about 2 years ago
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By Ruma Dubey

In 2008, we all read and watched how tribals and villagers together, many of them carrying bows, arrows and sticks, walked from their homes to the district of Jagatsinghpur in Orissa, shouting slogans against POSCO. Fear of displacement of some 20,000 people and forced to give up farmlands, the protest had taken national proportions. Eventually, Posco shelved the project. Today, the Odisha Govt is staring hard at lakhs of felled trees, thousands of jobs vanishing into thin air and some 2,700 acres of land which needs to be returned to farmers. Posco also owes some Rs.82 crore as cess, which it has refused to pay.

Then there was Singur, probably one of the most infamous protests, leading to the exit of Tata Motors from there. This is stated to be one of the biggest politically sponsored unrest in the country. It surely led to the victory of Mamata Banerjee, going on to become the CM but till date, the state has not attracted any big ticket investment despite her tall promises.

There was also the major unrest in Gurgaon and Noida belt, the entire industrial segment which makes automobiles and components had erupted into a strike and even violence, protesting against unfair employment norms.

Also in jeopardy is Maharashtra government’s investment proposal to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crore in the single largest refinery in which Indian Oil Corporation and Saudi Aramco were the stakeholders. To be set up in Nanar, Ratnagiri there are major protests over land acquisition. Many call it a politically motivated protest of the Shiv Sena; here land has already been acquired by investors who knew the details before the announcement of the project, leaving the farmers high and dry.

The 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project and the Kudankulam nuclear power plant; protests at both the plants have rocked the very roots of India.

All this comes to mind as we read with dismay the loss of 12 lives in the Vedanta Tuticorin protest over expansion of its copper smelter facility.

One cannot help but wonder where is all this heading to? The politicians score a point and even an election victory but such face offs will only get more frequent and violent; they all have legitimate reasons for not allowing projects to take off, knowing well that they are shunning development, growth, better quality of life and employment.

So what makes people take this stand? In most of the cases it is the fear of the future – some for their health/life and some for sustainability. The displacement of people in Odisha and Singur, even before the project could take off is there for us to see. In Ratnagiri, the fear is that some 15 villages will be affected with human displacements over 15,000 hectares of land.

In the past, many have been witness to promises not being kept – people’s land has been taken away and they do not have sustainable employment today. And also equally important is that in this pursuit for growth, we are doing away with precious Mother Nature.

For a country like India, where 30% of the 1.2 billion people live in poverty without basic needs being met, talk of environment might seem pretty elitist. But aren’t we all, dependent on natural capital -  forests, rivers, crops, land; if they disappear, how will humanity survive?

It is a very thin rope to walk – human /natural capital and growth. But in a country which has the highest density of population - 400 people in every square kilometer with only 20% of the total land covered in forests, our growth model cannot be similar to that of China or USA. We do not have that luxury. We have to look at a more sustainable model of development and growth – rather than ‘Make in India’ it would be better to have ‘Think in India;’ we should work on making India an R&D hub and not the factory of the world.

We all might be living longer and with a much better of quality of life than our great grandfathers and even fathers, but somewhere in our mind, we know that they ate healthier and led much stress-free lives. We all are striding ahead blindly but mostly unhappily.

Putting environment and people first sounds Utopian and will never happen as India Inc funds every political party; when money and power permeates every pore, think about environment and humanity? You must be off your rocker!!!

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