Monday, May 16, 2011

Land grab menace, mafia and controlled economic growth

The decisive and epic verdict in West Bengal and the recent high-profile political drama in greater Noida shows that land grab mafia and the politics of opportunism only exemplify that controlled economic growth can only lead to more disparities and ominous unrest.
Land is truly the most contentious issue in India especially with rural folks and thus can be easily exploited for political gains.
Ask Mamata Banerjee to dispute this theory and she could go nuts!
Thus for Congress and Rahul Gandhi, on the face of it, the roadmap seems pretty good. The Congress, desperate to storm back to power on its own in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but still a ‘minor’ player in most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, hopes to tap into farmers' discontent, intensified by rising income inequalities between cities and villages and make Greater Noida – its gateway to power in Lucknow and as well as strengthen its grip in New Delhi.
Thus, more than the concern for sobbing and anguished farmers of UP, Rahul Gandhi’s “crocodile tears” had a clear political motive.

The 34-year-old communist rule in West Bengal has been punished by the voters for its ill-conceived move to seize agricultural land – by over ruling farmers’ stir – and rapidly industrialize a development-starved state.
Rahul Gandhi's dramatic motorcycle ride in the disputed area of Bhatta-Parsaul village in Greater Noida, televised interactions with villagers followed by his even more dramatic arrest by a visibly unnerved Mayawati regime in a late night swoop were a perfect recipe of a political journey for the Congress crown prince.
The political pundits and especially those swearing by pro-Congress allegiance have been quick to jump that the arrest and release of Rahul Gandhi is only a “beginning” of the second phase of the Congress revival in UP, hitherto considered in BSP supremo Mayawati’s kitty.

The ‘Congress yuvaraj’, a phrase given by Mayawati, faces a dire challenge of reviving party’s stocks in UP especially in the backdrop of its nosedive decline in onetime strongholds like Andhra Pradesh. A seemingly revival of Congress in eastern UP in 2009 – where in the party surprisingly had managed 21 seats mostly from eastern UP – has not taken off since then. Rahul magic simply failed if not boomeranged in neighbouring Bihar and in down south Tamil Nadu most of his youth Congress nominees were handed over convincing defeat. In Andhra, YSR Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother have now given a clarion call threatening the crown prince and his mother Sonia.
The going in UP would not be too easy either. Mayawati is a tuff nut and her Dalit vote bank is likely to only “reward” her for fighting ‘manuvadi’ forces like Congress and BJP and opportunists politics of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party.
Moreover, once the euphoria over arrest drama settles down; people are going to ask – that include even UP farmers – why the central government, which is supposed to be remote controlled by Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi, has not able to push through a ‘land owners’ friendly’ legislation on Land Acquisition.
“The Congress had promised about the Land Acquisition Bill in June-July 2009, but after that a number of parliament sessions passed and the Bill is still in cold storage. It only shows Congress double standards,” said Rajnath Singh of BJP – who in a competitive politics sat on dharna at Ghaziabad a day after Rahul was arrested.
In fact, Rahul’s “theatrics” had irked BJP too, which is also in need of major political issue to stage a comeback. The saffron party in a belated show of purpose and unity staged a dharna at Ghaziabad with Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, joining Singh. A suave orator, Jaitley mocked at Rahul’s “motorcycle stunt” and said the genuineness of Congress party would be always questioned as it is the same party which announced “austerity measures, traveled one-day in a train compartment and then book only private planes”.
Both Jaitley and Rajnath Singh also courted arrest and scored some brownie points on that.
Samajwadi leader Akhilesh Yadav, whose party is also trying to take on BSP regime head on, endorsed BJP leaders’ sentiment and said: “It is nice that Congress and Rahul Gandhi are taking interest in farmers’ issues, but why did the Central government not bring in the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill as promised.”
Another BJP leader, Vinay Katiar has gone a step further and alleged that there is a tacit understanding between the BSP and the Congress. “The BSP government lifted section 144 to facilitate Rahul’s entry and the Congress has returned the favour by not initiating the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati,” he said.
Jaitley also pointed out repeated floundering stance taken by BSP vis-à-vis Congress-led UPA in the centre and pointed out how despite “staging drama of fighting each other in UP”, in parliament BSP has bailed out Congress twice – first in 2009 cut motion and more recently during PAC deliberations on high-profile 2G spectrum scam.
Maya’s salvo:
A determined Mayawati, might have obliged Rahul Gandhi by the arrest and given some mileage, but is ruthlessly pursuing her battle too and has accused the opposition parties of conspiring to “mislead’ people to embarrass her government.
She too has thrown in back the Land Acquisition Bill ball to Congress camp and said that the Centre has not provided “due compensation” to farmers for Rae Bareli rail coach factory land and said Rahul should have been standing with them in Sonia Gandhi’s constituency and not in Noida.

