By Manju Menon, Kanchi Kohli and Bharat Patel*
Kutch Nahin Dekha to Kuch Nahin Dekha (If you ain’t seen Kutch, you ain’t seen nothin’) is a signature advertisement of the government of Gujarat. In our view it also fits a poster for the Gujarat model of development. Here, even before the ballot speaks, the administration is flexing its muscle. Over 12,000 agariya families who have produced hand-made salt for generations in the Little Rann of Kutch have been declared violators of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. An earlier 2011 notice issued by the state government has been reiterated this month and the community has been given a week’s notice to provide documentary proof of their occupation or vacate the region. The official communication states that this activity is ‘prohibited’ and one that invites imprisonment up to seven years.
While this artisanal salt producing community has lived in the anxiety of this eviction for years, the government gave away 40,000 acres of land in 2006-7 for potash production in the Great Rann of Kutch to Archean Chemicals. The company received its environment clearance for this project in 2011 according to which the project is located adjacent to the Banni grassland area, a protected forestland. Neither salt, nor its producers seem to be on the development map in Gujarat.
These are mere examples of the integral parts of the much discussed Gujarat model which necessitates the sacrifice of certain groups of people at its altar. Environment Justice- the intersection of place, socio-economic rights and development, and this model are entirely incompatible. The model’s first principle is state patronage to corporations. Following the January 2001 earthquake in Kutch, the reconstruction of the region was deliberately turned into a corporate business opportunity.
The strategy worked brilliantly for the BJP that stayed in power from then on and for the corporates that have made windfall gains since. It would be naive to suggest that only these two parties gained from the model. Many others may have too, but small and medium enterprise in the fields of agriculture, fisheries and salt making have lost out. Large tracts of agricultural land have moved from farmers into the hands of land sharks. Local real estate dealers in Gandhidham inform that lands sold off by primary holders have been resold five to six times their purchased price.
A few corporates operating out of Kutch now hold almost all the coastal lands of the entire block. Last week, a panchayat leader on whose appeal the Gujarat High Court had observed that the Adani special economic zone (SEZ) has no environment clearance, was issued letters by the deputy collector asking him to present himself at the collectorate, in the light of a hadh-paar (exile) recommendation by the local police. Twenty-five others have been issued similar orders.
The second axis of the Gujarat model is that of Regulatory Compliance versus Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR). The downward spiral on compliance is not specific to Gujarat but is a shared legacy of the Congress rule at the Centre and the state governments. Research carried out by the authors and other environmental groups reveal that the bar on regulatory compliance by industry is generally very low in India. But it is particularly dismal in Gujarat due to the blurring of the line between mandatory compliance and voluntary CSR. Last year, the Central government committee set up to record and recommend action on non-compliance in Mundra, took a ‘prudent’ stand.
The April 2013 report of a high level committee on the violations of the Adanis reiterated the well documented compounded violations of the company but it did not take the next logical step of seeking legal revocation of its approval through available legal clauses. Instead the committee recommended the setting up of an environment restoration fund of Rs 200 crore and no future clearances for one of the future ports proposed by the company. Does one conclude then that this model, however inclusive it claims to be, does not include rule of law?
In parts of Gujarat where corporates have set up their projects, panchayats, schools and other essential services, even provision of drinking water and food stores, is being increasingly provided by the CSR accounts of corporations. Company foundations do everything from running health clinics and planting mangroves to supporting existing cooperatives and funding women’s empowerment. Nothing wrong with any of this if these were in addition to lawful, accountable actions of compliance of environment and social norms. But in Kutch, these are poor substitutes of the mandatory actions imposed by law to minimise social and environmental impacts. The model ensures that the corporates enjoy the obscenity of state patronage and its citizens suffer the indignity of living off doles by the same companies that violated their rights to property and enterprise.
The third axis through which to understand this model is the transfer of resources from public goods to corporate property. These include common lands used over generations by pastoralists, fishing grounds, large stretches of mangrove forests, rivers and estuaries. This again is not specific to Gujarat. However, here, resources meant for public consumption have been painstakingly created with public funds and then handed over to private companies for their use.
The well-documented projects on the Narmada are one prime example. The Narmada waters reach Kutch but the pipelines take them straight to the power companies that need water for cooling their turbines even as people in Kutch suffer the growing impacts of plummeting ground water, increased salinity and lack of drinking water supply.
All the power projects that were set up in Kutch in the last six-seven years amid much local opposition are functioning below optimum capacity or are struggling with their purchase agreements. Yet our corporations would like nothing more than to have every government make such a model of itself. If only all lived places could be turned into ‘investment destinations’, all common and private property could be handed over to them.
Decisions that smack of state patronage, regulatory oversight and unbridled privatisation don’t simply fail to deliver but end up causing immense suffering to the polity that donates, sells, leases, foregoes or sacrifices its privileges of property, resource use and rights to essential services from government. Ironically, the same people are flaunted as beneficiaries because they are paid compensations and given some jobs even though they hold no rights to question the model itself or its final outcomes.
If 2G and coal allocations were scams, how is Modi’s Gujarat a model?
*Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli are with the Namati-CPR Environment Justice Programme; Bharat Patel is the secretary of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti, Kutch. Also published in www.firstpost.com