Supreme Court go-ahead for interlinking rivers

Author(s): Bharat Lal Seth
Date: Feb 28, 2012
Court had earlier said it would not favour interlinking of rivers if it puts a huge financial burden on the Centre

riverlinkingIllustration: Karno GuhathakurtaThe apex court of India has given the go ahead for the controversial inter-linking river project, seeking to transfer water from surplus to water deficit areas in the country. In its final judgement dated February 27, 2012, a three-member bench, headed by the chief justice of India, expressed the “pious hope of speedy implementation” to bring the project to a success. The project, in the pipeline since 1980, has been touted by the Centre as one solution to a number of problems: making water available for irrigating 35 million hectares; enabling full use of existing irrigation projects; generating power to the tune of 34,000 MW with added benefits, including flood control.

It has been repeatedly emphasised in the court over the past decade that the cost is negligible when compared to the potential benefits. But this is hard sell considering there is no true estimate of the project cost. Earlier this year, the apex court had said that it would not favour interlinking of rivers if it causes huge a financial burden on the Centre. A decade ago the cost of the project was estimated at 5,60,000 crore; the true cost can known only when the detailed project reports of the 30 river link projects are drawn up, of which currently one—Ken-Betwa—has been completed.

Panel to expedite projects

The court’s latest and final judgement on the matter mandates the formation of a committee to “take firm steps and fix a definite time line to lay down the guidelines for completion of feasibility reports or other reports” and “ensure the completion of projects so that the benefits accrue within reasonable time and cost”. The committee, with representation from various government departments, and nominated civil society representatives, must meet at least once in two months, says the order (see box). All existing reports are to be placed before the committee, which is ordered to take note of the suggestions in the reports and to take decisions as to how the same are to be implemented. The committee is mandated to submit a bi-annual report to the Cabinet of the government of India, placing before it the status and progress reports. The Cabinet will then be expected to expedite the matter within thirty days from the date the matters are first placed before it for consideration.

First link proposal was derailed

The interlinking of rivers can be traced back to the plans of British engineer Sir Arthur Cotton who sought to link the Ganga and the Cauvery. At the time, the idea was to improve connectivity for navigation purposes, but with the expansion of the rail roads, the idea was shelved. The idea of inter-basin transfers (from surplus to deficit regions) has been mooted off and on over the past century. But it was not until 1980 that the project gathered steam, when the Ministry of Irrigation formulated a national perspective plan for optimum utilisation of the country’s water resources. In 1982, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) was formed as an autonomous body entrusted with the task to carry out the water balance and feasibility studies of the river linking program. The work was divided into two components: Peninsular and Himalayan river development, with 16 and 14 link schemes respectively (see maps).

inter basin
himalayanSource: National Water Development Agency

The apex court has stated that “a greater element of mutuality and consensus needs to be built between the States and the Centre on the one hand, and the States inter-se on the other. It will be very difficult for the courts to undertake such an exercise within the limited scope of its power of judicial review and even on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)”. A PIL, as per the judgment, has to fall within the contours of constitutional law and can hardly take unto itself tasks of making a policy decision. “Such an attempt may amount to the court sitting in judgment over the opinions of the experts, without any tools and expertise at its disposal, ” states the judgment.

High-power committee members
  • Minister of Water Resources
  • Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources
  • Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests
  • Chairman, Central Water Commissions
  • Member Secretary, National Water Development Authority
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Water Resources
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Environment and Forests
  • Nominated expert from Planning Commission
  • Nominated expert from Ministry of Finance
  • Minister for Water or Irrigation from each of the concurring states, with the principal secretary of the concerned department of the same state
  • Two social activists to be nominated by each of the concerned ministries
  • Ranjit Kumar (amicus curiae)

The judgement goes on to say: “We see no reason why any state should lag behind in contributing its bit to bring the Inter-Linking River Program to a success, thus saving the people living in drought-prone zones from hunger and people living in flood-prone areas from the destruction caused by floods”.

Many states oppose

The project has not received consent of all states. It is argued that if not for the writ petition and judicial intervention, river linking projects would not presently be under consideration. “It is not the mandate of the Supreme Court to tell the Government which project to take up or expedite”, says Himanshu Thakker, convener of South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a non-profit and member of a court appointed committee representing civil society to look in to the matter. There are certain procedures for taking up projects such as formulating feasibility reports, detailed project reports and environmental impact assessment. “Mandating that the project be expedited, is in violation of these existing legal procedures,” says Thakker.

