Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Note on the Question of Displacement

Anti-Displacement Front

The natural and legal rights of the people are being trampled on a scale unprecedented in post-1947 India. Successive governments at the centre would call this the needed drive for a New India marching forward in the 21st century as a major power. Development and Security are the twin needs of the Brave New World in which India and the sub-continent of South Asia is a vital cog. This development can only happen with the massive inflow of Foreign Direct Investment in the form of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), Foreign Institutional Investments (FII). Inequality has been considered as a necessary condition for mobilising savings and capital formation. To envisage the provision of infrastructure in the form of transport, communication, power, services etc. While it will give windfall profits to the imperialist multinationals and their domestic allies—big business houses, bureaucrats, politicians, et al, the masses have become further impoverished.
A decade-and-a-half of these policies have, pushed more than one lakh peasants to suicide. Massive unemployment have further impoverished an already devastated people in both rural and urban areas and marginalized millions.
The second wave of ‘economic reforms’ is a violent assault on the right to life and livelihood of the masses. Apart from continuing the ‘development’ driven through big dams, super highways and other infrastructural projects, the new phase of accumulation of capital involves gigantic mining projects, Special Economic Zones (SEZs), urban renewal and beautification.

Displacement as ‘Development’
All these policies are being implemented in the name of ‘development’, ‘modernization’, taking India into the club of elite countries. This is no doubt ‘development’, of a particular kind. It is the model of ‘development’ that gives gigantic amounts of wealth to the super-rich (foreign and Indian) while increasingly impoverishing more and more people. It is unmitigated loot of all our natural wealth and mineral resources on a scale never witnessed before. It is development OF and FOR the market; FOR the creation of a market based on the expenditure OF the very rich together with a growing upper middle class who live off crumbs thrown off the table of the super-rich. This development of displacement have pervaded the entire spectrum of diverse production of material life of the sub-continent—from hunters and gatherers, pastorals, shifting cultivators, forest dwellers especially in protected areas like sanctuaries, traditional cultivators, advanced farmers, trading centres, service and industrial centres, towns and cities. All the four dreaded Ds are fast engulfing our societies—Displacement, Disorganisation, Destitution and Decimation.

Massive Mining Projects of MNCs: Opening the Veins of South Asia
The mining projects in just the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh entail investments of about Rs.5 lakh crores. Some 20 percent of the tribal people have already been uprooted from their homes. The resource rich region of Dandakaranya and its vicinity in the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and the adjoining areas in West Bengal, Vidharbha and eastern Madhya Pradesh account for more than three fourth of the total mineral wealth of India. On a smaller scale, mining projects are also coming up in all the states wherever there is some wealth to extract. The regions within these states that have been set aside as prospective areas rich in mineral wealth such as coal, iron ore, bauxite, diamonds, uranium, thorium etc. is inhabited by the poorest of the poor in India. Hundreds of MoUs have been signed by the government with various Multinational Corporations and Indian Monopolies. Much of the mineral wealth is exported while the rest is used to serve the palatial needs of India’s neo-rich. New laws are being enacted to undo the rights of the people over these resources. The better known examples are the Indian Forest Act, Indian Fisheries Act, Indian Mineral Act, and various Urban Development Acts. In the process, lakhs and lakhs will be displaced—not only will their land and forests be seized, but also their livelihood, their right to a dignified existence destroyed.

Special Economic Zones (SEZs): Enclaves of Foreign Occupation
The rural areas in India are facing massive unemployment due to lack of opportunities. A backlash of the state policy of opening up of the markets to monopolies. The traditional crafts have collapsed as machine goods are flooding the rural markets. The labour displacing machines have reduced the labour input per acre to less than one-third compared to the post-47 situation. Even in the so-called Employment Generation Programmes of the government commission agents and contractors are on to make a fast buck by using machines. Moreover a large part of the land is held by the absentee owners which results in a heavy drain of current income of the rural economy. These absentee land owners are prone to sell away their lands for profit. The crisis in the rural scenario is further exemplified with the abysmally low entitlement for work in agriculture hovering around 30 rupees a day. The ‘educated youth’ who are rather the deskilled force in rural India are not ready to soil their hands for such a low pay. The massive alienation of people in the rural areas from their current means of livelihood with no worthwhile substitute in sight is imminent.
The Special Economic Zones have been showcased as the panacea for skyrocketing unemployment and lack of opportunities in the urban and rural regions in India. These zones throughout the country will create enclosures where no laws of the land would hold. This tantamount to a modern form of the East India Company; foreign enclaves within the territory of the country which facilitates the SEZs. Even conservative estimates of the RBI projects a loss of about Rs.1.7 lakh crores in revenue for the Indian government over the next four years due to the Special Economic Zones. But the worst hit will be the rural populace whose prime lands are being forcibly seized. Lakhs of acres have already been taken over and every day new announcements come of more and more SEZs being granted permission. In the much hyped ‘Green Revolution’ belts of Haryana and Punjab where the suicide deaths of farmers are the order of the day, farmers who are deep in debt are even ready to take whatever crumbs thrown by the government as compensation for the acquired land. In fact this has proved to be the last straw on the farmer’s back leading to large scale alienation of land and unabating strings of suicides. The man made crisis is so acute in the Green Revolution pockets that for the farmer to hold on to the farming land as a viable enterprise has become an unenviable task.
There is no economic incentive for the farmer to continue agriculture in these lands. The government has refused to look into the root causes of agriculture being rendered non-viable as the insidious policy of the state. Instead it legalised the practice of usury by credit institution including even the cooperatives through the ingenious legal jugglery of excluding them from the very definition of moneylenders. In 1947, 70 per cent of the people in India were engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Their share in the Gross National Income was 65 percent. According to the Farmer’s Commission while the number of persons in the above category has marginally declined from 70 to 65 percent, their share in the National Income has nose dived to 20 percent. The projections of Vision 2020 envisages only a 6 percent share for the 60 percent depending on agriculture.
Already unofficial estimates show that more than 300 SEZs are on the pipeline. As per official estimates about 35-40% of existing industry and finance (including IT sector) will move to these enclaves to avail of the tax-free profits that these havens allow. The government talks much trash of generating employment but the reality is that it is mostly existing business that will shift location to these SEZs to avail of the huge benefits.

