MAC: Mines and Communities

India Update

Published by MAC on 2007-04-07

India update

7th April 2007


5-15 April 2007

Campaign in the plains

Press statement by SAMATA

The north coastal region of Andhra Pradesh is renowned not only in the state of Andhra Pradesh but in the country as well. Northern Andhra and East Godavari districts are known for their richness in natural wealth and water resources. Forming a part of the Eastern Ghats the region borders the state of Orissa with rivers like Vamsadhara, Nagavali, Gosthani and Yelaru originating here contributing to the richness and fertility of the land. These life giving rivers are the main source of drinking water for thousands of people in cities, towns and villages. Reservoirs built on these rivers supply water to lakhs of acres for agriculture and cultivation. Is it then possible to imagine that these life giving rivers supplying water to the regions are currently being threatened with large scale water pollution?

The proposed mining activities of the government in the Eastern Ghats will cause just that by adversely polluting the water sources in north coastal region of Andhra Pradesh. The state government last year has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Jindal Steel to undertake bauxite mining in the Visakhapatnam tribal belt. Since then the tribal people of the region have been protesting against the proposed mining demanding that their right to land be recognized and respected. Tribal people who are dependent on the forest for their livelihood have been asking the government not to destroy their very existence by allowing the mining to take place. They demand that the constitutional safeguards provided under the Fifth Schedule, judgment of the Supreme Court and their rights be upheld by the government. On the one hand when the tribal people are demanding that the MoU with Jindal Steel be terminated, the government on the other hand has gone ahead and signed a new MoU with a gulf country Ras al Khyma to undertake mining.

All thess actions for exploiting the people are being carried out by the government without consulting the Gram Sabhas in the villages and in violation of the laws laid down under Panchayati Raj (Extension to Schedule Areas ) Act. This problem that is currently troubling the tribal people is now also threatening the existence of the people in the plains.

Massive destruction of the plains!

The government without any scientific basis claims that mining of these mineral rich hills will not in any way harm the region. In truth these bauxite rich hills act as a vast sponge soaking in the rainwater and retaining it thereby recharging the streams and rivers flowing in the region. This water is then used to meet the needs of the plain areas.

The hills rich in bauxite are found in the Eastern Ghats extending into the state of Orissa from northern Andhra Pradesh. In 2003, Kalpavriksh, a non governmental organization (NGO) based in Pune had conducted a study on the impacts of mining. The study titled "Undermining India" clearly states that bauxite mining in Visakhapatnam district will adversely affect the river systems of Gosthani, Machkand, Sileru and Sharada.

The state Forest Department (FD) has also stated that mining would endanger the environment of Eastern Ghats and affect its species diversity. The FD had submitted a report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India stating that the water supply to the plain areas would drastically reduce and also be extensively polluted. Experts in the fields of geology and mining, environmentalists and NGOs have also said that bauxite mining would compound the problem of scarcity of water for drinking purposes and agriculture.

Is it possible to imagine the effects of this pollution on the existence of people in the plains dependent on the 19 rivers and 27 reservoirs in the districts of East Godavari Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam? How apathetic is a government that supports these private mining companies and turns a deaf ear to the needs of the common man? Should mining be started in the Eastern Ghats the tribal people in the hills will get compensation and rehabilitation but what is to happen to those affected in the long term by scarcity of water in the plain areas? While industrialization is increasing the pressure on water resources the reservoirs constructed are supplying water mainly to industries, towns and cities with very little being made available to the farmers for cultivation purposes. Can we think of a future where mining will destroy water resources and threaten availability of water?

People of the plains awake and be aware!

People of the plains depending on these water sources awake! Bauxite mining in agency areas not only destroys the hills but the rivers and our very lives. The mining of these bauxite rich hills of Eastern Ghats which are the birthplace of life giving rivers is happening silently. If this continues the rivers in the region between Srikakulam and East Godavari will be wiped out of existence. Reservoirs between Vamsadhara and Yeluru will no longer have water but will be faced with the danger of turning into wastelands. Every drop of water for drinking or agriculture would become precious. National level studies clearly show the bitter experience Orissa suffered because of mining.

