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World Bank Says…:INDIA WELL-PLACED TO ATTRACT FDI,by Dr. P.K. Vasudeva, 17 January 2007 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 17 January 2007

World Bank Says…

INDIA WELL-PLACED TO ATTRACT FDI

By Dr. P.K. Vasudeva

The domestic market in India comprises as many as 300 million consumers and offers easy access to the entire South-East Asia region. Although the country lags behind China in attracting foreign direct investments (FDI), a recent World Bank report revealed that India was better placed to attract investment, having addressed particular bureaucratic obstacles and tackled the problem of under-investment infrastructure.

The Government welcomes foreign investment, with policies designed to ease entry, location decisions, and choice of technology, production, import and export.  No income- tax is levied on profits arising from exports.  Investors are also attracted to India by its rich mineral and agricultural resources.  The country boasts of a well-established major manufacturing sector that encompasses almost all areas of activity.  On hand is a huge pool of skilled workers and professional managers; wage levels are competitive.

India has a substantial experience of free market economies, and investors will find a sophisticated financial sector and vibrant capital market that boasts over 9000 listed companies.

Undoubtedly, China’s track record in attracting FDI is far superior to that of India. In fact, India  However, within this otherwise firm conviction about unmatched Chinese superiority in attracting FDI inflows vis-à-vis India, there has occasionally been some skepticism about what all China includes while compiling its FDI figures.  has been considered an “underachiever” in attracting FDI.

Consequently, skepticism remains about the actual intensity of the FDI gap between ChinaIndia, as suggested by the official statistics of the respective countries.  Despite this, China is far ahead of India in its FDI inflows because of superior infrastructure, less and corruption and no bureaucratic hurdles in attracting FDI.

Surprisingly, foreign direct investments to the tune of $300 billion are available for the developing countries and the two main economies which can attract these FDI are India and China, which in any case attracts about $170 billion whereas the share of India remains only about 48 billion which is a big gap between the two economic giants. A serious thinking has to be done by India as to how to attract the big chunk of FDI into the country.

The main reason for poor performance by India in attracting the FDI as enunciated by the developed countries are poor infrastructure, far too many bureaucratic hurdles in getting clearance for the land leases/property, environment clearance, poor power and water sources and poor quality of HR managers and skilled labour.

Despite all this, the Indian economy provides eloquent testimony to the old adage that nothing succeeds like success.  Consider the data for the first half of this fiscal for FDI. Between April and September, FDI inflows were $4.4 billion, twice the quantum that came in over the same period last year.  Much of the investments are from Singapore, which is replacing the US and UK as the major source of inflows.

Many are first-mile investments, which means that more will have to come in to transform the capital into productive assets.  But as Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, noted: “India is on the radar of global investors and data reflect their confidence in the Indian economy.”  The pity is that only some States in the country are on the FDI radar screen.

Predictably, just five States garner almost all the FDI each year with one or the other getting the lion’s share.  This time, the New Delhi region attracted the highest investments, followed by Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Within the States, FDI flowed into the regions in and around the metros---New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. 

So, even while the increase in FDI is welcome, its concentration in some pockets is not. Policymakers must now concern themselves with the fact that high-value investments are piling up in islands of rapidly expanding development (and high disposable incomes) while the rest of the hinterland slumbers in backwardness and poverty.  The States like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have a great potential in attracting the FDI but these States have to improve their infrastructure make the FDI more attractive in their respective States.

The real danger of deepening regional inequalities is already upon us in the form of demands for job quotas and other revivalist tendencies that could form insurmountable roadblocks to sustained growth.  Backward States too need FDI but that can come about only if there is a change in the perception of them as failures.  The most tempting way of doing this is to provide tax incentives and exemptions. 

The States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have been given tax-free holidays against the wishes of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. These have indeed drawn once-unlikely investors to their fold on the strength of the Centre-granted tax break.  But these new ventures cannot sustain for long if the infrastructure does not improve in concert, nor do they necessarily mean more jobs for locals.