The Ken-Betwa river link, for instance, is the only project for which the detailed project report has been prepared, following a tripartite memorandum of understanding signed in 2005 between the Union minister for water resources and the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The environmental clearance, however, to transfer excess water from Ken to Betwa through a 231 km canal, has been categorically denied by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Approximately 8,650 ha of forestland in Madhya Pradesh is likely to be submerged for the project; part of the forestland is a part of the Panna National Park. Yet the Supreme Court in its judgement mandated that this be taken up on a priority basis. “We would direct the Committee to take up this project for implementation at the first instance itself,” reads the judgement. This is a case of judicial overreach, says Thakker.

The genesis of the case lies in another case adopted suo moto by the Supreme Court. While hearing this case, a reference was made to a speech made by the then president A P J Abdul Kalam who, among other things, called for a network of rivers to deal with floods and droughts. The Supreme Court directed that this be taken up as an independent writ petition. A notice was issued in 2002 to all the states as respondents in the case. None of the states, barring Tamil Nadu, filed an affidavit, supporting or opposing the project. The time was extended but no further affidavits were received. This was taken as in-principle consensus amongst all states to go ahead with the project.

Rahul Gandhi has been quoted as being vehemently against the idea of large-scale inter-basin transfers. For his stand, he has drawn flak from DMK leaders of Tamil Nadu who are all for it—no major river originates in the state; it is dependent on inter-state rivers. The states of Assam, Sikkim and Kerala have protested on the grounds that they should have the exclusive right to use their water resources and that such transfers should not affect any rights of these states. Due to reluctance of certain states, the Centre has not been allowed to undertake detailed surveys.

The apex court formed a task force in 2002, which set an action plan for all detailed project reports to be completed by 2006, and projects to be implemented by 2016. This is not done till today and no project has reached the implementation stage. “The projects can only be completed if states give their consent or if there is a Constitutional amendment, water being a state subject,” says Mohan Katarki, Supreme Court advocate. “It is doubtful that either of these will happen for the execution of the proposed link projects, although some links may come through, eventually,” he adds.

For more information on the river linking project, read articles posted on the India Environment Portal.

Farmers Suicides data from 1995-2010 state wise gender deseggregated

Farmers’ Suicides State wise, Year wise(1995-2010)

The state wise farmers suicide rate per 1000 population

Chhattisgarh  5.61
Karnataka     3.57
Maharashtra  3.35
Kerala           3.34
Andhra          2.58
WB              1.17
TN                1.3
If you calculate based on suicide victim farmers families/1000 farmer families the numbers would be much higher

Do not disagree: Blaming NGOs reveals the diminishing space for dissent in our democracy

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stray remarks on NGOs have unwittingly revealed two bitter truths about Indian democracy. First, Indian democracy has diminishing place for dissent. Second, our diminishing capacity for dissent paradoxically stems from a government that is both technocratic and weak.

On the surface, Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions. Of course, NGOs should be transparent and accountable in terms of their sources of funding. And the reporting requirements for NGOs are immense. It is not the threat that NGOs pose that should worry us; it is the ease with which government can go after them. However, what was disturbing about the prime minister’s remark is its construction of what dissent is about. We all pay lip service to the idea that in a democracy there can be genuine differences. But the only terms in which we can understand deep disagreement is by constructing it as extraneously motivated. Nothing is more fatal for disagreement and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or external agendas. You may be a supporter of Bt brinjal or nuclear energy. But you ought to worry if we became a culture in which no one was spooked after Fukushima, or suspicious of data on agricultural technologies. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

This has serious consequences for dissent. Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China’s. The state, when challenged, will often resort to all power at its disposal to pressure organisations and institutions. Make no mistake about it: seriously taking on the state is still an act of bravery in India. The state has enough instruments to hold NGOs accountable. But it chooses not to do so in areas that are legitimate, like transparency. Instead, it uses its power selectively when its interests are crossed. But this government is determined to increase the asymmetry between state and civil society. The new FCRA regime, the proposed changes in the Direct Tax Code for not-for-profits, are symptoms of the desire to control. Second, the rhetoric, that the world outside, particularly of NGOs, is a conspiracy to hold India back, is second nature to paranoid regimes. The Chinese construct dissent as motivated. Indira Gandhi revelled in it. But in her case, in the backdrop of Allende, global geopolitics, the CIA and the KGB, there was a touch of plausibility. Now these arguments have so much a touch of farce to them. But they are pretexts to increase state control. Third, think of the pattern with this government. Like the Chinese, we have used the power of granting research visas to regulate research. Our visa regime for scholars is a shame for a liberal democracy. So great is our paranoia that in the small print of even PIO cards, you will see a prohibition on doing research. Like the Chinese, films showing India’s human rights record in an unflattering light are hard to release. Censorship, through formal and informal pressures, is legion. To be sure, politicians are often easy and unfair targets in Indian political discourse. But this surface politician-bashing disguises how hard it is to seriously interrogate the power structure in India.

