Friday, January 12, 2007
Coke is quenching our thirst by making thousands of rural people thirstier. The people of Mehdiganj village in Uttar Pradesh, near Varanasi, are fighting Coca Cola whose plant near the village has caused massive groundwater depletion in the entire area (the plant draws 5 lakh litres of water everyday, even going by Coke's own figures) . According to a study, groundwater levels have come down by 18ft in 1996-2006 and only 1.6 feet in the decade before that. Furthermore, the plant dumps toxic waste (containing lead, cadmium and chromium) which they once used to give to farmers as fertiliser. Also coke is guilty of tax theft and has illegally occupied panchayat land.
Strangely enough this issue has been ignore by the mainstream media, and very few people know of any crime committed by cola companies apart from the one concerning pesticide levels. Frontline covered it in their May 20 - June 02 2006 issue. The Bangla daily Aajkaal covered it in their 16th February 2006 issue (see copy below).
Visit http://www.mehdiganj.org for more updates on this struggle
Noted activist Sandeep Pandey has commented on this issue in an interview on the ills of unchecked water commercialisation.
Friday, January 05, 2007
participants: Medha Patkar, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Manabendra Mukherjee
moderator: Sagarika Ghose
The battle for land industrial development is leading to land acquisition – how to create a displacement strategy that will be both just and equitable. In West Bengal, after protests in Singur, protests are now happening in Nandigram.
The Left front government is planning to acquire 10 to 14 thousand acres there for a special economic zone.
Already angry villagers are clashing with the police. And the CP-M office has been torched.
Lets now bring you the key issues of displacement as a result of industrial development.
1. Government does not acquire the land at market prices and the land records are inadequate. Corrupt officials don't disburse compensation.
2. Villagers lose access to forests and streams and the compensation amounts are frittered away by families.
3. Also land acquired cheaply is sold at high prices to industry.
Some of the solutions suggested by economists are to leave homesteads intact when acquiring land, industries should lease land from farmers so farmers become landlords instead of refugees.
Land is not just earth in India. Land is about dignity, it s about status and for many it is often their only asset. So when those whose very life and identity is tied up with the land, how can the government reassure that it is not going to turn land owners and cultivators into refugees.
Are our governments ready to handle displacement? This was the topic of discussion in India 360 on CNN-IBN.
To discuss the matter on the panel of experts were Medha Patkar, social activist, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Director, School of Convergence and Manabendra Mukherjee, Minister, Cottage & Small Scale Industries, West Bengal.
The government of India has decided on big developments, decided on big dams, decided on SEZs, decided on ports on roads and big projects and given this displacement is only going to deepen its going to increase. What advice can be given to the government on equitable displacement policy?
Answering the question Medha Patkar said, ”First of all it’s not displacement strategy or displacement policy. It should be a development policy and development is to be defined and to be planned with no displacement or minimum displacement. Even today whatever policy India has through the notification, that even was brought up in 2003, puts it as its first objective to minimise displacement and to identify non-displacing or least displacing projects, where is it happening?”
On the specific points that the government should bare in mind dealing with big projects she said, “Big projects mean big displacements. We need projects, we need plants and we need developments. But when you use the resources, natural and human, both matching in which you bring some development through industrial process. You need to see that there are minimum displacement for which you need to have technological choice. If you are managing water resource with land you need not go in for big rivers and big dams, which really bound to lead to large scale displacement which happened in Narmada.”
Reacting to the question that the government shouldn’t go for big projects at all, Medha Patkar added, ”Not at all but that is to be last resort and the least displacing alternative would be more equitable. Also if you are going in for the use of resources why do you have to displace people? They can be taken and treated as investors. If someone is investing money someone else is investing land or river or water.”
The local people should participate as equity holder within the projects.
Paranjoy said,” There are couple of problems. What is the genesis of the problem? The agriculture sector in this country is not growing fast. In the last 10 years it is growing by 1.5 per cent or 2 per cent per year where as industry is growing by 8 per cent to 12 per cent. So there is the problem.”
“Historically whenever there is “economic development” people move away from agriculture to industry. In the land Acquisition Act, land is a state subject, under the land Acquisition Act the state government has the right to acquire land, if a private acquires land the farmer can refuse to sell the land, but the state has that right and it should exercise this right judiciously,” he added.
Talking about CPI-M’s stand in Singur Paranjoy said, ”I think the CPI-M has mishandled the whole matter. If really they have popular support at Singur they shouldn’t have had Section 144, they didn’t need to have police there, Medhaji could have gone there. If truly 90 per cent or 95 per cent of the people there support the project if they have popular support what’s the problem?”
Responding to what Paranjoy is saying Medha Patkar said, ”What he is talking about is against the principle of eminent domain, which is what the state presumes that it is the owner of the resources. Resources belong to people and wherever there is a community you need to have that privacy.”
But how much local support the anti-Singur anti-Tata agitation really had. Wasn’t it a politicised campaign?
“It is not only the issue of TMC versus CPM for that matter. Its not the Left front as a whole its CPM. Even the CPM allied partner farmers in the Singur area are also against giving away their land. There are such people there. And basically it comes from the farmers from their experience of displacement all over and because 80 per cent of that land in that area is really irrigated its not waste land beyond 60 acres at the most,” she added.
However reacting to Medha Patkar’s statement Manabendra said, “Actually if outsider are going to create disturbance, there is not a single problem. Few outsiders are only creating disturbance.”
Strongly criticising Manabendra’s reaction Medha Patkar said, ”I think this is arrogance of the state because the corporates are not outsiders and only the activist or whosoever who go to support the people struggle in any local area are outsiders – that’s someone else’s ideology not mine.”
“It’s very clear that absentee land lords might have given away their land for cash and that is also happening because farmers only have one of the two options either commit suicide or give away their land because they are not getting the right price for the agriculture produce. So the solution is not really the market price the solution is alternative livelihood,” she added.
However, Medha Patkar said that the livelihood couldn’t be guaranteed because the state is not capable of providing livelihood to 50 per cent of the population in this country. That’s the unemployment rate in this country when the growth rate has gone up 8 to 10 per cent.
Is it necessary to engage in the politics of confrontation at this stage or voices should come and have dialogue with the government on finding the best rehabilitation package?
Reacting to the question Medha Patkar said, “For the last 21 year we are fighting for the Narmada issue and we were the ones who really produce the first draft of the national policy on development planning, minimum displacement and just rehabilitation, that policy is still wanting. We have produced the drafts one after another and every time the ministry of rural development is bypassed and it is stalled.”
Manabendra said, ”We have guaranteed that we will discuss with all our opposition party and with that basic conditionality Mamata Banerjee has withdrawn her fasting.”
The West Bengal government plans to acquire 60,000 acres for industrial development, how farmers can remain safe in the state?
Answering to the question Manabendra added, ”Actually this is the matter of persuasion what is the problem of West Bengal. You can understand only 1 per cent of our land is vacant. So we have to take some agricultural land but simultaneously we have to think that how we can offer a good compensation package for the farmers and we are ready to discuss this with any one.”