The challenge has to be met with a more concerted effort.  The backward States first have to pull in funds, whether private or public, into improving the social and physical infrastructure even as they commit themselves to maintaining a modicum of law and order, at least by the standards of the developed States.  They would need to win the vote of the domestic investor even before they entertain dreams of an avalanche of FDI.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Bill Of Rights:A CRYING NATIONAL NEED, by Ashok Kapur, IAS (Retd) Print E-mail

OPEN FORUM

New Delhi, 12 February 2008

Bill Of Rights

A CRYING NATIONAL NEED

By Ashok Kapur, IAS (Retd)

Democracy without education, an eminent political scientist has concluded is hypocrisy without limitation. It is not known if he coined the adage in the contemporary Indian context. However, it is very much the ground reality in our country today. The wily Indian politician is accountable to no one. He is playing havoc with the system and the rule of law, without any check or restraint.

Simply put, democracy is a system of checks and balances. The moment the checks are removed, imbalance results. Thus, democracy is reduced to a mere form, devoid of meaningful content. Periodic elections are the mode of selecting our representatives to reflect the people’s hopes and aspirations in the legislature. The real content of democracy is the day-to-day governance of the nation by the ruling politicians, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws framed under it.

Some recent events give cause for concern. In theory, all elected Ministers are supposed to take the oath of office to preserve and protect the Constitution. In reality, they twist and turn the Constitutional norms to subserve their political agenda to perpetuate themselves in power. Take the case of the Union Health Minister. He is positively sick. And like all elected Ministers, he wears two hats. He is not only a member of the Union Cabinet but is also a member of a political Party.

In his case, a regional political Party with a singular casteist agenda. Having appointed himself as the Chairman of a premier health research institute in the country, he violates all basic Constitutional norms. A Minister in a democracy heads a department and provides policy inputs. According to Article 53, all executive action of the State is exercised in the name of the President and is carried out by “officers” subordinate to him.

The day-to-day administration of the department is carried out by the permanent secretary who is a neutral civil servant, with no political affiliation. It is not the Minister’s task to personally administer; he is neither trained nor qualified to manage institutions and organizations. Clearly, the Union Health Minister has violated democratic norms by appointing himself as the Chairman of a public institute. The inevitable consequence has been that the AIIMS has been thoroughly politicized.

Another serving Minister in the Union Government is openly pushing for reservation of jobs on caste lines in the private domain. This is unconstitutional and all the more unfortunate as a Minister is under oath to preserve the Statute. Such reservations are a policy matter, having grave Constitutional ramifications. It is not known whether the policy has been advised by her ministry, after examining all the pros and cons of the issue. It does not appear to be so, as the Constitution does not authorize the Executive, of which the Minister is a part, to regulate private employment.

Another Union Minister, who is supposed to be entrusted with developing human resources is similarly pushing a casteist agenda. Ostensibly, the measure has been proposed in the name of “social justice” but it is actually to perpetuate the Minister in power. In the bargain, the civil society may well be permanently fractured on caste and class lines.

Besides, it may tamper with the Constitution and affect the fundamental rights of the citizens. But this appears to be of no concern to the Minister. It is similarly not on record if the step has been advised by his ministry after examining the proposal and its Constitutional implications. It is also not on record if the move, sprung overnight on the civil society, has the authority of the Cabinet behind it.

The aforesaid are just some instances of our ruling politicians’ total disregard for Constitutionalism and the rule of law. These are extremely dire portents for the long-term prospects of a healthy democracy in India. As it is, by carrying out more than 100 amendments to the Constitution, in a span of less than 60 years, the politician has reduced the Constitution to a mere caricature of its original form. As a result, the citizens’ fundamental rights are being insidiously eroded. It would be worthwhile to contrast the position in the world’s oldest, most stable and vibrant democracy under a written Constitution. Not even two dozen amendments have been carried out over almost a century and a half of its working.

These are just a few instances of the ruling politicians’ virtual non-accountability to anyone in reality. Conceptually, members of the Cabinet are accountable to the Parliament. But today the Parliament is hardly functioning to its optimum capacity. The disruptions in its working are so frequent and persistent that ministerial accountability hardly exists.

It is in this context that the civil society at large should wake up and ponder on the enactment of an Indian Bill of Rights based on the U.S. model. Recall that the enactment of the first Constitution in the world, the American, was preceded by a Holy Covenant drawn up by its people. They reserved to themselves certain basic rights of man like the Right to Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. They declared that these are inalienable, sacred rights, which the Supreme Creator has endowed all citizens in a free society.

