Industrialization vs. Agriculture-The Age-old Debate

Posted on May 9, 2011 in Specials

By Shreyasi Ghosh:

Industrialization is considered to be one of the indicators of development of a country. It grants the country the status of a power to reckon with, making its presence felt in the global economic platform.

One of the main reasons why India is a member of the BRICS nations and is tipped to be the next global superpower is its rapid pace of industrialization. India’s industrial growth was recorded in 2010 at 16.8%, highest in 20 years. Thus it has a major contribution to India’s economic growth rate in 2010-2011 which is measured at about an impressive 8.6%. The rate of investment in India has been found to have exceeded 36% of the country’s GDP and this has happened because India is making progress in the industrial sector by leaps and bounds. Thus one realizes the importance of industries to sustain a country’s economy and stabilize it as well as strengthen the present government.

Throughout the year much preparation runs in the background to ensure that the country has an industrial output to boast about at the end of the fiscal year. But in their attempts to expand industries at a manic pace, the government seems to have forgotten, deliberately or otherwise, that about 80% of our population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Recent figures have shown that India’s agricultural growth rate in 2010 was a meager 5%. That means unlike the industrial sector the agricultural sector cannot satisfy the current market demands as the government is keener to improve only industries.

When the government decides to implement any large-scale industrialization project without thinking twice as to whether it will actually benefit the people who’re its supposed beneficiaries, it is these very people who end up suffering and losing the most. Most of these industries are often planned in the underdeveloped parts of the country where the people have been thriving on agriculture for several generations. When industrialization takes place without a proper understanding of the needs of these people, it benefits only a handful, namely the companies, the investors and the government.

And in most cases, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes the government knows that unplanned industrialization will lead to chaos but in order to woo corporate houses and get them to make maximum investments in the country, they take away the lands of these farmers. The government in this case knows that the farmers have no basic knowledge of how an industry works and how they will be benefitted from the whole exercise. It takes advantage of their illiteracy and inexperience in dealing with crafty politicians and bureaucrats and feeds them all sorts of lies and false promises of more development and job opportunities to get them to sell their lands to the companies.

Sometimes the farmers don’t even get to do paperwork but have their lands unlawfully snatched away. Those displaced don’t get their promised jobs in the newly constructed factories because, let’s face it, these farmers have almost zero industrial skills and education. They can till lands like no other but to teach them to use complicated machines will take time. So the industries prefer employing people who have prior knowledge of working in factories to hiring these inexperienced farmers. And hence the country descends into anarchy when industrial development takes place with no measures for ensuring rehabilitation and securing job opportunities for the farmers.

The recent spate of violence in Ratnagiri over the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant project and the protests and resulting massacre in Nandigram and Singur indicate people’s frustration and anger at having their agricultural lands taken away for non-agricultural purposes. The Nandigram violence followed by the genocide, gang rape, police brutality etc. is a shameful chapter in the history of India where violent government cracks down on villagers protesting the construction of a Special Economic Zone is straightforward a violation of fundamental human rights. In Jaitapur, the government wants to build a 9900 MW nuclear power plant and claims that hundreds of thousands of Indian homes will be lit up as a result. But the villagers fear that the earthquake prone Madban plateau where the project will be built is a dangerous place for a nuclear power plant construction as the government has taken no steps to ensure proper disposal of nuclear waste or protection against any nuclear disaster. They are also seething in anger because their lands have been forcefully taken away and the project will also hamper not only the quality of the land and ultimately their traditional source of income, but will also ruin the natural biodiversity of the plateau.

Another region which is a political minefield in this country is the mineral-rich state of Orissa. Companies like TATA, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta Group, Arcelor Mittal etc. are big players here, especially in the mining and minerals industries. The land allotted to their projects is in the forests and agricultural belt. But the region is mostly inhabited by tribal people whose main source of income is the forests.

For example Kalinga Nagar is an upcoming important steel hub with factories of TATA Steel, Visa Steel, Jindal Stainless etc. The POSCO project in Paradeep is touted as the largest FDI in the industrial sector. Even Niyamgiri Hills, home to tribal communities as old as the history of India, is seeing the construction of the Sterlite project.

The government claims that there are no official records that prove that the lands are actually the tribal people’s property. There is no line of communication between the government and the tribals. Hence these people find their forests and homes massacred in the name of development. The government or the corporate houses turn a deaf ear to their plights.

And now the victims are venting their pent-up frustrations. They are revolting against government injustice and apathy. Agitations are being staged in different parts of the world and social activists are joining them too. The government is also taking recourse to violent measures to force them into submission. One of the major grievances of the people who are helping the Naxalites in their battle against the Union of India or directly taking part in it is the government indifference to their misery and forceful conversion of agricultural land into industrial land.

If industrialization is meant for greater development then why do these people go against it? It’s because in India, industrialization mostly takes place in an unplanned way with no thought given to sustainable development. The government’s only concern is improving the country’s GDP. It feels that industries are needed to meet the growing demands of the burgeoning population. But it forgets that these farmers are also a part of this population and their needs cannot be overlooked in the name of greater good. Loss of agricultural land might lead to food inflation which is rampant in many industrially developed countries.

Industrialization is no doubt very important but if poor farmers tend to get excluded from the group of beneficiaries then it ceases to lose its significance.