Archive for the ‘Column’ Category

BJP’s Attack On Indian Universities

January 31, 2016

The Right-Wing Attack on India’s Universities

AATISH TASEER

Varanasi (India), Jan 27, 2016: I met Sandeep Pandey days after he was sacked from his position as a visiting professor at a prestigious technical institute at Banaras Hindu University. We sat in a dreary guesthouse on the university campus. Mr. Pandey had just finished a long train ride. With his wrinkled kurta pajama and rubber slippers, he was every bit the picture of an old-fashioned Indian leftist.That was why he’d been fired. “Ideologically, I am at the opposite extreme to the people who are at present in power,” he said. “These people not only cannot tolerate any dissent; they don’t even tolerate disagreement. They want everybody who disagrees with them out of this campus.” Mr. Pandey was referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and — more to the point — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the B.J.P.’s cultural fountainhead.

The R.S.S., a Hindu nationalist organization, was founded in 1925 as a muscular alternative to Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement. Its founder admired Adolf Hitler, and in 1948 the organization was blamed for indirectly inspiring Gandhi’s assassination. The B.J.P. has not always had an easy relationship with the R.S.S. With its fanciful ideas of Hindu purity and its sweeping range of prejudices, the organization is dangerously out of step with the realities of India’s political landscape. When the B.J.P. wants to win an election, it usually distances itself from the R.S.S.’s cultural agenda.

Mr. Modi’s 2014 election had very little to do with the R.S.S. and everything to do with his personality and promises of development. But the R.S.S. doesn’t see it that way. Like a fairy-tale dwarf, the group has sought to extract its due from the man it helped into power. As payment for the debt, the R.S.S. wants control of education. Specifically, it wants to install its men at the helm of universities where they will wreak vengeance on the traditionally left-wing intellectual establishment that has always held them in contempt.

At a prestigious film institute, students are protesting the appointment of a president whose only qualification, they feel, is a willingness to advance the R.S.S.’s agenda. The group’s members have met with the education minister in the hope of shaping education policy; in states that the B.J.P. controls, the R.S.S. has been putting forward the names of underqualified ideologues for advisory positions on the content of textbooks and curriculums. It has also sought to put those who share its ideology at the head of important cultural institutions, such as the Indian Council of Historical Research.

This is the background to Mr. Pandey’s dismissal. His new boss, Girish Chandra Tripathi, the vice chancellor, is an R.S.S. man. The Ministry of Education helped push through his appointment after Mr. Modi’s election. One B.H.U. professor, who wished not to be named, described Mr. Tripathi as “an academic thug with no qualifications.” (He was previously a professor of economics.)

The new vice chancellor soon turned on Mr. Pandey. “It was all engineered,” Mr. Pandey said to me. First, the professor said, he was denounced by a student. Then a local news website printed a bogus story accusing him of being part of an armed guerrilla movement. (Mr. Pandey, a Gandhian, opposes all violence.) Soon after, the technical institute’s board of governors decided, on Mr. Tripathi’s recommendation, that he be fired. He is an alumnus of the university and a mechanical engineer with a degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He has won awards for his social work. None of this made a difference. He was given a month to clear out.

I thought I should speak to the vice chancellor. He was out of town, but came on the telephone. The mention of “Sandeep Pandey” was like a trigger. He told me that Mr. Pandey had questioned whether Kashmir was an integral part of India and he had tried to screen the banned documentary “India’s Daughter,” which deals with the infamous gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a physiotherapy student in New Delhi in 2012.

I must not have seemed sufficiently appalled. Mr. Tripathi tried a different track. He said, on hearing of my connection to an American publication, “Tell me, can you, being a professor in America, criticize the American government?” Yes, I answered. He tried again. “Can you,” he thundered down the line, “being a professor in America, teach what is against America’s interests?” I remembered a professor at Amherst College, my alma mater, who had once compared George W. Bush to Osama bin Laden. “Probably,” I said. “Well, maybe you can in America,” he said with disgust. “But you can’t do it in India.”

I had one last question. I had seen the vice chancellor recently at a religious event celebrating the university’s centenary, where the presiding pundit had claimed that ancient India possessed the science of gestational surrogacy. “We had these technologies, too,” the pundit said, “but over the course of a thousand years of slavery we forgot them. Or, rather, we were made to forget them.” Mr. Pandey, a man of science, had told me that Mr. Tripathi and his ilk were of the same mind as the pundit and even believed ancient India had possessed aircraft and ballistic missiles.

I had to ask. Did the vice chancellor really believe this? “I still say it,” he said defensively. I asked him to explain further. He said this was not a conversation to be had on the telephone. He would show me all the evidence later. The line went dead.

The problem with the vice chancellor is not just that he is right-wing. It is that he is unqualified for his position. This was never more apparent than in his total inability to grasp the value of dissent at an institution of learning.

Mr. Pandey has spent a lifetime working among some of India’s most voiceless people. It was sinister in the extreme that he should be dismissed for being “anti-national.” And that term is being bandied about far too much by the R.S.S. and its allies these days. The R.S.S.’s student wing at the University of Hyderabad recently smeared a 26-year-old doctoral student (Rohit Vemula) from a low-caste background as “anti-national” for his activism. The university decided to ban him from all public spaces. Earlier this month he committed suicide.

The R.S.S. has always been more of a liability for Mr. Modi than an asset. The organization has been waiting to introduce its radical agenda on the cultural and academic landscape in place of the Modi government’s promise of development. If Mr. Modi gives them an opening, they will bury him. They will reduce his broad mandate to the hysteria of a few. And, in the bargain, they will do immeasurable harm to the capacious idea of what it means to be Indian.


   Courtesy: nytimes.com

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Democracy in Neo-Liberalism

April 10, 2014

Neo-Liberalism and Democracy

Prabhat Patnaik

THE viability of democracy requires a belief among people that they can make a difference to their lives by participating in the democratic process. This belief may be a false one; it may be a mere illusion. But unless this illusion exists, people become not just cynical about the democratic process but despondent about their capacity to make any difference to their lives through their own efforts. Such despondency then leads to their quest for a “saviour” or a “messiah” supposedly endowed with extraordinary powers who can come to their rescue. They no longer remain “on this side of reason” but start moving into a realm of irrationalism.

Since in the period of hegemony of monopoly capital such “saviours” and “messiahs” are typically either manufactured, or propped up, or, even in those instances where they make the initial headway on their own, appropriated, by the corporate-financial elite, which uses for this purpose the media under its control, their rule becomes synonymous with corporate rule. And this constitutes the core of fascism. (Mussolini, it may be recalled here, had written: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”) The loss of belief among the people about the possibility of their making a difference to their lives through democratic political intervention thus creates the conditions for fascism.

The case of the Weimar Republic illustrates this point. There was a loss of legitimacy of the Weimar Republic in the eyes of the people, which arose from the fact that the burden of reparations imposed upon Germany by the victorious allied powers at the Treaty of Versailles made it impossible for successive elected governments to make any difference to the miserable conditions to which the German people had been reduced. This loss of legitimacy was a major factor behind the German people’s succumbing to the lure of Nazism.

But the failure of the Weimar Republic could at least be traced to the specific terms of the peace treaty (against which Keynes had protested at the time). In the era of “globalisation” not only is there a similar loss of belief among the people about the impossibility of their achieving any change through political intervention via the available formal democratic channels; but this loss of belief is reflective of a reality embedded within the system itself. The tendency under neo-liberalism in other words is to produce a conjuncture characterised by this loss of belief in the efficacy of democratic institutions among the people, a conjuncture that is conducive therefore to the growth of irrationalism and fascism.

Putting the matter differently, neo-liberalism tends to produce a “closure” in the realm of politics, where the political choices available to the people are all characterised by identical economic policies, because of which little difference is made to the material condition of the people by the political choice they exercise.

This “closure” is not just a matter of perception. Hegel had seen the historical process as reaching an end with the formation of the Prussian state. Classical political economy, which had been a parallel development to Hegelianism in the realm of philosophy, had seen the end of history in the emergence of the capitalist mode of production. But these were only perceptions. Neo-liberalism on the other hand works spontaneously to produce an actual conjuncture where politics tends to reach a similar dead-end: instead of opening up genuine alternative political possibilities before the people, it tends to close them, to make these alternatives indistinguishable from one another from the perspective of the peoples’ material condition. And the peoples’ frustration at this spills over into irrationalism, into forms of fascism. But why does neo-liberalism produce such a tendency towards a “closure”? Let us take up this question.

I

THE most important reason for it is also the most well-known, because of which we shall not spend much time over it. Globalisation entails the free movement across countries of goods and services, and above all of capital including in the form of finance. Since capital becomes globalised in this era while States continue to remain nation-states, state policy everywhere must be such as to retain the “confidence of the investors,” i.e. to cater to the caprices of globalised capital, for otherwise capital would leave en masse the shores of the country in question, precipitating for it an acute crisis. The desire to prevent such a crisis forces all political formations within the country, as long as they visualise the country’s remaining within the framework of globalisation, i.e. as long as they do not visualise a withdrawal from globalisation through the imposition of capital and trade controls, to adopt agendas that globalised capital would accept. This therefore effectively denies any political choice to the people. No matter whom they elect, no matter which particular government comes into being as a result of the choice they exercise, it willy-nilly adopts the same set of “neo-liberal” policies.

We have seen this in our own country, where the basic economic policies of the UPA, the NDA, and even of the “third front” when it was briefly in power, were the same. And even today when much is being made of the forthcoming electoral choice between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, there is hardly any basic difference between them on matters of economic policy. In fact Modi himself emphasises that his superiority over the UPA lies in his greater capacity for “governance” and not in any basically different policies regarding the people’s livelihoods. This only illustrates the absence of genuine choice before the people in matters of economic policy in the era of globalisation.

In addition to this basic factor, however, important changes occur in this era in the class structure of the country which also tend to preclude the pursuit of any alternative trajectory. The essence of these changes lies in a reduction in the strength of the workers and peasants. The fact that state policy tends to focus on appeasing finance capital entails a withdrawal of the State from its role in supporting and protecting petty production against the onslaughts of big capital. This exposes petty producers (such as peasants, craftsmen, fishermen and artisans), and also petty traders to a process of expropriation. Such expropriation occurs both through a direct takeover by big capital of their assets, like land, at throwaway prices, and also through a reduction in their “flow” incomes, and hence their capacity to survive, i.e. to carry on with “simple reproduction.” The dispossessed petty producers throng urban areas in search of work, adding to the number of job-seekers.