Like the Chinese, we construct civil society as a special site of threats. What is appalling in this singling out of people who do research, or of NGOs, is this: private corporations are allowed to move money practically as they please, they can even advertise or lobby in ways beneficial to them, but NGOs have to be watched and blamed for obstructing the country’s progress. To be sure, NGOs are being given an increasing place in a range of service-delivery activities. This is more to compensate for state failure in those areas. But NGOs as sources of dissent are still suspect. Corporate activities and capital are constructed as a privileged site. The space of ideas and protest is represented as presumptively subversive, and anti-national. This is deeply revealing of what we think of dissent.

The hallmark of technocracy is that it cannot countenance the possibility of radical disagreement. Since there is a technically right answer, disagreement can only be explained by attributing motives. But while the mindset is technical, the capacity for political negotiation has also diminished.

The simple fact is that, for whatever reason, the government has not been able to bring Jayalalithaa on board on the nuclear plant issue. If it did, its capacity to negotiate with dissenting groups would be different. But this is a political failure, pure and simple. There is a systematic reason why the government’s arguments often lack credibility even among open-minded people. How do you trust a government’s claims on dams, when it keeps data on water flows a secret and publishing such data a crime? How do you trust a government on environmental assessment when there is general consensus that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are so flimsy? How do you trust claims on radiation and chemical poisoning when there is no reliable data on incidence of cancer? The problem is not foreign funding. The problem is that government’s secrecy, lack of engagement, has diminished its capacity to produce authoritative and trustworthy knowledge. This is the breach which opens up the need for different sites of knowledge production. This is a governance failure. But instead of attending to a political or governance failure, the technocratic mind will go for impugning dissent.

Jairam Ramesh did the right thing. He did something rare in this government: he owned up to his decision and his responsibility plain and simple. But the prime minister unwittingly showed what a banana republic India can be. If a few crores here and there, given to NGOs which have no instruments of power other than their ability to mobilise, can bring this country to a standstill, then we are indeed in deep trouble. Banana republics are more paranoid about dissent than self-confident democracies.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi,

Manmohan blaming NGOs for Bt brinjal moratorium criticised

Special Correspondent

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The Hindu

The Coalition for a GM-Free India has expressed “outrage” at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that foreign-funded NGOs were the reason for the moratorium on Bt brinjal.

“It is a clear attempt to undermine and disrespect the exercise of democratic rights by the citizens of this country regarding critical issues that concern one and all,” Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convenor of the coalition has said.

In a statement, Mr. Radhakrishnan said the issue was not one of NGOs or foreign funding; that was merely a ruse that the Prime Minister had seized upon to cover his and his government’s unwillingness to listen to the people.

The more troubling aspect of Dr. Singh’s stand was that he seemed to have made up his mind on pushing agricultural biotechnology and ignoring the genuine scientific concerns, with or without the consent of the people.

In the recent past, the same approach was apparent in the issues involving the Jaitapur and Kudankulam nuclear plants and FDI in retail.

In all these cases, transnational corporations, with enormous clout, stood to make tremendous profits, he said.

The Bt brinjal moratorium decision was taken by the then Minister for Environment and Forests, who clearly detailed the rationale to the nation, Mr. Radhakrishnan said.

According to him it was a deep irony that Dr. Singh was resurrecting the “foreign hand” ruse from the 1970s and the Emergency era – while being at the forefront of inviting foreign investment and allowing the U.S government and multinational companies to push policy changes.

Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity

Nourishing the PlanetBiodiversityBreedingFood SecurityIndigenousPermacultureSeeds

By Graham Salinger

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a quarter of the world’s known plant species—some 60,000 to 100,000 species—are threatened with extinction. And even though plants may not receive as much attention as endangered animals, they are essential. Among their many attributes, plants are a vital source of food, they can help stabilize the climate, and they also provide shelter, medicines, and fuel.

