Jul 12, 2011

True Justice: Supreme Court shows the way

In a series of judgements that have challenged the mainline economic thinking, the country’s highest court has struck at the very foundation of India’s growth story. Moving a step ahead of simple diagnosis and introspection, the Supreme Court has taken on the responsibility of cleaning the mess.

For the aam aadmi, the Supreme Court’s judgements are a telling commentary on what is going wrong. The spate of judgements, coming in quick succession, has obviously upset some of the major loudspeakers of economic reforms. Some newspapers were quick to seek restraint in judicial activism reminding the judiciary of its limits. This was expected because it is this dominant group or individuals who have primarily been the beneficiary of the rot that had set in.    

At a time when economists are calling for sweeping new reforms to maintain the trajectory of growth, the court warns of how the culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology has led to ever increasing spirals of consumption giving a false impression of economic growth. The court was responding to a writ petition filed by Nandini Sunder and others against the State of Chhatisgarh.

Whether it is agriculture, land acquisitions, taxation, infrastructure and finance, the emphases is on more reforms (read privatisation) and thereby restore confidence of investors. Be it the media ringmasters, and I am talking of the anchors, or the country’s planners, policy makers and economists working with credit rating agencies, the refrain remains the same for privatisation as the only path to development. Not realising that in lot many ways the line between development and exploitation has blurred.

Nevertheless as growth remains on an upswing, India continues to slide downhill in human development, hunger and poverty. If it were not for the artificially kept low poverty line, where Rs 20 and Rs 15 earned per day in urban and rural areas constitutes the cut-off for poverty, over 50 per cent of the world’s poor would be officially living in India.    

The dichotomy has never been explained. As the never-ending chorus for the much-awaited second wave of reforms grows louder by the day, there is a rapacious assault on the natural resources. The State has turned a blatant exploiter usurping precious natural resources – water, land and mineral wealth – for private good. The rural hinterland is witnessing land wars the likes of which have never been seen before. While economists continue to justify the takeover of public resources in the name of development, the judiciary has begun to see through the fallacious claims and the resulting socio-economic fallout. Realising that enough is enough the Supreme Court has decided to step in.   

Dismissing another petition filed by the Greater Noida Development Authority and several private builders, the Supreme Court lashed out at the growing incidence of violent land acquisitions: “This is a sinister campaign initiated by several state governments against the people. It is forcing them (land owners) to become slum dwellers or take to crime.” It faulted state governments for using the ‘urgency’ or ‘emergency’ clause for private benefit. The nexus has grown thicker and wider – economists joining ranks with politicians, bureaucrats and builders.

Read the following observation: “The justification often advanced, by advocates of neo-liberal development paradigm, as historically followed, or newly emerging, is that unless development occurs, via rapid and vast exploitation of natural resources, the country would not be able to either compete on the global scale, nor accumulate the wealth necessary to tackle endemic and seemingly intractable problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and squalor.” Together with the 50-page order on ‘black money, the country’s highest court has conclusively demolished the mainline economic thinking that weighs economic wealth over human welfare.  

Isn’t this an argument that you hear every other day? That rural India is literally on a boil is of no consequence. After all we are repeatedly told: land is required for manufacturing and industry; more industrial development means more employment; more employment means less of poverty. This popular assumption is regardless of the recommendations of a 2008 Expert Group of Planning Commission, which had concluded: “the benefits of this paradigm have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expanse of the poor.” Ironically, it is the same Planning Commission which ignores the recommendations of its own expert groups and continues to thrust economic liberalisation policies that have acerbated economic disparities driving the poor against the wall.     

Land grab is happening at a time when the country is already in the throes of an unmanageable food crisis given that the galloping demands for food in the years to come requiring more area to be maintained under agriculture. For instance, if India is to grow domestically the quantity of pulses and oilseeds (in the form of edible oil) that are presently being imported, an additional 20 million hectares would be required. On the contrary, with arable land – mono-cropped or multi-cropped -- being diverted for non-agricultural purposes, India is fast getting into a much worse hunger trap.

Preserving productive agricultural land for cultivation therefore assumes utmost importance. In the United States, the federal government is providing US $ 750 million to farmers for the period 2008-13 under the Farm Bill 2008 to conserve and improve their farm and grazing lands so as to ensure farmers do not divert it for industrial and private use. In India on the other hand, the State governments are a tearing hurry to divest farm lands and turn them into concrete jungles in the name of development. “When people protest against acquisition of their land, men are arrested and women raped,” the apex court observed.

At a time when the State has more or less abdicated its responsibility to act conclusively against graft, the Supreme Court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to repatriate black money. Coming in the wake of the continuous monitoring of the 2G Spectrum scandals that has already sent a number of politicians and corporate honchos to the Tihar jail, only a crusade against land grab by the highest court can come as the much needed respite for the rural poor.   

The court appears determined. “We will not keep our eyes closed. You take it (agricultural land) from one side and give it to the other. This has to go, and if it does not go, this court will step in to ensure that,’ the apex court had warned.  

5 comments:

abraham said...

