गंगा को बचाने के लिए अनशनरत प्रो. गुरुदास अग्रवाल नहीं रहे!

G.D Agarwal forcibly taken to hospital by police
G.D Agarwal forcibly taken to hospital by police

 गंगा को बचाने के लिए 112 दिनों से अनिश्चितकालीन अनशन पर बैठे पूर्व आईआईटी प्रोफ़ेसर और प्रदूषण नियंत्रण बोर्ड के सचिव प्रोफ़ेसर जी. डी. अग्रवाल (स्वामी सानंद ) ने कल 11 अक्टूबर 2018 को अपनी अंतिम साँस ली. स्वघोषित गंगापुत्र नरेंद्र मोदी की सरकार द्वारा प्रो. अग्रवाल की मांगों को बहुत ही बेशर्मी से अनदेखा किया गया है। प्रो. अग्रवाल को प्रदूषित गंगा को स्वच्छ करने की लड़ाई लड़ने वाले योद्धा के रूप में याद किया जाएगा तो मोदी सलीके नेताओं को ‘गंगा मइया’ का नाम अपने राजनीतिक लाभ के लिए। गाँधी जी से प्रेरित प्रो. अग्रवाल इसके पूर्व गंगा नदी को बचाने के लिए कई आंदोलन कर चुके हैं। गंगा के अथक प्रचारक ने बेहद तर्कपूर्ण ढंग से कहा कि नदी की अविरल धारा (निर्बाध प्रवाह) पूरी नदी घाटी के लिए जरूरी है. नदी पर बन रहे अनियंत्रित बांधों की वजह से गंगा में तलछट (पानी से निकलने वाली गंदगी) बढ़ रही है, यही कारण है कि लगातार बाढ़ का खतरा भी बढ़ रहा है। 

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Endosulfan: Government and the Pesticide Industry Orchestrating Genocide

On May 13th 2011, the Supreme Court (SC) banned the use, sale, production and export of the pesticide endosulfan throughout the country, citing its harmful effects. For more than two decades now, several organizations and concerned individuals have been waging a protracted battle demanding this ban, and the SC verdict is an important step forward in their struggle. This battle has not just had to contend with the powerful pesticide lobby, but also with various governments who have repeatedly tried to protect corporate interests over concerns of health and safety of millions of people. However, the battle is unfortunately far from over: according to the SC verdict, the ban will remain effective till the time a joint committee (formed under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Agriculture Commissioner) submits its report to the court about the harmful effects of this widely used pesticide. Given the track record of the state machinery and government institutions of pandering to corporate interests, there is every reason to remain skeptical of what this joint committee appointed by the UPA will recommend. If the ICMR gives a clean chit to endosulfan, the ban imposed by the SC will be lifted.

The history of the use of endosulfan in India is a tragic one: the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) started trial spraying of endosulfan in the cashew plantations of Kasargod in 1977-78. From 1981, the PCK started regular spraying of Endosulfan two to three times a year. And over 20 years of aerial spraying of this highly toxic pesticide on cashew plantations in Kerala and Karnataka has left many with mental and physical disorders. Victims suffer from horrific congenital deformities, physical disabilities, mental retardation and a range of gynaecological problems. According to a estimate issued by several organisations and concerned individuals, more than 9000 victims of endosulfan have been identified in Kasargod district of Kerala alone, out of which over 4800 patients are bedridden. Over thousand victims of endosulfan have already died in this district. Similar effects are also being witnessed today in Idukki and Palakkad districts of Kerala, as well as in Dakshin Kannada, Kodagu and Udupi districts of Karnataka.

The concern related to the health and environmental impacts of endosulfan is not new. Way back in 1991, the Ministry of Agriculture constituted a high-powered committee (known as the Banerjee Commission) to review whether endosulfan should be continued to be used in India. This pesticide is so toxic, and its impacts so well documented that as many as eighty one countries have already banned its manufacture and use. Why then was this highly toxic pesticide allowed to be extensively used for several decades? The story of the use of endosulfan in India is also a story of how an unholy nexus between government institutions and profit-hungry corporations cynically sacrificed the lives and the health of hundreds of people, by flouting every democratic norm.

