Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Jaitapur Congress's Nandigram in Maharashtra?

As they say history repeats itself if you don’t learn from it. Maharashtra government and specially Congress seems to be learning it the hard way in Jaitapur. Maybe because they did not learn from the mistakes Left Front made in Nandigram and Singur. Whatever the mistakes they have committed, it surely has put Coastal Maharashtra on a volcano ready to erupt. And sadly one family has lost its young son.
Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant was touted as one of the biggest achievement of the state. JNPL is a new proposed 9900 MW power project of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) at Madban village of Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. It will be the largest nuclear power generating station in the world by net electrical power rating once completed.
On December 6, 2010 agreement was signed for the construction of first set of two third-generation European Pressurized Reactors/Evolutionary Power Reactors (EPR) and the supply of nuclear fuel for 25 years in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. French nuclear engineering firm Areva S.A. and Indian state-owned nuclear operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India signed this multi billion valued agreement of about $9.3 billion. The supporters of the project point out to the growing needs of the country in terms of power. They also point out at the economics and environmental safety of nuclear power generation. The local support for the project mainly came from Narayan Rane, Ex-CM of Maharashtra and currently a minister in state cabinet. The local residents of the region were promised employment opportunities as well as increased market value of land. The land acquisition saw the landowners being paid amount much more than the market price,
With everything seemingly in place for a smooth start of the project, what has happened in last few months that the region is seeing a popular upsurge? Why are the local residents up in arms against the project and refusing the economic temptations doled out to them? The answers can be found out in the arrogant manner in which the whole project is being pushed.
When the first signs of trouble and revolt were seen, the government tried to tone down their anger by increasing the compensation amount. The government could not understand that the opposition was because of various reasons like impact on the marine ecosystem which will impact the main occupation – fishing, of the region. The concerns were more on environment and livelihood than on compensation. The government completely failed to read the situation. In the entire period, government and Congress thought it was prudent to rely on the judgment and ground reports from Narayan Rane. They relied too heavily on his long standing political career in the region. This is where the government faltered majorly. Not only was he reading the concerns wrong but he was also resorting to arrogant strong arm tactics which further infuriated the locals. In Jan 2011 when the CM Prithviraj Chavan visited Jaitapur, the local residents were prevented from voicing their grievances. People opposing the project were kept away from the meeting venue by force. So the CM had no clue about the anger in the local communities.
The Fukushima disaster in Japan acted as a catalyst in increasing the opposition to the project. The coastal belt of Maharashtra falls in Seismic Zone 3 which is Moderate Risk Zone. Post Fukushima the concerns of similar accidents in the JNPL and its impact on people and area around too had to be considered. While the environmental studies conducted so far have showed that no danger is expected, the local anger is over the manner in which studies were conducted and the institutes doing the study. NEERI (National Environment Engineering Research Institute) is one of the main organisations doing the study. The reputation of this agency was badly hit during an oil spill at Mumbai coast in 2010. Neither were they able to control the after affects of the spill but for a long period they were in dark about the hazards of the spill and ways to control it. Also the public hearing of the environmental concerns done in April 2010 was found flawed because the report was not shared with most of the local residents around. Though Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh immediately after Fukushima agreed to reconsider the power plant at Jaitapur, very soon he did a u-turn.
There are few more questions which need to be answered by the Government of India and Government of Maharashtra
The approval for this project was given a week before the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. While giving the approval, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh did mention that some of the environmental risks have been ignored while giving the nod from his ministry. He mentions strategic and economic reasons behind such a move. The question to be asked is what was the pressure or strategic impact of this project? Was the Indian Government under international pressure to give a go ahead? Is this a valid reason to take a confrontational approach with the local residents and not spend time in explaining the project?
The technology being used in the nuclear power plant has so far been untested in the world. The only place where it is under process of being built is in Finland. The project in Finland too has seen tremendous delay and has faced many technical and environmental hurdles. Is it wise on part of Indian Government to risk a region to a technology which is not yet proven?
The PM Manmohan Singh had put his personal prestige at stake for the Nuke deal. At that point he had mentioned about India needed additional 45,000 MW of nuclear energy to meet the demand. Many scientists like Dr Gopalkrishnan, ex- Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board have raised questions on the PM’s assessment. Also why has the government tried to strangle all other traditional means of power generation? Why is there a blanker ban on coal generated power plants? Is the PM under pressure from the US and other vendor countries to buy technology? Instead of a few high impact plants, why is government not looking at plants with smaller capacities distributed across India?
If we see the chain of events, we can see that the government in the state has tried to subvert the process of explanation and been blind to people’s doubts. They have tried to shove the project down people’s throat. If Dr Anil Kakodkar could explain the project to Maharashtra Assembly and Council (where the main supporters of the project including the CM were caught sleeping), what was stopping them from a similar engagement with the local residents.
Does India in general and Maharashtra in particular need some power project to overcome the power crisis? The answer is a resounding yes. Being a layman who does not understand atomic energy in great detail, I will excuse myself from commenting on the merits of nuclear power and JNPL. But being a resident of the state, I will surely say that if government had been less arrogant in it’s behavior and been more accommodating to dissent, we might not seen the loss of life in the police firing 2 days back.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Why am I not rejoicing today

Some are calling it 15th August revisited and some are clling it awakening of new India. Congratulatory messages and smses from people who suddenly have found their ‘conscience’. But as an aspiring young leader, am I rejoicing? No, I am not. And I have my reasons not to rejoice.

