By Bala Sai:
In a democracy, there are two ways of dealing with uncomfortable questions. One is to answer them, and the other is to dodge the question and pretend it was never asked. Of course, you can always track down the questioner, beat him up with clubs and fling him out of the country, but that isn’t very ‘democratic’, is it? Mr. Modi?
In a country as complex as ours, uncomfortable questions cannot be avoided. Every decision comes with a compromise tagging along, and every theory has its opponents. It is up to the decision-maker to weigh the merits and demerits of every argument, decide firmly and stand by their decisions. Without a devil’s advocate, there can never be a fair verdict.
Mr. Modi is the product his marketers promised. He is dynamic, committed and confident. He makes bold decisions and stands by them. But is he really willing to listen to the devil’s advocate? Is he willing to pause and put his high-speed development projects on a weighing-scale to look at their varied and long term implications? The Home Ministry’s recent decision to virtually freeze Greenpeace India’s foreign funds points to the contrary.
The move has come in the back of a suspiciously ‘leaked’ IB report alleging some foreign-funded NGOs’ active contribution in threatening the ‘national economic security’, affecting our GDP growth to the tune of 2-3% ( a mind-blowing, highly questionable figure). The report goes on to put 22 NGOs under the scanner, singling out Greenpeace India by recommending that its permission to receive foreign funds be scrapped.
Before we go all hammer and tongs taking sides and shouting out each other, we must pause and listen to both the arguments. All NGOs aren’t white-cloaked saints selflessly preaching for the welfare of the common man. It is an ugly world, and there are NGOs out there that are shady, harboring vested interests and diabolic intentions.Â In 2009, a report of the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, which is under the Ministry of Rural Development, blacklisted more than 800 NGOs and voluntary organizations for misappropriating funds.
Some allegations in the IB report have earlier been voiced during the UPA’s reign by the then Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh himself. Dr. Singh might be criticized for many things, but reeling out mindless outbursts isn’t one of them.
“There are NGOs, often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces,” Dr.Singh had said, referring to the Kudankulam nuclear power plant protests.
It must be recalled that it was a time when Tamil Nadu was facing a severe power crisis with a peak hour deficit amounting to 4000MW. Delay in the project led to multiple small scale industries shutting down, bearing the brunt of the power shortage. Even though construction of the plant had begun in 2002, the protesters had waited till 99% work was completed to rise up in unison. The protests continued relentlessly, even after assurances from the country’s top scientists including ex-President Dr.Abdul Kalam, and special committee reports clearing it as ‘one of the safest in the world’.
An investigation by The Hindu revealed the nature of awareness that the protesters, mostly illiterate villagers, possessed. Their participation was more a result of fear-mongering by NGOs (many of them involved in Christian religious activities) teaming up with local churches, than an informed decision made by the villagers themselves. Four of the 11 FCRA-registered NGOs mentioned in the IB’s list of 22 had fueled the Kudankulam protests.
Elsewhere, Dutch government-funded CORDAID and its associate outfits had organized an elaborate training session for north-eastern NGO activists in Shillong last year, teaching them how to use GPS tracking to map oil wells, mines, dams, forests and habitation for an updated GIS platform on extractives in the region. They alleged that the government of India was, in collaboration with MNCs, “stealing the resources of the region and refusing to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, (from Manipur) as it needed Indian Army to extract those resources”. The government could identify at least seven varieties of problems going on with that explanation, but the misinformed tribals can’t.
Anti-GM NGOs are another group that features heavily in the IB’s report. There is a long-standing debate going on about genetically modified crops and their impact on the society. Some of them are based on patents and intellectual property rights issues that NGOs allege will push farmers into poverty, enslaving the industry to foreign corporations. In 2010, under pressure from NGOs, a moratorium on Bt Brinjal (which, by the way, is reportedly doing well in Bangladesh, putting smiles on farmers’ faces) was imposed, effectively putting on hold most R&D activities in GM crops by both public and private sectors.
“Over Rs 10,500 crore public and private sector investments are in jeopardy due to NGO activism,” said an industry body, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises – Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) in a statement released recently. “At stake is over Rs 8,000 crore invested in research in the sector by public sector institutions over the past five years. This is research that is being conducted by Indian researchers, in India, for the Indian farmer.”
All said and done, the environmental and long-term health effects of GM crops are yet to be proven conclusively. Not just the NGOs, but the general public has every reason to worry, as effects of introducing these crops into the environment can be adverse and irreversible. Long term health and well-being cannot at any level be compromised for short term economic thrusts. This is the core of sustainable development, and the government cannot afford to neglect it.
India’s dismal history of handling large scale development projects only justifies concerns over the Mahan Coal Block. Protesters led by Greenpeace argue that the project will affect over 50,000 peoples’ livelihoods and lead to the felling of 4 lakh trees.
These experiences ought to have taught our government some crucial lessons vis-Ã -vis the need for transparency, proper planning, actually talking to people, etc. Sadly, the government is not taking home the right lessons.Â The importance of creating awareness among the people about developmental schemes and the importance of addressing the people’s insecurities and grievances have been ignored, and the government has chosen staunchly attacking all NGOs and pummeling voices of dissent as its course of action, which goes against the very spirit of our constitution.
Problems in management of e-waste, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and river-linking projects all are genuine issues that need to be debated and scrutinized and NGOs, by taking them up are only highlighting the needs and grievances of the people involved. It is wrong to cast aside opinions simply because they don’t subscribe to the government’s view or the so called ‘greater good’.
Mr.Modi is now faced with a choice. What he chooses will pave the way for how democracy will be run in this country. We can only hope he chooses a path mid-way from the UPA style ‘Sustainable inaction’ and the current motto of ‘Ridiculous development’. His decision, whether in favor of ‘FDI in NGOs’ or in favor of his friends in industry, will tell us what he actually meant when he climbed onto that dais and waved his arms at the crowd and said ‘Inclusive development’. A population of 1.2 billion will join the NGOs and the corporations to wait and listen with bated breath, to what he has to say.