At the same time, the number of jobs proper scarcely increases in a neo-liberal economy, even when such an economy is experiencing rapid growth. In India for instance even during the period of extraordinarily high growth, the number of those who reported their “usual status” as being employed, to the National Sample Surveys conducted in 2004-5 and 2009-10, increased by 0.8 percent per annum. With population growth being around 1.5 percent per annum, which can also be taken as the “natural” rate of growth of the work-force, and with dispossessed petty producers adding further to the number of job-seekers, and taking the job-seekers’ growth rate well above 1.5 percent, a mere 0.8 percent growth rate in employment proper, must have entailed a substantial increase in the proportion of the “reserve army of labour.” This implies a lowering of the bargaining strength of the workers.

Added to this, however, is another factor, namely a blurring of the distinction between the active army and the reserve army. We normally think of the active army as being fully employed and the reserve army as being unemployed (or underemployed). But suppose in a workforce of 100, instead of 90 being employed and 10 unemployed, we actually have everybody employed for only nine-tenths of the time, then we have a blurring of the distinction between the “active” and the “reserve” army, through a different “employment rationing rule.” The increase in the relative magnitude of casual labour, informal labour, intermittent labour, “self-employment” that is not of the traditional kind (such as peasants) but constitutes a new phenomenon reflecting the absence of proper jobs, is indicative of this change in employment rationing rule. If the increase in the relative size of unemployment weakens the position of the workers, then this change in the employment rationing rule further compounds the problem.

Not only is there a change in the “employment rationing rule” there is also a change in the “employment rule” itself, where increasingly there is recourse to contract work instead of permanent work, “outsourcing” of activities to employers who engage contract workers, from larger employers who were employing permanent staff earlier to do the same work (the railways being a classic example of this), and so on. This too has the effect of reducing the bargaining strength and indeed the striking power of the workers.

Two other factors work in the same direction. One is privatisation which gathers momentum in the era of globalisation. The percentage of unionised workers is generally greater in the public sector than in the private sector across the capitalist world. In the United States for instance while only eight percent of private sector workers are unionised, the ratio in the case of government sector workers (this includes teachers as well) is about one third. Privatisation of government sector activities therefore has the effect of reducing the extent of unionisation, and hence again the striking power of the workers. The fact that France, more than other advanced countries, has seen in recent years a number of major strike actions is due in no small measure to the weight of the public sector in France being higher than elsewhere.

The other is the introduction of “labour market flexibility” whereby even the very limited protection (by way of a minimum period of notice to workers before dismissal) offered to a very limited segment of workers (those employed in factories above a certain size) is sought to be done away with through amendments to labour laws. This has still not been introduced in India, though the pressure for doing so is immense. This pressure for “labour market flexibility” may appear surprising given the limited numbers affected by this measure; but the idea is precisely to incapacitate workers who are in large units in key sectors and have the greatest striking capacity.

All these changes, in the composition, bargaining power and legal rights of the workers, have the effect of downgrading the power of working class politics. A weakening of trade unions also ipso facto weakens the political weight of the working class and its ability to advance any alternative socio-economic programme, and mobilise people around such a programme. Thus the increase in the political power of the corporate-financial elite, integrated to the world of globalised finance, has as its counterpart a decline in the political power of the working class, as well as of the peasantry and petty producers who are pushed increasingly into penury and distress. The era of globalisation thus brings about a decisive shift in the balance of class forces.

II

AT least two important consequences of this shift need to be noted. First, the decline in class politics is accompanied by a strengthening of “identity politics.” Of course the term “identity politics” is a misleading one, since it lumps together very dissimilar and even diametrically opposite kinds of movements under one single portmanteau term. It is more useful to distinguish here between three distinct phenomena: “identity resistance politics” such as what characterises the dalit or the women’s movements (though these too have their own specificities); “identity bargaining politics” such as when the Jats demand “backward caste” status in order to improve their own position by taking advantage of “reservations”; and “identity fascist politics” (of which communal-fascism is the obvious example), which, though based on particular “identity groups” and campaigning virulently against certain other target “identity groups,” is supported and nurtured by the corporate-financial elite, and has the effect of actually promoting corporate interests rather than of the identity group in whose name it is organised.

While these three forms of “identity politics” differ vastly among themselves, the decline of class politics has an important impact on all of them. It gives a fillip to “identity bargaining politics” by particular groups whose members can no longer act effectively through class organisations. It also gives a fillip to “identity fascist politics” because the hegemony of the corporate-financial elite requires the buttressing of such politics. As for “identity resistance politics,” the overall decline of class politics in the country tends to de-radicalise such politics too, and pushes it in the direction of mere identity-bargaining politics. On the whole, the decline in class politics strengthens those forms of “identity politics” that do not threaten the system, but that, on the contrary, reduce any challenge to it by pitting one section of the people against another. This causes a setback to the project, of destruction of the “old community” that existed under the caste-based feudal system in the country, and the formation of a “new community” among the people, that democracy demands.

The second implication is an expression of this setback; and that consists in a lumpenisation of society. The capitalist system has the peculiarity that its social viability derives not because of the logic of the system itself but despite this logic. A world in which the workers, uprooted from diverse settings and thrown together, are atomised and furiously competing against one another, which is what the logic of capitalism demands, would be an impossible and socially unviable world (because there would hardly be any “society” within it). Social viability under capitalism arises because against its logic the workers, initially unknown to one another, form “combinations” that develop through trade unions into class institutions, giving rise to what we called above a “new community.”

This became possible under capitalism earlier because inter alia of large-scale emigration from the metropolis to the new regions of temperate white settlement, which allowed the domestic reserve army to remain limited in relative size and trade unions to become powerful. Such a possibility of emigration does not exist for third world workers today; and neo-liberalism, as we have seen, enlarges the relative size of unemployment and weakens trade unions and the collective institutions of the working class. The consequent drift towards atomisation, the growing weight of the lumpen proletariat, the absence or the progressive weakening of social bonds among workers thrown together from diverse settings, produces a pronounced tendency towards lumpenisation. To be sure, such lumpenisation exists in all capitalist societies; but the restraint upon it exercised by the collective institutions of the working class in metropolitan capitalism, itself weakening under neo-liberalism, becomes ineffective in third world regimes that are under thraldom to neo-liberalism. The growing crimes against women in India today is not unrelated in my view to this phenomenon.

III

THERE is a further point here about the neo-liberal setting to which we must now turn, and this relates to “corruption.” Such an economy we have seen is characterised by a marked tendency towards the expropriation of petty producers by big capital. But petty property is not the latter’s sole target. It gathers for itself, either gratis or at throwaway prices, not just petty property, but common property, tribal property and state property. The period of neo-liberalism in other words sees a process of “primitive accumulation of capital” with a vengeance, for which the acquiescence or complicity of state personnel is essential. Such acquiescence is obtained, apart from the general element of compulsion that each nation-state faces in policy matters in the era of globalisation that we mentioned earlier, by the payment of a price which we call “corruption.”

What we call “corruption” constitutes in effect a tax imposed by the state personnel, including above all the “political class,” upon the gains of primitive accumulation obtained by big capital. It is instructive that all the big-ticket cases of “corruption” that have recently been in focus in India, such as 2G spectrum allocation or coal block allocation, have involved the handing over of State property to private capitalists “for a song;” and those taking decisions about such handing over, have got kickbacks that we call “corruption.” “Corruption” thus is essentially a tax on primitive accumulation of capital, and its recent spurt is because neo-liberal regimes witness rampant primitive accumulation of capital.

Such a tax, in the form of “corruption,” has to be seen in the context of two particular factors. The first is the commoditisation of politics. The very fact that different political formations, if they remain within the confines of a neo-liberal regime, cannot have different economic agendas, entails that they have to vie for people’s approval through some other means. These typically involve “marketing” themselves: by hiring publicity firms, by planting “paid news” in the media, by hiring helicopters to travel to as many places as possible, so as to improve one’s visibility; and so on. All these are highly expensive practices, because of which politics becomes demanding in terms of resources; and political parties have to somehow find these resources.

In addition, even as the “political class” needs more resources to carry on, it becomes less important in terms of its role in decision-making. Personnel from the World Bank, the IMF, the multinational banks and other financial institutions, i.e. from the “global financial community” in general, increasingly occupy the key decision-making positions in government, since international finance capital is loath to leave economic decision-making in the hands of the traditional political class. The traditional “political class” naturally resents this. It can get reconciled to this situation only if it is allowed to garner something for itself. And that “something” consists of the proceeds of the tax on primitive accumulation of capital, in the form of “corruption,” which it also needs in any case because of the commoditisation of politics.

“Corruption” therefore plays a functional role in a neo-liberal regime. It is not simply the result of a sudden loss of “moral fibre” in the “political class”; it is endemic to neo-liberal capitalism. The effect of “corruption” which neo-liberal capitalism generates is useful for the corporate-financial elite for another reason. It discredits the “political class;” it brings parliament and other institutions of representative democracy into disrepute; and, at the same time, through the skilful manipulation of the spotlight, through the media controlled by it, the corporate-financial elite ensures that not a hint of moral opprobrium comes its way for these acts of “corruption.” The “corruption” discourse facilitates the ushering in of corporate rule by dismantling potential obstacles to it.

IV

MATTERS in fact go further. We have seen that the period of neo-liberalism produces an increase in the relative size of unemployment afflicting the work-force, because of which it produces an increase in the relative size of the absolutely impoverished population. The petty producers, whether they linger on in their traditional occupations or migrate to urban areas in search of employment opportunities which are in short supply, experience a worsening in their absolute living standards. The new additions to the work-force experience worse personal material living conditions than their forefathers precisely because of the growing unemployment. And even those workers who happen to get proper employment, cannot maintain their real wages at the pre-liberalisation levels because of the pressure of competition from the growing relative size of the reserve army of labour. Absolute impoverishment, affecting not just large but growing segments of the working population, becomes the order of the day.

This is a point which Utsa Patnaik has been highlighting for long. Her calculations based on National Sample Survey data show that the percentage of urban population accessing less than 2100 calories per person per day (the official benchmark for “urban poverty”), which was 57 in 1993-94, increased to 64.5 in 2004-5, and further to 73 in 2009-10. The percentage figures for rural population with less than 2200 calories per person per day (again the official benchmark for “rural poverty”) for the same years were: 58.5, 69.5, and 76 respectively. It is noteworthy that the period of high GDP growth, within which the years 2004-5 to 2009-10 fall, witnessed a substantial increase in poverty. The increase in poverty under neo-liberalism in short is a systemic phenomenon rooted in the very nature of such an economic regime; it is not necessarily negated by high growth.

But the discourse promoted by the corporate-financial elite, and the media it controls, holds “corruption” as the cause of the people’s economic travails, and hence by implication, of the growing poverty. The blame for a systemic tendency under neo-liberalism therefore is laid at the door not of the system or of the corporate-financial elite that is at the helm, but at the door of the “political class,” and the democratic institutions including the parliament where it is represented. Thus the immanent tendencies of the system to immiserise the people are used ironically to buttress the system in the eyes of the people, to legitimise the rule by the very corporate capital that is at the helm of the system.