Urban ‘Visions’: Fortifying Urban Spaces for Free Exploitation of Monopoly Capital
Global policy advisory groups like the Mckinsey from the US is formulating and pushing the initiatives of organising and streamlining the urban spaces under the camouflage of urban beautification. This streamlining of the urban spaces offers minimum security risk for the operational needs of foreign and local capital in these areas.
It not only entails marginalizing the already impoverished poor, it is even hitting at the middle classes, small traders and industries. Lakhs of slum-dwellers have already been pushed out in the process. Small retailers must be crushed (as in Delhi) in order to make way for giant retailers like Reliance, Wal-Mart and a host of others; small scale industries must be pushed out, not only to ‘clean up’ the cities, but also to allow big business to widen its captive-market reach.
Urban ‘Visions’, with their creation of infrastructural and beautification projects for the elite is wrecking havoc in all the main cities of the country. The main metropolitan cities are the hub of operations of the money-bags. They demand all the best facilities in the form of infrastructure and entertainment. Dance bars in Mumbai must be forcibly closed so that 5-star cabarets thrive. And the beautification must proceed apace so that the rich and powerful can enjoy their ill-gotten wealth without the ‘polluting’ effect of the poor who are further ghettoised.
Thus 21st Century India means mega dams, mammoth power plants, oil and gas pipelines, super highways, flyovers, golf courses, fancy clubs and tourist resorts, national parks, malls, theme parks…

North East Power Grid: Development as Domination or Development as Counterinsurgency
The entire region of the North East will be inundated with no less than 168 mega-dams with a cumulative capacity to generate 100000 Megawatts of power. Only 5000 megawatts would be utilised in the entire region which has been witnessing various struggles for the right to self-determination of the peoples in this region. The rest of the power generated (95000 megawatts) would go to satiate the needs of the Southeast Asian market. The region has been often cited as a fragile zone prone to earthquakes. The surfeit of big dams under the garb of development will endanger the fragile eco-zone of this region not to say that it will totally subvert the cultural, political, social specificities of the various peoples of this region who will be displaced from their very territory which is central in their struggle for their right to self-determination. Many of their indigenous institutions also would be destroyed in this process.
Along with this is the plan to link the entire region of the North East with the Southeast Asian market by road. There are also efforts to combine the markets of these regions with separate market regime principles to make them as combined economic regions. The super highway that is being built from North Bengal to the Mekong Valley under the much hyped ‘Look East Policy’ is a definite step in this direction which is nothing but ‘Development’ as counterinsurgency.