Ethiopia's is a picture usually painted with shades of hunger, starvation and poverty. I recently visited various parts of Ethiopia, and was stunned to see that the government agricultural/ land use policy hinges on watershed development. The safety net program (eq. of NREGA there) creates work related to improving the soil and water health of farmland. When you drive through the hilly Tigray region in the north, you see that each and every field, big and small, has stone bunds/gully plugs/ such harvesting structures. All of this has been encouraged/ implemented by the government. With this, they say, they hope to reach a state of complete food security by 2020.

The Indian agri policy has only managed to move from the failed green revolution paradigm to the present move-the-farmers-into-other-sectors policy. We take pride in our democratic culture and collective intellect as a nation. But we are much inferior to a supposed less-developed country like Ethiopia.

abraham said...

Ethiopia's is a picture usually painted with shades of hunger, starvation and poverty. I recently visited various parts of Ethiopia, and was stunned to see that the government agricultural/ land use policy hinges on watershed development. The safety net program (eq. of NREGA there) creates work related to improving the soil and water health of farmland. When you drive through the hilly Tigray region in the north, you see that each and every field, big and small, has stone bunds/gully plugs/ such harvesting structures. All of this has been encouraged/ implemented by the government. With this, they say, they hope to reach a state of complete food security by 2020.

The Indian agri policy has only managed to move from the failed green revolution paradigm to the present move-the-farmers-into-other-sectors policy. We take pride in our democratic culture and collective intellect as a nation. But we are much inferior to a supposed less-developed country like Ethiopia.

Prof(Dr) Ramakumar,V said...

There is a landmark judgment of the supreme court 1996 that elaborately discussed the concept of "sustainable development" which has been accepted as part of the law of the land. It would be useful to quote the relevant part : (SCC pp. 657-60, paras 10, 11, 14 and 15)
... We are, however, of the view that 'The Precautionary Principle' and 'The Polluter Pays' principle are essential feature of 'Sustainable Development'. The 'Precautionary Principle' - in the context of the municipal law - means:
(i) Environmental measures - by the State Government and the statutory authorities - must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation.
(ii) Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lake of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
(iii) The 'onus of proof' is on the actor or the developer/industrialist to show that his action is environmental benign. '
Prof(Dr) Ramakumar,V.

Prof(Dr.) RamaKumar,V said...

IS THE NEW LAND ACQUISITION ACT 2013 better or worse?
Clause f (viii) of section 3 of Land Acquisition Act (LA Act), 1894 clearly indicates that land cannot be acquired for companies (and companies were defined). With the passage of the new law, agricultural land holdings, wetlands, water holes and bio-diversity could also be acquired for private builders for Factories, real estate & SEZ. The new land acquisition act hailed as farmer friendly Act, should have ensured food security by strictly limiting the acquisition to agricultural dark spots (Dr. Swaminathan, in 2006 did suggest the same).
In the new act, if majority (80%) of the owners can be made to surrender the land, private entrepreneurs can buy land. If in a 100 acre area there are 18 people holding 5 acres each and 82 people holding 5-10 cents each, any builder can make some attractive offer to small holder owners who together may own 10acres and acquire the rest of 90 acres even if they are farmland or orchards with water source. In the same way tribal land adjacent to forest too can be acquired for real estate, motels, hotels or luxury farm houses.
Till 1996 we considered development to be a priority even when it was not necessarily compatible with environment. The Hon’ble Supreme court of India in 1996 [5 SCC 647: JT (1996) 7 SC 375] ruled that traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other is no longer acceptable. No authority can take any action in the name of development, if it causes injury to environment. The right to clean environment is the fundamental right of the community and that of the future generations and that it cannot be sacrificed in the name of development.
It has to be ensured that the NFS bill and the new land acquisition Act do not violate the ruling.

Prof(Dr.) RamaKumar,V said...

IS THE NEW LAND ACQUISITION ACT 2013 better or worse?
Clause f (viii) of section 3 of Land Acquisition Act (LA Act), 1894 clearly indicates that land cannot be acquired for companies (and companies were defined). With the passage of the new law, agricultural land holdings, wetlands, water holes and bio-diversity could also be acquired for private builders for Factories, real estate & SEZ. The new land acquisition act hailed as farmer friendly Act, should have ensured food security by strictly limiting the acquisition to agricultural dark spots (Dr. Swaminathan, in 2006 did suggest the same).
In the new act, if majority (80%) of the owners can be made to surrender the land, private entrepreneurs can buy land. If in a 100 acre area there are 18 people holding 5 acres each and 82 people holding 5-10 cents each, any builder can make some attractive offer to small holder owners who together may own 10acres and acquire the rest of 90 acres even if they are farmland or orchards with water source. In the same way tribal land adjacent to forest too can be acquired for real estate, motels, hotels or luxury farm houses.
Till 1996 we considered development to be a priority even when it was not necessarily compatible with environment. The Hon’ble Supreme court of India in 1996 [5 SCC 647: JT (1996) 7 SC 375] ruled that traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other is no longer acceptable. No authority can take any action in the name of development, if it causes injury to environment. The right to clean environment is the fundamental right of the community and that of the future generations and that it cannot be sacrificed in the name of development.


It has to be ensured that the NFS bill and the new land acquisition Act do not violate the ruling.