To begin with, in 1991 itself, the Banerjee Commission recommended that the spraying of endosulfan should not be allowed in areas where water bodies exist. However, endosulfan continued to be sprayed in Kasargod where 13 rivers and many other water bodies existed.  Moreover, spraying of endosulfan was done without the mandatory permission from the Civil Aviation Department; even the Central Insecticide Board has testified in the Kerala High Court that the spraying took place illegally.

Secondly, successive governments and several government institutions (including various departments of the state and central governments as well as state-run educational and research institutions) repeatedly worked to shield the pesticide lobby and cover up the harmful impacts of endosulfan. For instance, the central government had accepted the reports of the O P Dubey committee and the C D Mayee committee – both of which had given a clean chit to endosulfan, despite the fact that several groups and individuals had questioned the recommendations and findings of these committees. It has repeatedly been pointed out that these reports were manipulated and facts distorted to defend the use of endosulfan.

For the past many years, the pesticide industry had resorted to virulent slander campaigns and bullying tactics against all those who raised their voices against endosulfan. Surrendering to this influential lobby, the Indian government has consistently been opposing a global ban on endosulfan. At the recent UN conference in Stockholm, the Indian government, bowing down to an international outcry against endosulfan, grudgingly accepted that this pesticide is harmful and should ultimately be banned. However, once again protecting corporate interests, the UPA has asked for ‘exemptions’ for endosulfan to be used on 16 crops (including cotton, tea, rice, wheat and mango)! Therefore, if the ICMR decides that endosulfan is safe for use, India can continue to use endosulfan for many more years.

It is high time now that the use and manufacture of endosulfan is permanently banned. As a result of spirited movements in Kerala and Karnataka against endosulfan, the state governments in these states have finally banned the use of endosulfan. But it is now necessary to push for a country-wide ban. Also, criminal prosecution should be taken against the corporate as well as the central and state government authorities who were responsible several deaths and disaster due to the prolonged use of endosulfan.

POSCO: Glaring Instance of Corporate Loot and Corruption

In spite of ample evidence of rampant violations of laws on part of the Korean company POSCO and the Odisha State Government, the UPA Government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has given POSCO a ‘green’ signal of forest and environmental clearance. In doing so, the MOEF has ignored the reports of two expert Committees appointed by the Ministry itself, which had concluded that the Odisha Government violated the Forest Rights Act to benefit POSCO.

Brutal State Repression and Crackdown on Democratic Protests Against Land Acquisition

Following the clearance, forced land acquisition in the Jagatsinghpur area has begun, with heavy police deployment in the area. 20 platoons of police have been already deployed in the area since 14 May 2011 and the DIG of Police has announced that another 28 platoons of police will be sent for forcible acquisition of land by the government. The villagers who have been bravely resisting land grab are threatened with intensified repression if they challenge the ongoing land grab.

The situation has become very tense since 3 June 2011 when the police and civil administration brutally beat up the villagers in Nuagaon as they refused to give their betel-vines and opposed the forceful acquisition of their land. According to a report on the ongoing repression submitted by several groups and concerned individuals to the National Human Rights Commission, these villagers were released only after their betel-vines had been destroyed. Moreover, they were forced to take cheques as compensation. Seventeen people including women and 6 children (5-12 year old) were arrested and the police force is spreading fear and terror in the area using loud speakers and announcing that if people do not leave their betel vines voluntarily, force will be used to destroy the betel-vines and land will be forcibly taken by the administration.