Be careful! Be forewarned. Be a part of the anti bauxite mining rally in the plain areas organized by Samata in cooperation with NGOs and peoples association between 5th and 15th April 2007. Be a part of this river protection campaign starting on Babu Jagjivan Ram Jayanti and concluding on Dr Ambedkar Jayanthi and covering the districts of Srikakulam, Viziangaram, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari. Work towards pressurizing the government to stop mining in the hill areas. And make the rivers bounty be accessible to the future generations. Representatives of people from plain areas, experts, students, journalists, farmers, Agricultural labour groups are all requested o be a part of this campaign.

Rivers and reservoirs affected by proposed bauxite mining:

District: Srikakulam

Rivers: Vamsadhara, Nagavali, Mahendratanaya, Bahuda

Reservoirs: Vamsadhara, Thotapalli, Narayanapuram, Paidigam,Maduvalasa, Peddagedda, Moliyaputti

Dist: Vizianagaram

Rivers: Gautami, Nagavali, Champavathi, Vedavathi, Gomukhi, Suwarnamukhi

Irrigation projects: Janghavati, Thotapalli, Peddagedda, Tarakaramatheerthasagar, Denkada, Thatipodi, Andra

Dist: Visakhapatnam

Rivers: Sarada, Varaha, Thandava, Machkand, Gosthani

Reservoirs: Thandava, Ryvada, Konam, Ravanapalli, Kalyanapulova, Gambhiramgedda, Meghadrigedda, Mudusorlova

Dist: East Godavari

Rivers: Thandava, Pampa, Yeleru

Reservoirs: Thandava, Pampa, Maddigedda, Subbareddisaar, Yeleru, Musurumilli, Surampalem, Bhoopathypalem

For details contact: Samata, Door No 14-40-1, Krishnavihar, Gokhale Road, Emani Colony, Maharanipeta, Visakhapatnam 530 002 Ph : 0891-2737662

Tele/fax +91 891 2737662, 2737653



Letter to the President on White Asbestos: A Health Time Bomb

From: OEHNI (Occupational and Environmental Health Network India)

7th April 2007

To: Honourable Rashtrapati Ji,
Rashtrapati Bhavan,
New Delhi.
Your Excellency,

Subject: Requesting urgent intervention in the matter of White Asbestos: A Health Time Bomb

With due respect on behalf of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) I wish to seek your urgent intervention in the matter of a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to unnoticed asbestos epidemic in country due to cancer causing asbestos of all forms.

Some 40 countries including Europe, Australia, Japan, International Labour Organisation and World Health Organisation besides World Trade Organisation have realized that "safe and controlled use" of asbestos is not possible. Because of the incurable but preventable cancer caused by this asbestos fiber, these countries have banned asbestos of all kinds. Given the ubiquitous presence of the fiber in India, there is no alternative to getting it banned in right earnest. I wish to submit that even our Rashtrapati Bhavan and Sansad Bhavan is not asbestos free.

It is shocking to note that India has not even ratified the Asbestos Convention, 1986 adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that lists activities, which involve the risk of work-related asbestos exposure. Included in the list in particular are manufacture of materials or products containing asbestos; use or application of products containing asbestos; stripping, repair or maintenance of products containing asbestos; demolition or repair of plants or structures containing asbestos; transportation, storage and handling of asbestos or materials containing asbestos and other activities involving a risk of exposure to airborne asbestos dust. According to the ILO figures, the biggest killer in the workplace is cancer of which asbestos alone claims some 100,000 lives annually.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is an alliance of scientists, doctors, public health researchers, trade unions, activists and civil society groups is working since April 2002 to persuade the Government to give up its consistent and continued pro-asbestos industry bias and lack of concern for the asbestos-injured.

Although the Supreme Court of India has ruled that the Government of India must comply with ILO resolutions, our Government has chosen to ignore the ILO resolution (June 14,2006) stating "the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths."

This is despite the fact that in August 2006 the Report submitted in the Supreme Court by Dr Prodipto Ghosh, Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Chairman, echnical Experts Committee on Management of Hazardous Wastes took note of asbestos victims and cites the "Medical Examination of the Asbestos Handlers" by a team of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) that concludes, " The X ray examination by NIOH showed linear shadows on chest X rays of 15 (16 %) of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. These are consistent with asbestosis..."

We earnestly request you to direct NIOH to reveal the names of the 16 % of the workers who are suffering from asbestos related diseases as per an affidavit filed by the environment ministry and recommend immediate compensation to these victims who are counting their last days.

