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Millennium Post

Need to sustain development

In the midst of parliamentary debates over access being provided to foreign direct investment in retail sector last week, a large group of academics from nine countries assembled in the national capital to deliberate on the role of multi-national enterprises in sustainable development. Probably largest ever interaction between Indian academia and foreign experts, the conference, christened MESD 2012, came out with very strong revelations and great takeaways for the foreign delegates from the Indian experience.

The government, having defeated the motion to stop foreign direct investment in retail trade, is already sounding very bullish on spurring development and growth. Here the resolutions of this conference, which was attended by people from university campuses, corporate and social sector and even farm-hands, seeks to strike a note of caution on ‘rampant development’.

At the end of the three day meet, the conference came out with a set of recommendation which warns the government of handing over resources for development without examining the sustainability factor.

Among the seven points put forth by the conference, its most significantly stated that ‘there is an urgent need to make people all over the world join hands to raise their voice in the most democratic forms including protests to make the governments respond to the challenges of sustainable development by introducing relevant laws and providing fiscal incentives for the people and business.’

Conference insisted upon the business schools internationally to reorient their education, moving away from the focus on shareholding to stake-holding. It clarified that the managers trained through the business schools with different orientation will help follow business strategies that are suitable for sustainable development. But most importantly it insisted that business ethics oriented towards sustainable development should be embedded in the laws of the land. Corporate responsibility has to be the law and not left to the whims and fancies of the business world.

For the delegates to this conference it must have been very heart warming to notice that in the midst of their meeting the government gave approval to the new Land Acquisition Bill, which when enacted would replace the existing colonial era law. The new bill for the first time introduces the concept of rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced landholders on a mandatory basis and also a provision for the return of unutilised land to the people. The lack of proper rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced gave rise to one of the longest democratic movement in the post-Independence era – Narmada Bachao Andolan. The issue of proper rehabilitation, or lack of it, has also proved to be the main fuel sustaining for Left extremism spread over 200 districts across the country.

Much before the menace which the Maoist movement has become in the state of Chattisgarh, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in its 1985 report on an encounter in Bastar district, then part of Madhya Pradesh, wrote, ‘A lopsided socio-economic development of the district caused by indirect exploitation through environmental destruction and direct exploitation through cheating and duping, has provided an ideal setting for the Naxalites to take root in the area.’

A point which is forcefully reiterated in Bollywood director Prakash Jha’s recent production Chakravyuh. Though Jha at certain points in the film seems to examine the question superficially especially the projection of the state government as no more than the minions of the corporate houses, nonetheless he still manages to put forth the point that development has to be oriented towards sustaining lives of people and not spurring the growth charts alone.

While explaining the reasons behind the origin of the Naxal movement at lecture on Left-wing extremism at Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) former union home secretary Gopal Pillai had talked about the loopholes in the Indian forest conservation act, the mining act, land acquisition law and power plant law among others. He said that unless necessary measures were adopted by the government in reforming these acts, it will not be possible to uproot the Naxal movement or any other extremist movement from India.

Drawing from Pillai’s lecture and also the findings of the conference, it would not be wrong to say that the need of the hour is to allow such development which sustains people in their social and cultural lair. Displaced and left uncared, these uprooted people provide ideal cadre for Maoist movement.

Having given a landholder-friendly land acquisition bill, the real challenge before the government would be to ensure that it’s not violated in course of its implementation. The bill provides for insulating the farmers from the bullying tactics of the private developers as its provisions now require the consent of 80 per cent of the landholders before acquisition of land for the projects which fall in category other than that of public-private partnership (PPP). However, for the PPP projects consent of only 70 per cent of land owners will be required.

Herein lies the danger as PPP in the recent times has proved to be a license for the violation government rules. The regulations regarding corporate social responsibility are being implemented only in the government sector and that too under not very ideal conditions. There is no mandatory monitoring of the responsibility being executed in the private sector. May be in exaggeration but Prakash Jha had a point on insisting that those in power should not be acting as minions of the
corporate sector.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post
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