Development with Dignity
Is development sustainable? Or does it lead to increased economic, social and political disparity? Niharika Pandit questions the idea of Development.
In August 2010, Vedanta Aluminia was denied permission to set up a $1.7-billion plan to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. Reasons were several.
Niyamgiri Hills in Kalahandi district of Orissa are inhabited by Dongoria, Jharnia and Kutia tribes who participated in a public hearing on April 9, 2012 and opposed the mining of bauxite from their sacred hill. A report in April 12 issue of Tehelka highlighted “Tribals said that they have a birthright on the Hills and they won’t allow mining to their sacred mountain whatever the repercussion may be.”
And soon enough, Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh turned down Vedanta’s proposal under non-compliance with Forest Right’s Act. He further denied being moved by the sentiments of the locals and that the decision was utterly based on facts.
In the month of June, several newsletters were issued by Vedanta for local residents about its policies for redevelopment of the local zones where their mining plant would be established. Despite Vedanta’s numerous efforts, some of them boasting about its plans of expansion in field of education, health and other perks to local residents, people did not fall prey to it. Their constant refusal and not succumbing to the aggressive advertising campaign of Vedanta in month of April wasn’t the reason but a major contribution to the denial of permission. The government had turned down their proposal as this development wasn’t sustainable; it also violated Environmental Protection Act.
One may now very validly ask a question, ‘If a certain area is mineral-rich, is it not meant to be extracted?’ Fair enough. A mineral-rich area, often classified as the Special Economic Zone (SEZs) is meant to be extracted as long as the displaced from that land are given adequate rehabilitation. Not on paper, in real.
Setting up plants, mining ores in remote villages fills up the conglomerates’ coffers and renders the poor, poorest. The ever-widening vacuum of disparity once again becomes visibly important when the locals’ land is taken away in lieu of small money with no other land rehabilitation measures.
Poor become poorer as they now have no land, no deposits, and no job security. Even the health and educational prospects claimed by the company get buried deep under tender notices and signed deals. Even worse if the family’s head count is appalling or the earning member, an alcoholic.
This does not imply that development should be curbed; development is primal to a country’s economy. But so are its people. So is the disparity of wealth and impoverished citizens. Poverty, unemployment, hunger, over population still remain to be major concerns for the country. More grave in nature, requiring immediate action.
Now consider another case unlike Vedanta. In May 2012, JSW Steel completed paperwork with the West Bengal government for land transfer. This steel plant in Salboni, West Bengal has not only bought land from locals but also given them jobs and shareholding in the company, minimising disparity and amplifying security for every family. So, even if the family is left with no money, they have shareholding and an earning member has a job which will suffice the family.
Thus, Development is indeed important but so are people who belong to the country. Who choose their representatives with the belief that one day, disparity will be dissolved. Stifled voices of displaced farmers will be heard. And their children will not die of malnourishment. But development should not be at the cost of others. It must be a fair play providing benefits, justice and equity to all. Development must be sustainable in nature involving participation from the grassroots level.
Recently, Mani Shankar Iyyar, a parliamentarian in a panel discussion very rightly articulated “Development is important so is justice and inequality. But development with dignity is the solution to all problems.”