Blatant Violation of People’s Rights and Environmental Laws In Order to Force the POSCO Project Upon the People of India

A wide range of existing legislations have been subverted to allow the POSCO project: for instance, the Odisha Government has claimed that the resolutions by the Palli Sabhas of Dhinkia and Govindpur (in which 65 % of the villagers participated) rejecting the proposal to divert land to POSCO, are false. Shamefully, the MoEF and the UPA have accepted this absurd claim of the Odisha government, thus sanctioning a blatant contravention of existing legislations. Ironically, in his order, the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said, “Faith and trust in what the state government says (is) an essential pillar of cooperative federalism” and “the bona fides of a democratically elected state government cannot always be questioned by the Centre.” On what basis does Ramesh conclude that the democratically expressed mandate of the gram sabhas carries less weight than the word of a state government? Does his respect for democratic mandates extend only up to state government – not to the village-level democratic bodies, in which villagers directly express their mandate?

Actually, Ramesh’s remark about federalism lets the cat out of the bag: the UPA Government is acting in shameful collusion with the Odisha Government in violating laws to appease corporate interests. The MoU signed by the Odisha government and POSCO provides for the large-scale export of iron ore – POSCO will have rights to mine 600 million tonnes of ore over 30 years, of which 60% will be exported to POSCO’s Korean steel mills. The exported iron ore will thus serve the economic interest of South Korea and POSCO stockholders – mainly American banks and Warren Buffet – one of the world’s richest’s individuals.

The list of irregularities in clearing the POSCO project is a long one: To begin with, apart from the shameful subversion of the people’s mandate against land acquisition for POSCO (expressed through gram sabha resolutions), environment and forest clearances have been given despite open violations of the UPA’s own Forests Rights Act. Moreover, the MoEF’s own committees and reports have been subverted, and gross violations of the law blissfully ignored, to clear the project.

The A. Raja Angle

The Odisha government alloted this project to POSCO out-of-turn, jumping a queue of 200 applicants. Moreover, Jairam Ramesh’s clearance is all the more legally questionable because they are being granted on the basis of a 2005 MOU, which has lapsed and is yet to be renewed. Anti-corruption activists have pointed out the similarities between the POSCO case and the 2G scam in which spectrum was handed over cheap to companies in violation of regulations in the 2G scam. In the POSCO case, massive natural resources – iron ore, land, forests, water, and a harbour – are being handed over to a company in violations of law. It should be noted that the captive port for POSCO was hastily cleared in the very last phase of A Raja’s tenure as Environment Minister. Raja is now in jail in the 2G case, and the CBI is investigating corruption during his tenure as Telecom Minister as well as his earlier tenure as Environment Minister. Why has Ramesh granted clearance to POSCO without even waiting to see if the CBI finds any evidence of corruption in Raja’s role in clearing the captive port for POSCO?

In January this year, Ramesh had remarked on POSCO’s “strategic significance for the country” (i.e relations between Korea and India); and now he is citing ‘faith and trust’ in state governments. These indicate that the clearance for POSCO is not based on whether or not POSCO has the necessary legal basis for clearance, but on political considerations. Not long ago, when the UPA Government had been forced to distance itself from the Vedanta project, Rahul Gandhi had called himself the ‘soldier’ of the adivasis of Odisha in their battle against land grab. The ‘soldier’ is silent now as his Government colludes with the Odisha Government to wage war on laws, democracy and people’s survival – all to appease huge MNCs.

The POSCO ‘scam’ – in which laws of the land are violated to allow a private MNC to loot precious natural resources of the country and make profits to the tune of lakhs of crore rupees – at the cost of livelihood and survival of tribals and poor villagers in one of the poorest states of the country – is the latest shameful instance of corruption and corporate loot, facilitated by the Odisha Government and the UPA Government at the Centre. It calls for cancellation of the project, a thorough investigation and punishment to those guilty of breaking the laws to benefit corporate interest.

Expose UPA’s Attempts to ‘Greenwash’ its Pro-corporate Policies!