Unmindful of the hazards of asbestos at the global environmental scene, India has once again demonstrated its collusion with asbestos interests. In October, 2006 India's delegation to the Rotterdam Convention sided with a few other nations to virtually bring down the Convention, an international treaty intended to protect developing nations from toxic trade. The third Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the Convention was held in Geneva, Switzerland during 9- 13 October 2006.

When the inclusion of chrysotile on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list was initially proposed, it was blocked by India along with other asbestos stakeholders, led by Canada. Full prior disclosure of all the risks from this killer fiber is an ethical, legal and humanitarian necessity; therefore, the PIC listing of chrysotile should have been approved as a matter of utmost urgency at COP3 but it did not happen. India's official policy on chrysotile is not at all surprising given the fact that the industry's collusion seems quite manifest.

On August 18,2003, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Sushma Swaraj told the Indian Parliament that: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, have shown that longterm exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma."

This was not the first official acknowledgment of the asbestos hazard. Office Memorandum NO.6 (6)/94 - Cement, (Sept 1, 1994) of the Ministry of Industry states:

"The Department has generally not been recommending any case of Industrial License to any new unit for the creation of fresh capacity of asbestos products in the recent past due to the apprehension that prolonged exposure to asbestos leads to serious health hazards".

In light of these statements and the new positions taken by the ILO and World Health Organization regarding the urgent need to eliminate asbestos use, the Government should be initiating a range of measures to protect the population from the asbestos hazard. That it is not doing so demonstrates the parasitic relationship which exists between politicians eager for campaign contributions and industry shareholders greedy for profits. Even after Mrs Sonia Gandhi's electoral victory, which was achieved under the slogan: Aam Aadmi (ordinary peopie), her Government's pro-chrysotile bias was undiminished. Recently, permission was granted for the construction of a huge asbestos-cement plant in Mrs. Gandhi's constituency in Raebarelly, Utter Pradesh.

While other countries are banning asbestos, India is expanding the asbestos sector. It is public knowledge that the Deputy Leader of the Indian National Congress in the Lower House of Parliament owns asbestos factories. To increase national demand for asbestos products, the Government has taken the perverse step of lowering import duties on chrysotile, much of which comes from Canada.

BANI, the Occupational Environmental Health Network of India, PublicHealthWatch, civil society groups, trade unions and human rights groups have demanded an immediate ban on all uses of asbestos including an immediate end to the import of chrysotile. They seek measures to identify, compensate and treat the asbestos-injured and regulations to minimize harmful exposures are also being proposed.

BANI demands the criminal prosecution of those responsible for asbestos exposures such as factory owners and company directors. Asbestos is a public health issue which the Government has ignored for far too long. In the public interest, BANI appeals to the Government of India to support the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on a trade "watch list" that already contains all other forms of asbestos.

Although non-asbestos technology certainly exists in India, in fact in some factories the two technologies exist side-by-side, consumers will inevitably opt for the cheaper product: more demand will translate into higher sales which will generate more chrysotile rupees that can be used to obtain an eveof political support. As the quid-pro-quo relationship between Government officials and asbestos businessmen exists outside the media spotlight, journalists and the public remain unaware of the pernicious reasons which motivate the decisions being taken; decisions which will expose current and future generations to the deadly asbestos hazard.

The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), Environment Health Criteria 203 concludes and recommends protection of human health from exposure to chrysotile asbestos because it poses increased risks for asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. No threshold has been identified for carcinogenic risks. It adds, where safer substitutes material are for chrysotile asbestos is available, they should be considered for use. IPCS specifically discourages the use of chrysotile asbestos in construction materials, the use for 90 percent of all asbestos in India.

We are alarmed by the misinformation by the Chrysotile asbestos industry. It will have us believe that the pattern of asbestos is entirely different in India hence most of the diseases pattern seen in the west bear no relevance to the magnitude of Indian experience. We are also afraid that the outcome of the chrysotile asbestos study underway at NIOH would be compromised because the research is partly funded by the Chrysotile asbestos industry.

Contrary to these misleading facts, Dr Qamar Rahman of Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC), Lucknow, one of the most renowned toxicologists of India revealed a very shocking data on cellular and genetic mutations and about the plight of the asbestos mine workers especially women. She informed the scientific and medical community present here about the occurrences of asbestos related diseases that includes cases where women have died after 6-7 years of the first exposure as was reported by the government doctors.

