Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Largest Democracy

India is considered to be the Largest Democracy, where Largest denotes population. And Democracy is supposed to mean, traditionally, a government Of the People, By the People and For the People. I would like to examine whether this is really so.

How do we ensure that the government is really of, by and for the people? The means adopted here is to have universal franchise and regular elections. This allows every adult to vote, right. But does that really ensure that the government functions for the people? For all the people? I think that it is increasingly becoming evident that all state governments and sometimes even the central government do not always function in the interest of all the people. Admitted that there are bound to be conflicts of interest among the people, and, therefore, it may not always be possible to do things in a manner that satisfies everyone. But should the government be fair, and also appear to be fair? Are our governments doing that?

Let us look at some recent happenings. Dr. Binayak Sen is a medical doctor who helped the tribals and the poor in Chattisgarh to obtain good medical help. But he was helping these poor people in other ways too. He was also an activist of the People's Union for Civil Liberties. He was arrested more than a year back because the police felt that he was helping the Naxalites. There was, and there still is, no solid evidence for this. Yet he is still in prison. The law of the land permits the police to arrest anyone on suspicion and lock him/her up for three years without even a trial. For whose good was this done? For whose good is this law?

Ajay T.G. is a film maker who took a short documentary on Dr. Binayak Sen. He was arrested because he dared to take the film. There was absolutely no evidence against him. They had to finally release him because it became not just a national issue, but an international issue. He is still not permitted to go abroad, and has to sign at a local police station every week. For whose good was this done?

A large number of local tribal and poor people are in prison and they have no idea about the crime they are supposed to have done. For whose convenience are these people in prisons?

The police has been forcibly organising these poor people and training them in the use of weapons to fight the Naxalites. The Naxalites are fighting against the forced acquisition of the land by the State for handing it over to large companies for mining. The region is rich in iron ore. But the tribes and the local people are unwilling to move out of the land where they have been living for generations. Admittedly, iron ore is needed by the country. But aren't these people also part of the country? Don't they have the right to be dealt with in a gentlemanly manner?

About 5000 poor families are forcibly occupying government land that used to be a plantation in Chengara, Kerala, with the demand for land. The government has been largely ignoring this agitation, though some attempts were made to talk to them. The tribes have been the most exploited section of the Indian population ever since India won "freedom". Why are they continuing to be ignored, not just in Kerala but in many other states including the industrially advanced Maharashtra. Why does this happen?

No one seems to know exactly what happened in Singur and Nandigram. But there is a reasonable probability that the government was not fair to the local people. The setback suffered by the ruling coalition in the recent elections adds strength to this suspicion.

These are just random examples from memory. I am sure many more such instances can be found if a simple search is done on the Internet. It hardly matter. These few instances themselves are enough to raise the question: What democracy is this? Is the government of some people, by some people and for some people?


I will keep adding cases as and when I hear about them.

1) Poorly rehabilitated, adivasi families displaced by the Malay Dam in 1983 in Palamu of Jharkhand are now accused of encroaching on forest land. According to the Land Acquisition Act 1894, the affected families must be served a notice prior to land acquisition. Here, the construction of dam was initiated in 1980 without any information. (See report in Tehelka)


captainjohann said...

Dear sir,
Just because Dr.Binayak sen was denied bail by the legal system of India which includes the investigating agencies,prosecution and of course the highest court of India has NO meaning FOR SO CALLED DEMOCRAT LIKE YOU.Once your view is accepted and Dr.Binayak is released india becomes a democracy. What a shame sir.PUCL, how come these guys always work for the civil liberties of Terrorists and their families and not the victims of terrorism?

R.Sajan said...

Kerala is a place where you cannot get agriculture labourers because everyone is literate and thinks manual labour is unbecoming. The minimum wages that you have to pay to any manual labourer is Rs. 250/- a day - for 6 hours of what they deem to be ‘work’. The carpenter gets Rs. 300/- to Rs. 500/- a day. A live-in maid comes at not less than Rs. 4500/- plus food and clothes, a month. If you use her for other things, you pay extra. All labourers come to work in motorcycles or scooters.

Kerala is ‘Gulf’ to manual labourers from other states. There is practically no unemployment here after 2000, if you are ready to work. The greediest of young men work in ‘quotation gangs’ that recover money for banks like ICICI, HSBC, HDFC etc, or beat up people for politicians or similar others. They quote in 10000s to lakhs.

Malayali workers including head loaders, and employees including college teachers are, within Kerala, a disgrace to world labour. To them, work is worship of selfish indolence, and exercising of the tongue. Chaathans, created by the great VKN is the best possible presentation of our poor farm labourer.

The Communist parties profess the raising of the living standards of the working class and their leaders. They have thus managed to raise the lifestyles of even coolies or head-loaders to Star levels. Clerks and peons of government departments like Revenue, Registration, and Transport etc earn much more than MNC CEOs, thanks to their unions’ protecting bribe-taking. College lecturers earn at UGC levels without possessing the stipulated qualifications, only because of their Left unions. Secure monthly salary earners are deemed the genuine working class because they pay more and regular Union levies.

Kerala has a population of about 4 % of the country. Projected population for 1st March 2008 is 3, 42, 32,000. We have land of 1.18% of India. The quantum of land 38863 sq. kms or 9 603 00000 cents cannot change.

Of this geographical area, 48% is mountainous or hilly. 12% is the coastal lowlands. The remaining 40% of midlands alone is suitable for human dwelling. That is to say, for 4% percent of the country’s population, only about 0. 45% of its land is available for living and surviving.