These rights are not the gifts of the legislators nor are they granted by any act of the legislature. Hence, these are beyond the reach of the politicians. The U.S. civil society thereafter elected ruling politicians, essentially their temporary delegates, not to award them but to “secure these basic rights” with the device of a written Constitution.  

In the absence of a Bill of Rights for India, the fundamental freedoms and rights of the citizens are under serious threat from the wily politician. Till these rights are protected and secured, the citizens will not be able to breathe easy. --- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)

North Indian” Card: raj helping Bihar & UP,By M D Nalapat,7 February 2008 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 7 February 2008

North Indian” Card

raj helping Bihar & UP

 
By M D Nalapat

(Holds UNESCO Peace Chair, Prof, Geopolitics, Manipal Academy of

Higher Education)

Towards the end of the 60s, when the Communist parties and radicals such as Datta Samant were recruiting tens of thousands of underpaid and overworked blue-collar employees in Bombay into their fold, a roadblock appeared in the person of a brilliant, opinionated cartoonist named Bal Thackeray. Within the space of two years, he succeeded in separating a large proportion of the Maharashtrian workers from the others and in the process launching an incendiary style of politics that saw his followers converting the streets of the city into battle zones.

First D A Desai and after him successive Home Ministers and Chief Ministers of Maharashtra gave immense latitude to Thackeray and the organisation he set up, the Shiv Sena. Along with South Indians, the new political force went after the Muslims, insinuating that they were less loyal to the country than others. Slowly at first, and then more rapidly, the cosmopolitanism that had been the distinguishing mark of Bombay began to wither. Regional and communal passions got freely aired and aroused, until finally there was a reaction.

Ironically, this came from the same entrepreneurial class that had initially seen the Sena as deliverers from the grip of the Communists and the radicals over the city's trade unions. Towards the early 70s, greenfield ventures that would otherwise have been set up in India's mercantile capital moved instead to Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai, besides other locations. The commercial rise of the South into its present primacy owes much of its origin to the diluting of the cosmopolitan spirit of Mumbai by the Shiv Sena

Today, the nephew is carrying forward the work begun by the uncle. By his media-savvy tirades against north Indians, Raj Thackeray may ensure a flow of fresh capital from BombayBihar, where clusters of advanced industry have sprung up over the past few years. Both Mayawati as well as Nitish Kumar are investment-friendly, and in neither State has there been the overt appeal to parochial instincts that is being witnessed in Mumbai. and its environs to Uttar Pradesh and

Even though north Indians, especially those unfortunate enough to be taxi drivers, may be getting targeted by followers of Raj Thackeray, Maharashtrians throughout the north are safe with local populations seeing them as what they overwhelmingly are-- a productive and law-abiding human resource for the development of the area in which they have settled. The qualities that made the western region great in times past have ensured a welcome to the Maharashtrian all over India, even though his cousins in Mumbai may not be showing a similar open-mindedness.

From its inception, the Shiv Sena has enjoyed popularity with the Marathi-speaking public, which seems at variance with the moderate and nationalist essence of the people of the State. Hopefully, Raj Thackeray will not succeed the way his uncle did, for by his actions, he is reducing the attractiveness of Mumbai for the entrepreneurs and professionals. The city needs to retain its primacy. Should the younger Thackeray gain traction, within a few years, Mumbai may begin the slide into economic irrelevance that Kolkata witnessed since the 70s, a reversal of fortune that only now is being substantively tackled by Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya

Ever since 1965, when Prime Minister Shastri acted in a statespersonlike manner to defuse the Tamil Nadu language agitation by ensuring the continuation of English in official India, it has been obvious that the Hindi-speaking people of the country are very unlike the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, the Sunni Punjabis in Pakistan and the Wahabbis in Bangladesh. In all three neighbours of India, extreme social turmoil has resulted from the effort of a single group to establish hegemony over the rest.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamils were ruthlessly excluded from the educational and career opportunities open to the rest of the population, while in both Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, linguistic and other minorities suffer discrimination at the hands of a single dominant group. This is far from the situation in India, where there has never even been an effort to leverage the population pre-ponderance of the Hindi-speaking people into hegemony. Even in Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other Hindi-majority States, those speaking different languages and from other regions have been made welcome, despite discrimination against north Indians in some areas of the country

An important index of culture is the cinema. It is no accident that award-winning Malayalam and Bengali films tend to be gloomy and heavy going, for such a mood is part of the local psyche. Conversely, Hindi films are more cheerful, and tend to have a happy ending. And whether it was Vyjayantimala, Rekha or Hema Malini in the past or Aishwarya Rai now, heroines (and even some heroes) from the South have been welcomed, as have those from minority backgrounds, such as the inimitable Saira Banu and her husband Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar).

