Millennium Post

Dividing the natural pie

In a move that could significantly alter the process of allocation of India’s natural resources to the industries and could question the nature and scope of ‘profit’ in exploiting natural resources, the Supreme Court has invited debate in response to the government’s challenge of the court’s logic of auction in case of allocation of natural resources. This debate is crucial to determine as to what extent natural resources could be considered worthy of parcelling out to profit making corporations and often at the cost of both public good and the national exchequer. The government virtually took on the Supreme Court’s verdict on spectrum allocation when in February it cancelled all 122 licences handed out in the 2G case and asked the government to allocate airwaves by setting up a competitive bidding process.

Referring to the verdict, Attorney general (AG) GE Vahanvati on Tuesday commenced arguments on behalf of the Centre asking, perhaps not without irony, if the apex court could take the onerous task of defining natural resources and if auctioning them could be the only viable way to walk the tight rope between industrial profit and public good, not to speak of the exchequer and ecological issues. This debate assumes more importance in light of several cases, involving both governments at the state and the centre in which land parcels, mines and other natural have been handed over illegally for the sole purpose of profit. Pegged by the AG, the five-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, J S Khehar, Dipak Misra and Ranjan Gogoi said in reply, 'On cancellation of spectrum licences allotted without following a transparent system, there is no doubt about its correctness. But if one reads the judgment to mean that auction must be applied for allocation of all natural resources, then does it not create a doubt about the law laid down by the court?', virtually admitting to the fact that there could be room for more discussions.  

In the interest of the nation, the state and the public, this discussion must continue. While the government is perhaps right in arguing that every natural resource cannot possibly be considered fit for auction, the apex court is also right in considering the complexities of the issue before it could create legal frameworks around it. We, in India are standing at the very heart of the tension that is created by the pulls and pushes of industrial development and we cannot not ponder widely on which way we should we go. There are too many lives at stake here because natural resources are all we have. It would be hence right that at the highest level this debate must continue and a solution evolves to the agreement of all, including the public.
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