TOPIC: General studies 2
- Local Government & related issues
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these Vulnerable Sections.
Backing ‘demos’ and ‘kratia’—Power of the people
Supreme Court (2013)—
- Had directed that the smallest units of local governance use their powers and take a decision on whether the Vedanta Group’s $1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills should go forward
- All 12 gram sabhas rejected the project, forcing the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to withdraw permission for mining. The State government launched a fresh bid to overturn this by approaching the Supreme Court again in early 2016 (through its Odisha Mining Corporation)— Promises of a good deal as well as instances of everything possible to scare the Adivasis into submission through regular harassment (including imprisonment and killing of tribal members) by armed police forces
- The verdict (earlier) was not just a victory for the Dongria Kondh tribal group that had fought a long and hard battle against the project, but as a validation of the gram sabha’s powers under the FRA— among the first instances when the power of a community to provide or withhold consent for a development project was recognised. The Adivasis have stood firm in the face of this repression, and the Supreme Court’s recent decision is a vindication of their campaign.
March 16, 2016—Five Adivasi villages in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, unanimously vetoed the plans of South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL), a subsidiary of India’s public sector coal mining giant Coal India Limited (CIL), to mine their forests. These villages were Pelma, Jarridih, Sakta, Urba and Maduadumar.
March 23, 2016— The Kamanda gram sabha of Kalta G.P in Koida Tehsil of Sundargarh district in Odisha unanimously decided not to give its land for the Rungta Mines proposed by the Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha Limited (IDCO).
May 4, 2016—
- The National Green Tribunal directed that before clearance can be given the Kashang hydroelectric project (to be built by the State-owned body Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd. or HPPCL), the proposal be placed for approval before the Lippa village gram sabha in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
- The 1,200 residents of Lippa have been waging a seven-year struggle against the project as it would lead to submergence of their pine nut trees due to construction of the hydel project— deprive the local farmers of their livelihood
Unsatisfied—Spirit behind the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution
The amendments were made to move towards more direct democracy in villages and cities, which remained largely as a dream even after two decades of its acceptance (hardly been implemented). The development decisions have consistently maintained a top-down approach and have left the citizens devoid of financial and legal powers to find solutions to the issues.
Exceptions— where communities have taken power into their own hands
- Instances of tribal self-rule in central India;
- The partial measures of State governments like Nagaland with its ‘communitisation’ law,
- Providing greater powers over departmental budgets to village councils; and
- Kerala with its experiment in people planning
Forest Rights Act of 2006—
- The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, is a key piece of forest legislation passed in India on December 2006.
- The law recognizes the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India.
- The Act basically does two things:
- Grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities, partially correcting the injustice caused by the forest laws— to govern, use, and conserve forests they have traditionally managed and used
- Makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation
Rights granted under the Act?
- Title rights –e. ownership – to land that is being fared by tribals or forest dwellers as on 13 December 2005, subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family as on that date, meaning that no new lands are granted.
- Use rights – to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes.
- Relief and development rights – to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection
- Forest management rights – to protect forests and wildlife
- Right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity
- Rights of displaced communities
- The principle of ‘free and prior informed consent’ (FPIC)—enshrined in international agreements was reiterated most strongly in the recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- India has not yet brought this into its legislative framework, other than in partial forms such as the circular under the Forest Rights Act and the long-forgotten PESA
- Need to press for FPIC to be incorporated as a central tenet of all development and welfare planning; with widespread being a necessary step forward (owing to rampant dilution of hard-fought rights of freedom of speech and dissent, access to information, and decentralised decision-making)
- Deeper democratic reforms need to be incorporated in the developmental strategy as this would help ordinary people get political, economic, and legal powers through grass-roots collectives that enable them to take decisions affecting their lives. Such direct or radical democracy needs to be the fulcrum on which more representative institutions at larger scales would operate, downwardly accountable through various mechanisms.
- The alternative pathways of human well-being need to be brought into the mainstream, including forms of economic activity that are:
- Ecologically sustainable,
- Directly in the control of people rather than the state or corporations,
- More locally self-reliant
- Less dependent on fragile global webs of exchange
Connecting the Dots:
- Tribal rights can’t be pushed aside in the name of development. What do you understand by ‘tribal rights’? From where do these rights come? Why they need to be protected? Elaborate.
