Government must take the people into confidence while sanctioning mega development projects
Author: Anuradha Dutta
Civil rights and green activists, under the banner of National Alliance of People’s Movements, plan to undertake a protest march along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor from March 8 to 19. Their ire is directed mainly against the fact that development, integral to the nation’s growth and betterment of people’s lives, is geared towards benefiting mammoth companies and the people who control them. They are also opposed to the secrecy that shrouds decision-making for such projects, and the omission of affected people as stakeholders. That, clearly, is undemocratic, since elected Governments justify mega schemes, entailing displacement of large numbers of people and acquisition of privately-owned land; environmental devastation; and destruction of heritage on grounds of public good. Yet, people, in general, are never consulted while formulating policies, which in the post-reforms period have been driven by market forces.
Influx of huge amounts of foreign funds means that such projects have magnified potential to displace people and impact environment. Critics are not crying halt to development but its ruinous trajectory. The more cynical among them view grandiose plans such as the DMIC as convenient money-laundering ploys, and pretext for a cabal of corporates, politicos, global financiers, bureaucrats, technocrats and a long chain of beneficiaries to appropriate vast swathes of land for perpetuity. They see promoters and policy-makers alike as being in league, to the detriment of the ignorant and voiceless multitude. Even the literate and informed usually remain in the dark about the true purport of closet planning.
To consider DMIC, the 1,483 km-long industrial corridor is slated to extend through Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, the National Capital Region, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Dadri in NCR and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai are meant to be the end terminals. The joint venture between Japan and India has an initial shared investment of Rs1,000 crore, which is slated to grow to $100 billion. Opponents’ worries relate to the following issues. One, the mega project will impact 150-200 km areas on both sides of the dedicated freight corridor. Two, nine mammoth industrial zones are to be developed. Three, an estimated 180 million of the people will be affected, with resultant misery. Four, problems of severely inadequate water and power supply will be further compounded. And five, ecology will be put out of joint.
Dreaming big is a commendable exercise, and development does generate jobs for vast numbers of people. However, the fact that those who will be affected by loss of their land/homes and traditional work are not involved in the policy-making process, or even allowed to express their views and objections in a credible way, is unacceptable. Sceptics scoff at the projected objectives of the project for a five-year period: Double employment potential; triple industrial output; quadruple exports. One must weigh this optimistic scenario against the harsh reality of unfulfilled promises, mass displacement, mushrooming of urban ghettos, and growing monopoly over public resources by a clutch of powerful tycoons and their hanger-on. Precluding the electorate from decision-making, which occurs behind closed doors, and seems geared to benefit market forces alone, erodes the democratic ideal.
As activists gear up to launch their campaign, it would be edifying to recall the scrapping of another mega urban and industrial corridor. Last January, Jaypee Infratech Ltd, erstwhile promoter of the 1,047 km-long Ganga Expressway, slated to connect Greater Noida with Ballia in eastern Uttar Pradesh, withdrew its Rs1,000 crore bank guarantee. The Rs40,000 crore mega project, proposed an eight lane expressway with toll booths, passing through Varanasi, Mirzapur, Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Rae Bareli, Unnao, Kanpur, Kannauj Hardoi, Farrukhabad, Shahjahanpur, Badaun and Bulandshahr. The rationale given on paper by policy-makers was that constructing an embankment on the Ganga’s left bank, from Narora to the Bihar border, would serve to counter the annual flooding of the river on that side. The expressway was proposed upon the bund.
Urban development, industries, medical centres and shopping complexes were planned along the super fast route. The proposal came a cropper after Allahabad High Court, hearing pleas by environmentalists and human rights campaigners, ordered the State Government to get Central clearance. Farmers’ protests against inadequate compensation for acquisition of their land aggravated the situation. Opponents’ principal grouse was against the lack of transparency in the planning process, and the fact that one company was given the green signal to embark on a land-appropriation spree. They believed that the public-private partnership module was reduced to blatant demonstration of crony capitalism. And at stake was the very civilisational ethos of the Gangetic plain.
Though its plan in eastern Uttar Pradesh was stalled, the company went ahead with building the 165 km- long Yamuna Expressway, linking Noida with Agra, in western Uttar Pradesh. Reports indicate that it will undertake urban and industrial projects along the route. Critics see this as a glaring example of corporate monopoly over mega development work. Hence, transparency in policy-making is urgently needed.