More to Come
In the Constitution adopted
in 1950, it was clearly declared that
the control and ownership of material wealth would be so distributed as to protect the interests of the people at large, and the economic system would be so directed as to prevent concentration of wealth and means of production to the detriment of public interest. At the time of framing the Constitution, the right to property was included in the list of fundamental rights. This was cancelled through the 44th amendment in 1978. Prior to that, banks were nationalized and privy purses were abolished in 1969, and around that time, some laws were formulated in different states for land reforms. Yet the huge concentration of the means of production and wealth in the 67 years after independence is a stark fact. Right now there are a few Indian capitalists, e.g. Mukesh Ambani, among the 100 richest persons in the world. More than 30% of the national income is concentrated in the hands of the top 1% of the population, while the bottom 30 % do not possess even 1% of the national income. The yardstick of the poverty line has been repatedly altered and attempts have been made to show a reduction of poverty with the intention of pushing these 30% further down along the scale of poverty. Just from the official reports, e.g. the report of the Arjun Sengupta Commission, it is found that 78 % of the people live in a condition of dire distress, having been deprived from the basic requirements of living, namely food, housing, education and health care.
The process of concentration of wealth, which existed all along in the post-independence period, has intensified after the economic reforms were initiated in 1991. The post-reform period has witnessed an increase in the rate of growth of national income, but along with it an increase, in the degree of concentration of wealth in the hands of a handful of large capitalists. Plunder of natural resources in total disregard of the rules and laws of the country have played a large part in this concentration. These natural resources are water, land, forest, coal and other minerals, oil, gas and electro-magnetic spectrum. These resources, instead of being conducive to the improvement of the capabilities of the people-as directed by the Constitution-have become the tools of raising the handful of multi-milloinaires to the status of billionaires.
Reliance and Plunder of Natural Gas
One glaring example of the plunder of the natural gas of this country is grant of the contract of extraction of the gas of the Krishna-Godavari basin to the Reliance Industries owned by Mukesh Anibani, and to allow them to raise the price of gas at will and thus to reap huge amounts of profit. In the year 2000, an agreement was signed between the Government of India and a contract firm led by the Reliance. The British Petroleum and the Nico Resources of Canada were collaborators of the Reliance in this regard.
Various power generation enterprises and fertilizer plants are the purchasers of this gas, and if the price of gas increases, the additional burden falls on the consumers of electricity and the purchasers of fertilizer in the final analysis. The Government of India has allowed the Ambanis to appropriate many billions of rupees by repeated artificial price hikes.
According to experts, the cost of extraction of gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin is one dollar per unit (one unit= one million British thermal units). But in 2007, the Government of India raised the price of gas from 2.3 dollars per unit to 4.3 dollars per unit and now it is going to be further raised to 8.4 dollars per unit. Extraction of gas from the D-block of the KG basin started in 2009. The agreement on prices was due to expire in April 2014. In order to determine the price of gas after that, the Government of India, in 2012 formed a committee headed by C Rangarajan, which devised a formula. On 27 June, 2013, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs decided to raise the price of gas to 8.4 dollars per unit, which was to be put into effect on and from l April, 2014.
But meanwhile the Lok Sabha polls were announced and the Election Commission issued a stay order on raising the price of gas. A guess estimate about the possible additional profits that would accrue to the Ambanis in case the price is raised is that it would be about 200 billions per year. The decision of the Cabinet Committee has been, however, challenged at the Supreme Court. On 30 July 2013, Gurudas Dasgupta, a well-known former MP, filed a public litigation suit and then, a voluntary organization named Common Cause filed another. Prasanta Bhushan, the counsel for the latter, persuasively argued how the Reliance and the Government were hand in glove with each other, and how this nexus had successively raised the price of gas. He further showed how the Reliance had been allowed to retain possession of the oilfields that were to come to the government and could again be auctioned by the latter. In the report submitted by the CAG to the Lok Sabha in September 2011, it has been shown that the Reliance has illegally retained possession of an area of 7000 square kilometers of the KG basin, of which area 90 % should have come to the government within 2007.
A further allegation against the Reliance is that they have deliberately kept the output at a level lower than possible with the design of raising the price. On the basis of it, S Jaipal Reddy, the then Minister of Petroleum imposed a penalty of 1.8 billion dollars on the Reliance in May 2012. Then, however, Jaipal Reddy was removed from his position and Virappa Moiley was appointed in his place. Mr Prasanta Bhushan further contended that the Reliance was transferring abroad the money earned from additional profits through a fictitious organization named "Biomatrix'.
Owing to the PILs, the decision to raise the price of gas to 8.4 dollars could not be implemented. In the meantime, the Reliance applied to the Supreme Court for the appointment of an arbitrator, and the Court appointed an Australian judge. But the litigation is yet to be concluded, and it seems that this legal battle will be somewhat prolonged.