This becomes particularly important in a period of crisis such as what the Indian economy is currently experiencing. The period of high growth is over, which is hardly surprising: growth under neo-liberalism depends essentially upon the formation of “bubbles” based on euphoric expectations; the high growth phase in India was based on a combination of an international and a domestic “bubble,” which were bound to collapse sooner or later, and of which the former collapsed in 2008, and the latter has collapsed a few years later.

This crisis means that the rate of growth of employment slows down even further, worsening the position not only of the working people at large who were squeezed during the boom itself, but also of the urban middle class that was a significant beneficiary of the boom. But the discourse generated under the aegis of the corporate-financial elite exclusively against the “political class,” not only deflects the people’s anger away from the economic system and against democratic institutions including parliament, but creates the perception that a more “muscular” a more ruthless neo-liberalism is the need of the hour. And this, so the argument goes, is what the “political class” riddled with “corruption” cannot provide, while the corporate-financial elite and its trusted political agents like Narendra Modi, who are projected as “development men,” can. The path is thus cleared for corporate rule, i.e. fascism.

V

THE transition to fascism, needless to say, must not be seen as a single episode, an event that occurs when a particular individual comes to power. In this respect we have to stop being imprisoned within the 1930s paradigm. Already in India today there are vast areas, for instance in Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim youth can be arrested and kept in jail for years on end without trial and without bail, on the mere suspicion of being a “terrorist.” He cannot get legal assistance, because lawyers generally refuse to assist a “terrorist;” and those lawyers who are intrepid enough to provide legal assistance face violence at the hands of communal-fascist forces. If the accused is lucky enough to see the end of the trial after a decade or so, and luckier still to be acquitted despite the absence of proper legal defence, he still faces the opprobrium of being a “terrorist” in public perception and remains without a job; and no action is ever taken against those who had arrested and kept him in jail for several precious years of his life.

Likewise, well over a hundred workers of the Maruti plant near Delhi have been in jail for months on end without any trial and without any bail or even parole, on the suspicion of murdering a single individual (whom they could not have any conceivable reason to murder) without even any proper investigation.

Such a situation of what I call “mosaic fascism” already exists in the country. If perchance the communal-fascist elements, who are backed by the corporate-financial elite, come to power after the next elections, they would have to depend upon the support of local power centres thriving on the muscle-power of lumpenised elements, such as what we find in West Bengal. These local power centres are not directly linked to the corporate-financial elite and therefore cannot be directly called fascist; but they can help in sustaining a fascist system at the top. From “mosaic fascism” in other words the country could well make a transition to “federated fascism” without necessarily experiencing an integrated fascism in one single episode.

None of this, however, modifies the basic argument of this paper, namely that the “closure of politics” effected by neo-liberalism prepares the ground for a transition to fascism and that this transition gathers momentum in a period of crisis such as what we have today.

VI

THE question naturally arises: what can the progressive forces do in this situation? Against the perceptions of Hegelian philosophy and of English political economy about the end of history, Marx had seen the proletariat as an agent of change, not just for carrying forward history but for effecting mankind’s escape from the “trap of history” itself.

That basic analysis remains valid, and must inform praxis, notwithstanding the weakening of class politics that neo-liberalism has effected. This weakening, however, requires not only shifting into new terrains for organising workers, such as for instance organising hitherto unorganised workers, domestic workers etc. but also new types of intervention for class politics.

Class politics must intervene more purposefully in “identity resistance politics,” and lift it beyond mere identity politics. It must intervene more purposefully in organising the resistance of dalits, of Muslims, of the tribal population, and of women against oppression, and also ensure that if relief provided to a particular identity group is at the expense of another, then the latter too is organised to resist such passing of the burden. The difference between class politics and “identity resistance politics” in other words lies not in their having different points of intervention but in the fact that the former carries its intervention, even on issues of “identity-group resistance” beyond the “identity- group” itself. Put differently, the failure to intervene on issues of caste or gender oppression is a failure of class politics itself, not a symptom of class politics.

Likewise, class politics must address itself to the question of an alternative agenda. It must focus in particular, as a “transitional demand” in the struggle against the system, on the institutionalisation of safeguards against immiserisation as a matter of people’s “right.” For instance, it must campaign for the institutionalisation, and implement if given a chance, a set of universal rights, such as right to food, right to employment, right to free publicly-funded healthcare, right to free quality education up to a certain level, and right to old-age pension and disability assistance that ensures a dignified life.

All this may appear at first sight to be mere NGO agenda, having nothing to do with class politics. But the fundamental difference between class politics and identity politics or NGO-politics, lies not so much in the issues taken up, as in the epistemology underlying the engagement with these issues. Class politics, while taking up issues visualises the possibility of their resolution through a transcendence of the system; and this fact, far from being a constraint upon it, is what stimulates it to take up such issues. NGO politics on the other hand takes up only such issues, or issues only up to such an extent, as are capable of resolution within the system. In fact the argument of this paper is precisely to alter the perspective on class politics in this manner.

The argument that the country does not have resources to implement the demand for these rights is an invalid one. They would require at the most about 10 percent of the gross domestic product; and in a country where the rich are as lightly taxed as in India, raising the extra resources of this order does not pose any insurmountable problem. The real constraint upon their realisation is the neo-liberal regime, and that is precisely why the Left must take them up with purpose. And wherever it comes to power, it must work for their realisation by pushing at the boundaries of what is “permissible.”

What is required for this above all is not getting hegemonised by the logic of neo-liberalism. The condition for preventing the onslaught of neo-liberalism against democracy and for moving forward through a defence of democracy to a struggle for socialism, is to reject neo-liberal hegemony and to strive for a counter-hegemony against the ideas of neo-liberalism. Writers have a key role to play in this struggle of ideas.

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1) The constraints on mobilising workers in the era of neo-liberalism can be gauged from the fact that in the Maruti factory located on the outskirts of Delhi itself, a worker seen talking to a trade unionist or found possessing a leaflet faces the prospect of dismissal.

Natural Gas Pricing or Spectrum, Ambanis Rule

June 7, 2013

As an Indian We Cannot Allow Squandering of Our Natural Resources

Prabir Purkayastha

The Ministry of Petroleum, after its change of guard from Jaipal Reddy to Veerappa Moily, has been batting for a much higher price of natural gas. This is being supported by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Vice-chairman of the Planning Commission, while being opposed by the Ministry of Power and the Ministry of Fertiliser, both pointing out its enormous impact on fertiliser subsidies and electricity prices.
At a conservative estimate, we are talking of an annual net transfer of tens of thousands of crores from the pockets of the consumers to the gas producers, primarily Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited. And as gas and electricity prices are subsidised, it will also mean higher deficits for the government; an increase of gas prices will not only hit the common man but also government finances.Reliance had initially promised gas at $2.34 for 17 years to NTPC for its Kawas and Gandhar plants. Unfortunately, an EGOM, then headed by Pranab Mukherjee, raised the gas price to $4.42 per million BTU (mBTU). Reliance reneged on its contract with NTPC arguing that under the new price set by the EGOM, it could only supply gas at $4.24, leading to these plants being still under hold.

At the revised price of $4.42, under the profit sharing scheme with government of India for KGD6 gas field, a large share of profits would have also accrued to the government. To avoid this, Reliance took the simple route of gold-plating its capital costs in the gas field – it claimed that it would double its production from 40 MMSCMD to 80 MMSCMD by this added investment. In actual practice, the gas yield dropped to about 30 MMSCMD even though the capital costs went up by 4 times! The CAG submitted a scathing report on the actions of both the Petroleum Ministry and Reliance on which the government has yet to take any action.

If all this was not enough, the UPA government wanted to reward Reliance even more. It set up a committee under Rangarajan, the former governor of the Reserve Bank for fixing the gas prices. The Rangarajan Committee’s report makes strange reading. It suggested that Indian gas prices be pegged to a 12-month average of the price of LNG imports to India and the price prevailing in the US, Europe and Japan. Why gas produced in India should be pegged to the market price of imported gas or to gas prices in Japan and Europe who import all their gas, is impossible to fathom.

After all, gas found in India or in India’s economic zone in the seas is Indian peoples’ property. If we give a license to a private or a public sector company to develop such gas fields, yes their costs including reasonable profits should be compensated. But why should they make wind-fall profits merely because the international price of gas rises? In what way is the price of gas in the international market linked to the cost of producing gas in India?

International price parity to Indian producers would make sense only if they are importing the gas or if there are large amounts of raw materials they have to import. Such is not the case here. So why this need to peg Indian produced gas prices to international market prices?

The implications of the Rangarajan Committee’s recommendations are enormous. According to the Ministry of Fertilisers and the Ministry of Power, for every dollar increase in gas price per mBTU, the annual fertiliser subsidy rises by Rs.3,155 crore and the costs to the power sector for fuel increases by Rs.10,040 crore per annum.

The Rangarajan Committee had suggested a graded rise of the gas price starting from $8.8 to about $14 by 2017. Taking only $8.8 as the basis, the annual outflow in terms of subsidies to the fertiliser sector is Rs 16,992-crore and increase cost of fuel for the power sector is Rs 43,360 crore. We are talking of a total amount of Rs. 240,000 crores for the four-year period of 2014-2017. The benefit of this increased price to Reliance is equally staggering – it is of the order of Rs. 80,000 crores!

The Petroleum Ministry submitted a note to the EGOM headed by AK Anthony for accepting the Rangarajan Committee’s proposal of $8.8. Already, the Fertiliser and Power Ministries have submitted detailed notes on this issue to the EGOM opposing this move. Though the Finance Ministry had earlier rejected linking Indian gas prices to international prices, it has suggested a watered down formulae which would lead to a rise of gas price to the level of about $6-7. The basis of such a compromise formulae is again not clear. Planning Commission under Montek has more or less echoed the Rangarjan Committee’s proposal.

Initially, the EGOM lead by Anthony was supposed to decide on the price of gas as also its allocation. It is now understood that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs would be taking a decision on gas pricing, restricting the Anthony led EGOM to only gas allocations. It is also understood that Moily is now arguing for a lower increase, a price of around $6-7 initially.

The question here is not what should be the price of gas but the principle of pricing. Is it to be based on international market prices? Or is to be based on some concrete understanding on how we should price our natural resources? Tomorrow, shall we price our coal and also our drinking water on the market price of coal and water in the US, Japan and Europe as the Rangarajan Committee would have us do for gas?

The key issue here is the one of pricing our natural resources –- be it tangibles like coal, gas and water or intangibles such as airwaves. When it comes to airwaves –- the spectrum -– the government is arguing that it should be kept low in order to lower subscriber prices. When it comes to something even more basic –- costs of energy -– then it wants them to be linked to international prices. This might appear to be contradictory, till we look at the beneficiaries. In the case of gas, it is Mukesh Ambani, for coal or the spectrum, it is Anil Ambani. Ambanis’ interest drives this government, whether it is gas, coal or spectrum!