Displacement as State Building
Already, the logic and the necessity of this kind of a development has been stated. But there is a method to this madness that is being parotted by policy pundits as ‘development’.
The question that has often been debated among the western academia and the ‘nation builders’ foreign and desi is that whether resources are at the centre of ‘conflicts’ in poor countries like India, Afghanistan or countries in Africa and Latin America. In a series of studies supported by the World Bank and as the result of a broad statistical analysis of virtually all civil wars since the mid-1960s it was concluded that the causes for conflicts cannot be due to the existing rulers, economic mismanagement, political rights or levels of ethnic homogeneity or heterogeneity. These studies concluded that economic factors were crucial. It emphasised that countries that were highly dependent on the export of primary commodities and were populated by large numbers of young men, with limited or no education were also highly susceptible to civil conflict and political instability. These ‘hordes’ of poorly educated youths and readily accessible resources were particularly susceptible to civil conflict and the emergence of rebels driven primarily by powerful economic (‘greed’) need to use violence to acquire wealth. Thus as per this logic the need of the hour is to promote ‘development’ for ‘security’ and ‘stability’.
The resources in these regions have to be extracted for ‘development’. The poorly educated youths have to be transformed through ‘capacity building’ with the help of ‘modern’ institutions of ‘good governance’. Hence in the North East and other regions such as Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh tribal institutions of governance are deemed unfit to empower the tribal youth. There are already projects supported by London School of Economics and other premier institutions from the West being undertaken in India by NGOs and a section of the academia which are promoting the process of ‘institution building’ for facilitating ‘good governance’. Premier institutions in India are also including courses on Good Governance, Peace and Reconciliation through which there is an effort to decontextualise and reduce the real reasons underlying the socio-economic plight of the vast sections of the various peoples in the sub-continent.
Thus the model of ‘development’ that is being promoted under the aegis of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation creates a greater class of rentiers, retainers, pimps, prostitutes, servants, lumpens, etc—a growing class of hangers-on, all at the service of this neo-rich generated in the process. It destroys the bulk of the agrarian masses; displaces millions from permanent employment and generates in its place thousands of temporary and contract jobs for a pittance; drives the bulk of the middle classes to destitution while accommodating a small section into the elite club. Significantly, it displaces lakhs and lakhs of people from their land and all possible source of livelihood. It is a ‘development’ of the destruction of people, natural resources not to say environment with the complete support of the violent state machinery, including the judiciary and the executive.
The ‘victims’ of these development projects are projected as a liability as they are unable to fit into the mutational changes that have been forcefully brought into their productive labour. They found their way into their familiar forest home where they deemed to be intruders or on to the cities as beasts of burden, rickshaw pullers, or as commodities for the flourishing ‘flesh market’.
This ‘development’ also brings with it an increasingly fascistic state as the extremes of rich and poor are creating acute social tension with the masses having no other alternative than militant resistance. The intensifying contradiction between the rich and the poor, between regions, between various peoples, communities have made it a necessity for the state to resort to a combination of brutal repression and numerous diversionary tactics. Both fascist repression and diversionary tactics of Hindutva communal hysteria are also an outcome of the existing policies of this model of development.

What then could be the alternative?
The only alternative can be a model that really enhances the well-being of the vast masses, preserves the people’s natural wealth, and protects its environment. That builds the domestic market for commodities by enhancing the purchasing power of the masses and thereby becoming the motor for industrial growth and development of the economy; which is holistic, serving both the needs of the people and environment. A model of development that is equitable, just, and humane.
But such an alternative is not possible without, opposing tooth-and-nail, the present model of development. There can be no half-way measures as the present model is an integrated whole, with each aspect linked to the other, all serving to extract maximum profit for the imperialists and their hangers-on in the country. Whether it is the mining projects, or the schemes for the SEZs, or the infrastructural developmental projects, or that of urban ‘renewal’—all are part and parcel of the present phase of ‘economic reforms’ inspired by globalization. These are nothing but a continuation of the earlier phase of ‘economic reforms’ started vigorously in the early 1990s and continuing apace no matter which government has been in power. Any attempt to find formulas of adjustment with the existing polices are doomed to failure as they have their own dynamics dictated by the needs of profit maximization and imperialist loot. There is no other way than to oppose in total all these projects and the policies that facilitate them.
And this challenge calls for a massive movement of the people to resist these projects at the ground level and also awaken the entire country against this model of ruin and penury for the people resulting in more and more enslavement to the imperialist exploitative machine, particularly the US. The various peoples of the region need to be aroused against the imperialists and their local lackeys who are selling the wealth of the people for a few dollars.

What then is the alternative model of development?

  • It is a people oriented model based on a self-reliant economy free from enslavement by imperialism. The polices of development must, first-and-foremost, develop the well-being of the masses and must be in their interest—not at their cost.

  • The natural wealth of the country must only be extracted to the extent that it serves the needs of the mass of people—neither for imperialist loot nor for the extravagant infrastructural needs of these money-bags. Not only should the SEZ policy be totally reversed but the emphasis must be on developing indigenous industry, protecting labour rights, and introducing land reforms. Land must not go to the big industrialists and imperialists through the SEZ policy but be redistributed to the landless and poor.

  • Infrastructural development must also be people oriented where the prime need and immediate priorities are health care, hygiene and education.

  • Environmental regeneration must be an important factor in this model which has been destroyed by rapacious rape of the environment for profit and the green revolution–type polices—this by extensive reforestation, scientific water management (inclusive of lakhs of small water projects) and top-soil regeneration.

  • In this new model of development all decisions must be made by the people themselves at the grass-root level and built upwards in a genuine form of people’s government. It is the people themselves who know best what type of development is in their interest and what is harmful. They are the best to decide their future. For this they must take the future into their own hands and wrest control of it from the hands of the money-bags and their agents. This alone can assure all-round growth and not its ruin and destruction as is happening today.

  • There should be also be resistance to build on a short term, people’s sectors which would have the negotiating power and will to initiate short-term relief measures for the vast sections of the masses while fighting the state.

But to build this new model it first requires an uncompromising opposition to the present model and all the policies that are coming up. For this, there is need to build a huge movement against displacement and the very model of development itself. All genuine democratic and anti-imperialist forces should unite to create a tornado of dissent that forces the rulers to stop this juggernaut trampling the lives of the people of the Sub-continent.

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