Seeds of diversity; seed banks are one innovation that helps increase biodiversity. (Photo credit: GREEN Foundation)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five agricultural innovations to improve biodiversity and protect these important providers.  

1. Seed banks:  Seed banks help preserve seed varieties, while protecting against famine and disease. Storing seed varieties in seed banks helps protect farmers from seed loss while reducing their overreliance on monoculture crops that makes agricultural economies vulnerable to price shocks.

Seed Banks in action: In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault protects thousands of seeds that farmers in developing countries can rely on to help re-harvest crops that have been affected by disease, climate, or conflict. And in Karnataka, India, community seeds banks are open to any member of the community as long as they don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers when farming.

2. Permaculture Designing a farm based on the principles of permaculture helps increase biodiversity. Permaculture refers to designing land to take advantage of natural ecological processes by integrating a variety of crops, animals, and pests into one farming system.

Permaculture in action:  In Lilongwe , Malawi,  Stacia and Kristof Nordin have developed a permaculture project that teaches farmers about methods to  incorporate composting, water harvesting, and intercropping to help build organic matter in soils while conserving biodiversity. In Botswana , the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve teaches students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife in a way that is in harmony with an agricultural system that helps produce spinach, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, green peppers, garlic, basil, parsley, coriander, and other crops. Students come to learn how to grow nutritious food as well as how to protect their native wildlife.

3. Cultivating indigenous crops:  As a result of the Green Revolution many countries started relying on growing western crops, such as maize, instead of local crops. To help increase biodiversity, farmers are going back to their roots and growing more indigenous vegetables, fruits, and grains.

Cultivate indigenous crops in action:  In South Africa, Richard Haigh discovered that by cultivating more indigenous crops he was able to improve biodiversity on his farm. His 23 acre farm saw higher yields than ever before when he started integrating indigenous vegetables, fruits, and livestock into his production. And in Tanzania, farmers learned that growing native trees not only helped improve soil fertility but also helped to increase biodiversity. The tree planting project was part of a strategy implemented by CARE International’s Equitable Payment for Watershed Management that aimed at improving ecological farming methods in the region.

4. Protecting indigenous livestock breeds: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that around 1,710 breeds of livestock—21 percent—are at risk of extinction worldwide. Indigenous livestock are often better suited to local conditions and are better at resisting pests and disease than exotic breeds.

Protecting indigenous livestock in action: In Uganda, cattle herders have learned about the benefits of raising indigenous cattle and started introducing local breeds into national parks for grazing. This helps raise healthier animals while also increasing the health of local eco-systems through the use of the cattle’s manure.

5.  Crop Breeding : Breeding crops that are resistant to pests and diseases and better adapted to drought or flooding can help make sure that many crops don’t  disappear.  In some parts of Africa, if a disease strikes wheat before breeders are able to make a strand that is disease resistant, for example, as much as 80 percent of the breed can be lost.

Crop breeding in action: The FAO’s Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building works to introduce biotechnologies to developing countries, train farmers in breeding practices, and develop national breeding strategies for target countries. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose executive director Cary Fowler is an adviser to Nourishing The Planet, focuses on increasing biodiversity through an endowment that funds projects aimed at crop diversity. The trust, working with the FAO, helps fund pre-breeding programs that help farmers identify which traits are useful to improving crop resistance to disease and pests.

Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about the importance of preserving biodiversity, see: USDA Genetic Resource Database Expands Opportunities to Conserve Global BiodiversityAfrican Biodiversity Network: Sowing Seeds for Grassroots ResilienceInnovation of the Week: Banking Today to Conserve Plants for the Future, and Who’s Counting?

Climate change to affect small farmers: ActionAid

Submitted by admin4 on 28 February 2012 – 6:50pm


New Delhi : More than 80 percent small farmers, contributing to half of India’s crop production, will be affected by climate change, which is impacting faster than predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says a recent study.

The study, conducted by ActionAid and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, was released Tuesday.

“Around 80 percent of small and marginal farmers who contribute about 50 percent of the total crop production will be the most affected by the changing climate,” said the study.

The study was was shared and deliberated upon at a National Consultation on Climate Change and Agriculture – Adaptation and Mitigation by Small and Marginal Farmers.