Meanwhile there has been a change of government at the centre, and it is universally known that all the large corporate capitalists of India, including Mukesh Ambani, provided large supplies of funds in order to enthrone Modi as the Prime Minister.Now the allegation is that it is they who are running the government. In a weekly named 'Janaswartha Varta', Subhankar Gupta has written on 28 June, 2014, that a decision was taken to appoint an IAS officer named Rajiv Nayan Chaube as the additional secretary of the Prime Minister's Office. The trio of Modi, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley took this decision, but it was not implemented owing to the alleged objection of Ambani. The reason is that during his tenure as the Director General of Hydrocarbons, he objected to the grant of lease, in violation of the rules and regulations, to the Ambanis for extraction of gas and crude oil in the KG basin. This explains Ambani's objection to his appointment in the Prime Minister's Office. Of course, it may not be that the work of the Prime Minister's Office will be dictated solely by the Ambanis, because Modi will have to look after the interests of the big bourgeoisie in general, not only that of the Ambanis. But there is no doubt that their opinions will get extra importance in the policy-making of the government.
Besides, some events dangerous to democracy and freedom of expression have taken place. Within two days of Modi's swearing-in ceremony, the Reliance has bought network-18 and become the owner of the largest propaganda medium of the country. Now the Reliance controls about ten channels, besides a few websites and newspapers. Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India, is now also the overlord of the largest propaganda media of the country. It is now easy to understand that these media are going to be the media for worshipping the Gujarat model and Modi. Thus the shackle of capital has chained the freedom of expression.
Seizure of Land and Displacement
The Chhotanagpur Plateau in the east, the Araballi Hills in the north, the Bindhya Mountain in the south and the plateau region of central India in the west that extends to West Bengal are the dwelling places of the adivasis. Similarly, this region is the principal repository of India's natural resources, containing about 90% of India's mineral resources. At the same time, this plateau is the source of rivers like Narmada, Sone, Mahanadi, Subarnarekha and is covered with forest lands full of diversity. Most of the steel plants, heavy enterprises and power plants that grew up under state ownership are located in this region. For these enterprises, large-scale acquisition of land took place. For example, 70 thousand acres of land was acquired for the Bokaro steel plant, and 25 thousand acres for the Ranchi Heavy Engineering enterprises. A large number of people, particularly the adivasis, were displaced owing to these enterprises. It is assumed that during the fifties, sixties and seventies of the last century, more than ten millions were displaced. Some movements and demonstrations against such displacement took place, but they were much smaller compared with large-scale movements and demonstrations of the post-2000 period. One reason for this relative inaction is that in the aftermath of the coming of independence, the people had some confidence on the populism of the state. Secondly, those enterprises belonged to the state sector, and one section of the land-losers got jobs. Yet it may be said that in general, the displaced adivasi/banabasi (forest dwellers) families were not properly rehabilitated. Many of them settled in different parts of the country as contract labourers.
After the introduction of the reform programme in 1991, domestic and foreign capitalists jumped to take advantage of the opportunity to get possession of mines, forests, land and water. Many private enterprises grew up in different parts of the country including those in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The District Collectors used the Land Acquisition Act of 1893 in order to acquire land for such enterprises. Protests were built in some places, but they were crushed by using the forces of the state and the private armies raised by the capitalists. In 2003, in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa, the local adivasis, resisted the construction of the Tata's project of extraction of Chromium and Iron ore, and the police of the Orissa Government killed eleven unarmed adivasis in a single day. Quite a few such incidents occurred in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh too. Many of the areas where such projects were built up are areas belonging to the Fifth Schedule, where the PESA (Panchayet Extension to Scheduled Area) Act is applicable. According to the PESA Act, the permission of the gramsabha is obligatory for acquisition of land. In many cases, the District Collectors, while acquiring land for the Vedanta, Starlight, Tatas and other large companies, did not care for the PESA Act. In some cases, the rnukhia or head of the concerned gramsabha was forcibly detained in the office of the District Collector and released only after he signed the document of consent.
During the period from 1991 to 2002, the first phase of the reform, natural resources like land, forests, minerals etc were plundered on a massive scale. In some places, possession of mineral resources was handed over to the capitalists at throwaway prices and local inhabitants were given nothing as compensation or rehabilitation. If the period from 2001 to 2011 is taken as the second decade of reform, it can be seen that during this period, the process of plunder has intensified, but at the same time, large rebellions against such plunder took place. These rebellions include those of Singur and Nandigram, Kalinganagar, Posco and Niyamgiri, the adivasi revolt in Chhattisgarh and the Raigad revolt of Mahrashtra, as also many revolts in Jharkhand. In many cases, such rebellions forced the state to abandon the plan of land acquisition, to alter the Land Acquisition Act, and to promulgate many laws and acts including the Forest Act. In the amended form of the Land Acquisition Act adopted in 2012, consent of 80% of the farmers has been made obligatory. Besides, villagers not owning land but dependent on land were also brought within the network of compensation, and the amount of compensation was raised. The Forest Act of 2006 recognized the right of the adivasis and traditional forest-dwellers to forest land and declared that no project could be built there without their consent.