The Left parties have protested against this completely bogus proposal of linking gas prices to international prices. Tapan Sen, CPI(M) MP and a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Ministry of Petroleum has pointed out that in Oman, KRIBHCO and IFFCO get gas at 0.77 dollar per mBTU from 2006 and it has increased only by 15% after 6 years. Nowhere in the world is the price of gas pegged to international prices, except perhaps for some banana republics, which India is now rapidly in the danger of becoming. Gurudas Dasgupta, CPI MP, has talked in a press conference last week about this new mega scam and pointed out the adverse impact on the fertiliser and the power sector.

Moily’s response is quite amazing. He has responded by saying that since public sector companies such as GAIL and Indian Oil are major gas producers, they would also benefit and not only Reliance. The issue here –- which we believe that the Minister is not so obtuse that he does not understand –- is that while Government companies such as GAIL and India Oil may benefit but the Government will have to shell out even larger amounts as subsidies to the fertiliser and the power sector.

The distribution companies in the power sector are currently in the red by Rs. 2 lakh crores, a position which will worsen even more with this hike in gas prices. Already, 28,000 MW of gas plants are either commissioned or in the pipeline. All of them will become sick if the gas price rises beyond $5. We then have to either write off the investment in these 28,000 MW of power plants or subsidise the huge gap between the gas and coal prices.

Moily has also said that without raising gas prices to international levels, we will have to import gas which will cost us much more than current gas prices. Again, this is funny logic; we will have to pay imported prices for all our indigenous gas so that we do not import gas and pay imported gas prices!

Reliance is holding the country to ransom by cutting down on gas production and starving existing power and fertiliser plants linked to KGD6 gas field allocations. Reliance has cut down its production from 56 MMSCMD which it was doing at one time to about 34 MMSCMD currently. This has already impacted a number of plants, particularly in Andhra.

Tata and Adani had also adopted a similar strategy with success. They cut down their power production when the cost of imported coal went up and claimed that unless their contracts were changed, they would not be able to supply power. In both cases, nobody talked about the other solution. If KGD6 gas fields and Tata’s and Adani’s power plants cannot be run under the existing contracts, the government has the right to nationalise them and run them on its own. But then, under the current dispensation, nationalisation is a dirty word, while capital, as well capitalists are sacred.

The gas pricing issues brings out once again how deeply this government is compromised; or it is ideologically so blinkered that it does not see plain common sense. Knave or fool, take your pick.

McCarthyism, Mamata Style

October 14, 2012

McCarthyism, Mamata style

Badri Raina

Seeing red: Mamata Banerjee has gone as far as describing court verdicts as purchased, Commissions as useless and civil society groups as nuisance.

Recent events seem to suggest that the patron saint of paranoia has passed on the baton to the West Bengal Chief Minister.

    My alma mater, Wisconsin, is much in the news, sadly for some unlovely reasons; and some equally unlovely events at home remind me of one Joseph McCarthy who used to be a Senator from Wisconsin during 1950-1954, a period which has gone down in American history as the “Second Red Scare”.

    The first red scare is associated with the years just after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when the cry went up on the American mainland that “the Russians are coming”. Much of that has been captured memorably by Robert K. Murray in his book Red Scare: A Study in Hysteria, 1919-1920, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 1955.

    But returning to the second scare: it seemed to some American right-wingers that there was a Communist in every closet on American soil, rather a tribute to the influence that Bolshevism had achieved on both the European and American continents during the period between the First and Second World Wars. A no-holds-barred campaign was unleashed to ferret out these commies from all sorts of nooks and crannies. And the method adopted was of making accusations of disloyalty or treason without proper regard for evidence, a procedure led vociferously by Joseph McCarthy, whence the term McCarthyism.

    The witch-hunt led to thousands of individuals, among them Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Paul Robeson, Paul Sweezy and many other outstanding intellectuals and creative artists, being hauled up before governmental or private industry panels; the most infamous of these being “The House Un-American Activities Committee”. And most of those summoned found themselves answering accusation by insinuation, innuendo, third party rumour and so forth, with no evidence of actionable criminality. And never mind what Harry Truman had said on record: “In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have.”

    Recent events in West Bengal seem to suggest that good old McCarthy may have passed on the baton to our own Mamata Di. In disregard of Harry Truman, not to speak of the Indian Constitution, there is evidence now to believe that the holding of an opinion unflattering to the power-that-be in West Bengal in and by itself constitutes criminality, deserving of an “off with his head” form of justice on the instant.

    First there was Taniya Bharadwaj who was instantly branded a Maoist for asking a fairly innocuous question of the fairy queen on a TV channel, then the poor professor from Jadavpur University, Ambikesh Mahapatra, who was arrested for circulating a cartoon determined on the instant to be dangerously subversive of Mamata Di, and now a poor farmer, Shiladitya Choudhury, again, ah, a Maoist, or else why would he ask a question about the rising price of fertilizer, and his inability to obtain rice at Rs.2 a kg, as per policy. So off he goes too to the slammer, and no bail yet either.

    How “liberators” turn “oppressors” I was told in confidence by an erstwhile staunch supporter of Mamata Banerjee, the giant killer who it seems is sadly unaccountable to any democratic or legal norm.

    It will be remembered that before the last Assembly elections in West Bengal, when Mamata Banerjee was often accused of collusion with the Maoists, it was her riposte that there were no Maoists in Jangalmahal, and that the mischief was entirely owing to the cadres of the CPI(M). Now that the latter is out of power, it makes good political sense to reconstruct the enemy as the Maoist, since everybody knows how dangerous and outlawed they are.

    Mamata’s McCarthyist paranoia now seems to extend its reach. She has charged that judgements from courts are “purchased”, that Commissions are useless and wasteful (just when the West Bengal Human Rights Commission has ordered her to compensate Professor Mahapatra and his neighbour, Subrata Sengupta, for the unlawful excesses vented on them, and asked for departmental action to be initiated against two police officers in the matter), and that civil society groups are a nuisance without accountability.

    These accusations seem to take in institutions dear to the urban middle class’s heart, and it will be interesting to see whether those that sought “poribortan” for West Bengal had precisely this sort of package in mind. Indeed, there is speculation that where it took the Bengali electorate some three decades to be disillusioned with the Left Front, three years may bring them to reconsider the choices they must make.

    Given the assertiveness of Indian democracy, it would seem that McCarthyism of any sort must have a small shelf life, regardless of who its patrons are — a lesson that the Left seems assiduously to want to learn during its exile from power.


(Prof. Badri Raina is a Delhi-based writer.)

Courtesy: The Hindu

Capture of the State by a Small Coterie

September 21, 2012

A Case of State Capture

C. P. Chandrasekhar

    In a brazen display of authoritarianism, the politically illegitimate Manmohan Singh Government has announced, over two days (13th & 14th Sept, 2012), a set of controversial measures, varying from a hike in diesel and LPG prices to liberalisation of rules Governing foreign investment in the retail trade and in civil aviation and broadcasting. It has also announced its intention to launch a massive drive to disinvest equity in lucrative public sector corporations.

    The simultaneous announcement of this combination of policies flouts all democratic norms and is indicative of the capture of the state by a small coterie. It has been clear for some time now that there is little agreement across the political spectrum and within the UPA on the impact and advisability of such reforms. Hence, thus far the argument has been that measures such as these cannot be adopted till some consensus is achieved, if at all. Now in a cynical play of words a section of the Government, according to its Commerce Minister, has decided that there is indeed “consensus” on these policies even if no “unanimity”.

    The policies are ostensibly aimed at realising two objectives. The first is to reduce the fiscal deficit and release some funds for expenditures in support of private capital by heaping burdens on the working people and the poor, by cutting subsidies and engineering inflation. The second is to offer big capital new avenues for profiteering (as in the retail trade) or ways of recouping losses resulting from irrational behaviour (as in civil aviation), by allowing acquisition of assets in sensitive sectors by global players. This way of incentivising foreign and domestic investment through policies that redistribute income in favour of big capital and erode national sovereignty and policy space would, it is argued, trigger private investor interest and investment in a sluggish economy. However, the real intention seems to be to appease foreign financial and corporate interests. This was clear from the statement of the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission that this neoliberal thrust is needed to improve the ratings India receives from foreign rating agencies.

    What needs to be noted is that while these measures may set off a temporary speculative boom and deliver profits to capital, especially foreign finance capital, they would not do much to spur growth or stall the effects of the intensifying global crisis on India and would definitely worsen the position of the millions who still suffer from the worst forms of deprivation. The policies on diesel and LPG prices and other measures relating to subsidies would also stoke the already high levels of inflation in the country. The UPA Government seems hell bent on engineering stagflation.

    Since this is suicidal for the Congress that leads the UPA as well, the behaviour of the Government, to say the least is bizarre and inexplicable. The only explanation is that it has been captured by a coterie that permits profiteering through legal and illegal means and concentrates on appeasing foreign finance and favouring big capital, domestic and foreign.

The writer is currently Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Coalgate Scandal

September 6, 2012

বেসরকারীকরণের মাসুল হলো কয়লা কেলেঙ্কারি

প্রকাশ কারাত

    কয়লা খাদান বণ্টন নিয়ে সি এ জি রিপোর্ট আমাদের চোখে আঙুল দিয়ে দেখিয়ে দিচ্ছে কিভাবে দেশের কয়লা সম্পদ বেসরকারী কোম্পানিগুলির হাতে তুলে দেওয়া হচ্ছে, যাতে তারা সহজেই মুনাফার পাহাড় বানাতে পারে। সি এ জি-র রিপোর্ট অনুসারে, বেসরকারী কোম্পানিগুলিকে এইভাবে নিজস্ব কয়লা খাদান বরাদ্দ করার ফলে ঐ কোম্পানিগুলির পক্ষে ১.৮৬ লক্ষ কোটি টাকার মুনাফা করা সম্ভব।

    নিজস্ব কয়লা খাদান বরাদ্দ করার বিষয়টি হলো ইউ পি এ সরকারের সেই নীতির একটি অঙ্গ যে নীতির লক্ষ্য হলো বৃহৎ পুঁজিপতি ও কর্পোরেটরা যাতে সহ‍‌জে প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদ লুট করতে পারে। প্রাকৃতিক গ্যাস, জমি ও স্পেকট্রাম বরাদ্দ নিয়ে একই ঘটনা ঘটেছে।

    সি এ জি রিপোর্টে অবশ্য ১৯৯১ সাল থেকে কেন্দ্রে অধিষ্ঠিত সরকারগুলির কয়লার মতো প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদসমূহের বেসরকারীকরণের সামগ্রিক অভিমুখ সম্পর্কে কিছু বলা হয়নি। সি এ জি যা করেছে তা হলো ২০০৬-০৭ থেকে ২০১০-১১ সাল পর্যন্ত পারফরম্যান্স অডিট পরিচালনা করা। এই অডিটের আওতায় পড়েছিল ২০০৪ সালের পর থেকে কয়লামন্ত্রক কর্তৃক কয়লা খাদান বরাদ্দ।