Birendra Sahariya, 40, a farmer from Sipri village in Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh, was in Delhi to share his testimony.

“The pattern of rainfall has changed. It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this about 10-15 years ago, and we are unable to understand it,” he said.

Stating that he lost everything due to changing weather, Sahariya said one of his sons committed suicide as he was unable to pay back a loan of Rs.2 lakh.

The cost of fertilisers, except urea, has increased by more than 300 percent after the nutrient based subsidy scheme was introduced and manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the study noted.

Despite this, there is increased dependency on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs, given the emphasis on the chemical fertiliser-intensive green revolution model.

“The small and marginal farmers who are the largest food producers of our country can only sustain their production system if the policies and practices on climate resilient sustainable agriculture is widely adopted,” said Amar Jyoti Nayak of ActionAid India.

62% farmers cannot meet educational needs: Survey by Punjab Farmers Commission, TNN | Feb 27, 2012, 02.22AM IST

CHANDIGARH: A recent survey on government’s plan to shift small and marginal farmers away from unprofitable agriculture and engage them in economically viable activities, has found the government initiatives lacking in preparing the farmers undertake the transition.

The survey conducted in 50 villages by Punjab Farmers Commission has revealed that 62% of Punjab farmers holding land up to 10 acres do not earn enough to take care of their educational needs.

The survey has revealed that the dropout rate among the farmers’ children is so high that only 0.4% of students reach the post graduation level and only 5% get technical education. Also, only 73% of posts of teachers are filled in rural areas.

The rural schools are facing an economic exclusion – majority of these students being from scheduled castes. Farmers of upper strata of villages are sending their children to private schools, which however do not have qualified and sufficient staff.

The survey found that in a test conducted in 147 government and 174 private schools on the syllabus of class V and VI syllabus, only 16% students of mathematics and 31% of science in the government school could answer questions. The same ratio in private schools was 3% and 8% respectively. And 12% and 16% of mathematics and science students respectively in government schools could not offer a single answer. In private schools, 21% students just could not offer any reply about questions on mathematics.

The study has suggested that a separate cadre of rural teachers should be created and that a teacher should work for 10 years in rural areas before being transferred to urban areas. For ensuring attendance of teachers, biometric and SMS-based attendance should be introduced, it said.

In search of a development paradigm: Srijit Mishra

Debates and discussions in the academic, media and public policy circles with regard to socio-economic issues have a tendency to identify positions as either Right or Left. The questioning mind thinks whether Right is right and  Left is to be left or is it the other way round where Right is to be left and Left is right. One talks of the virtues of the market a la Adam Smith and the other the virtues of a classless society a la Karl Marx.

Among lay persons the discussions at times can point to the right-hand use among people being the norm whereas the left-hand use being an aberration by the supporters of Right, which is countered by stating that left-hand users are smarter and intelligent by the supporters of Left. There are others who want to broker peace and point out that there are advantages in both the hands while conceding that there can be situations where we are more attuned to the right and some others where we are more attuned to the left. But then a middle position leaves an unanswered question with regard to the appropriate paradigm. Are we both Right and Left? Or, are we neither Right nor Left? These questions put us in a catch-22 situation.

Getting back, the virtues of the market as also that of classless society have their own merit. The market gives the freedom to individuals to exchange their goods and services and because of the existence of a large number of buyers and sellers none of them can determine the prices and it is this that can do away with any vested interest. A classless society does away with any kind of hierarchy and with it any power relationships that can lead to vested interest are also done away with. Both these are ideal situations that do away with some form of vested interest.

The doing away of vested interests is also articulated through the impartial spectator in Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments and the need is conveyed by the corruption of our moral sentiments, which is occasioned by the disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition. The role of the impartial spectator is taken forward in recent times by Amartya Sen in The Idea of Justice.

Another idea of doing away with vested interest is John Rawls‘ ‘original position’. Here the individuals enter into an agreement by remaining under a veil of ignorance where they do not know their identities, as articulated in A Theory of Justice.

A very powerful call to our moral power is invoked when Mahatma Gandhi gave us a talisman. This talisman suggests that whenever in doubt an individual should recall the face of the most vulnerable person and contemplate whether the action to be taken will be of any help to that person and provide them with swaraj and it is this that will lead to one’s doubt as also one’s self melting away.  There will be no vested interest.

