making people run around for years for their rights. It is farcical
that the government should enhance compensation for the survivors after having
shortchanged them in the first place. Thirty years on, it is time for some
serious reflection on the sensitivity of the state to such disasters.