An effective application of this act has been witnessed in the Niyamgiri Hill Region of Orissa. Niyamgiri situated on the border of the Kalahandi and Raigada districts of Orissa, has a hill rich in bauxites. In order to plunder this rich resource, the Starlight Corporation, an ally of the multinational Vedanta Aluminium, and the Orissa Mining Corporation, formed the Bauxite Mining Project. But the local Gondia Kandhs and other adivasis built up resistance. In the upshot, the inhabitants or more than one hundred villages of Niyamgiri voted against the project and it had to be abandoned. On reason that the voting could take place and the popular opinion was reflected in the rejection was the Forest Act. But that was not enough. The more important reason was that the people got organized and built up resistance. The lesson of the successful struggle of Niyamgiri is that unless the people are conscious about the injustices done to them, even the most progressive laws are of no use. Towards the end of the second decade of reform, the reform process suffered a strong setback. Scandals regarding the coal mine block and the 2G spectrum came to the fore and the misdeeds of the corporate-politician alliance got exposed. Strong protests came from the people, particularly from the middle classes whose voice and pen are stronger than others. The Indian big bouergeoisie got frightened and, characterizing the process as Manmohan Singh's 'policy paralysis', took up the work of creating a political ambience suitable for intensification of plunder.
The Indian capitalists’ plunders have not stopped at the plunder of land, water and other natural resources. They have plundered the money of state-owned banks. When a financial crisis erupted in the USA in 2008 and led corporations like the 'Lehman Brothers' to bankruptcy, many have thought that it would not affect the Indian Financial System. But in reality, many Indian corporate groups became indebted and defaulted on the repayment of large amounts of bank-loans. According to the findings of Credit Swiss in 1912, only ten large corporate enterprises of India took 13% of the total bank credits of India. These ten enterprises were Ambani, Essar, GMR, GVK, JP, JSW, Lanco, Reliance-ADG and Vedanta. The amount of the loan taken by them was 98% of the assets of the Indian banks. These corporate groups, although they earned huge profits, did not repay their loans. Now the public sector banks are suffering from the problem of unrecovered loans. There are many past instances of large capitalists not repaying huge amounts of loans, but the Government of India, instead of taking any action against them, has allowed them to take new loans. Already the Nayek Committee, set up by the Government of India, has recommended the privatization of the public sector banks. If this recommendation is implemented, the government funds accumulated over the last forty five years will be handed over to the corporate bourgeoisie, for plunder. The argument that the banks' functioning will be better if left to private hands does not conform to reality. Everybody knows how the banks operated before nationalization. When Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, he once inaugurated the formation of a private bank named Global Trust. After some time it went bankrupt and the Government of India had to take up its responsibilities.
In this connection, it should be mentioned that in the developed countries, the Governments have had to spend billions of dollars for the banks that have failed recently. Since 2007 the Government of Britain has spent about 250 billion pounds for meeting the liabilities of failed banks. There is no doubt that after the enthronement of Modi, the control by the corporate lobby of the Indian economy will multiply and the process of plunder of the nation's resources by them will intensify. It had already been said that in the second decade of the reform, there were large popular resistances to forcible acquisition of land, which in some places took the shape of mass uprisings. In this situation, the Government of India was compelled to partially amend the Land Acquisition Act. When the Bill was passed in the two houses of the Parliament, the BJP too voted for it, because it was afraid of being branded as pro-corporate. Now it is seen that the corporate bourgeoisie are creating pressure to cancel the amended Act, and the news is there that the Modi government is going to accept their demand. In the amended Act, taking the consent of 80% of the farmers was obligatory; the Modi government is trying to lower this ceiling to 50 percent. In the PPP model, there will be no question of consent at all, and the provision of compensation to farm labourers and other villagers is going to be abolished. This is exactly what was done in Gujarat. Now this Gujarat model will be implemented throughout the country.
Attack on Democratic Rights
Modi has been installed in order to put into practice those aspects of reform, which Manmohan Singh could not accomplish owing to 'policy paralysis'. For their sake, the big bourgeoisie are ready to accept everything—Communal riots, Hindutva or fascism. But it is known to all that a full implementation of the second phase of reform will invite opposition from the working class, the peasantry, the small traders and a large section of the middle classes. The bourgeoisie need to crush that opposition and to choke the voices of newspapers. But possibly it will not be needed, because Mukesh Ambani, by purchasing the Network-18, has become the overlord of the media empire. On other propaganda media too the influence of the corporate bourgeoisie is irresistible. If plunderers like Mukesh Ambani come to monopolize the ownership of the media and dictate editorial policies, very little will be left of the freedom of the press.
There has started a concurrent saffron onslaught on the world of education and culture. One Sudarshan Rao, who wrote that the Indian caste system is an excellent social order, had been appointed Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. According to him, some people, influenced by western education, decry this system. It can easily be assumed that now the Indian people will be asked to follow the Manusmriti instead of the Constitution of 1950, and the religious minorities will be asked to accept the life of slaves under the Brahminical system.
It is, however, a different question whether the Indian people will accept all these.
[Courtesy: Sramajibi Bhasa]
Vol. 47, No. 15, Oct 19 - 25, 2014