Today, the very ascendance of a new generation of Khans in Hindi cinema is proof that the secular spirit is alive and well in India's Hindi-speaking universe. Indeed, the language used is far from Sanskrit, and is almost indistinguishable from Urdu, a language that traders and others, in denial of the moderate ethos of India, claim has been all but eliminated from the country after 1947. In both music as well as in cinema, Hindi has scaled heights that have made "Indian cullture" a household word in several parts of the globe. In the field of mass media as well as literature, Hindi is holding its own in competition with such established genres as Tamil and Bengali

Small wonder that even Bal Thackeray has rebuked his nephew for seeking to play up a non-existent "north Indian" card, that too on the issue of the celebration of a festival. India is the land of a hundred thousand gods and goddesses, as well as nearly that many festivals. It is a land that has historically welcomed influences from across the world and melded them into a confluence.

Each Indian embodies Indutva. The reality that every daughter and son of this country embodies within themselves a fusion of the Vedic, the Mughal and the Western. In case Raj Thackeray feels uncomfortable in such an environment, perhaps he ought to visit places more in harmony with a monochrome approach to society, such as Saudi Arabia or China, to return and glory in the diversity of India. ----INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Killing India’s Growth Story:WHAT HAPPENED TO REFORMS?, by M D Nalapat,31 January 2008 Print E-mail

OPEN FORUM

New Delhi, 31 January 2008

 Killing India’s Growth Story

WHAT HAPPENED TO REFORMS?

By M D Nalapat

What is the special bond between the UPA and Europe? Over the past two years especially, the policy has been framed and implemented in a manner designed to improve the competitive position of the European Union (EU), and throttle any Indian challenge to their current primacy in international markets.

When it became clear that major Indian corporates were attempting to take over companies in Europe, a Competition Act was passed last year that placed severe curbs on the business flexibility needed to effect foreign takeovers. Under the new Act, which is a throwback to the business-stifling Industrial Development & Regulation Act of the 1960s, the Indian corporates will need to pass through layers of Governmental oversight and control to make bids, thus dooming the majority to failure.

The European companies can now breathe easier, for the (misnamed) Competition Act can destroy the ability of the Indian corporates to snap up foreign companies, rather than the depressingly familiar story of alien companies gobbling up Indian ones. The latest threat has come to Rajya Sabha MP and industrialist Vijay Mallaya’s United Breweries, which is facing the threat of a takeover by a foreign beer manufacturer

In times past, the Indian managers of ITC fought back against efforts by Imperial Tobacco to control the company. Today, they would not have had a chance in the Europe-favouring environment within the UPA.

While the other slant, which panders to China's interest, is explainable in terms of the leverage that the China-friendly CPI and CPM have over the Manmohan Singh Government, the reasons for an even more severe tilt to European interests is less clear. The public are still clueless as to who is the EU's hidden patron within the UPA.

Using the excuse of fighting inflation, a transparent untruth, the various organs of Government have systematically sought to snuff out growth within the Indian economy. Rather than boost the "Narasimha Rao" rate of growth (of 9%) to a fresh level of 15%, the UPA is likely to hand over to its successor an economy that may reduce its growth rate to 6%,and be on course to return to the "Nehru" rate of growth of 3%.

A primary reason has been the increase in the bank interest rates. From around 12% during 1999, the NDA was able to bring it down to 7% by 2004, but four years later, it has gone back to 12%. This has saddled the Indian entrepreneur with higher costs, which push up domestic inflation while reducing international competitiveness. Small wonder that the UPA’s period in power has witnessed a huge increase in the trade deficit and a deceleration of key exports, such as textiles

The higher interest rates as well as the rise in the value of the rupee (caused by the Reserve Bank of India policy) are helping to demolish one of the largest employers of labour and sources of foreign exchange in India, the textiles sector.

