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Developing Destruction

21 February 2010 10,447 views One Comment

Without asking oneself such a question, if one embarks on implementing development, one would have left the most important task of its definition to dominant political and economic forces. And also would have begun to adopt the same in practice.

What are these forces? They are corporate companies, backed by the World Bank, International Monitory Fund and other such international policy makers. Their most important agenda is to enable big capital and international trade to have unrestricted freedom; to hand over all human and natural resources to this big capital; and to eliminate any obstructions to its spread and growth posed by the imperatives of social welfare and responsibility. Their guiding philosophy and rationale is: that this is the only way of increasing wealth in the quickest way. It is suggested in this process direct and indirect employment also grows. The overall growth in income would then percolate to the bottom rung of the society at some point, thereby improving the lives of all the people.

The actual picture looks very different though. Most people whose lives are dependent on natural resources lose their livelihood heavily in this process. The extent of loss of employment is much more than the extent of creation of employment. The society begins to turn inhuman and ugly, with increasing inequalities. Leave alone percolation of wealth to lowest strata of society, they get much more alienated. The impact of this process is much more on those peoples who are dependent on nature (such as adivasis, fishermen) and socially weak sections (dalits and women). As a result historical inequalities increase many fold, thereby making the society much more violent.

Along with social destruction, natural destruction also ensues. Key to the growth of civilisation has been ability of human beings to continuously mould nature to their changing needs. However it also led to growth in human needs which in turn meant increased human intervention in nature. Despite such increased intervention, till the advent of capital, there existed certain balance between human beings and Nature. But this balance got destroyed when human needs got transformed into needs of the capital, and once such capital got transformed into multi-million corporate capital. Today, the question is simply that of pollution of one canal or one river. The entire ecosystem, the very basis for human survival is itself under
grave threat.

That is why we call this development destructive. Development has always been a part of modernity, but its rampage has been controlled to some extent by the values and norms emerging from its critiques as well as resistances and movements against it. Over the last two decades, with corporate capital emerging as the singular decisive force, such critiques have lost their influence. It has become the ruling ideology of our times. In Andhra Pradesh, the person who started institutionalising this regression was Chandrababu Naidu but his successor Rajasekhara Reddy proved himself to be a worthy successor. The details of destruction wrought by this development are presented in the special issue of human rights bulletin in the form of essays, reports and pamphlets. One could undertake a theoretical critique of this destruction and there is an urgent need for such a critique. However, this bulletin confines itself to giving information about the nature and form of this destructive development.

There have been struggles against this destructive development as a whole in Goa, Raigarh in Maharastra, Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal. And they are still continuing. Struggles in other locations have focused more on the issues of compensation and rehabilitation. As a way of responding to such struggles, the central government has been threatening to bring new laws to offer better compensation and rehabilitation. From 2006, two bills have been pending before Parliament regarding amendment to the Land Acquisition Act and offering the right to rehabilitation. They are yet to become laws, may be due to the paucity of time. The first bill offers improved compensation to the land owners, without reducing the extensive powers of the State regarding acquisition of land in any manner. This does not offer anything to people who have been enjoying traditional rights over natural resources without requisite legal rights. The second bill aims to extend the status of  ‘the displaced’ to even those who don’t lose houses but whose lives are adversely affected. It recognises limited compensation and a limited rehabilitation as rights that accrue to all the victims of displacement. To a limited extent, it recognises the demand of the anti-displacement movements that in cases where displacement becomes indispensable, all the displaced people should be rehabilitated wholly and fully as a community in one place and that they should be given opportunities to better their lives through secure employment or land.

In order to understand the significance of a legal right to rehabilitation, we need to look at the brutality of displacement in its absence, as of now. The bulletin begins with an essay that describes the official response to the plight of displaced people during the construction of Nagarjuna Sagar dam, one of the biggest development projects in the country. Along with this, we include an essay that discusses the specific proposals emerging from movements against displacement. Narendranath, the author of this essay has fought battles alongside the displaced people from the time of Srisailam project, where they suffered their fate silently till the Narmada movement, where they managed to turn the gaze of the country towards their fate through their struggle. Discussing the victims’ demand that the displaced people in the project should be provided a better life under the same project, he asks why they should not be granted a pension when such provision becomes impossible. When government employees who take involuntary retirement are given pension, why shouldn’t farmers and wage labour who are forced to stop cultivation be given a pension, he asks.

In 2005 Andhra Pradesh state government issued GO no.68 which is very similar to the bill on rehabilitation pending before Parliament. All of you would have witnessed the self-praise that our chief minister had showered on himself on designing such a wonderful rehabilitation policy. We hope that the displaced people and those working for them would make use of it. The fate of land acquisition Act is similar. The implementation of this essentially repressive Act defies any logic. The government has taught its officials that they should first acquire the land forcefully, and then implement this law, if the people agitate for it. The courts seemed to have followed suit. If anyone files a case contending that his/her land was acquired by the government illegally, the high court responds by saying, ”what you actually need is compensation and we will see to it that you get compensated.” In a context where the high court is reluctant to protect the rights of the displaced, it becomes essential to know the provisions of this Act in order to enjoy the limited rights available under this Act.