Another charge is going to haunt Congress leadership and sadly for Rahul, heir-apparent to Congress leadership and the natural inheritor to PMO, it is coming from Congress backyards in Andhra Pradesh.
Tribals in parts of Andhra Pradesh and social activists are wondering why Rahul isn't bothered about similar conditions in pockets like Sompeta, Kakarapalli, or Pollavaram in Andhra where agricultural land is being taken for projects without the permissions of the people.
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The Prime Minister has seemingly taken cognizance of the developments and directed union RD minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to work on the bill.
Another UP’s key political player, Ajit Singh is also playing his card well on the issue and has used this as a plank to arm-twist Congress leadership to rope him in for the bigger battle against Mayawati especially among the Jat land.
Historian Sumit Sarkar had said a few years back that “the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policy is the biggest land grab movement in the history of modern India”. Billed as a brainchild of Dr Manmohan Singh during his UPA-I stint, at least on paper SEZ provides for special export-promoting industrial areas with superior infrastructure facilities and also tax concessions.
But in effect, the experience has been bad. The greed of corporate and even with tacit help of MNCs and Indian political class, “land acquisition” has been used only to inflict more economic hardship on “poor agrarian community”. They are being built on prime agricultural land, without adequate compensation for farmers or rehabilitating them.
So far this scandalous ‘land acquisition’ has only able to exacerbate India's already wide regional and economic imbalances.
The Left government in Bengal had to pay a price for it. But the larger issue of the “price people have to pay” remains unattended.
The Environment minister Jairam Ramesh recently upped the ante against the Prime Minister himself when he said that he had to give clearance to several projects owing to “pressure” from higher ups. The social activists like Prashant Bhushan and Kuldip Nayar are already saying that “For Prime Minister it seems development means only siphoning the public money and assets (lands) for the enrichment of big corporate houses”.
As of now, these activists are not demanding Ramesh’s resignation saying at least by staying on the minister is “showing some resistance”.
Bhushan also maintained that irrespective of party affiliations there is a “big fraud being played with the land, mineral resources and public finances”. “The very concept of private-public-partnership (PPP) is a big fraud,” he said adding, “It is the same syndrome and approach we find in Maheshwar project (under S Kumars) in Madhya Pradesh, which was cleared by PMO interference and the land acquisition in Noida,” he said.

(ends)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

PM under attack: Thanks to Jairam Ramesh

The fact that the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has come under attack for allegedly putting pressure on the environment minister to clear questionable projects including the Maheshwar project speaks highly about the emerging political game.