At a Round Table in March 2007 in Delhi, she reiterated her concerns emphatically. Concerned with the global and national evidence about the increasing death toll of asbestos workers, trade unions, labour and environmental groups have sought immediate phase out of chrysotile asbestos. In India asbestos is still used in the manufacture of pressure and non-pressure pipes used for water supply, sewage, and drainage, packing material, brake linings and jointing used in automobiles, heavy equipment, nuclear power plants, thermal power plants amongst others.

Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place, it causes irreversible damage - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Despite the fact that the World Trade Organisation has given an appropriate judgment against it, upholding France's decision to ban import of asbestos from Canada, successive governments in India have promoted this killer mineral fibre ignoring public health. World over almost forty countries have already banned asbestos, said H Mahadevan, General Secretary All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) & Vice-president, National Safety Council.

Dr S R Kamat, a renowned lung specialist was bitter at the "utter callousness of employers", the total lack of medical expertise and government inaction; all of which continued to put workers at risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. In the 5 surveys done in the country, large number of the subjects showed asbestos lung diseases. All of them showed breathing problem, many had cough, some had sputum, chest pain finger clubbing and chest pain. Disability in such cases are permanent, progressive; means of compensation are meager, informed Dr Kamat.

Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases as per estimates based on US and European studies. White asbestos continues to be in use in India although other kinds such as blue and brown asbestos are banned. Asbestos is being promoted freely in our country whereas the developed countries are keeping away from it. Union Budget committed a blunder by reducing the customs duty on asbestos.

According to recent studies in United States there 10, 000 deaths happening due to past asbestos exposure and will cause million more deaths worldwide. This has been corroborated by studies published in the British Medical Journal. "The most vulnerable and affected people are the workers in asbestos manufacturing units who work under extremely hazardous conditions," said P K Ganguli of Centre for Indian Trade Union (CITU).

Taking note of the fact that public concern, regulations and liabilities involved have ended the use of asbestos from the developed countries, delegates at the Round Table wondered, "why is it that the concern of the countries, which have banned asbestos not relevant to India?." Exposing workers to asbestos must be equated to murder and legal provisions must deal with it accordingly. How many consumers would want to use the material if they know that even a single exposure can cause cancer? "Experimental as well as epidemiological studies proved asbestos as carcinogen as well as co- carcinogen. Risk assessment and control of occupational exposure are very poor in developing countries like India," said Dr Qamar Rehman.

Corroborating it Raghunathbhai Manwar of Occupational Health and Safety Association, Ahmedabad said, "There are no industrial physicians and virtually no occupational health centres, whatever the rules may say."

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, it makes us look stupid in India to be still importing it, we should devote our scarce resources to prevent the impending disaster by phasing it out as soon as we can. Safer substitutes materials for white asbestos are available, they should be considered for use.

Exposing any worker or citizen to asbestos is human rights violation. Alarmed at the continuing asbestos usage, its fatal consequences and misinformation campaign of the asbestos industry, nation wide public awareness campaign about the hazards of asbestos is the only solution. An unanimous appeal was agreed upon for the safety of asbestos workers at a Round Table in Delhi on 14 March 2007, recommending the Government of India to work out a timetable to phase out of asbestos for once and for all.

We, publicly denounce the wanton greed and callousness of white asbestos industry and the inhuman conditions of the asbestos workers. The industry has started harassing even the occupational and medical professionals who have disclosed the gravity of hazards of asbestos simply for leading medical efforts to bring asbestos hazards under control in India and for having a public discussion on the justification for banning asbestos. As medical and public health professionals and activists, we support them and agree that efforts to ban the use of white asbestos in India should be given serious and immediate attention by the government of India.

In short we

Urge the government to put an end to the ongoing expansion of the white asbestos sector that is being produced 24 hours a day, ensure just transition of workers and provide medical follow up and compensation to the affected workers;

Support ban on manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos products as recommended by ILO, Collegium Ramazzini and International Commission on Occupational Health; Immediate Ratification of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 162 on Asbestos by the Government of India

Take strong objection to efforts by the asbestos industry to harass medical and public health professionals and conflict of interest ridden asbestos study sponsored by the industry being undertaken by government's occupational institutes and

Prepare a Register of asbestos victims and award a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for the asbestos victims

POSCO PROJECT: Govt gets tough with protestors - Use force if needed, DGP tells cops

Time News Network

9th April 2007

Bhubaneswar/Kendrapada: The Orissa Govt has begun efforts to check resistance in the Posco project area with DGP Amarananda Pattnayak, asking the district adminstration to take appropriate action against those creating law and order problems there.