In the midst of massive protests, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has paved the way for implementation of India’s largest foreign direct investment (FDI) – POSCO’s Rs 52,000 crore integrated steel and mining project in Jagatsinghpur, Odisha. Ever since 2005 when the idea of the POSCO project was first mooted, the huge social and environmental implications of this project have repeatedly been highlighted, and consequently there is massive opposition to the loss of land and livelihoods. In order to justify this disastrous decision to grant permission to POSCO, the self-proclaimed ‘Green Crusader’ Jairam Ramesh has claimed that this clearance is ‘conditional’ – 28 conditions have apparently been imposed on the steel plant, and 32 on POSCO’s proposed private port.

A careful reading however reveals that the conditions themselves do not correct or undo any of the grave violations pointed out by MoEF’s own inquiry committee. In its October 2010 report, the Meena Gupta Committee of the MoEF had shown how the original conditions imposed by the Ministry in its 2007 and 2009 clearances were not being fulfilled. It had recommended scrapping both the environment and forest clearance and asking POSCO to reapply.

And now the latest verdict of the MoEF on giving ‘conditional’ clearance’ to POSCO reveals several loopholes. For instance, the verdict asks POSCO to “ensure no industrial activity be carried out in the CRZ area.” For this to happen, POSCO will have to redesign and probably relocate its entire plant and port, which is currently within the CRZ zone. The verdict has not specified whether this is a precondition for work to begin. If it is not, the condition itself is meaningless and perpetuates the violations of the CRZ Act. Similarly, responding to concerns that the proposed project will reduce drinking water supply to Cuttack and surrounding areas, the verdict asks POSCO to “voluntarily sacrifice” water. What if POSCO chooses not to comply? How will MoEF ensure water supply? No answers. On the issue of violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the MoEF verdict say that it wants ‘categorical assurance’ from the Odisha government that no violation has taken place – the very same Odisha government which has been proved time and again by various MoEF-appointed committees to have aided and abetted in gross violations of the FRA!

Overall, the MoEF has skirted several contentious issues by passing the buck on to either POSCO or the Odisha government to address these issues. Whether it is ensuring drinking water, or compensation to the 20,000 fishermen likely to be affected by the project, or impact on marine ecology and the endangered olive ridley population, or violations of the Forests Rights Act, the MoEF has placed the onus of responsibility on POSCO and the state government. This is laughable, since both have repeatedly shown that they have scant regard for implementing the law of the land or for the social and environmental implications of the project.

The least the MoEF could have done was to revoke the 2007 environment clearance and ask POSCO to reapply. This was not done, and the clear message that has gone out is that the UPA and the MoEF has given a green signal to this project, and hence to industrial investment. If indeed the MoEF and the UPA are interested in ensuring that these conditions are met, then what stops them from demanding scrapping of the current MoU when so many issues remain unresolved?

The strategy is clear, and is also an old one. The so-called ‘conditions’ provide the ‘feel-good’ factor – they will remain on paper, rarely to be imposed and implemented. These conditions merely provide a much-needed façade of social and environmental responsibility, while the state machinery works overtime to ensure the implementation of disastrous projects. We have not forgotten how the height of the dam constructed under the Sardar Sarovar Project was allowed to be increased, in a clear violation of the Supreme Court directives that no new construction could take place unless rehabilitation of the displaced people first takes place.

The challenge for the people’s movement in the days to come is to expose the variety of tactics employed by governments to promote corporations, and to confront and defeat the nexus between corporate robbers and ruling governments which support them.

Vedanta and Beyond: Expsoe the Congress’ ‘Human Face’, Strengthen Ongoing Struggles Against Corporate Land Grab

For the past few years, Vedanta Alumina’s proposed bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills of Lanjigarh in Orissa has seen a sustained resistance by the tribals and protest campaigns by environmentalists, political activists and human rights groups all over the world pointing out its social and ecological implications. Vedanta proposes to extract bauxite from this extremely ecologically fragile area, home to the Dongria Kondh tribals who are completely dependent on the local ecology for their very survival. And in the process of applying for clearance for this disastrous project, the company has violated any number of legislations: the Forests Rights Act, the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act, the Forest Conservation Act, and the Environment Protection Act to name just a few.