Jairam Ramesh is a known Rahul Gandhi loyalist and the minister's reported remarks that he was under 'pressure' points out that all is not well between 7 RCR, Dr Singh's official residence and 10 Jan Path, the residence of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Now, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and social
activists Kuldip Nayar (famous anti-Congress journalist) and Prashant Bhushan made a blistering attack on the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for allegedly “pressurizing” the Environment Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh to
give clearance to certain projects including Maheshwar power project
in Madhya Pradesh.
The activists felt the minister need not resign even as they
threatened a campaign to demand a “true environment regulatory body on
the lines of Lok Pal”
“For Prime Minister and his office it seems today, development means
only siphoning the public money and assets for the enrichment of big
corporate houses and to ensure GDP figure go up incidentally,” eminent
lawyer and a member of Lok Pal drafting panel Bhushan told a press
conference at Delhi's famous Indian Women Press Corps office.
The NBA leaders, villagers from affected villages from Madhya Pradesh
and senior journalist and former Rajya Sabha member Kuldip Nayar
alleged that Union Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh
had lifted the stop-work order on the Maheshwar Hydel Power project,
whose promoters are S. Kumars, “yielding” to pressures from the Prime
Minister and senior Madhya Pradesh politicians Mr Digvijay Singh
(Congress) and Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan (the BJP chief minister).
They were referring to Jairam Ramesh’s recent statement that he had “no
option but to agree to lifting” of the stop-work order.
To a question, both Bhushan and Nayar fell short of demanding Mr
Ramesh’s resignation saying at least by staying on the minister is
“showing some resistance”.
“Resignation would not change the status of the issues involved. There
is a sinister design in allowing smooth transfer of nation’s public
finances, land and mineral resources and these need to be checked,’ Bhushan said.
“We also demand a CBI inquiry on what led to the lifting of stop-work
order by the ministry,” NBA activist Alok Agarwal said even as Mr
Bhushan compared the project with the controversial Enron. “At times,
they even influence CBI, so I demand a SIT should be set up soon,” Mr
Bhushan said.
Mr Kuldip Nayar said the manner in which the PMO is seen “interfering
and calling shots” in the running of a ministry like Environment shows
that there is a tendency to “centralize” the power.
“There is a need for an independent environmental regulatory body,” he
said. Agreeing with him, Mr Bhushan said the episode shows gross
failure of the environmental ministry to live up to its mandate and
therefore there is a need for “a true independent regulatory body”.
“We may demand a regulatory body on the lines of Lok Pal which could
be more accountable and not play second fiddle to executive
superiors,” Mr Bhushan said.
He also maintained that irrespective of party affiliations there is a
“big fraud being played with the land, mineral resources and public
finances” only to serve the interest of corporate houses and private
operators. “The very concept of private-public-partnership (PPP) is a
big fraud,” he said and maintained that gross abuse of the system has
surfaced practically in all the states under different parties.
“It is the same syndrome and approach we find in Maheshwar project in
Madhya Pradesh and the land acquisition in Noida. All parties
including the centre only seem helping only the big houses,” Mr
Bhushan said.

Radhyeshyam Patedar, a local villager from Madhya Pradesh and an NBA
activist, said, out of 61 villages affected by Maheshwar Project
villages of only one village Jalud were given rehabilitation package
by S Kumars.
Mr Bhushan alleged that the clearance of the stalled works and the
circumstances provide an ample opportunity to file a FIR at the
earliest under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act.

The government and the Congress party had been on evasive mood and
sought to steer clear of Mr Jairam Ramesh's statement suggesting that
he had to act under pressure from the higher ups and a party leader on
the issue of Maheshwar project.
Reportedly, the MP Chief Minister Mr Chahuhan, Congress general
secretary Mr Digvijay Singh, ironically a semi-shadow of Rahul had been lobbying to revoke the orders of
the Environment ministry and the PMO also had taken active interest in
the case.
“The interest shown by all those influential people show something
malafide as the project would in no way solve the electricity shortage
problems of Madhya Pradesh,” NBA activists said.
As minister with independent charge, Jairam Ramesh reports to the Prime Minister and thus the "pressure" would suggest that PMO needs to come clean.
"I am guilty in some cases to have condoned environmental violations," said Ramesh referring to power plants and ports being built in the country violating environmental laws.
"Many times I am forced to regularise it (violations). But at some stage the signal has to go (that) laws are laws (and that) they cannot be violated," Ramesh said.
Green activists for long have been charging Ramesh with giving only lip-servuce to environmental issues, but actually ending up clearing the projects like Posco to serve business interests.
So Ramesh statement in more ways than one means, he has tried to come clean but to suggest he has been acting under pressure tells - all is not well!