The DGP asked police personnel to "persuade" the protestors to give up their opposition, and use "minimum force" if they failed to do so, sources said. The DGP visited Nuagaon, Trilochanpur and other villages under Kujang block of Jagatsingpur district in Saturday along with senior police and other officials.

"We will try to resolve the issue through dialogue and parleys," Pattnayak said. "Use of force will be last resort," he clarified.

The DGP's trip to the area follows a recent meeting chaired by chief minister Naveen Pattnaik, wherein the CM asked officers to make "all out efforts" to expedite execution of the Rs 51,000-crore Posco steel project.

The DGP, however, did not visit Dhinkia village where many anti-Posco activists have erected wooden barricades to block entry. The adminstration has so far failed to hold panchayat elections in 13 booths of Dhinkia gram panchayat. The State Election Commission has also sought the state govt's view on the matter.

Explaining the Govt's intention, a senior officer said, "We don't like to shift anybody, but for the greater good of a greater number of people, some people have to be displaced. The mega project is needed to give a boost to the state economy and the govt is keen to see it concretise."

The anti-Posco activists alleged that the proposed mega steel plant would deprive about 30,000 locals of their livelihood. "The company is a clear nexus with ruling party leaders and police, is patronising local hooligans to spread a reign of terror by abusing and threatening us," alleged Gayadhar Dhal, an anti-Posco leader. "We will not allow this to continue," he said.

The anti-Posco leaders warned the state govt that is popular discontent over land acquisition is not addressed, then the area may witness violence like Kalinga NAgar.

Those villagers who are supporting the South Korean company's proposed steel unit said the plant would create thousands of jobs and have a tremendous impact on the region's economy. The govt officials said, wants to highlight the benefits of the rehabilitation and resettlement package and convince the locals to support the project.

Vedanta signs fresh MoU with State - Project to create direct job opportunity to 1,500 persons

Special Correspondent, The Hindu

5th April 2007

Bhubaneswar: Sterlite Group company Vedanta Alumina * [see footnote] on Wednesday signed a fresh MoU with Orissa govt revising its earlier MoU for setting up of a one million tonne aluminium refinery, a smelter plant and two captive power plants in the State.

The MoU was first signed in June 2003 between Sterlite Industries Ltd. The revised MoU was necessiated because the company for Vedanta Alumina Ltd as a subsidiary to execute the project.

Further, the first MoU was signed only for the setting up of a one million tonne per annum capacity alumina refinery and a captive power plant of 100 MW capacity at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district of the State.

Subsequently, it had initiated steps to set up a smelter plant in Jharsuguda district of the State along with a bigger captive power plant.

The new MoU was signed for the alumina refinery and power plant at Lanjigarh and smelter plant of Rs 2.5 lakh tonne capacity and a power plant of 675 MW at Bhurkhamunda in Jharsuguda district with an aggregate investment of approximately Rs 8,400 crores.

The smelter plant will be used for processing alumina produced at the refinery at Lanjigarh to produce aluminium. About 50 per cent of the alumina produced at the refinery will be processed at the smelter plant and the rest will be sold outside.

Tax revenue

Secy of the Orissa Govt's Industry Dept Priyabrata Patnaik and Project Director of the company's smelter plant project M Siddiqi signed the MoU in the presence of Industry Minister Biswabhushan Harichandan.

Speaking on the occassion, Mr. Harichandan said that the whole project would create direct employment opportunities for 1500 persons and indirect employment for 7,500. The contribution towards tax revenue to the State would be approximately Rs 600 crores per annum, he added.

Multiplier effect

Mr. Harichandan also said that the project would have a huge multiplier effect in terms of tax revenue and development of downstream and ancillary industries.

Responding to queres soon after the MoU signing ceremony, Mr Siddiqi said that construction of the alumina refinery at Lanjigarh had been completed and test production had also been carried out.

The refinery, however, will be commissioned only after the company obtained the mining lease to extract bauxite.

The refinery had faced strong opposition from the local tribals and various organisations who were against the company's move to extract bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills which was in the close vicinity of the project.