The Finance Minister P Chidambaram is no longer popular in Tiruppur or Coimbatore, as he will find out during the next Lok Sabha polls. The reason for this is his support to the policies that are killing the competitive advantage of the Indian textile industry enjoyed from 2001-2005.

Besides, he has stood by as the SEBI, RBI and other agencies viciously shackle the Indian entrepreneurs, thus giving an advantage to their foreign competitors. Both China and the EU have benefitted substantially from the policy of restrictions on market investment and higher interest rates implemented by the SEBI and RBI

The Congress Party has two alternative economic models before it. The Nehru model saw India as a juvenile, needing guidance and control the way the colonial Administration acted. Thus, the myriad restrictive and rights-destroying laws and procedures that were enforced during the British Raj largely remained during the Nehru era, only getting (partially) dismantled from 1991 onwards, when P V Narasimha Rao sought to free citizens of India from the fetters placed on them by a colonial-style Administration.

Despite their political weaknesses and missteps, this process of reform was continued till 2004, when the "reformer" Manmohan Singh took office. Since then, the citizen has once again been seen as a child or a criminal. Whether it is the Income-tax department or other wings of the Government, the UPA's Government’s approach has been to bring back the arbitrary and harsh methods of the earlier period of statistic control, despite lip service to public interest and economic reform

As the RBI Governor Reddy knows well, it is the profligacy of the UPA Government that is putting the risk of inflation into the economy. As much as Rs 12,000 crores has been deployed for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and experts estimate that as much as 97% of this is squandered in ways that line the pockets of the corrupt politicians and officials without benefit to the poor.

This year, such elements will get a windfall, for the outlay on NREG is expected to cross Rs 40,0000 crores. The odds are very high that the Government will fail the fiscal responsibility standards mandated by law in the FBRM, with a subsidy outgo of over Rs 20,000 crores on PSUs and more than Rs 100,000 crores on fuel, fertiliser and food subsidies.

As both Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram know, the bulk of this goes into dirty pockets. And as for India competing with China in developing SEZs, that avenue is being choked, together with other restrictions on the Indian corporate sector. After nearly four years of a policy that favours the interests of the EU and China over that of India, will the UPA succeed in killing the India Growth story? ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)