This project was aggressively pushed not just by Vedanta, but by the Orissa state government as well as the UPA. Let us have a look at some facts:

  • 14 years ago, Bhakt Charan Das, Congress MP from Kalahandi, openly supported the Vedanta project in the Lok Sabha and continued to argue for a bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills for several years even in the face of massive protests.
  • Home Minister P. Chidambaram was Vedanta’s advocate till 2003 and regularly defended the company’s financial and environmental violations. He was also a member of the board of directors of Vedanta.
  • The UPA’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) colluded with Vedanta and deliberately overlooked a damning report by the Supreme Court’s Central Environment Committee to issue an ‘in principle’ approval to the project in 2008.

As the protests grew stronger and stronger, every possible method was used to quell the movement. Adivasis were forcibly evicted by the local administration and company goons, activists and leaders of the movement were threatened, beaten up and arrested on trumped up charges, full page advertisements appeared in national newspapers in a futile effort to drum up support for the project. However, the protests continued, leading to several high profile investors withdrawing from the project due to the public outcry. Finally, as a result of the massive campaign, the MoEF was recently forced to withdraw its previous consent and stall the project.

Shamefully, the Congress, which has uptil now been one of prime supporters of Vedanta, is now trying to project itself as a ‘messiah’ of the tribals! Rahul Gandhi’s recent statement at Lanjigarh, where he claimed to be a ‘soldier’ for tribal interests in Delhi is nothing but a cruel joke for the thousands of people across the country who continue to struggle against displacement, corporate land grab, and UPA-sponsored neo-liberal policies. Rahul Gandhi’s patently false rhetoric is part of the Congress’s larger game plan of projecting a ‘human face’. After the notable failure of the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign, the Congress has couched its essentially anti-poor, anti-people, pro-corporate agenda in the garb of ‘Bharat Nirman’ and the aam aadmi’s welfare!

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari has stated that the aim of Rahul Gandhi’s visit was to ‘send the larger message out to the indigenous people of India that their concerns are not unseen and unheard’! Flying in the face of such ‘feel-good’ statements are the Congress’s actual policies. We have not forgotten for instance that thousands of tribals and poor have been displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – while the Manmohan Singh government actively supported the project and refused to act on a damning report submitted by three of its own cabinet Ministers on the pathetic state of rehabilitation! Over the past few years, the aam aadmi has had to bear the brunt of the UPA’s pet policies – its support for displacement and corporate land grab in the Narmada valley, Gurgaon, Maharastra and elsewhere in the country, the whopping Rs 5,02,299 crore annual tax waiver which the UPA gifted to India’s richest corporations in this year’s budget, the privatisation of essential facilities like water, electricity, health care and education, and the inflation which has made it difficult for the poor to avail of essential commodities.

In 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking to tribals who were to be displaced by the Hirakud Dam, adviced them: “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.” This sentiment has always been echoed in the Congress’s policies. Today, Shiela Dixit’s Delhi government is demanding the same ‘sacrifice’ from Delhi’s poor and working classes so that bureaucrats and corporations can amass huge profits in the name of the purported ‘national pride’ in hosting the Common Wealth Games! It is now known that the Delhi government diverted Rs 744 crore from the Special Component Plan for SC/STs to CWG-related projects, thereby flouting Planning Commission guidelines.

Ironically, on the same day that Rahul Gandhi was attempting to project the Congress as a ‘saviour’ for the weaker sections of society, the Supreme Court has slammed the Congress government in Haryana for allowing the massacre of Dalits to take place in Mirchpur, and for not taking ANY action on the criminals responsible! The Congress’s ‘human face’ has been effectively unmasked – no amount of rhetoric can hide its anti-poor character.