At least three organisations had moved the Supreme Court opposing mining in Niyamgiri hills by the company. The matter is still pending before the apex court.

Mr Siddiqi said if the court order goes in favour of the petioners, the company would again approach the State Govt seeking allotment of another bauxite reserve in the region to meet its raw material requirement.

Fresh check on SEZ plans- Union Commerce Ministry will ask developers to provide land details

Siddhartha, Times News Network

9th April 2007

New Delhi: Nearly 490 SEZs, which do not have land in their possession, may have to wait for a few more weeks before they get a green signal from the govt.

With land acquisition by states banned after Feb 10, 2006, the commerce ministry is going to prepare a questionnaire for SEZ developers and only after the queries are answered will the cases be taken up by the board of approvals (BoA), a senior ministry official said.

The questionnaire will seek details on the land that is proposed to be acquired: the cropping pattern, the date of acquisition, the price that is being paid to those being displaced, whether the developer has clear land deeds, and more importantly who has acquired the land - whether it is the developer or the state govt.

According to the reworked land acquisition norms, state govt can no longer acquire land from farmers and then transfer it to SEZ developers. While officials said most of the land that is being transferred to developers has either been acquired directly by them or was acquired by the state industrial development corporations (SIDCs) prior to the notification of the SEZ rules, the govt was sending out questionnaires to be doubly sure of the land ourchase. There are, however, some SEZs where the govt has acquired land for the developer and those proposals will require large-scale reworking.

Besides, officials said, it was difficult to establish that the land had been compulsorily acquired by the govt since the developer and the state usually submitted a "consensual agreement" when they submitted their applications.

The information which has been submitted by the developer of approvals suggested that most land, that is now being used for developing SEZs, has been acquired by private players and the SIDCs at least half-a-decade ago.

SO far, 162 proposals have been approved in-principle by the BoA and most of them are awaiting a formal clearance for want of land acquisition. There are another 325-odd applications which were pending to be taken up for first-stage nod or cases which were deferred by the BoA earlier.

Solar power boon for villagers

The Statesman, Calcutta

6th April 2007

BOLPUR: Switching on electric lamps or watching television was some sort of a dream for them until a few days ago, but today the dream has come true, illuminating their lives.

The villages like Mohuli and Geatgram, situated on the bank of the river Ajoy along the border of Birbhum are regarded as the most underdeveloped villages in the district.

The floods in 1995 wreaked havoc in the area, wiping out these two villages completely. Thereafter, it had been a long and bleak battle for the villagers to earn their livelihoods.

At a time when the villagers cannot afford electricity, they have got it because of a novel project taken up by Santiniketan Sriniketan Development Authority.

With the help of the West-Bengal Renewal Energy Development Agency, the SSDA arranged for solar electricity in these villages. The project, funded by the ministry of renewable energy, the state government and the SSDA, has provided about 127 families with a solar panels connected with two lamp sets and a plug point.

The chief executive officer of SSDA, Mr Ashoke Das, said: "The development authority has been working in these villages for the last two years. We found out that the villagers were so poor that they could not bear the cost of electricity.

"So we were in search of an alternative way. The WBREDA helped us to implement this project. And now we are looking forward to carry on this project smoothly in these villages." "Villagers have been trained in maintenance work by the experts of the the WBREDA and a distilled water plant has also been set up near Dhannosara village so that villagers would not have to face any difficulty in using the distilled water for the maintenance process", said Mr Das.

"Under this project, the villagers will have to pay Rs 20 per month for five years to the agency and that agency would be responsible to run the project smoothly for around 20 years", said Mr Das.

The project was inaugurated by the Lok Sobha speaker and MP of Bolpur, Mr Somnath Chatterjee and Mr Santi Pado Gon Chowdhury, director of the WBREDA in presence of other dignitaries.

In his address Mr Chatterjee also assured the villagers that in the near future the SSDA would help the villagers by providing solar lights in the streets free of cost.

As India goes global the public goes private

by Aseem Shrivastava

7th April 2007

As India goes global the public goes private. And the state becomes a marketplace.

