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The last hope of common man
By Devinder Sharma

In recent times, the Supreme Court has given some crucial judgements to curb the anti-people policies being pushed by governments in the name of development and growth. Considering the abject surrender of policymakers and media before the corrupt, judicial activism remains the only hope for the marginalised Indians.


Protests against forcible land acquisition are brutally silenced
(photo courtesy: PTI)

In a series of judgements that have challenged the mainline economic thinking, the country’s highest court has struck at the very foundation of India’s growth story. Moving a step ahead of simple diagnosis and introspection, the Supreme Court has taken on the responsibility of cleaning the mess.

For the aam aadmi, the Supreme Court’s judgements are a telling commentary on what is going wrong. The spate of judgements, coming in quick succession, has obviously upset some of the major loudspeakers of economic reforms. Some newspapers run by, or dependent on, business houses were quick to seek restraint in judicial activism reminding the judiciary of its limits. This was expected because this influential section of society has primarily been the beneficiary of the rot that had set in.

At a time when economists are calling for sweeping new reforms to maintain the trajectory of growth, the court warns of how the culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology has led to ever increasing spirals of consumption giving a false impression of economic growth.

Whether it is agriculture, land acquisitions, taxation, infrastructure and finance, the emphases is on more reforms (read privatisation) and thereby restore confidence of investors. Be it the media ringmasters, and I am talking of the anchors, or the country’s planners, policy makers and economists working with credit rating agencies, the refrain remains the same for privatisation as the only path to development. Not realising that in lot many ways the line between development and exploitation has blurred.

Nevertheless as growth remains on an upswing, India continues to slide downhill in human development, hunger and poverty. If it were not for the artificially kept low poverty line, where Rs 20 and Rs 15 earned per day in urban and rural areas constitutes the cut-off for poverty, over 50 per cent of the world’s poor would be officially living in India.

As the never-ending chorus for the much-awaited second wave of reforms grows louder by the day, there is a rapacious assault on the natural resources. The State has turned into a blatant exploiter usurping precious natural resources – water, land and mineral wealth – for private good.

The dichotomy has never been explained. As the never-ending chorus for the much-awaited second wave of reforms grows louder by the day, there is a rapacious assault on the natural resources. The State has turned into a blatant exploiter usurping precious natural resources – water, land and mineral wealth – for private good. The rural hinterland is witnessing land wars the likes of which have never been seen before. While economists continue to justify the takeover of public resources in the name of development, the judiciary has begun to see through the fallacious claims and the resulting socio-economic fallout. Realising that enough is enough the Supreme Court has decided to step in.

Dismissing a petition filed by the Greater Noida Authority and several private builders, the Supreme Court lashed out at the growing incidence of violent land acquisitions: “This is a sinister campaign initiated by several state governments against the people. It is forcing them (land owners) to become slum dwellers or take to crime.” It faulted state governments for using the ‘urgency’ or ‘emergency’ clause to acquire land for private benefit. The nexus has grown thicker and wider – economists joining ranks with politicians, bureaucrats and builders.

Read the following observation: “The justification often advanced, by advocates of neo-liberal development paradigm, as historically followed, or newly emerging, is that unless development occurs, via rapid and vast exploitation of natural resources, the country would not be able to either compete on the global scale, nor accumulate the wealth necessary to tackle endemic and seemingly intractable problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and squalor.” Together with the 50-page order on ‘black money, the country’s highest court has conclusively demolished the mainline economic thinking that weighs economic wealth over human welfare.

Isn’t this an argument that you hear every other day? That rural India is literally on a boil is of no consequence. After all we are repeatedly told: land is required for manufacturing and industry; more industrial development means more employment; more employment means less of poverty. This popular assumption is regardless of the recommendations of a 2008 Expert Group of Planning Commission, which had concluded: “the benefits of this paradigm have been disproportionately cornered by the dominant sections at the expanse of the poor.” Ironically, it is the same Planning Commission which ignores the recommendations of its own expert groups and continues to thrust economic liberalisation policies that have acerbated economic disparities driving the poor against the wall.

In the United States, the federal government is providing US $ 750 million to farmers for the period 2008-13 under the Farm Bill 2008 to conserve and improve their farm and grazing lands so as to ensure farmers do not divert it for industrial and private use.

Land grab is happening at a time when the country is already in the throes of an unmanageable food crisis given that the galloping demands for food in the years to come requiring more area to be maintained under agriculture. For instance, if India is to grow domestically the quantity of pulses and oilseeds (in the form of edible oil) that are presently being imported, an additional 20 million hectares would be required. On the contrary, with arable land – mono-cropped or multi-cropped -- being diverted for non-agricultural purposes, India is fast getting into a much worse hunger trap.

Preserving productive agricultural land for cultivation therefore assumes utmost importance. In the United States, the federal government is providing US $ 750 million to farmers for the period 2008-13 under the Farm Bill 2008 to conserve and improve their farm and grazing lands so as to ensure farmers do not divert it for industrial and private use. In India on the other hand, the State governments are in a tearing hurry to divest farm lands and turn them into concrete jungles in the name of development. “When people protest against acquisition of their land, men are arrested and women raped,” the apex court observed.

At a time when the State has more or less abdicated its responsibility to act conclusively against graft, the Supreme Court has appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to repatriate black money. Coming in the wake of the continuous monitoring of the 2G Spectrum scandals that has already sent a number of politicians and corporate honchos to the Tihar jail, only a battle against land grab by the highest court can come as the much needed respite for the rural poor.

The court appears determined. “We will not keep our eyes closed. You take it (agricultural land) from one side and give it to the other. This has to go, and if it does not go, this court will step in to ensure that,’ the apex court had warned.

The voiceless millions have high hopes from the Supreme Court.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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