document.getElementById("MsgContainer").innerHTML='\x3cdiv\x3e\x3cbr\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eWhy does UPA favour the EU over India\x3f\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eM D Nalapat\x3cbr\x3e__________________________________________________________\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eWhat is the special bond between the UPA and Europe\x3f Over the past two years especially, policy has been framed and implemented in a manner designed to improve the competitive position of the European Union, and throttle any Indian challenge to their current primacy in international markets. When it became clear that major Indian corporates were attempting to take over companies in Europe, a Competition Act was passed last year that places severe curbs on the business flexibility\u00a0needed to effect foreign takeovers. Under the new act - which is a throwback to the business-stifling Industrial Development \x26amp\x3b Regulation Act of the 1960s - Indian corporates will need to pass through layers of governmental oversight and control to make bids, thus dooming the majority to failure. European companies can now\u00a0breathe easier, for the \x28misnamed\x29 Competition Act can destroy the ability of Indian corporates to snap up foreign companies, rather than the depressingly familiar story of alien companies\u00a0gobbling up Indian ones. The latest threat has come to UB, which is facing the threat of a takeover by a foreign beer manufacturer\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eIn times past, the Indian managers of ITC fought back against efforts by Imperial Tobacco to control the company. Today,they would not have had a chance in the Europe-favouring environment within the UPA. While the other slant - which panders to China\x27s interest - is explainable in terms of the leverage that the China-friendly CPI and CPM have over the Manmohan Singh government, the reasons for an even more severe tilt to European interests is less clear. The public are still clueless as to who is the EU\x27s hidden patron within the UPA\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eUsing the excuse of fighting inflation - a transparent untruth -\u00a0the various organs of government have systematically sought to snuff out growth within the Indian economy. Rather than boost the \x26quot\x3bNarasimha Rao\x26quot\x3b rate of growth \x28 of 9\x25\x29 to a fresh level of 15\x25, the UPA is likely to hand over to its successor an economy that may reduce its growth rate to 6\x25,and be on course to return to the \x26quot\x3bNehru\x26quot\x3b rate of growth of 3\x25. A primary reason has been the increase in bank interest rates. From around 12\x25 during 1999, the NDA was able to bring it down to 7\x25 by 2004, but four years later, it has gone back to 12\x25. This has saddled the Indian entrepreneur with higher costs,which push up domestic inflation while reducing international competitiveness.Small wonder that the UPA period in power has witnessed a huge increase in the trade deficit and a deceleration of key exports,such as textiles\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eThe higher interest rates as well as the rise in the value of the rupee \x28 caused by\u00a0 RBI policy\x29 is helping to demolish one of the largest employers of labour and\u00a0sources of foreign exchange in India,the textiles sector. Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is no longer\u00a0popular\u00a0in Tiruppur or Coimbatore, as he will find out during the next Lok Sabha polls. The reason for this is his support to policies that are killing the competitive advantage the Indian textile industry enjoyed from 2001 TO 2005. The Union Finance Minister has stood by as SEBI,RBI and other agencies viciously shackle Indian entrepreneurs,thus giving an advantage to their foreign competitors. Both China as well as the EU have benefitted substantially from the policy of restrictions on market investment and higher interest rates implemented by SEBI and RBI\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eThe Congress Party has two alternative economic models before it.The Nehru model saw Indian as juvenile,needing guidance and control the way the colonial adminustration acted. Thus,the myriad restrictive and rights-destroying laws and procedures that were enforced during the British Raj largely remained during the Nehru era,only getting \x28partially\x29 dismantled from 1991 onwards,when P V Narasimha Rao sought to free citizens of India from the fetters placed on them by a colonial-style administration. Despite their political weaknesses and\u00a0missteps, this process of reform was continued till 2004,when the \x26quot\x3breformer\x26quot\x3b Manmohan Singh took office. Since then, the citizen has once again been seen as a child or a criminal. Whether it is the Income-tax department or other wings of the government, the UPA\x27s approach has been to bring back the arbitrary and harsh methods of the earlier period of statist control,despite lip service to public interest and economic reform\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x0a\x3cdiv\x3e\u00a0\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a\x3cdiv\x3eAs RBI Governor Reddy knows well, it is the profligfacy of the UPA government that is putting the risk of inflation into the economy. As much as Rs 12,000 crores has been\u00a0deployed for the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme,and experts estimate that as much as 97\x25 of this is squandered in ways that line the pockets of corrupt politicians and officials without benefit to the poor. This year, such elements will get a windfall,for the outlay on NREG is expected to cross Rs 40,0000 crores. The odds are very high that the government will fail the fiscal responsibility standards mandated by law in the FBRM, with a subsidy outgo of over Rs 20,000 crores on\u00a0PSUs and more than Rs 100,000 crores on fuel,fertiliser and food subsidies. As both Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram know well, the bulk of this goes into dirty pockets. And as for India competing with China in developing SEZs,that avenue is being choked, together with other restrictions on the Indian corporate sector. After nearly four years of a policy that favours the interests of the EU and China over that of India, will\u00a0 the UPA succeed in killing the India Growth story\x3f\x3c\x2fdiv\x3e\x0a';  

Tribal Rights Over Forest Land: WHERE DO THE VAN GUJJARS GO?, by Radhakrishna Rao, 24 January 20 Print E-mail

OPEN FORUM

New Delhi, 24 January 2008

 Tribal Rights Over Forest Land

WHERE DO THE VAN GUJJARS GO?

By Radhakrishna Rao

The long deferred and highly controversial plan to give the tribals the rights over the forest stretches in the country which they have been inhabiting for centuries, has  assumed a practical shape with the  Indian Government notifying  the Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest  Rights Act 2007. This landmark Act claiming to benefit about 10 million forest dwellers, was passed in Parliament’s Winter session even as conservationists and wildlife lovers expressed their severe opposition to it.

As things stand, the Act will cover all tribal groups which have occupied forest land till December 31, 2005. But the task of identifying the “real beneficiaries” spread across various parts of the country is both laborious and challenging.