General studies 2:
- Geography – Key natural resources across the world (including India), exploitation of natural resources; tertiary sector industries – Transport (Waterways)
General Studies 3:
- Economic Development – Transport and marketing; market supply chain management; Infrastructure: Waterways; Tourism
- Environment and Ecology, Bio diversity – Conservation, environmental degradation, environmental impact assessment, Environment versus Development
National Waterways Act (NWA), 2016
In March 2016, the National Waterways Act, 2016, came into being.
The Act was introduced to –
- Make provisions for existing national waterways and to provide for the declaration of certain inland waterways to be national waterways.
- Provide for the regulation and development of the said waterways for the purposes of shipping and navigation and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Accordingly, the Union government plans to turn 111 rivers across India into national waterways.
Intent of the government through this plan:
Government says developing the waterways is our top priority
- India currently has five inland waterways while only three are operational.
- India’s Waterways has been a neglected sector due to lack of focus and policy measures. India is in the last position in the world in this sector.
- In China 47 per cent of passenger and goods traffic is through water, in Korea and Japan it is 43-44 per cent and in Europe it is over 40 per cent. In India it is just 3.3 per cent, out of which inland waterways account for a mere 0.3 per cent.
- Waterways have the potential to revolutionise transport. It could contribute at least two per cent to the country’s GDP.
- Waterways are cheaper than rail and road, less polluting and result in fewer accidents.
- Government is also planning to introduce sea-planes, water buses, hovercrafts and floating hotels to connect coastal towns to boost waterway tourism.
Concerns expressed over the government’s plans:
Opposition parties have expressed concerns over the Union government’s plans to turn 111 rivers across India into national waterways through National Waterways Act, 2016.
- the law’s impact on the already drying rivers
- the law’s impact on the rights of people and
- the power of the states to regulate the economy along the banks of these rivers
- Environmental issues and livelihood concerns that may crop up at a later stage
- With rivers drying up, artificially maintaining water levels in river canals will be challenging on many stretches
- The operations of a navigable river would alter the economics and ecology of the riverine system inalienably.
- It sets up competing demands on the stressed water levels with existing users, particularly farmers who need water for irrigation and drinking water demands.
What does making a navigable waterway require?
- It requires constant and steady water flow at a set minimal limit depending on the tonnage of weight to be shipped. This has to be managed artificially. The river has to operate like a canal.
- “This will involve the construction of locking barrages to hold water for vessel movement, concretisation and building of embankments to create port terminals, and regular (high-intensity) capital dredging of river sediment deposition along channel bottoms and margins.”
- Requires huge private investments and participation: for funding such large scale operations
What does the Environment Ministry say?
The environment ministry says –
- It will support the Waterways plan and while dealing with “clearance issue”, it will consider a “case-to-case basis” for clearances.
- Environmental feasibility of each stretch will be taken up only after detailed project reports are ready.
- Environment ministry to give piece-meal clearances to parts of a larger integrated project.
Tough task ahead:
- Environment ministry is yet to conduct a river-to-river study.
- The environment ministry should also consider the impact of thermal power and hydropower plants or mining on particular river basins in a holistic manner.
- The reports and recommendations of the Environment Ministry have often been heavily critiqued and never binding on the government.
Environment versus Development – Has government overlooked environmental issues?
All the above concerns and trade-offs have been treated by the government as a “clearance issue” that would be dealt with on a “project” basis.
The law and policy for inland waterways end up treating the question of environmental and economic sustainability just as governments have previously dealt with questions over exploitation of natural resources- an issue to be overcome when the time arises.
Case I: Hydropower projects in the Himalayas
- Early “potential” studies claimed more than 75,000 Mw was to be unlocked through several hundred dams. The idea, however, failed.
- Very little of that has materialised over the previous few decades with issues related to environment, livelihood and corruption, playing a central role in limiting the progress.
- Most of the hydropower projects that have come up for clearances have secured environment approvals only to face resistance and legal challenges later.
Case II: Coal block auctions and allocations
- Supreme Court judgement gave the NDA opportunity to account for environmental concerns while auctioning and apportioning the blocks anew. That did not happen.
- Instead, maximising the revenue potential became the focus and now many blocks are caught yet again in issues of rights and environment.
Will it be Case III? Will the inland waterways mega-project could go the same way?
Connecting the Dots
- What are the socio-economic and environmental challenges associated with development of government’s proposed new national waterways? Suggest some suitable measures to address these challenges.
- Government has planned to turn 111 rivers across India into national waterways. However, it won’t be smooth sailing for government’s waterways plan. Elucidate.
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