Steve Jobs in his commencement address (also see video below) to students at Stanford University refers to three stories from his life. The third one states that since he was 17 years old he has been starting his day every day by contemplating that it could be his last and it is this invoking of death that does away with all redundant things – external expectations, pride, fear, embarrassment or failure; only truly important things remain.  This reminds us aboutJohn Donne‘s Death be not proud, but more importantly it is also a very powerful moral power that does away with vested interest.

Speaking about the contemporary political scenario in India one cannot but agree about the public perception of honesty and integrity by its Prime Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh. At least with regard to financial propriety at a personal level and without going going into ideological differences and some other acts of omission and commission, one can also name half-a-dozen  Chief Ministers from different states such as Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal,Manik Sarkar of TripuraNarendra Modi of GujaratNaveen Patnaik of OdishaNitish Kumar of Bihar and Prithviraj Chavan of Maharashtra among others who are also known to satisfy the acid test of public probity in some sense. This is a good thing and a necessary condition to root out vested interests leading to corruption, but it is neither a sufficient condition nor the only test required for good governance.

For instance, being personally honest does not mean that we can assume that everyone around us is also honest. The assumption of trust is a positive thing, but this cannot be the basis of a statecraft to allow markets to rule the roost. Similarly, espousing a classless society through different process does not necessarily mean the absence of hierarchies and vested interests, as the recent experiences in the umpteen years of Left rule in West Bengal or the fall of the erstwhile Soviet Union suggest.

Markets or a classless setup are means to do away with some forms of vested interest so that people live in a fair society.  Thus, as a deeper reading of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Rawls would show, it is people with plural concerns who should be at the centre of focus – the ends. As Amartya Sen would say, it is the enhancing of capabilities of people so that they can be and do what they have reason to value is what matters. These have been articulated in numerous ways in the Human Development Reports of the last two decades.

So, to sum up, the question of either Right or Left, or, neither Right nor Left are not the appropriate ones. One can use, markets as also classless set-up or any other means or none of them to help people depending on the context. One should take advantage of these as also others means and tools when required, but should also be on the guard for adverse implication that can come out of the usage of these. But, most importantly one should never loose sight of the people-centric approach, our end. It is this that takes us in our search for a paradigm to one called ‘human development’.

Engage, don’t vilify: Hindu Editorial on PM’s comments on Foreign funded NGOs

February 27, 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks about foreign-funded NGOs stalling the introduction of genetically modified food and the commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear power project are bound to be taken seriously by his supporters and detractors alike. For, they do not merely represent an uncharacteristic venture by him into controversial territory, but may indicate his government’s growing frustration over its plans running into fierce ideological opposition. When Dr. Singh, who has a reputation for reticence on sensitive subjects, drops dark hints about a foreign hand, it is surely something that needs to be substantiated and, if necessary, followed up with action. As if to bolster his argument, the licences of three NGOs have been cancelled and the foreign remittances received by them are being investigated. Meanwhile, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, the organisation spearheading the anti-Kudankulam protests, has rejected the charge and demanded the Prime Minister substantiate his remarks. Adding to the mix, Jairam Ramesh has also clarified that his decision as Environment Minister in 2010 to place a moratorium on Bt Brinjal was not influenced by NGOs, but was based on objective factors.

Dr. Singh cannot be faulted for his view that science and technology should serve as instruments for raising the standard of living of the people, and it is entirely understandable that he wants everyone, including his critics, to appreciate the development challenges faced by India and its energy requirements. At a time when agriculture badly needs infusion of technology and when a chronic power shortage is crippling economic activity in States such as Tamil Nadu, it is hardly surprising that the government looks at all opposition to genetic engineering and nuclear power as suspect. However, the idea that NGOs with ‘foreign’ links are fuelling the protests seems more expedient than convincing. The charge is also, at some level, quite irrelevant. For what it’s worth, tens of thousands of ordinary Indians around Kudankulam, Jaitapur and other areas where reactors will be sited are apprehensive about what the placement of large nuclear installations in their backyard might mean for their health, environment and livelihood. The government needs to engage with them in a transparent and constructive manner and allay their fears with facts and arguments rather than innuendo and slander. The same is true for those sections of the farming and scientific communities who want a careful review of the consequences of genetic engineering before its indiscriminate adoption in the country. Their concerns are best answered by science and reason, not the implied threat of a midnight knock.