The controversial nuclear power project at Jaitapur was another instance of the minister and UPA government's blow hotblow cold' approach.

Environmental clearance for just six projects was rejected during August 2009 and July 2010, compared to 14 projects rejected during 2006-07 to 2007-08, sources say.
Incidentally, 8 river valley hydro electric projects were submitted for environment clearance and all were approved in the one-year period. As many as 49 thermal power projects were also approved, besides 31 coal mining projects.

A clueless Congress had tried to steer clear of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's statement suggesting that he had to act under pressure from the government.
"Minister of Environment and Forest is fully competent to any clarification regarding any statement, which he may or many not have made. It will be appropriate to direct these questions to him," party spokesperson Manish Tewari had said expressing his helplessness.
Dr Honest Manmohan Singh needs to speak out, rather clearly!
(ends)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Post Laden: Indian focus should turn on Balochistan

Much is being said and written about Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan; and predictably so.
But India needs to augment its security apparatus as well intelligence network -- for smooth flow of actuonable inputs. Meanwhile, even as the leading western countries including the US are pointing fingers at Pakistan’s alleged complicity in Osama
bin Laden case, from the perspective of Indian security agencies, one feels the time is ripe to
strike at the roots of ‘Islamic terror’, that is Pakistan and more partivularly some of its pockets.
The United States has only to blame itself as over the decdaes, it pumped in huge funds and weapons defying constant Indian warning about the "hapenings" in that country. Even the dastardly act like 26/11 did not help US realize the folly of their policy towards Pakistan.
Now, for Indian government, the focus should turn towards Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan.
“Al-Qaeda and Taliban had been cultivating local support system in key pockets like North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan in
Pakistan. These areas will now offer new challenges from Indian perspective,” informed sources say.
In more ways than one, it is a momentous time in history of intelligence operations which
offers opportunities as well as new challenges to revamp security apparatus and curb Islamic terror from the region.
It is understood that for sometime Taliban and Al-Qaeda had realized that they would be gradually marginalized and hence over the past months they have cultivated “local support” with their Jehadi
ideologies.
In fact, they say, since 2007-08 itself, Indian agencies had reports about hyper-active movements of Taliban in and around NWFP. And areas around Peshwar and Mardan were alomost turned into a “hotbed” of militant activities.
Moreover, groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba or group headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani were imparting training to neo-Jehadis both from South Asia
and the west.
Indian agencies maintain that the deceased terror head Laden was seen as a “hater of West and thus a great catalyst for a cultural and religious war” for the Jehadis.
It is this factor and the inherent resilience strength that made the Bin Laden forces to stay back in Af-Pak despite heavy assault from
US-led forces.
Moreover, from Jehadi perception, Afghanistan is also identified with Khurasan - a land, hardliner Muslims believe, where Islamic armies
will finally regroup and fight out the “enemies”.
“This calls for heightened security alert both for US, its allies and
also India,” sources say adding, radical groups in Asia, Africa and
Europe under the influence of Jehadi theory believe that they have a
holy war against "western powers and non-believers like
Hindu-dominated India".

The successful manipulation of international events by the likes of
terror ideologues Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Ramzi
Yousef, sources have only ignited common zeal across nations and also
hastened the unification of Islamic terror radicals.
The US will do well to understand and appreciate India's concern on the issue of cross border terrorism. While Osama has been eliminated, the world community will do well to understand that Pakistan also harbours terrorists and underworld operatives like Dawood Ibrahim.
And Dr Manmohan Singh's government will do well to get little aggressive and assertive --- they have played enough of Muslim vote bank card; but terorism is a ore serious affair than the crown prince Rahul and his virtuous team led by Digvijay Singh, discredited in Madhya Pradesh, seem to understand.