    কয়লার ক্ষেত্রে এন ডি এ এবং ইউ পি এ সরকার উভয়েই একটি প্রতিবন্ধকতার মুখে পড়েছিল। ১৯৭২-৭৩ সালে কয়লাখনিগুলির জাতীয়করণ হয়। কয়লা খনি (জাতীয়করণ) আইন গৃহীত হয় ১৯৭৩ সালে। কংগ্রেস এবং বি জে পি নেতৃত্বাধীন সরকারগুলি যথাসাধ্য চেষ্টা করা সত্ত্বেও তারা ঐ আইনকে সংশোধন করে কয়লা উত্তোলনের ক্ষেত্রে বেসরকারী প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলিকে প্রবেশ করাতে ব্যর্থ হয়। বেসরকারী ক্ষেত্রকে প্রবেশের সুযোগ করে দেবার জন্য কয়লা জাতীয়করণ সং‍‌শোধনী বিল এন ডি এ সরকার ২০০০ সালে পেশ করে। কিন্তু তা আজ পর্যন্ত পাশ করা যায়নি। সে সময় কয়লা খনিগুলির আবার বেসরকারীকরণের বিরুদ্ধে দৃঢ় প্রতিবাদ জানি‌য়েছিল কয়লাখনি শ্রমিকদের ইউনিয়নগুলি এবং দেশের সমগ্র ট্রেড ইউনিয়ন আন্দোলন। বেসরকারীকরণের উদ্যোগের বিরুদ্ধে কয়লাখনির শ্রমিকেরা দফায় দফায় ধর্মঘটে শামিল হয়েছিলেন।

    এই অসুবিধা অতিক্রম করার জন্য ‘নিজস্ব খনি’ বরাদ্দের পথ বের করা হয়েছে। ১৯৯৩ সালে এবং ১৯৯৬ সালে মূল আইনের সংশোধনীগুলিতে ‘নিজস্ব খনি’ পাওয়ার অনুমতি দেওয়া হয়েছিল বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদন এবং সিমেন্ট উৎপাদন কোম্পানিগুলিকে। এর আগে ১৯৭৬ সালে নিজস্ব খাদান রাখার অনুমতি দেওয়া হয়েছিল লোহা ও ইস্পাত উৎপাদকদের। এখন আবার নতুন করে যোগ করা হলো বিদ্যুৎ ও সিমেন্ট উৎপাদক সংস্থাগুলিকে।

    ‘নিজস্ব খাদান’ বরাদ্দের ক্ষেত্রে নির্দেশিকায় বলা হয়েছে, যারা চূড়ান্ত পর্যায় পর্যন্ত উৎপাদন করবে, অর্থাৎ যেমন ইস্পাত বা বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদকরা তারাই ঐ বরাদ্দ পাওয়ার অধিকারী। কিন্তু ২০০৬ সালে একে লঘু করা হয়। এখন একটি মাইনিং কোম্পানির যদি ইস্পাত বা বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদনকারীদের কয়লা সরবরাহ করার কন্ট্রাক্ট থাকে, তা হলে সেই মাইনিং কোম্পানিকে কয়লা খাদান দেওয়া যেতে পারে।

    এই পথেই মন্ত্রক নিযুক্ত স্ক্রিনিং কমিটি কয়লা ব্লক এমন অনেকে সংস্থাকে দিয়েছে, যারা ঐ ব্লক থেকে কয়লা তোলেনি, অথবা অন্য কোনো সংস্থাকে বিক্রি করে দিয়েছে। ইতোমধ্যে সি বি আই কয়েকটি বরাদ্দ নিয়ে তদন্ত করছে এবং আশা করা যাচ্ছে প্রতারণা ও অন্যান্য অপরাধমূলক কাজকর্মের অভিযোগ রুজু করা হবে।

    নিজস্ব খাদান বণ্টন গতিলাভ করে ২০০০ সালের পরে। এর পিছনে মূল যুক্তি ছিলো, কোল ইন্ডিয়া লিমিটেড (সি আই এল) ও তার সহযোগী সংস্থাগুলি বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদন ও অন্যান্য গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ক্ষেত্রগুলির জন্য কয়লার ক্রমবর্ধমান চাহিদা মেটাতে পারছে না। কয়লা উৎপাদনে লক্ষ্যমাত্রা পূরণে ব্যর্থতার জন্য ইস্পাত, সিমেন্ট ও অন্যান্য সহযোগী শিল্পগুলির উৎপাদন ব্যাহত হচ্ছে। আসলে এসব অনুমতি ব্যবহার করা হয়েছে সুপরিকল্পিতভাবে রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত কয়লা শিল্পকে বানচাল ও অপদস্থ করার লক্ষ্য নিয়ে। সি আই এল-কে পুনর্বিন্যস্ত করার লক্ষ্যে পদক্ষেপ গ্রহণ এবং কয়লা ক্ষেত্রের দুর্নীতি ও অপচয় দূর করার বদ‍‌লে ইউ পি এ এবং এন ডি এ সরকার উভয়েই এমন এক পরিস্থিতি তৈরির চেষ্টা করেছে যেখানে বেসরকারী ক্ষেত্র আবার কয়লা ক্ষেত্রে প্রবেশ করে আধিপত্য সৃষ্টিতে সক্ষম হবে।

    নিজস্ব খাদান বেসরকারীকরণ রুটের পক্ষে সরকারের বিভ্রান্তিমূলক যুক্তিগুলি উদঘাটিত হয়েছে সি এ জি রিপোর্টে। সি এ জি রিপোর্ট অনুসারে, একাদশ যোজনা সময়কালে (২০১০-১১ পর্যন্ত) ৭৩টি কয়লা ব্লক চিহ্নিত করা হয়েছিল, যেখান থেকে ৭ কোটি ৩০ লক্ষ টন কয়লা উত্তোলনের কথা ছিল। শেষ পর্যন্ত মাত্র ২৮টি ব্লকে (তার মধ্যে মাত্র ১৫টি ব্লক দেওয়া হয়েছিল বেসরকারী হাতে) ২০১০-১১ সালে উত্তোলিত হয়েছিল মাত্র ৩.৪৬৪ কোটি টন কয়লা। নিজস্ব খনি ব্লকগুলিতে এইভাবে কয়লা উৎপাদনের ক্ষেত্রে ঘাটতি পড়েছিল ৫২.৫৫ শতাংশ। এখনও পর্যন্ত ৬৮টি ব্লকে কয়লা উত্তোলন শুরুই হয়নি।

    নিজস্ব খনি নীতিকে কয়লামন্ত্রক সক্রিয়ভাবে কাজে লাগানোর চেষ্টা করে যাচ্ছে। উদ্দেশ্য হলো, কোল ইন্ডিয়া লিমিটেড ‍‌(‍‌সি আই এল)-কে দুর্বল করা এবং রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত কয়লাখনি ক্ষেত্রের প্রসার রোধ করা। সি আই এল-র আপত্তি সত্ত্বেও মন্ত্রক সি আই এল-র আওতা থেকে কয়লা ব্লক সংরক্ষণ করার ক্ষমতা প্রত্যাহার করে নেয়। তাছাড়া কয়লামন্ত্রকের কাছে সি আই এল তার নিজের জন্য কয়লার ১১৬টি ব্লক (৪.৯৭৯০ কোটি টন কয়লা আছে) সংরক্ষিত রাখার যে আবেদন জানিয়েছিল, তা আজ পর্যন্ত ছাড়পত্র পায়নি। সি এ জি রিপোর্ট উল্লেখ করেছে, এর ফলে সি আই এল-র উৎপাদন পরিকল্পনা মার খাবে।

    সংসদে এই প্রসঙ্গে প্রধানমন্ত্রী যে বিবৃতি দিয়েছেন তা সমর্থনযোগ্য নয় এমন এক নীতির পক্ষে নির্লজ্জ সওয়াল। প্রধানমন্ত্রী এবং কয়লামন্ত্রকের দুই রাষ্ট্রমন্ত্রীর তত্ত্বাবধানে কয়লা খাদান বণ্টনের মতো ঘৃণ্য ব্যবস্থাকে এগিয়ে নিয়ে যাওয়ার চেষ্টা হয়েছে। ২০১০ সালে কয়লামন্ত্রকের একটি নির্দেশ বানচাল করা হ‌য়ে‍‌ছিল। কয়লামন্ত্রকের ঐ নির্দেশে বলা হয়েছিল, নিজস্ব কয়লা খাদানগুলি যেন তাদের জন্য নির্দিষ্ট কয়লার চেয়ে বেশি উত্তোলন না করে। ঐ নির্দেশে উল্লেখ করা হয়েছিল, অতিরিক্ত উত্তোলিত কয়লা যেন কোল ইন্ডিয়া লিমিটেডকে হস্তান্তরিত করা হয়। প্রধানমন্ত্রীর দপ্তর উলটে মদত দিয়েছে সেই সব কোম্পানিকে যারা অতিরিক্ত উৎপাদনকে কাজে লাগাতে চেয়েছিল। (‍‌‍‌সি এ জি-র আরেকটি রিপোর্টে সাসান বিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্পের জন্য নির্দিষ্ট কয়লা খাদানগুলি থেকে উত্তোলিত অতিরিক্ত কয়লা ব্যবহারের জন্য রিলায়েন্স পাওয়ার লিমিটেডকে অনুমতি দেওয়ায় সরকারকে অভিযুক্ত করা হয়েছে। শীর্ষস্তরে এই সাম্প্রতিক দুর্নীতি সম্পর্কে ইউ পি এ সরকার এবং কংগ্রেস-নেতৃত্ব দায়িত্ব এড়াতে পারে না।

    প্রধানমন্ত্রীর ইস্তফা চেয়ে বি জে পি যেভাবে সংসদের অধিবেশন বানচাল করার চেষ্টা করেছে, তাতে তাদের আশ্চর্যজনক ভণ্ডামি প্রকট হয়ে দেখা দিয়েছে। ‘নিজস্ব কয়লা খাদান’ পদ্ধতির অগ্রদূত বি জে পি। এরাই সংসদে কয়লা বেসরকারীকরণ বিল নিয়ে এসেছে। এন ডি এ সরকার ক‌য়লার দাম বিনিয়ন্ত্রণ করেছিল। তাছাড়া ঐ আমলেই সি আই এল-কে দুর্বল করার জন্য গুরুতর ধরনের বেশ কিছু সিদ্ধান্ত নেওয়া হয়েছিল। প্রতারণাকারী কোম্পানিগুলির হাতে কয়লা খাদান তুলে দিতে গিয়ে মধ্য প্রদেশ এবং ছত্তিশগড়ে বি জে পি সরকারগুলি একই পথ অনুসরণ করেছিল। প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদ লুট করার জন্য বৃহৎ বাণিজ্যিক গোষ্ঠীগুলিকে অনুমতি দেওয়ার ক্ষেত্রে কংগ্রেস এবং বি জে পি উভয়েই তাদের ভূমিকা পালন করেছে।