The most significant negative feature of this much publicized Act is that as many as 28 tiger reserves would be excluded from the scope of this legislation. But according to the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, NN Meena, “No one will be forcibly evicted. An expert committee will examine if people have to be evicted. The eviction would be done only if required”.

Undoubtedly, eviction of the tribal groups inhabiting the tiger reserves in the country, could pose a serious challenge to the Forest Administration as the tiger habitats are spread across 31,940 sq.km in 11 States.

The tribal beneficiaries of this Act will need to produce at least two pieces of documentary evidence in support of their claim of ownership of the forest stretch under the legislation. However, the non-Government Organizations (NGOs) working among the forest dwelling indigenous communities, drive home the point that in most areas the forest dwellers have already been evicted from the forest stretches and as such this Act will benefit a very small segment of the community.

A couple of years back, a working group on  empowering the tribals under the  Chairmanship of the former Vice Chancellor of Ranchi University, Ram Dayal  Munda, had in a report  submitted to  the Union Government called  for a comprehensive  national tribal policy to safeguard the interest of the community, particularly those inhabiting the forest  stretches. As they had been deprived of the various welfare measures formulated by both the Central and State and Governments. Any wonder then that primitive forest dwelling tribal groups continue to eke out a sort of living with no hope for tomorrow.

Against this backdrop, Chairperson of the Dehra Dun based organization Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK),Avadesh Kaushal, who had made a significant contribution to the drafting of the Forest Rights Act.2007, has all along been stressing the need to involve the forest dwelling communities in the mainstream of forest management and wildlife conservation. 

In this way, Kaushal says that forest dwellers who share an intricate relationship with the forest ecological system can serve as “unofficial forest guards” by keeping a vigil on the poachers and timber smugglers.

As it stands, the RLEK has been actively associated with the struggle of the Van Gujjars --- inhabiting the forest stretches of the Rajaji National Park (RNP) --- to survive as a culturally vibrant community with a deep rooted emotional attachment to their forest homes. In fact, the story of the Van Gujjars is a story of all forest tribes in India who are being systematically driven out of the areas that they helped conserve and lived upon for centuries.

Moreover, for the Van Gujjars, a life outside the forest is an unthinkable proposition. Specially as an emotional attachment to forests and its various entities is the conspicuous feature of the social life of this virile and colourful community. Like many other tribal groups, the Van Gujjars share a close bond with the forests and nature which is reflected by the fact that natural elements like sky, earth, fire and water play a significant role in their cosmology.

While dismissing the allegation that the community of the Van Gujjars was contributing to the ecological degradation of the RNP, spread over an area of 825 sq.kms across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, Kaushal asserted that the Van Gujjars had a vested interest in conserving their forest abodes. “The intricate relationship they share with the forest and the idea that all elements of the ecological system are inter-connected is reflected in their concern for the forest and the natural world.”

Besides, the nomadic Van Gujjars have all along been resisting attempts being made by the RNP authorities to shift them out of the Park areas to a claustrophobic resettlement colony near the famed pilgrim town of Hardwar. Unfortunately, in recent years, the traditional way of life and migratory patterns of the community have been severely disturbed by various forest and environmental conservation Acts.

There is no gainsaying that the Van Gujjars traditional rights over the forest resources need to be protected to save the community from certain extinction. Importantly, this  churning has resulted in the proposal of Community Management of  Forests(CFM) that seeks to  make use of the traditional  knowledge of the community to manage  the Rajaji National Park on  an experimental basis.  Thus, by incorporating the local knowledge  and expertise in the forest management strategies, the CFM plan has the capacity to break the stalemate  in the debate on indigenous right and environmental conservation.

Clearly, the long term objective of this innovative plan includes protecting the flora and fauna of the RNP in addition to preserving the cultural milieu and traditional way of life of the Van Gujjars. But then the idea of mooted by the Dehra Dun-based RLEK has not found favor with the forest bureaucracy which is keen on reinforcing its stranglehold on the forest resources of the country. Meanwhile, the Van Gujjars are not sure as to how long they will continue to stay in the RNP without being disturbed by the extraneous forces. For the survival of the Van Gujjars as a socially and culturally distinct group, continued habitation in the forests is a vital pre-condition. ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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