In land-starved Kerala, the largest landowners are the government, the Christian plantation owners and the Church. Every time that the CPM has been in power, grabbing of government land by the party workers is usual. The party, however, is now no longer of the poor; it is now a party of contractors, brokers and businesspersons. The CPM thus having moved away from the downtrodden, new forces like the Muslim Solidarity, Catholic Infam and foreign-funded environment organizations moved in to rescue the poor. The Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi (SJVSV) that has started the Chengara land-grab is one such saviour-outfit of dubious origins.

The pressure on land is our greatest weakness. Our earlier planners did not give this matter honest consideration. We should have planned for development without disturbing or destroying the highlands and lowlands. You meddle with mother Earth and you suffer – our planners ignored this old rule.

Institutional support by the Church to encroachments is responsible for the destruction of our hills. Muthanga was the zenith of their achievement under a Catholic ruler. Sex tourism is responsible for the vandalisation of our coasts.

Land belongs to all of us equally. We also have responsibility to it. Calculating on 960300000 cents and 34232000 humans, individual share comes to 28 cents each. Permissible human usage-share is 40% of that total. Thus, each of us has a birthright to only 11 cents of the land area in Kerala. If you allow a further deduction of 30% to man-made infrastructure like roads, public grounds and buildings, other public utilities etc, a Keralite can claim or own to himself only 7 cents or so.

It is against this ground reality that Chengara orphans demand five acres of land suitable for agriculture and Rs.50,000 in cash for each landless family among them [The Hindu 04.06.2008]. The demands are typically Malayali – similar to demanding that you shut your thattu-kada, stop plying your autorikshaw or not take your ill child to the hospital, for ‘their’ Bandh. It is mere bullying. And we would not dare to do it outside Kerala borders.
Meeting the demand would need only about 40000 acres of land.

I heard Laha Gopalan say many times on TV that the Chengara camp has people of all castes, and that it is only an agitation of people who do not have as much land as their birthright [they having only 4 to 10 cents] and the landless. This might mean that it is not an agitation of landless Dalits; or at least, not any longer. Laha Gopalan himself has by his own admission, only one hectare or 247 cents valued at Rs. 24, 70,000/-

In 3 years, 30% of the active population in Kerala would be non-Malayali or immigrant labour. The Chengara model would serve them well. TRESPASS, SQUAT, GRAB! We need not stop with land alone in the Chengara culture.

There are reports that the organisers of the land-grab collect admission fees ranging from Rs.6000/- upwards from the squatters. As per the Vedi’s claims, as many as 24,000 people belonging to 7,282 families are occupying about 14,000 acres of land at the Kumbazha Estate. The number of makeshift huts pitched at the estate will be around 7,800. The money collected might thus come to crores of Rupees, exclusive of financial assistance received from various Agencies.

Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and similar mega-stars’ going to Chengara to proclaim support was only like Henry Kissinger’s having come to New Delhi in November 2007 on behalf of the NSG corporates, to sort out the Left’s misgivings about the reciprocal arrangements for their agreeing to the Nuclear Deal. Such initiatives need spending.

Harrisons Plantations is a company of the RP Goenka group. It is not a foreign company, as depicted by the activists and the media. From 2005, they have been selling off pieces of the Estates in Kerala to real estate companies. The land was not theirs; and their lease with the owners, the Kerala government, had run out in 2005. However, neither Left nor Right, or activist raised any voice against the fraud.

The Harrison’s Kodumon Estate land grab by Laha Gopalan and his group in 2006 and the Chengara land-grab of 2007 might thus have been some trick by some real estate group to force a cheap sale of the land. The huge funds spent in mobilising media and activist support could have come from that group. Alternately, it might have been a trick by RPG themselves to escape from Kerala without paying the rent to the government [they have reportedly not paid it for 20 years] and the employee benefits to the labour. After the lease ran out, RPG had availed a loan of Rs. 100 crores from the ICICI Bank on the security of the Estate, on which they had no rights at that point of time. The land grab might also have been to avert having to repay the Bank.

AK Balan, Kerala’s Minister for SC/STs, has already called Chengara a ‘state-sponsored agitation’. It is like Kerala’s Private Bus operators’ agitating and frequently stopping services to make the public agree in agony to fare-hikes by an eager ministry. In the name of settlement of Chengara orphans, government land elsewhere would soon be allotted. The Estate might also be divided and allotted to different employees’ co-operatives, to benefit all the political parties. On 17.9.2008, Laha Gopalan categorically said on Doordarshan that they would not accept land at Chengara, even if no other land were given.

The rehabilitation initiative would be used more as a ploy to allot land to LDF cadres. Each party would have quotas, as had been with the Plus 2 allotment. Anyone that would pay the leaders would get choice real estate ‘free’. By 2010, the plots thus allotted would be consolidated to build resorts, amusement parks or professional colleges. Either the Party leaders themselves or Comrades like Farris Aboobacker would be the entrepreneurs on the land. Chengara would thus be revealed as a Total4 U, in a few more months.

On 20th September 2008, AK Balan, Kerala’s Minister for SC/STs, announced that beginning October 5th, the government would begin a massive Scheme for allotting land to the landless all over the State. A total of 15000 acres would thus be disposed off. Houses would also be built for the beneficiaries. Chengara squatters would be the first to benefit under the Scheme, he said.

What is to happen to the landless among the middle classes of Kerala, who are unable to have houses of their own because of the inhuman cost of land in Kerala? Would they also have to squat and threaten suicide to have 7 cents for a house each?

Average minimum cost of land in Kerala is Rs.10 lakhs per acre in the rural parts. In places like Kochi, it is around half to one crore a cent. How much of public wealth would be lost when 15000 acres is freely given away to squatters?

The intellectual activists would not answer. Perhaps, their cut is already paid in advance?