    এটা এখন স্পষ্ট যে, বেসরকারীকরণের যে ‘নিজস্ব খাদান’ রুট তাতে ঐ খাদানগুলি বরাদ্দ করা হয়েছে বাছাই করে, লঙ্ঘন করা হয়েছে খোদ কয়লামন্ত্রকের নিয়মবিধি, দ্রুত লাভের জন্য নিজস্ব খাদানগুলি অন্যদের হাতে তুলে দেওয়া হয়েছে।

    সি এ ‍‌জি রিপোর্টের ফলে যে শোরগোল শুরু হয়েছে, তাতে কয়লা খাদানগুলি প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলামের মধ্য দিয়ে বিলি করার পদ্ধতির প্রয়োজনীয়তা গুরুত্ব পেয়েছে। যদি দুর্নীতিমূলক আচরণ বন্ধ করা এবং বেসরকারী হাতে কয়লা বরাদ্দের ব্যাপারে অনুগ্রহ দেখানোর প্রশ্ন ওঠে, তাহলে প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলাম বর্তমান ব্যবস্থার তুলনায় ভালো বলেই গণ্য হবে। তবে মূল ইস্যু হলো কয়লাশিল্পের বেসরকারীকরণ হবে কি হবে না? সি পি আই (এম) ক‌য়লাশিল্প বেসরকারীকরণের তীব্র বিরোধী। সে কারণেই পার্টি কয়লা ক্ষেত্রে বেসরকারী কোম্পানিগুলিকে আনার লক্ষ্যে পথ হিসাবে ‘নিজস্ব খাদান’ (Captive Coal Block) পদ্ধতির ব্যবহারের বিরোধিতা করে আসছে।

    কয়লা হলো ফসিল জ্বালানি এবং এমন এক প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদ যা পুনর্নবীকরণ‍‌যোগ্য নয়। লক্ষ লক্ষ পরিবারে কয়লা ব্যবহার করা হয়। হাজার হাজার ছোটবড় শিল্প তাদের বিদ্যুৎ ও শক্তির মূল উৎস হিসাবে কয়লার উপরে নির্ভরশীল। সে কারণেই কয়লার ব্যবহার হওয়া উচিত সুপরিকল্পিত পদ্ধতির ভিত্তিতে। তাতে বিকাশ, স্থায়ী উন্নয়ন ও সমতা সুনিশ্চিত হবে।

    জনগণের তর‍‌ফে রাষ্ট্র এই মূল্যবান প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদ রক্ষা করছে। বেসরকারী সংস্থাগুলির অতি মুনাফার জন্য এই প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদ নয়।

    সে কারণেই কয়লা উত্তোলনের ভার রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত ক্ষেত্রের উপরেই থাকা উচিত। যদি বেসরকারী বিদ্যুৎ ও ইস্পাত কারখানাগুলির ক‌য়লা প্রয়োজন হয়, তা হলে সেই কয়লার বরাদ্দ হওয়া উচিত নোডাল এজেন্সি অর্থাৎ সি আই এল মারফত। এইসব সংস্থার ক্ষেত্রে কয়লার ব্লক নি‍র্দিষ্ট করা যেতে পারে। কিন্তু সেগুলি থেকে কয়লা তুলবে সি আই এল এবং তার সহযোগী সংস্থাগুলি। রাজ্যগুলিতে এই প্রক্রিয়ায় রাজ্য সরকার পরিচালিত মাইনিং কর্পোরেশনগুলিতে যুক্ত করা যেতে পারে। বেসরকারী ক্ষেত্র, ইস্পাত উৎপাদন ইত্যাদি ক্ষেত্রে বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদনের চাহিদাও মেটাতে হবে।

    বিশ্বের মধ্যে ভারতে ভূগর্ভে কয়লা সঞ্চ‌য়ের পরিমাণ চতুর্থ বৃহত্তম। বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদন ক্ষমতার প্রায় ৫৫ শতাংশের উৎস হলো তাপ বিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্প। অর্থনীতিতে কয়লার চাহিদা ক্রমশই বাড়ছে। বিভিন্ন কারণে কয়লা উৎপাদন এবং বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদনের লক্ষ্যমাত্রা পূরণ হয়নি। এই অবস্থায় কয়লা শিল্পের বেসরকারীকরণের জন্য উন্মুখ হওয়ার পরিবর্তে সরকারের উচিত রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত কয়লা সংস্থাগুলিকে শক্তিশালী করা, প্রযুক্তিকে উন্নত করা এবং আরো কয়লা ধৌতাগার (Coal Washeries) স্থাপন করা।

    প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলাম অথবা কয়লা ক্ষেত্রের জন্য নিলামের পথ গুরুতর ধরনের অসুবিধা তৈ‍‌রি করতে পারে। প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলামে বৃহৎ বেসরকারী সংস্থাগুলি বিশেষ সুবিধা পেতে পা‍‌রে। তাতে বেসরকারী একচেটিয়া ব্যবস্থা ও কার্টেল তৈরি হবে। রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত সংস্থা ও রাজ্য সরকারগুলি পরিচালিত সংস্থাগুলি প্রতিযোগিতায় দাঁড়াতে পারবে না। অধিকন্তু কয়লা খাদান বরাদ্দ করার অভিজ্ঞতা থেকে বোঝা যাচ্ছে, চূড়ান্ত উৎপাদনকারীরা যে এই কয়লা পাবে, তা সুনিশ্চিত করা যাচ্ছে না। প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলামের (Competitive Bidding) আরেকটি দিক হলো, এর ফলে বিদ্যুৎ উৎপাদনের ব্যয় বাড়বে এবং তার ফলে বিদ্যুৎ ক্ষেত্রে নিয়ন্ত্রিত শুল্কের উপরে তার চাপ পড়বে।

    যে সব রাজ্যে কয়লা উৎপাদিত হয় তারা সঙ্গত কারণ দেখিয়ে বলেছে, রাজ্যগুলির শিল্পউন্নয়ন এবং শক্তির চাহিদা মিটতে পারে যদি রাজ্যগুলির মধ্যে থাকা কয়লা খাদানগুলি বিলির ব্যাপারে রাজ্যগুলির বক্তব্য উপযুক্ত গুরুত্ব পায়।

    দেড় দশকেরও বেশি সম‌য়কাল ধরে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে বামফ্রন্ট সরকার নিজস্ব কয়লা খাদান বিলির ব্যাপারে যে অবস্থান নিয়েছিল তার উপাদানগুলি নিচে উল্লেখ করা হলো। প্রথমত, বরাদ্দের ব্যাপারে রাজ্য সরকারকে যুক্ত করা উচিত। দ্বিতীয়ত, রাজ্যের মতামত ছাড়া কোনো বেসরকারী সংস্থাকে সরাসরি কয়লা খাদান বিলি করা যাবে না। তৃতীয়ত, যেখানে কয়লা খাদানগুলি রাজ্য সরকারের ব্যবস্থা মারফত বিলি হয়েছে, সেখানে কয়লা উত্তোলন ও তার বণ্টনের জন্য রাজ্য মাইনিং কর্পোরেশন সংশ্লিষ্ট ইস্পাত বা বিদ্যুৎ কোম্পানির সঙ্গে‍ যৌথ উদ্যোগে আবদ্ধ হতো।

    সরাসরি প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলাম পদ্ধতিতে যাওয়ার ব্যাপারে বামফ্রন্ট সরকারের যে আপত্তি ছিলো তাকে বিকৃত করেছে দক্ষিণপন্থী ক‍‍‌র্পোরেট মিডিয়া। তাছাড়া বিকৃতি ঘটিয়েছেন অরবিন্দ কেজরিওয়াল এবং ইন্ডিয়া অ্যাগেইন্সট করাপশন গ্রুপের লোকজন। এইসব শক্তিগুলি জেনে হোক অথবা না জেনেই হোক, যা চাইছে তা হলো দেশের কয়লা সম্পদকে প্রতিযোগিতামূলক নিলাম মারফত বেচে দেওয়া এবং কয়লা শিল্পের বেসরকারীকরণের পথ প্রশস্ত করা। কোল ব্লক কেলেঙ্কারি মনমোহন সিং সরকারকে আরো কলঙ্কিত করেছে। এখন শুধু যে ‘সম্পদ লুট করো’ নীতির প্রণেতাদের চিহ্নিত করার সুযোগ এসেছে তাই নয়, এখন প্রাকৃতিক ও খনিজ সম্পদ বেসরকারীকরণের নীতি পরিবর্তনের দাবিও তুলতে হবে।

    কয়লা খাদান নীতির ব্যাপারে বেনিয়ম ও দুর্নীতিতে জড়িতদের দায়িত্ব চিহ্নিত করার জন্য উচ্চপর্যায়ের তদন্ত জরুরী। যারা দোষী বলে চিহ্নিত হবে, তাদের বিচারের ব্যবস্থা করতে হবে। যে সব বরাদ্দ নিয়ম মেনে করা হয়নি, সেগুলি বাতিল করতে হবে। যেখানে অতি অল্প সময়ে অতি মুনাফা হয়েছে, সেখানে সরকারের যে ক্ষতি হয়েছে তা উদ্ধারের জন্য ব্যবস্থা গ্রহণ করতে হবে।

    উপরের কাজগুলি করার পাশাপাশি সি পি আই (এম) এবং যারা প্রাকৃতিক সম্পদের লুটের অবসান চায়, তারা দাবি জানাবে যাতে কয়লার বরাদ্দ ও উত্তোলন ভবিষ্যতে রাষ্ট্রায়ত্ত ক্ষেত্র মারফত হয়।

Madam, It is High Time You Resign & Go

April 16, 2012

 

THE MORAL MINEFIELD

– Thirty-four years in thirty-four weeks

Ruchir Joshi

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Madam Chief Minister Banerjee,

    I am writing this letter to you on my own computer and sending it out for publication via my own email. I am not, and have never been, a member of any political party, of any communist party anywhere including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M).

    I am a citizen of India, of West Bengal, of Calcutta, and I live in the constituency you formerly represented as an MP — South Calcutta.

    I have also never been a supporter of yours or of your party, though I was certainly among the millions who celebrated after the election results last year. All of us were celebrating the end of the long, incompetent, corrupt, oppressive rule by the Left Front, even though I’m certain some millions of us were anxious as to what your tenure in power would bring.

