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   Wednesday, May 22, 2019
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Chasing the mirage
By Pandurang Hegde

UPA government's decision to constitute Cabinet Committee on Investment will only reinforce the jobless growth at huge social and ecological costs.

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Two weeks ago about one thousand people gathered in Kumta, a coastal town in Karnataka to participate in the public hearing on the proposed expansion of four lane highway along the West Coast. They forced the Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada to cancel the meeting due to inadequate space for the large gathering. The people were up in arms against this large infrastructure project that would destroy their livelihood.

Ironically most of them, even the lawyers who were leading them were not aware that a day before the cabinet had passed the formation of the National Investment Board (NIB) or Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI). This had sealed the fate of four lakh people in the 190 km stretch on the fragile West Coast.

The proposed project if implemented would violate the Forest Conservation Act, Coastal Regulation Act and Wild Life Conservation Act. Nevertheless, the CCI, as the supreme body has been vested with powers to overrule these violations and grant permission to implement the project.

The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister were precisely worried about such infrastructure projects being delayed due to the long bureaucratic process of Ministry of Environment and Forests. To boost economic growth and generate the much-needed jobs for the rising number of unemployed people, the cabinet has created this super body to fast track about 100 mega projects that costs above Rs 1000 crore.

Is it sensible and worthy to sacrifice the overreaching democratic processes that address the concerns of the marginalized communities and fragile ecological regions like forests and the coastal ecosystems?

The sagging economy of country was first served with the tonic of FDI in retail and now another dose of extra tonic, the apex body that has the ultimate powers to overrule all ministries to give clearances to big ticket investment in power, infrastructure and mining that are usually stuck due to procedural delays and especially environment clearance or land approvals.

This might enhance the confidence of investors, but will it deliver the results? Will these tonics boost higher economic growth and create jobs for the people whose number is constantly increasing? Is it sensible and worthy to sacrifice the overreaching democratic processes that address the concerns of the marginalized communities and fragile ecological regions like forests and the coastal ecosystems?

Jobless growth

The PMO, Planning Commission and Finance ministry are together in propagating the myth that the perpetual growth in the Indian economy is possible only through the free play of markets, especially aligning the local with global capital. It is obvious that the CCI will facilitate the appropriation of the natural resources, in the name of big infrastructure projects assisting the corporate houses. This is already being practiced in the central India in Bastar where predatory corporate investments have displaced the indigenous tribal communities from their homeland.

The reality is that the growth story for the last two decades in India is devoid of generating employment for the jobless in the country. With the capital intensity of the high profile projects the net investment may rise but conversely the net employment may likely to fall.

A recent study concludes that “Between 2007 and 2011, labour productivity increased by 6.4 per cent on an average, while employment expanded by just 1.0 per cent, where total employment grew by only 0.1 per cent during five years till 2009-10.

This is being reinforced by several studies including ILO (International Labor Organization) that show the jobless growth in formal sector. In fact in most of the cases, like the one stated above, the net value addition may fall, as it is bound to destroy the livelihood opportunities of the people who depend on the common property resources like forests, rivers or coastal ecosystems that are destroyed.

A recent study concludes that “Between 2007 and 2011, labour productivity increased by 6.4 per cent on an average, while employment expanded by just 1.0 per cent, where total employment grew by only 0.1 per cent during five years till 2009-10.

The PMO and the finance ministry are deliberately ignoring the share of the unorganized sector in the economy, which is almost 58 percent. But the CCI is least bothered to address their concerns, despite their major contribution to generate employment. This is because the formal economy is dominated by the monopolies or oligarchies that perpetuate the ultimate control of resources through the support of the political and bureaucratic establishment.

The only dissenting voice against CCI was from Environment Ministry and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, who voiced their concerns that it will overrule the existing laws that protect the natural resources and the tribals who live in the midst of forests. However, these concerns have been ignored by the cabinet in favour of enhancing faster economic growth.

The creation of the CCI is circumventing the democratic process in favour of big industrial and investment lobby. It ignores the needs of marginalized communities who do not have any say in decision making. The UPA-II government is speaking of ‘aam admi’ whereas its policies are cutting through the survival base of the poorest groups. It is a fallacy if it thinks that cash transfers would get them their support, whereas it allows the plundering of the nature’s capital favouring few who are able to influence the government’s decision through CCI.

The CCI is definitely going to be an agent for Crony Capitalist Investment that will have long term negative implications for the future generations, reinforcing the jobless growth at the social and ecological costs.

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

Pandurang Hegde  |  appiko@gmail.com

Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.

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