In the recently concluded Partnership Summit, our chief minister has claimed that the state was going to get 6.5 lakh crore rupees of investments and of that 1lakh crore FDI. This according to their claims would mean 6.78 lakh jobs. Kiran Kumar Reddy has promised all facilities like land, water and electricity to be available for the Industrialists to facilitate the setting up of these projects. 243 MoU’s have been signed. But where is the land coming from? Where is the water coming from? And where do we bring the electricity from, is the big question. Would it mean fresh displacement of farmers and rural people from their lands? The state is already reeling under water shortages – there is not enough water for the farmers of the state, but the Industry will get it along with tax concessions, subsidized electricity and infrastructure like roads, made with public funds. And how many of those 6.78 lakh jobs will actually materialize? Even if they do, what is the quality of the “jobs” and for what duration? Would a job mean a lifetime of livelihood or a hire and fire one? But to get these 6.78 lakh jobs how many lakhs and crores of agriculturists, grazers, and rural folk will be made to “sacrifice” their livelihoods? These finer answers one doesn’t get. As has happened with the Special Economic Zones – where a farmer who gave up his land to the Sri City SEZ expecting a “job” now works as a security guard to his own land but protects it for the company, or the people working in Apache, who now feel that their life as agricultural labourers was far better as compared to the torturous conditions of work inside the SEZ. Or the shepherds who lost their grazing lands, but would get neither compensation nor a job, as they do not “own” the forest or common lands that they depend upon.
In Sompeta, the Thermal Power Project of NCC was given away 973 acres of a wetland, which supports the livelihoods of nearly 50,000 people of the surrounding villages – agriculturists, fisher folk and cattle farmers. If the project comes up it would mean that entire village economies and cultures that are dependent upon these primary food growers will slowly disintegrate and disappear and be lost beyond recognition. Only when they begin to show in reality do we understand them. Like the Reliance Gas’ D-6 project where the company gained control over 7500 square kilometers of sea, dislodging close to 30,000 fisher folk from their livelihood by restricting their access to sea, while the pollutants from the processing plants let into the sea are destroying fish life in the surrounding coastal region. The extraction of natural gas itself by not just Reliance, but others like ONGC is now a threat to the livelihoods of nearly 1 crore 30 lakh population of the delta region due to land subsidence. Already thousands of acres of paddy and coconut growing areas are filled with saline water, making that land useless. In the Partnership Summit, GVK Power announced to expand their Gas based power plants hoping for enhanced gas production from KG Basin. In addition they would also set up coal based Power Plants.
Burning any more fossil fuels would worsen global warming and climate change and result in more devastation in a state that is sitting precariously on the verge of destruction. So that means more and more erratic climates for the farmers to deal with – either drought or a flood as has happened this year, resulting in not just a loss to the farmers but to all of us, who are heading towards food scarcity, if things continue as they do now.
In the same Partnership summit, a Somalia like situation came about, when the lunch got delayed by a couple of hours and the delegates literally grabbed for food unable to withstand their hunger. Lets hope at least with such incidents they may understand hunger, a hunger they are enforcing on hitherto self-sufficient rural folk, who in many parts continue to live without a bulb in their homes, but who are made to make way, for large “power projects”, providing electricity for people like Mr. Ambani to burn in his multi-storey lavish home, (which would have lit about a lakh of rural homes) and to run his Polyester empire. But the government policy favours energy intensive “industry” instead of helping ‘no energy’ industries like the Handloom sector.
The Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan in the state has announced to give free uniforms to 56 Lakh children studying in Government schools. Accordingly, an amount of 225 Crores was earmarked for the year 2011-12 towards supply of two pairs of uniforms per child. To procure the cloth for the uniforms, tenders were called from Composite Textile Mills. The handloom weavers’ representatives requested for the same order but for a higher cost, which would have meant an additional expense of 200 crores (which is 2 percent of the 10,000 crores the government earns from duty on liquor sales) but would provide work for 60,000 weavers for one whole year and a demand for the cotton grown by the farmers. Giving the same to a couple of textile mills would mean the use of polyester yarn which incidentally helps big industry like Reliance or Sanghi. However, the state government had no response to the weavers’ representative’s suggestion. If this order can be renewed every year, it can ensure regular employment to the weavers and would stop migration of weavers to other places looking for work.
But, of course they have funds to spend 100 crores to conduct road shows to attract participants to the Partnership Summit. In just ten years, from 1995-2005, nearly 1 lakh crore subsidies and tax benefits were given to the modernization of Textile industry. A policy decision that has broken the back of the Handloom industry (which provides livelihood for nearly 10 crore people including weavers, farmers and natural fibre producers) as it could not compete in an unfair atmosphere. The 2011-12 budget allocated 5,855 crores to the Textile Industry, of which the budget allocation for Handloom industry is 431 crores! With the new National Fibre policy, which favours man-made fibres over natural fibres, it would mean a death knell for the Handloom. Governments that are bent upon wiping out rural livelihoods and pushing the rural folk to beg in Greater Cities can certainly not hear the hunger cries of the farmer or the weaver.
Published in telugu daily Andhra Jyothi on 18/01/2012