Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Development as a people’s movement / Madhav Gadgil

Development was a key issue in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. In his very first speech after taking over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi asserted that his government is committed to carrying on development as a people’s movement. This, he has asserted, will draw upon India’s democratic, demographic and demand dividends. But are we genuinely moving towards organising development as a people’s movement while building on these strengths?
At the heart of democracy is access to information. We do have the vital Right to Information Act, but need to do much more since the public is being continually misled. To reap the demographic dividend, our youth should be well nourished. But what is the reality? The government’s statistics show that 28 per cent of school children were malnourished in 1993; this came down to 17 per cent by 1999 and declined further to 8 per cent by 2006. However, this is based on information provided by schools, and many of them are guilty of maintaining bogus records of enrolment and expenses towards the provision of mid-day meals. As a cross-check, we have the data provided by the carefully and professionally conducted National Family Health Survey. According to its very different and shocking results, 53 per cent of school children were malnourished in 1993. This came down slightly to 47 per cent by 1999 and changed a little by 2006, to 46 per cent.
To cater to India’s massive population of consumers, people should have adequate purchasing power, such as that enjoyed by people employed in the industries or services sector. Unfortunately, as the malnourishment statistics indicate, a vast majority of Indians are poor, with barely 10 per cent employed in the organised sector. We are being convinced that vigorous economic growth is generating substantial employment. But this is not so. When our economy was growing at 3 per cent per year, employment in the organised sector was growing at 2 per cent per year. As the economy began to grow at 7-8 per cent per year, the rate of growth of employment in the organised sector actually declined to 1 per cent per year since most of the economic growth was based on technological progress, including automation. At the same time, the increasing pressure of the organised sector on land, water, forest and mineral resources has adversely impacted employment in farming, animal husbandry and fisheries sectors. People who are being pushed out of these occupations are now crowding in urban centres. This is in turn leading to a decline in the productivity of the organised industries and services sector. Evidently, the ship of our development is sadly adrift.
What is development?
Undoubtedly, people aspire for development. But what is development? Joseph Stiglitz, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics and one-time chairman of Bill Clinton’s Economic Advisory Council, offers an insightful analysis, asserting that development should result in an enhancement of the totality of a nation’s four-fold capital stocks: the capital of material goods, natural capital such as soil, water, forests and fish, human capital including health, education and employment, and social capital comprising mutual trust and social harmony. Our current pattern of economic development is by no means a balanced process resulting in the overall enhancement of the totality of these stocks. Thus, for instance, mining in Goa has severely damaged the State’s water resources and caused high levels of air and water pollution. The ever-increasing content of metals in drinking water reservoirs has adversely impacted health. When thousands of trucks were plying ore on the roads of Goa, the resulting chaos in traffic and accidents seriously disrupted social harmony. Evidently, the single-minded focus on industrial growth is not leading to sustainable, harmonious development, but merely nurturing a money-centred violent economy.
We must, of course, continue to develop modern technology-based industries and services, but these cannot generate employment on the massive scale required. It is therefore imperative that this modern sector must rein in its adverse impacts on labour-intensive, natural resource-based occupations and livelihoods. The modern capital-intensive, technology-based economic sector must nurture a symbiotic relationship with the nature-based, labour-intensive sector. Our democracy provides for fashioning such a mutual relationship through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments and the Biological Diversity Act, the Panchayats (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act. We must take advantage of this constitutional framework that promotes decentralised governance and work with nature and people to move forward on a path towards genuine development — a path that would be entirely compatible with making development a people’s movement.
Examples of people’s movements
In Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts of Maharashtra, both of which are Naxal-torn, there are hopeful examples emerging of how development may be nurtured as a people’s movement. A number of tribal and other traditional forest-dwelling communities of these districts now have management rights over Community Forest Resources under the Forest Rights Act. The state retains ownership over such resources, and these cannot be diverted to other purposes. But now these resources are being managed holistically with a fuller involvement of the people. The citizens of Pachgaon, for instance, have, through two full-day meetings of their entire Gram Sabha, decided upon 40-odd regulations. Tendu leaves are a major forest produce, but their harvest entails extensive lopping and setting of forest fires. So, Pachgaon has decided to forego this income and instead focus on marketing the edible tendu fruit. By stopping the collection of tendu leaves, the trees are healthier and both fruit yield and income from its marketing have gone up. Incomes from bamboo harvest have also gone up manifold, and for the first time the people are moving out of the earlier precarious existence. Notably, they have on their own initiated protecting part of these forests as newly constituted sacred groves. Such community management of forest resources is the only sane way to combat extremism, and I have every hope that the new government, with its commitment to making development a people’s movement, will wholeheartedly support these initiatives.
Verle village, perched atop Sahyadri mountains in Goa’s Sanguem taluk, provides another instance of how we can make development a people’s movement. In this charming village, the locals have initiated a cooperative tourism project. Visitors stay in the homes of the locals, which are now equipped with modern amenities, and enjoy home-cooked food. They can wander around to their heart’s content with three well-trained local youth who serve as nature guides. This is a neat example of how development benefits people at the grassroots level while safeguarding the natural heritage.
Recently, I had requested Goa University students to write an essay on any issue of their interest. Many chose tourism; they were very concerned with the negative fallout of the flourishing hotel industry. These included depletion and pollution of ground water, ever-growing piles of solid waste, encroachments on public beaches and alarming growing drug abuse, associated crimes and women’s insecurity. They also felt that few economic benefits actually reach the people of Goa. Why then can we not focus on enterprises that are nature-friendly and give full scope to local initiatives like Verle to develop tourism? Why do we not organise activities such as these that genuinely promote development as a people’s movement?
Furthermore, Goa could revive its currently stagnating mining business through novel people-oriented initiatives such as the proposal from the tribals in Caurem village in Goa’s Quepem taluka. There, extensive community lands that harbour a large sacred grove — lands that ought to have been assigned as Community Forest Resources — have been encroached upon by palpable illegal mining, which has damaged water resources, affected farming, and created social dissonance. The mines are currently closed because of the illegalities, and the Gram Sabha has unanimously resolved that if they are to be restarted, this should be done through the agency of their multi-purpose cooperative society.
The Goa government ought to seize this golden opportunity and do all that it can to ensure that it succeeds. When the first cooperative sugar factory in the country was established at Pravaranagar in Maharashtra 60 years ago, many doubted if the farmers could manage such an enterprise. But it succeeded beyond people’s wildest dreams because of capable farmer-leaders like Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil and a sympathetic Finance Minister like Vaikunthbhai Mehta. Let us therefore hope that the Goa government with its commitment to making development a people’s movement will vigorously support the Caurem initiative and create for the country a new model of how mining can be developed as a people’s activity.

(Madhav Gadgil is D.D.Kosambi Visiting Research Professor, Goa University.)

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