Picture this. At an air-show in Los Angeles one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world, British Aerospace (BAe) , invites Mr. Bill Gates of Microsoft to have a go at flying one of the latest models of their Hawk fighter aircraft. Would the American media respond by flashing front-page images of a beaming Bill Gates waving to supporters as he was entering the cockpit of the Hawk, following them up with adulatory reports describing the elevated feelings felt by the unexpected new pilot as he conquered the sound barrier? Or would the event not generate a national scandal that a private businessman accepted the invitation to fly a military aircraft, which ordinarily can only be tested by pilots on public duty?

More than likely the latter possibility would transpire. However, what happened in Bangalore last month was another story, as the Indian national media fell to new depths of celebrity “journalism”.

Corporate Americans, having grown up in a world run by car salesmen, will go to any lengths to sell what they must. Thus it came as no surprise when Lockheed Martin – one of the biggest defense contractor firms in the world – invited Mr. Tata into the cockpit of the F-16 Falcon at the Bangalore Air Show in February: the Indian Air Force was, after all, expanding its multi-role combat aircraft fleet and the American company was competing in the Indian arms bazaar with the likes of Sukhoi of Russia. To let corporate India’s leading icon of the season have a go at their merchandise must have seemed like an obvious sales ploy. (Would they have tried this gimmick in their own land?)

A private fantasy was gratified. Mr. Tata’s dream of flying a fighter jet came true. Not only India’s national English language dailies, even the vernacular press, flashed front page pictures of India’s oldest civilian pilot, waving like a rock-star to fans as he stepped into the cockpit of the fighter aircraft. The Times of India gushed that “Tata group chairman Ratan Tata soared to new heights”. Delhi’s Hindustan Times said that he “had a wonderful time.” The Indian Express said that Mr. Tata had “a terrific, terrific ride.” Even the ordinarily sober The Hindu said that Mr.Tata had an “exhilarating experience.”

All this quoted without the dimmest trace of irony. When boys get their toys, it is indeed “wonderful” and “exhilarating”. It is evident from the unanimity of the reports that Mr.Tata indeed had a jolly good time up in the high skies.

The most remarkable fact of all – the corporate boss of a leading private concern playing with military gadgetry, normally accessible only to men and women in public uniform – went unobserved by our free press. In the day of “Corporate Executive Officers”, when businessmen are taking seats of pride in Parliaments and political leaders are more than happy to see described what they do as a “job”, not to mention holding shares in companies, how does it matter if ancient public norms are blithely flouted and one of the most precious distinctions in the annals of democracy is quietly erased?

Public morality has gone corporate long back. The public has been colonized by the private ever since the era of manic privatization was thrust upon us. The joke is on us, the on-looking public, who don’t seem to realize that the time-honored separation of the private and the public spheres is an inconvenient anachronism, an obstacle to mounting prosperity which should be kicked off the growth path.

The all-important distinction between the private and the public realms – dear in the past not only to democracies but to all self-respecting polities since the days of Greece and Rome – is being openly undermined in India, in vulgar mimicry of the successful pioneering trail blazed by corporate totalitarianism in that most famous of all democracies: the United States of America. If it works there, it must be good, and thus worthy of emulation.

Why reducing the public to the private is deadly

But why anyway is it a good thing to retain the distinction between the private and the public realms? Haven’t we been delivered the technocratic wisdom often enough from the highest pulpits that running a government is essentially no different from managing a company? So what’s wrong with it if men and women are corporate executives one day and ministers or bureaucrats the next, as long as they are honest (sic) and capable? What’s wrong, for that matter, with the government making an open offer to the Tatas that it was willing to use public money to help it financially in its recent purchase of the British steel company Corus Inc (even as it complains about lack of resources when it comes to allocating more funds for development programs for women and children)? Or with the government declaring Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as public utility services under the Industrial Disputes Act and, with a happy conflation of the private with the public interest, making strikes and collective bargaining illegal, while enabling contract labor?

Well, if nothing is wrong with all this, why don’t we campaign for an amendment of the Constitution, and make it the most urgent formal task of the government to enable corporations to maximize profits, enrich themselves (in the name of development via the long dysfunctional trickle-down effect) or, more simply, just legalize graft? Indeed, our government has been doing precisely that, offering sops to corporates via tax breaks, SEZs and the like, obsessed as it is with the maximization of the rate of national economic growth – to the effective exclusion of virtually all social goals, including development – for years now.