    But we had believed in the hope of paribartan. I think we, the sceptical West Bengali millions, were hoping that you would lead a better, cleaner, fairer government than the disgraced, departing Left Front. In the euphoria of the election results it was impossible to imagine that you could do worse than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

    I myself made a resolution that I would not write anything critical of you or your administration for at least one year. It was only fair, given the huge mess you were inheriting, a mess that was not only administrative and financial but also, centrally, moral. The Left had so completely dismantled and thrown away all decency and humanity in matters of State that you could trace the roots of all their other failures to this institutionalized immorality; surely you had to be given a fair chance to begin to clean up this overflowing sewer?

    Sadly, despite my best efforts, I’m going to fall short of my promise by exactly one month. I am now forced to write to you openly in this column. Madam, in only eleven months you have proved yourself to be a grotesquely disastrous chief minister.

    Before taking on any of the other challenges, your primary challenge was the moral one: to stem the corrosion of morality and honesty in public service.  The Left had ruthlessly attacked anyone who criticized them, using State machinery to silence and sideline dissent, you were supposed to ensure that democracy and freedom of speech were once again protected, and yes, precisely, even at a cost to yourself and your party.

    Instead, we can now see that you yourself were already deeply corroded by those years of Left rule. Instead of being the chief surgeon who could excise and help cure the corruptions of absolute power, you yourself were terminally infected by the Baam Front rot, by their poisonous paranoia, by their vengeful megalomania.

    You and your administration have achieved what we thought was impossible in such a short time: you have actually increased misery and sadness inside the state, even as you’ve turned Bengal into the laughing stock of the rest of India. If, under the Left Front, the rest of India used to pity us and snigger at us, now the country is just laughing at us, belly-laughter mixed with open contempt.

    If the communists spent the last fourteen years of their rule doing nothing other than clinging on to power by whatever means, fair or foul, it was after they had tried to actually do something for the people for the first twenty years, even if they were wrong-headed, even if they were incompetent and without any genuine vision, even as their too-long reign began to inject acid into their souls and spines. What we did not foresee, what is truly terrifying, is that you seem to have scrunched that trajectory of thirty-four years into thirty-four weeks.

Madam, perhaps it might be time for you to resign and go.

    Had someone in your administration, whoever was in charge of fire safety, taken responsibility and resigned after the AMRI fire, it may not have come to this. Had you fought your own rising paranoia and kept from commenting after the Park Street rape, it may not have come to this. Had you realized that you had not only offended the modesty of a rape victim but the collective conscience of Bengal and unreservedly apologized to the woman, it may not have come to this. Had you not transferred the police officer who proved that rape, you could have perhaps escaped this situation. Had you kept from compounding your mistake by similar irresponsible and callous comments about other assaults on women, or on the murders in Burdwan, it may have been different now. Had you not treated every bit of tragic news as only a lens through which to gaze lovingly and protectively at yourself, you may still have kept some credibility. Had you avoided attacking newspapers and TV channels that were critical of you, you would have been left with some democratic honour. Had you not pushed out your own minister from the door of the runaway train of your rule, there would have been no mild photo-cartoon sent to 25 of the 90 million people you rule and no criminal over-reaction from your party goondas and your paaltu police. As it is, you now oblige us to remember that adage about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as a farce: if the Left Front was the tragedy, you — and since there is no one but you in your Trinamul, you, solely — are the macabre farce.

    Madam, one of the most bizarrely funny things you’ve kept repeating during your election campaign and afterwards is how you want to turn Calcutta into London. Well, perhaps it’s high time we imported some aspects of London culture. For instance, let me tell you how the last four British prime ministers have been portrayed in cartoons in London newspapers: John Major, always wearing his underpants outside his trousers; Tony Blair, as a one-eyed monster, sometimes as a one-eyed poodle trotting after George W. Bush; Gordon Brown, as a square, financial thug and bouncer; David Cameron, repeatedly, as an empty, blown-up condom. Along with these, they have also repeatedly had George Bush as a rampant, psychopathic chimpanzee, (once actually wiping his bottom with the UN logo), they’ve had Nicolas Sarkozy as all sorts of ferret-like animals, Berlusconi as a lecherous octopus and, recently, Angela Merkel as a dominatrix in skimpy black leather costume and fishnet stockings, wielding a financial whip over the exposed backsides of other European leaders. Besides this, one of the most widely read British satirical magazines, Private Eye, almost always has actual photographs of leaders and royalty with fictional speech bubbles coming out of their mouths, saying the most outrageous things. Let me tell you, no one has ever sued about these portrayals, no one is beaten up, no one is arrested, no one even lodges a written protest.

    Madam, as one who had set such high hopes in you, I might be speaking for millions like myself: you need to resign and go, leaving us at the beginning of this Bangla new year to recover the best we can. May I suggest that after you resign, you plan a short or long visit to London? You will find they actually do dynamic new things to the city, like the huge Crossrail construction that’s now in progress, but that no one, neither premier nor mayor, can unilaterally decide to paint the city a bilious blue. You will also find they take rape and assault very seriously over there, and cartoons very lightly indeed. As you take in the reality of this culture and the courage of this freedom of speech, may I hope that you will begin to realize why you never deserved — forget being a world or national leader — but why you never actually deserved to be in charge of a state such as Bengal for even thirty-four days?

Courtesy: The Telegraph

USA Increases Crude Production after 2 Decades

March 25, 2012

 

US ‘fuels’ self-reliance dream

PUMPING UP from Texas to Dakota, oil & gas industry is vastly increasing production, reversing two decades of decline

Clifford Krauss and Eric Lipton, New York Times

    March 25, 2012: The desolate stretch of West Texas desert known as the Permian Basin is still the lonely domain of scurrying roadrunners by day and howling coyotes by night. But the roar of scores of new oil rigs and the distinctive acrid fumes of drilling equipment are unmistakable signs that crude is gushing again.

usfuel 

   And not just here. Across the country, the oil and gas industry is vastly increasing production, reversing two decades of decline. Using new technology and spurred by rising oil prices since the mid-2000s, the industry is extracting millions of barrels more a week, from the deepest waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the prairies of North Dakota.

    At the same time, Americans are pumping significantly less gasoline. While that is partly a result of the recession and higher gasoline prices, people are also driving fewer miles and replacing older cars with more fuel-efficient vehicles at a greater clip, federal data show.

    Taken together, the increasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources, a milestone that could reconfigure American foreign policy, the economy and more. In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

    "There is no question that many national security policy makers will believe they have much more flexibility and will think about the world differently if the United States is importing a lot less oil," said Michael A. Levi, an energy and environmental senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "For decades, consumption rose, production fell and imports increased, and now every one of those trends is going the other way."

    How the country made this turnabout is a story of industry-friendly policies started by President Bush and largely continued by President Obama – many over the objections of environmental advocates – as well as technological advances that have allowed the extraction of oil and gas once considered too difficult and too expensive to reach. But mainly it is a story of the complex economics of energy, which sometimes seems to operate by its own rules of supply and demand.

    With gasoline prices now approaching record highs and politicians mud-wrestling about the causes and solutions, the effects of the longer-term rise in production can be difficult to see.

    Simple economics suggests that if the nation is producing more energy, prices should be falling. But crude oil – and gasoline and diesel made from it – are global commodities whose prices are affected by factors around the world. Supply disruptions in Africa, the political standoff with Iran and rising demand from a recovering world economy all are contributing to the current spike in global oil prices, offsetting the impact of the increased domestic supply.

    But the domestic trends are unmistakable. Not only has the US reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20% in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gas industry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia.

    National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels – which would put the US in the same league as Saudi Arabia.

    This surge is hardly without consequences. Some areas of intense drilling activity, including northeastern Utah and central Wyoming, have experienced air quality problems. The drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses highly pressurized water, sand and chemical lubricants that help force more oil and gas from rock formations, has also been blamed for wastewater problems. Wildlife experts also warn that expanded drilling is threatening habitats of rare or endangered species.

    Greater energy independence is "a prize that has long been eyed by oil insiders and policy strategists that can bring many economic and national security benefits," said Jay Hakes, a senior official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration. "But we will have to work through the environmental issues, which are a definite challenge."

    The increased production of fossil fuels is a far cry from the energy plans President Obama articulated as a candidate in 2008. Then, he promoted policies to help combat global warming, including vast investments in renewable energy and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that would have discouraged the use of fossil fuels.

    More recently, with gasoline prices rising and another election looming, Obama has struck a different chord. He has opened new federal lands and waters to drilling, trumpeted increases in oil and gas production and de-emphasized the challenges of climate change.

The foundation is laid
    For as long as roughnecks have worked the Permian Basin – made famous during World War II as the fuel pump that powered the Allies – they have mostly focused on relatively shallow zones of easily accessible, oil-soaked sandstone and silt. But after 80 years of pumping, those regions were running dry.

    So in 2003, Jim Henry, a West Texas oilman, tried a bold experiment. Borrowing an idea from a fellow engineer, his team at Henry Petroleum drilled deep into a hard limestone formation using a refinement of fracking. By blasting millions of gallons of water into the limestone, they created tiny fissures that allowed oil to break free, a technique that had previously been successful in extracting gas from shale.

    The test produced 150 barrels of oil a day, three times more than normal. "We knew we had the biggest discovery in over 50 years in the Permian Basin," Mr. Henry recalled.

    The measures primed the pump for the burst in drilling that began once oil prices started rising sharply in 2005 and 2006. With the world economy humming – and China, India and other developing nations posting astonishing growth – demand for oil began outpacing the easily accessible supplies.

An American oil boom
    The last time the Permian Basin oil fields enjoyed a boom – nearly three decades ago – Rolls-Royce opened a showroom in the desert, Champagne was poured from cowboy boots, and the local airport could not accommodate all the Learjets taking off for Las Vegas on weekends.

A turn toward efficiency
    As Americans replace their older cars – they have bought an average of 1.25 million new cars and light trucks a month this year – new technologies mean they usually end up with a more efficient vehicle, even if they buy a model of similar size and power.

    Longer-term social and economic factors are also reducing miles driven – like the rise in Internet shopping and telecommuting and the tendency of baby boomers to drive less as they age.

India’s Food Crisis Has Many Ingredients

October 2, 2011

India’s government is drafting a food security bill, but there are other areas it must address if it is to halt rising hunger levels

Nilajana Bhowmick

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Indian vegetable vendors at a street side stall in Kolkata

    Gurwa Ahirwar, of Akona village in Chhatarpur district in Bundelkhand, is in his late 60s. He lives with his wife and his three grandsons. The rest of his family, his two sons and daughter-in-law, migrated to Delhi to work. Most families in Akona are left with only the elderly and the children. The young have left in search of work in the cities after continuous drought in the last few years caused crops to fail.

