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Growth pangs

In a democracy, citizens have equal rights. But the way we are growing, it seems some citizens are more equal than others.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2007 21:17 IST

At the National Development Council meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated what he has often said at other such gatherings: economic planning and growth must include all sections of society, especially the marginalised. The same day, a report released by three NGOs brought forth the magnitude of the problem India is facing due to our present lopsided approach to growth: over a million people have been ousted from their homes in the last decade, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand. And of the 1.4 million displaced, 79 per cent belonged to Scheduled Tribes. The report added that though such a high percentage of the displaced are STs, the community makes up only 8.2 per cent of the country’s population. The reason for such large-scale eviction is because the State and the industry want to exploit the mineral resources, verdant forests and sources of water.

It is all very politically correct for the PM to echo such concern, but at the ground level, the battle between the State and indigenous communities is far from over. Conservative estimates say that at least 60,000-plus people will be affected by the Pohang Steel Company’s project in Orissa. In return, the company stands to get captive coal mines and a port, 6,529 acres of land and 12,000 to 15,000 crore litres of water from Mahanadi in Orissa. Add to this the destruction of the environment and the natural base. And, fully knowing our slow and lackadaisical rehabilitation procedures, the majority will never get adequate compensation. By forcing its decisions on the people, the State is subverting the democratic rights of the people and making the ground fertile for Naxals. Routinely, public hearings, which are mandatory before huge projects are cleared in environmentally-sensitive areas, are done half-heartedly. If there is opposition, the State uses all its powers to quell it. And, as taxpayers we only endorse this brutality. On the one hand, the government has been very vocal on climate change; on the other, it is giving a go-ahead to the unbridled destruction of the green cover, the carbon sinks that are supposed to mitigate the process. More destruction and displacement will only lead to social unrest and large-scale migration. Are our urban centres ready to soak in disgruntled migrants?

No one denies that a certain amount of growth is necessary. In fact, it is welcome and inevitable. But it has to be controlled, and has to be for the benefit of the people, all people. In a democracy, citizens have equal rights. But the way we are growing, it seems some citizens are more equal than others.