Skip to content

Mumbai has a huge and growing migrant population. And Mumbai has conspicuous ‘sons of the soil’ insisting that priority in employment MUST go to locals. They have ransacked offices, issued ultimatums (and threats), targetted migrants from specific places. I disagree with their methods and I also see them applied unevenly (show me the objections to Gujarati migrants, for example). At the same time, I think there is an important value in what they are saying. And not just for Mumbai.

As inequality grows in India, more and more people are migrating to the cities. Part of the story is what is widely believed – that cities have opportunity. The other part is also that vast tracts of India are simply being cleared for corporations and their people abandoned to landless destitution, or are simply neglected in development to the point of unsustainability. These people land up in cities not only because cities hold hope of jobs, but also because they have been destroyed in their original homes.

Consider tribals who continue to live in forests being targetted as criminals and Maoist supporters. The story of Soni Sori is the tip of the iceberg. There is systematic “pest control” happening to clear out lands in demand. It is little more than a massive drive to empty out the mineral rich homes of the adivasis. Arundhati Roy has written extensively about this. This quote from “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” is telling:

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.

P Sainath’s reports on water privatization from around 2005 onwards contain horror stories of people being charged impossible rates for irrigation water and put into situations where they have little option but to sell land or starve. A quote from “How the deal was done“:

Back in Maregaon, Chavan points out: “This village lost canal water because people were too poor to pay the old charges. The rates plus fines crossed Rs.1 lakh for us and it got impossible.” Rambhau Mahajan had to pay the equivalent of one acre of land — Rs.25,000 — in order to be able to sell four acres to survive.

To make a long story short, the water was made so expensive that no crop grown in the region could sustain such charges. The bills of water were made more expensive for people with more than two children. Multiple taxes were levied, and non-payment by a few in the village could get water blocked for all. People couldn’t even sell their land without clearing dues first. Is there any wonder that there are suicides? Is there any wonder that people sell their lands and migrate to find work?

This is not progress. This is the desperate grab for opportunity for survival being peddled as progress. AUN report on urbanization says:

As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030.

This may seem like a good thing, but it is worth thinking that if urbanization is such a good thing, then why would developed countries have only 20% of the urban population?

Ok, leave aside this for a minute. India has a large population, and low energy reserves. Our pursuit of goals is all about industrialization, which minimizes human effort and needs more energy and takes a heavy toll from the environment. How is this ever going to result in better employment, energy independence or even ensure people have pollution free environments to live in at all? To feed this monster, we are promoting the corporatization of everything. Large farm holdings run efficiently, etc. Nuclear plants to keep this monster going. But even then, where will the jobs come from? We are already running into this problem. Rural people can migrate to urban areas when life becomes impossible, but what happens to the locals of urban areas when life becomes impossible for them as their meagre opportunities are up for grabs by more and more people?

Leave this aside too. There are allegations that migrant populations add to crime. I have no statistics for this. I haven’t searched. I will, and insert later if I find. So, I am not claiming this for fact. At the same time, migrant populations adding to crime does make sense, because they have no social anchors or any need to maintain their standing in society. Think of it as you going on your first hidden date. You may barely speak with each other in your own locality, but will act like husband and wife in a different place where no one knows you. Obviously you are not committing a crime, but if you were inclined to crime, would you find it easy among people who know you, or people who don’t? It makes a lot of sense that behavior is more reckless among strangers where stakes for disapproval or alienation are low.

This is not to say that all migrants are evil, or that migration should be banned completely or even that migrants should be discriminated against. At the same time, the cost of the rampant migration from the promise of “equal opportunity” overburdens cities and also increases stress for opportunities among populations as well as abandons vast tracts of the country to people who would like them abandoned. Development being defined as movement toward cities makes it increasingly easier to neglect villages.  In the long run, it is going to create pigeon colonies out of people, with vast, lush regions handed over to corporations, because no one else can survive the manufactured hardships.

Leave that aside too. Every place has a potential to work and earn. When people proudly proclaim India is one country and anyone can settle and earn anywhere, why is it that an urban person cannot buy agricultural land and stay in a village, if a person from a village can come and stay in the city? Because the design is to cluster people in less and less space and less and less resources. Factories have no problems buying rural land. It is normal citizens who do. The people making expectations that cities should accommodate everyone who takes a whim to be there choose to see only the rights of migrants in this situation. The desperation of the country to survive and cities being the only visible alternative has led to the blatant confiscation of the right of the people to their land in cities. The fantasy is that cities belong to no one, and everyone is equal. You wouldn’t approve of urban people going and outnumbering tribals in their land, and competing for the food naturally available in the wild, would you? Of course, cities have greater resources to accommodate more people, but it is a mistake to think that those resources are infinite and should not be guarded. Or that people who originally belong to the cities have no special right to their land over migrants. Or that they shouldn’t try and enforce boundaries when things become unsustainable.

There needs to be greater focus on development. On uniform development of India – even though cities remain hubs of civilization. There needs to be effort to sustain populations where they live instead of forcing them to cities. It is  not about opportunity. It is about survival for most migrants. If they could live on land they own and make a living, would they choose to wash your dirty dishes and live in hovels and servitude? The other problem is that when “posh” people claim equal rights for all Indians in cities, they are thinking of working professionals living in flats. Because of course, it is the norm to be blind to the poor. Our sense of majority is limited to those with voice, but the number of migrants with respectable jobs and sustainable work are very, very few. The vast majority inhabit slums and have no clue what they are doing with their lives beyond surviving and at most, saving for a rainy day. My maid is a second generation migrant who still lives in rented rooms and stores clothes in bundles. They have property in their village, but they would have to sell it and become homeless anyway, or starve, because there are no opportunities. Does she like working as a domestic servant? No. She has no choice. This isn’t a migration of opportunity.