Listening to the chorus of applause from the mainstream media both in India and in the West, it would seem that this democracy has overcome its erstwhile socialist infantilism and finally matured into corporate adulthood – allowing, as is only in the fitness of things, men and women of eminence to occupy top corporate positions today and high offices in government tomorrow. In fact, in the age of (An)globalization, well-connected members of our ruling elites have long been in the habit of changing offices globally – having manned the upper echelons of imperial projects in the offices of the World Bank and the IMF in Washington virtually being a prior qualification to be at the national political helm in New Delhi, a custom which is finely attuned to the needs of our imperial masters.

What could be wrong with such an efficient arrangement? Free and fair elections are after all not fundamentally different from free and fair markets. We choose our leaders in one place, our cars and favorite magazines in another. And we expect our leaders to entertain us, just as we find amusement in driving fast cars (thanks to Vijay Mallya New Delhi’s Rajpath, which once hosted political protests, might well see a F-1 race soon) and watching thrilling films. Such is the lure and charm of a Laloo Prasad Yadav. So what’s wrong if Ratan Tata, the corporate Pope, is also seen as a rock-star with all the star quality that comes with the role? Only sour grapes and petty envy would bicker about such a thing.

Is it? If the government becomes a business, then profits and growth obviously become its overriding pursuits. What then? Who is allowed to criticize this noble project and all it inevitably involves, especially today? What happens to human rights, to labor standards, to environmental regulations, to tax laws, to social commitments and political promises for distributive justice?

To the Constitution itself? In fact, one is entitled to ask, what happens to law and public morality? Shall we simply open up the market for justice too? Shall we experiment with private judicial systems in addition to privatizing the executive branch and the legislature (public offices are already auctioned in so many parts of the world)? In short, shall we just dispense with public liberty altogether and write into law a formal “corpocracy” which finally prises open all political markets, legitimizes private tyranny and inducts it into the visible mainstream of the affairs of state?

But somewhere, the line between public and private will have to be drawn, if only because in the absence of a robust public realm, private parties – driven by the will to power – will fight their way to war with each other, at our expense. (They already do, even in the presence of strong governments. So how much more so in their absence, unrestrained by any law or public morality whatsoever!) Society will not survive for long under such circumstances.

Among so many other things, isn’t democratic government there precisely because the unrestrained pursuit of private commercial interest leaves no time or room for worrying about matters which concern everyone, not just a minority constituency of privilege? BAE and Lockheed Martin can’t help themselves from selling arms across the world. It is their stock-in-trade, their line of business. And the imperatives of competitive capitalism will not brook any complacency, the reason that public restraint is necessary. To cut costs and grow their market shares corporations will scour the earth, loot indigenous peoples, pollute air and water and slog pliant female labor for 12 or 16 hours a day. Without public restraint what is there to prevent them from committing such crimes and hasten the end of civilized society itself?

Laws are there to protect public and individual liberty against oppression by those who hold power. This is why the rule of law is rightly regarded as one of the enduring achievements of civilized humanity. If it is threatened today – by imperial gluttony and other varieties of barbarism on the one hand and a relentless, unmitigated, corporately nurtured, state-sanctioned greed on the other – the answer is not to allow classes and social groups who hold power to further consolidate their influence. Both courage and wisdom actually lie on the side of challenging and restraining such power in the larger interest. Indeed, it may turn out – given the emerging facts on climate change and other looming environmental crises – that our very survival as a species might come to hinge on the evolution of a new public ethic which finds it within its imagination and character to do so.

In this task the media can be an accomplice or an obstacle. What we have seen so far makes the media resemble nothing so much as a disheveled theatre stage occupied by a bunch of image-toting lackeys of shadowy moneyed men in pin-striped suits, their shotguns held not too far from the heads of editors. They have monopolized the mike, carrying on their petty private squabbles within range of public audibility, putting the public to sleep with their tabloid perversions, while quietly conspiring to keep off-limits any authentic discussion of issues of genuine public significance.

It is time that the newspapers and the TV channels woke up from their somnolence and put an end to the charade of glamorizing the rapid encroachments on the best traditions of democracy. The Lockheed-Martins, BAEs and Tatas cannot be expected to behave with a sense of public responsibility. They would not be where they are had they had that. They have to be exposed and restrained. It is impossible without the media.

If freedom matters to us, we must heed Rousseau: “A free people obey laws and laws only, and it is by the force of the laws that it does not obey men.”

Aseem Shrivastava is an independent writer. He can be reached at


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