    Bundelkhand lies mainly in Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state in India and the one that contains the greatest concentration of hungry people in the country. The Indian State Hunger Index released in 2008 placed Madhya Pradesh in the "extremely alarming" hunger category. The state is a glaring example of everything that is wrong with India’s poverty elimination efforts.

    Of the 118 countries on the global hunger index, India ranks 98th, with 214 million people going hungry. Millennium development goal 1, which looks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and provide food security by 2015, is miles off.

    In 1993-94, 44.6% of people were living at below the poverty line in Madhya Pradesh. If MDG targets are to be met, that figure must go down to 22.3% by 2015. Yet, according to new poverty estimates produced by a government fact-finding commission, poverty in the state has increased by 4% to 48.6%. A survey by a local NGO revealed 83% of children are undernourished and most families go to bed on an empty stomach.

    The extent of India’s hunger problem is perhaps most evident in its children. Biraj Patnaik, national adviser to the Right to Food campaign, says: "India has the highest burden of child malnutrition in the world. You find that almost a third of Indian babies are born with low birth weight and this is a very high number. Lack of access to food, no access to drinking water, lack of sanitation facilities and gender inequity – these all contribute to child malnutrition, which again stems from hunger and poverty."

    According to the development economist Jean Dreze, the most serious nutrition challenge in India is to reach out to children under three. "It is well known that if a child is undernourished by age three, it is very difficult to repair the damage after that," says Dreze. "Yet most infants and young children continue to be exposed to undernutrition and remain beyond the reach of public intervention."

    However, the way in which public intervention is managed – and the attitudes that shape it – are themselves sometimes blamed for the worsening of the problem.

Agriculture spending

    A key factor in India’s plight has been the government’s espousal of development at the cost of agriculture – the mainstay of people in the rural areas. Nationally, agriculture provides 67% of employment. In the last financial year, the Indian government provided around 500,000 crores (US$112bn) of subsidies and exemptions to the industrial and corporate sector, which contributes just 22% to the employment sector, while government expenditure on agriculture declined by 4.3%.

    India’s hunger problem has also been compounded by the high price of food over the last couple of years. A report on consumption patterns in rural India by the National Sample Survey Organisation shows a decline of 1.97%. In 2005-06, an average of 11.9kg of food grain was consumed per month, per family member, at a cost of 106 rupees ($2.38). In 2006-07, that figure came down to 11.69kg, with the cost of food increasing to 115 rupees ($2.58).

    Some blame rise in food prices on hoarding by the government. To give one example, India produces around 600 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables out of which 25% to 30% is wasted due to inadequate logistical support. While inflation has clearly played a part, the food crisis is part of a wider failure of the government to ensure people’s entitlements to food. Many welfare schemes have failed to reach the poorest because of corruption, for example, and some policies have simply failed to take account of local needs.

Welfare to work

    One such scheme is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which came into being in 2005. The scheme ensures rural people livelihood security by guaranteeing them 100 days of work every year. Under the terms of NREGA, every rural Indian has the right to work within 15 days of requesting it and without having to travel more than three miles outside their village.

    Dreze, one of the chief architects of the programme, says that it provides employment to 50 million poor people every year, but he admits that the implementation has been faulty.

    "NREGA is a pro-worker law implemented by an anti-worker system," he says. "One manifestation of this is the systematic resistance of the administration to any sort of accountability. All the accountability provisions – unemployment allowance, compensation for delayed payments, penalty clauses – have been sidelined. This defeats the purpose of the act."

    Under pressure from civil society, the Indian government is formulating a food security bill, which will make access to food a legally enforceable constitutional right, like the right to life.

    Contained in the bill, which is being drafted by the National Advisory Council and backed by the chairwoman of the ruling UPA, Sonia Gandhi, is making access to food a legally enforceable constitutional right. In the first phase, the draft proposal outlines subsidised food for 72% of the population by 2011-12.

    However, with the World Bank recently warning that 60% of the country’s food subsidies do not reach the poor, it is high time the government made some fundamental changes. Reforming the faltering public distribution system, which it plans to universalise under the new bill, enhancing support for farmers, and improving storage and transport may go some way to reduce wastage and pave the way for long-term food security.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Arundhati Roy’s Embedded Essay

September 23, 2011

Sudhanva Deshpande

Sudhanva Deshpande comments on the "embedded journalism" of Arundhati Roy in Maoist territory. A shorter version of the article has appeared in the Outlook Magazine.

‘Embedded journalism refers to news reporters being attached to military units involved in armed conflicts. . . . Gina Cavallaro, a reporter for the Army Times, said, “They’re [the journalists] relying more on the military to get them where they want to go, and as a result, the military is getting smarter about getting its own story told.”’                – Wikipedia

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    It was early morning, about 5, and I was waiting at the station for the train to arrive. As the book stall opened, I dove into the Hindi pulp fiction section. Surendra Mohan Pathak’s first two Vimal thrillers, in a single volume, beckoned me. As I paid for the book, Arundhati Roy’s name leapt out at me from the cover of Outlook. It was her long essay on the Maoists.

    Whether we agree with Roy or not we read her because she surprises us. There is always some statistic, some quotation, some ironic observation, that makes one say, ‘Hey, I hadn’t thought of that before’. This time though, I found myself being disappointed by her. It is almost a cliché of such reportage (of a writer’s encounter with an underground group) to begin with the rendezvous and end on a note of wistful longing. Roy does both. Come on Arundhati, I wanted to say, surprise us – for clichés I can read Surendra Mohan Pathak.

    One is of course glad that voices like hers exist, and that she commands enough star value for Outlook to bill their issue a ‘collector’s item’. Roy writes with feeling, and she is superb at catching irony – e.g., the description of Dantewada as a border town smack in the centre of India, or the Indian rulers’ adoption of China’s path as their own path. Her writing is poetic, it seduces. Even when you are not persuaded by the argument, you want to side with her.

    In this essay, she introduces us to a veritable cast of characters: Comrade Maase, who ‘seems to have to swim through a layer of pain to enter the conversation’; the senior Comrade Venu (Sushil, Sonu, Murali) who ‘looks for all the world like a frail village schoolteacher’; Comrade Sukhdev, ‘a crazy workaholic’; Comrade Kamla, who prefers watching ‘ambush videos’ to Hindi movies.

    Er . . . ambush videos? Roy describes one, which starts with ‘shots of Dandakaranya, rivers, waterfalls, the close-up of a bare branch of a tree, a brainfever bird calling. Then suddenly a comrade is wiring up an IED, concealing it with dry leaves. A cavalcade of motorcycles is blown up. There are mutilated bodies and burning bikes. The weapons are being snatched. Three policemen, looking shell-shocked, have been tied up.’ Roy was outraged and shocked, as all of us were, when Hindutva goons reportedly videographed violence against Muslims in Gujarat and these videos then did the rounds of lending libraries. Comrade Kamla, who only likes watching ‘ambush videos’ of ‘mutilated bodies and burning bikes’, is marching, Roy wants to persuade us, ‘to keep hope alive for us all’. Some ironies escape the best writers, it seems.

    Consider the joke she recounts at the end of the essay. Sukhdev asks her if she knows what to do if they come under fire. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘immediately declare an indefinite hunger strike.’ Sukhdev laughs so hard he has to sit.

    So what is Sukhdev laughing at? At Roy’s writerly wit? Or at her scorn for ‘indefinite hunger strikes’? In an earlier day and age, Roy helped focus the world’s attention on a massive, peaceful, neo-Gandhian protest against destruction in the name of development. On countless occasions, hundreds of thousands of people took part in ‘indefinite hunger strikes’ and other forms of non-violent and moral resistance. One may or may not have agreed with every aspect of their, and Roy’s, critique. But the moral force of their argument was unquestioned. By recounting her joke without irony, however, Roy mocks her own past, her commitment to a movement she was (and is?) so passionate about.

    Reading Roy, one is struck by her refusal to debate. She sees nothing wrong in the Maoists becoming a handmaiden of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal to exterminate cadres of the CPI (M), mostly tribals, Muslims, and other rural poor. Well, ok. But what about the critics of the CPI (M) who are also the critics of the Maoists? Recently, several articles in the Economic and Political Weekly posed probing questions about whether we have reached the limits of bourgeois democracy in India, about the Maoists’ belief in violence as the only instrument of change, the sheer brutality of their violence, their penchant of taking over peaceful resistance, their intolerance of dissent and debate, their programmatic understanding of the Indian revolution, etc. Aditya Nigam wrote a thoughtful essay, and Sumanta Banerjee had a fascinating exchange with a spokesperson of the CPI (Maoist). These are criticisms from the left – not by Gandhian pacifists. All that is water off Roy’s back. In rubbishing powerful critiques by cocking a rhetorical snook at them Roy demeans herself.

    On every criticism of Maoist tactics and methods, she responds with rhetoric, not reason. Charu Mazumdar fetishises violence and gore – but, says Roy, look at the beautiful dancing tribals. The Maoists believe in protracted war – naturally, counters Roy, because the really protracted war is being waged by the Indian state. The Maoists do not take part in non-violent protest and mass politics – why should they, asks Roy, what did non-violence win the Narmada Bachao Andolan? The Maoists dish out summary justice in kangaroo courts – but they don’t kill everybody, Roy tells us earnestly, and in any case we all know how skewed our judicial system is. And so on.

    In the end, though, the problem with Roy’s essay is that it is a piece of embedded journalism. Trekking day and night with gun-wielding rebels is doubtless a reporter’s fantasy. We need to get more such accounts, which give us a sense of the dreams and desperations that drive young women and men to the gun. What she does not do is question the Maoists’ conceptual framework.

    Reading her essay, one is struck by the binary oppositions that frame it – brutal state repression versus ruthless armed rebellion; mining corporations versus innocent tribals; rampaging industrialism versus primitive communism. There is no middle ground, there are no other players. There is no conception of militant mass protest and resistance that does not take the shape of armed insurrection. I am not coy about the necessity to resort to violence, especially when you are under attack. The Maoists, however, are a different kettle of fish – they resort to bloodshed at the first instance, not the last, and the nature of their violence is also particularly gruesome.

    The Maoists and the tribals, according to Roy, are one entity. If you have any sympathy for tribals and other poor, you must, ipso facto, support the Maoists. This is the terrain where the interests of the Indian ruling classes and the Maoists converge perfectly. In this framework, the only alternative to the violence of the state is the violence of the Maoists. Either you are with the one or you are with the other.

    It is in the nature of embedded journalism to get close enough to the ‘action’ to give us an authentic sense of the smells and the sights. Roy does that. It is also in the nature of embedded journalism that it remains prisoner to the conceptual framework of the embedder. A truly critical intelligence would cut through it and assert itself. Roy, however, chooses to be smitten.

Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, Delhi. He works as editor at LeftWord Books.

Courtesy: pragoti.com