Restructuring India

RAW DEAL TO THE POOR: Western agri-business has been given green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India

In 2008, Finance Minister P Chidambaram claimed that his government’s policies were pro-growth and pro-equity. What’s more, the type of development being pursued was deemed to be more or less correct and adverse effects were mainly due to lax application of laws and public officials dragging their feet over changes.

The minister also envisaged 85 per cent of India’s population eventually live in well-planned cities with proper access to services. Based on today’s population size alone, that would mean 600 million moving to cities. He stated that urbanisation constitutes ‘natural progress’.

Some say that unconstitutional land take-overs, unsustainable resource usage and air and water pollution, all taking place under the guise of ‘growth’ are adding to the misery and disenfranchisement of the poor. The minister argued, taking Odisha as an example, the poor there had been poor since the world dawned and that setting up a steel plant or mining the minerals there would only help their situation by providing employment and ultimately helping the area develop.

After 22 years of neo-liberalism, how much weight do the arguments set out above hold? The poverty alleviation rate is around the same as it was back in 1991 and even in pre-Independence India (0.8 percent), while the ratio between the top and bottom 10 per cent of the population has doubled during this period. According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

Moreover, much mainstream thinking implies that shifting people from agriculture to what are a number of already overburdened, filthy, polluted mega-cities to work in factories, clean the floors of a shopping mall or work as a security guard improves the human condition or live in slum-like conditions and be unemployed or underemployed, given that 600 million plus are to be booted from the land.

It is easy to fall prey to the belief that wholesale urbanisation is inevitable and should therefore be pushed through by what Vandana Shiva criticises as being the biggest forced removal of people from their lands in history - and involving the biggest illegal land grabbing since Columbus, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the rural development ministry.

Furthermore, if anyone understands history, urbanisation was not ‘natural’ and involved social engineering and deliberate policies and the unforeseen outcomes of conflicts and struggles.

There is now a struggle taking place in India too. Those who are resisting are often referred to as Left-wing extremists who are exploiting the poor. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows, massive profits justified on the basis of ‘investment risk’ and unaccountable cartels which aim to maximise profit by beating down labour costs and grabbing resources at the cheapest possible costs. That’s the extremism that is regarded as anything but by the mainstream media.

Secretive MoUs

The mainstream assumption is that the coal must be mined, the steel produced and the rivers exploited in the name of ‘development’. Any number of wealthy corporations have been handed over the rights to this process via secretive MoUs and the full military backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict people from their land…all to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development that strips the environment bare and ultimately negatively impacts the climate and ecology.      

Due to the restructuring of agriculture in favour of Western agri-business, over 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. And the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed only leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no water, bad health and falling yields. There are already 93 million urban slum dwellers in India. With economic growth slowing, how many more if the 85 per cent figure of people living in cities is to be achieved?   

Western agri-business has been given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in India and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image. This is who is really setting the agenda to depopulate the rural areas.

And if it can’t be done by making it economically non-viable to continue farming as a result of world trade policies, ‘free’ trade agreements and ‘structurally adjusting’ traditional agricultural practices and economies to ultimately ensure petro-chemical farming (and thus oil and the US dollar) remains king, let militia into the tribal areas to displace hundreds of thousands and carry out various human rights abuses.

If anyone perceives that this ‘natural progress’ is not based on acquiescing to foreign corporations, they should take a look at the current corporate-driven, undemocratic free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India. It all adds up to profiteering trans-national corporations trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the people’s rights.

Industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets are being sold off. And how is this all justified? By reference to GDP growth – a single, narrow definition of ‘development’ – a notion of development hijacked by economists and their secular theology which masquerades as economic ‘science’.

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