We cannot kick out these migrants. They need to survive. Whatever fuck up we have become as a country, we have become together. At the same time, the right of locals to secure resources for themselves in their land should be respected. While burning buses is wrong, there shouldn’t be a need to burn buses over this. There needs to be serious attention paid to rural development and urgently, so that people are able to sustain themselves in their beloved lands with dignity. There still will be migrants chasing rainbows and India is a country for all, but we need to do something to manage the desperate bulk of them before things go into anarchy and we end up in a fight for survival in the supposed lands of opportunity as well.

Such thoughts are finding fertile ground in many places as people find the current systems unsustainable. One such site with alternative economic and development solutions is “Slow Money” – an attempt to begin fixing the economy from the ground up. Many thoughts worth thinking, but when it comes to the holistic development of India, one that is stuck in my imagination is:

What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?

2

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?
What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?

2

Construction must stop to save endangered sea turtles

April 05, 2008

Gahirmatha's
seas are one of the world's largest breeding areas for the Olive Ridley
Turtle. The Dhamra port could signal the end of this habitat forever.


Delhi, India — A coalition of Indian conservationists, comprising
Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the Wildlife Society of
Orissa (WSO) and Greenpeace India, has called on TATAs to reconsider
their Dhamra Deepwater Port [1] in Orissa, citing the threat it poses
to endangered sea turtles and two important Protected Areas.
Construction on the Port is proceeding in the absence of a
comprehensive Environment Impact Analysis and with disregard to the
Precautionary Principle, which TATA Steel professes to adhere to as a
member of The Global Compact [2].

Speaking
to the media, Belinda Wright, Executive Director of WPSI, said “The
olive ridley turtle is a species that enjoys the same legal protection
as the tiger. Yet despite its ecological significance, the Dhamra area
was purposely excluded from Bhitarkanika and Gahirmatha Sanctuaries to
facilitate the Dhamra Port [3]. It is amazing that while trawling is
rightly banned to protect the turtles, the Orissa state government is
bending over backwards to assist a huge industrial project in the same
area, which will probably drive away the turtles for good.”

The
Dhamra Port is coming up less than 5 km from Bhitarkanika Sanctuary and
less than 15 km from Gahirmatha’s beaches, one of the largest mass
nesting sites for the olive ridley turtle in the world.
Conservationists highlighted the Port’s potential environmental impacts
when it was first proposed in the 1990s. In April 2004, the Supreme
Court appointed Central Empowered Committee had recommended that the
Dhamra Port be relocated.

Over 100 leading
scientists from India and across the world have also called on TATA
Steel, the joint promoters of the Dhamra Port, to halt the project in
light of potential impacts on sea turtles and the environment, through
a petition campaign [4] hosted by a coalition of conservation groups
[5]. The list includes over 20 scientists from the Marine Turtle
Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN,
besides other renowned conservationists and researchers. The petition
also urges the Orissa state government to protect the Dhamra area.

Conservationists
charge that in the absence of a credible Environment Impact Analysis
and baseline ecological data, no mitigation plan, even if prepared by
the best experts, will be an adequate safeguard. Significantly, there
has been no mass nesting at Gahirmatha this season. In the past, even
minor disturbances have been enough to prevent turtles nesting, so the
influence of ongoing dredging for port construction cannot be ruled
out.

“There are alternatives to Dhamra that
TATAs must explore. A study commissioned by the Government of Orissa
and conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, has
identified several potential port sites [6]” said Biswajit Mohanty,
Secretary of WSO “The ongoing expansion of Paradip Port will also
provides the state with sufficient cargo capacity. If TATAs are as
environment friendly as they claim, they must make the effort to shift
to another location further away from the turtle nesting grounds,
rather than seeking to hide behind mitigation plans that can never be a
proper safeguard against the impacts”, he added.

In
2007, a survey commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by Dr. S.K.
Dutta of the North Orissa University established the presence of rare
species of amphibians and reptiles at the port site [7]. The study also
revealed the presence of over 2,000 turtle carcasses on and near the
area. TATA is yet to respond to these findings, despite earlier
committing to reconsider their role in the project if evidence of
ecological significance was presented.

The pressure on TATA is mounting, with Greenpeace’s cyber campaign (www.greenpeace.org/india/turtles)
providing a platform for the public to voice their concerns on this
issue. Over 9,000 people have already written to Ratan Tata within
three days of its launch.

“The scientific
community is advising against this port, fishermen have opposed it [8],
science has shown the presence of rare species in the area, and now the
public is adding its voice to the conservation community. What more
does Mr. Ratan Tata need? As a global corporation with a growing
presence overseas, TATA needs to show that its commitment to the
environment goes beyond mere lip service, by halting work on the port
immediately”, said Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
India.

For more information, contact:

Ashish Fernandes, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace, 99801 99380 ashish.fernandes@greenpeace.org
Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India, 98111 90690 belinda@wpsi-india.org
Biswajit Mohanty, Wildlife Society of Orissa, 94370 24265 kachhapa@gmail.com
Saumya Tripathy, Greenpeace Communications, 93438 62212 stripath@in.greenpeace.org