At various points, we had published pamphlets describing the contours of destructive development which we are reprinting in this bulletin. Apart from these, five reports are included here. First is the translation of a report on bauxite mines and its related refineries in Visakhapatnam district by Patrick, a researcher. Next, there are two separate reports on coastal corridor and open cast mining, two projects that propose large-scale acquisition of land by the government. For coastal corridor, 1,575 square kilometers of land i.e., approximately 4 lakh acres of land will be acquired. By the time Singareni open cast mining project is completed, nearly 2 to 2.5 lakh acres of land would have been gobbled up. While these two are reports of macro projects, two reports of micro projects are also present here. One is a report on large-scale land acquisition being done for field firing range in Anantpur district; the second is the report on local experiences of Apache industry in Nellore district.

While these reports describe the experiences that people are already facing or going to face, this bulletin also contains a report that describes peoples’ resistance to such development. Nearly 57 special economic zones have been approved in the state but a significant resistance has developed towards only two SEZs till now. One is against the 10,000 acre multiproduct SEZ being created in U.Kottapalli and Tondangi mandals near east Godavari district; the second is against the 1,000 acre pharmaceutical SEZ getting established in Polepally in Zadcherla Mandal and Mudireddipalli village of Balanagar in Mahboobnagar district. This report describes the modalities of agitations against these SEZs.

In support of SEZs, some would argue that even if agricultural land is lost, people would get jobs in the factories. But we need to remember that 39 of the 57 SEZs approved in our state are in IT sector. Their employment generation capacity is low and even these jobs would be out of reach of the rural youth who have lost their livelihood. The jobs would go to the urban educated people belonging to upper caste middle classes. After IT, pharmaceutical industry got the largest number of SEZs. As these industries also use most modern technological processes, the number of jobs available here itself would be less, more so for the rural youth. There are only two SEZs that seem to provide jobs to some extent – one, Apache footwear factory in Nellore; two, Brandex Apparel factory in Visakhapatnam. On the whole, there are more jobs lost than gained due to SEZs in AP. There are some who argue that employment need not mean a job in the factory but indirect employment through provision shops, laundry service or vegetable shops. This argument may work for ordinary factories but not for SEZs. SEZs not only are production centres but contain attached townships. These townships have world-class facilities, which means malls or supermarkets. A Yellaiah or a Mallamma from a neighbouring village cannot establish a saloon or start a laundry in such townships.

It is true that any industrial corridor including a SEZ would initially provide livelihood through construction activity. Such road, building or bridge construction activity takes six or nine months. People who have lost their lands can become contract wage labourers during these months. This would provide temporary relief to them, perhaps useful in placating their frustration in the short run but not in the long run. Once the construction activity is completed and production starts, the local people will not get any work. Then there would be no use in protesting also. At a few places, local people are beginning to realise the depth of this fraud. Take the instance of natural gas industry by Reliance at Gaadimoga in Tallarevu Mandalam in east Godavari district. In the process of establishing an onshore centre, they filled up five canals. Hundreds of fishing families dependent on these canals lost their livelihood. People did not protest because the Reliance promised jobs to everyone and revenue authorities acquiesced through their silence. What the community got was jobs as contract wage labour for 800 people in the construction activity. After that they were told that a few will be given jobs in the horticulture sector but the locals refused it by saying that such a policy would lead to conflict in the community so they should all be given work. As a result, all of them were dismissed. Now the Reliance officials themselves say that by the time production starts here, there will not be more than 300-400 jobs on the whole and the locals would not get more than a handful. Now the fishermen of Gaadimoga have understood the deception and are getting ready to protest. But perhaps precious time has already been lost!

Even if people get employment in SEZs, the working conditions there would make one wonder whether it is desirable at all. State governments have the authority to give SEZs exemptions from various laws. There is a strong suspicion that such power would be used to dilute the labour laws there. Andhra Pradesh government has already done that too. Neither Maharastra, which has more approved SEZs than us nor Tamilnadu which is a close competitor has dared to take such a step till now. In 2002 itself, even before a law on SEZs got enacted, the AP government under Telugu Desam declared a SEZ policy through G.O.M.S.No.151, in which several exemptions to labour laws was given. Company owner need not keep any wage registers or records. Even when there is no immediate necessity companies in the SEZs can be given exemptions from all the labour laws. They can be given exemption from the factory Act that protects the health of the workers and provides protection in the workplace. Hotels, malls and supermarkets can work 24 hours a day and for 365 days a year. If additional wage is paid for overtime, the workers can be forced to work overtime. No outsider can lead a labour union of SEZ workers. Chapter 5-B of Industrial Disputes Act that requires the industries to take the permission of the government to lay off or retrench workers in factories with more than 100 workers or instructs the government to consult the workers before taking any decision does not apply to SEZs. These rights have been won by workers after decades of struggle. And they have been denied to the workers in the SEZs through a single GO.

Should one seek a job in a SEZ?

It is very clear that this displacement inducing development, aimed at attracting big capital, is going to be in sway for some time to come. Opposition parities may make a ruckus when not in power, but they are not against it in principle. Even left parties, potential government makers in two or three states in the country have announced ‘better’ packages but have not come up with any alternatives to these ugly development policies. It means that a political practice challenging this destruction has not come to the mainstream. Perhaps it will not come. It is only the protests by the victims or protests by people’s organisations, non-governmental organisations or political movements outside the mainstream which will stop this. We hope that this publication will help, to some extent, in supporting movements that would lead to the containment of this destructive development.

–Editorial, Special issue of

Human Rights Bulletin, 2009

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