To start with, let’s look at the entire movement against corruption. Today Anna Hazare is the face of India against Corruption and treated as if he has already won the war against corruption. One question to ask is was this a fast against corruption or was it a fast just to push himself and his team on the Jan Lokpal Bill Draft Committee? If it was a fight against corruption, why was no action demanded on people already accused yet free like Sheila Dikshit, Kalmadi, Pawar, Vilasrao, Kanimozhi etc? Why did Anna agree only when the government gave him a commitment to pass the bill in June and allowed him to nominate people from the so-called ‘civil society’. I will not get into details of the people nominated or their ideologies or even their dirty acts at some times. But I am forced to ask if only the people nominated make a ‘civil lot’. Where is the inclusivity that these ‘civil society; members love to ask for every time? Why no woman in the committee, why is the committee feudal with a father – son duo in it? Do these 5 represent the voice and wish of entire India? Why is no attempt made to take views of all those common people who joined the movement?

There is also a larger constitutional question. How are we in last few years allowing unconstitutional bodies to frame policies and laws? It started with the National Advisory Council. NAC’s regular turf war with Manmohan Singh and his ministers has ensured that governance goes into a cold storage. The state of inertia hurting Indian economy today is because of this turf war. Now do we want to create one more entity made up of similar activists and put further brakes on development? This is not to say that India does not need a law which will allow complaints against PM and his group of ministers. We need a law which is strong enough to punish wrong doers at higher levels. The Lokpal Bill passed in LS during Vajpayee’s time ensures the above. The new demand is to let the social activists be a part of this entire process. It also creates a Frankenstein. The porposed Jan Lokpal Bill can be extremely draconian if used used with an agenda. This is fraught with dangers as ‘civil society’ in India is still at best a bunch of politically motivated good speakers who push their masters and funders agenda. Also there is a tendency seen in this group and that is to take a view which does not agree with the majority class or caste. Not that majoratism is the way democracy should function but to always act as if majority is wrong is also dangerous. So while the Lokpal Bill as per what NDA had passed should be the starting point along with necessary steps to keep it out of government pressure and control. The immediate need of the hour is to strengthen the existing institutions and bring it out of government pressures. A movement is needed to ensure sanctity of the CVC, CEC, CBI etc. It’s the undermining of these institutions that has led to rampant corruption and corrupt going scot free. On its own passing Lokpal Bill will not solve the problem. It will need comprehensive set of reforms at all levels to ensure that agencies create work efficiently and in an unbiased form.

So while I would thank Anna Hazare for a couple of things. One is to bring the fight against from a political domain to the social domain. So far only the opposition parties were leading this fight against the corrupt UPA. For the first time, the society also joined in. Another aspect to thank Anna for is that his movement ensured that Congress does not escape under the fog cover of WC win and Indo-Pak thaw. It ensured that post WC, the focus is back on corruption and the government’s inaction on it. But at the same time I am not rejoicing because no major breakthrough has been made yet. What Swami Agnivesh and Arving Kejriwal are showing off as victory is nothing few unconstitutional, unimportant crumbs. As long as the process of punishing the guilty of CWG, 2G, Dewas-Antrix, Cash for Votes, Wheat Scam does not move towars logical finish, the India against Corruption is just a nice dream to have.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nation at the crossroads

“Tu idhar udhar ki baat na kar, yeh bata kafila kyun loota”. This is the question Sushma Swawaj asked PM Manmohan Singh in the Parliament recently. And when she asked it, she was echoing the sentiments of millions of Indians who are pained at where we are. When the team of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the country from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the nation was on the threshold of marching into an era of prosperity, happiness and positivity. And its just country misfortune and UPA’s abysmal governance that we need a World Cup victory to rejoice over as something positive in an otherwise negative period. If the nation introspects, it will find the answers. There are many reasons but the biggest reason is the apathy of the great Indian middle class which has brought us to this stage. It’s denial to be a part of the political solution (intentional or stage managed) made it blind and deaf to continuous reminders from likes of L K Advani since 2007 that things are going worse. Starting with mismanagement of anti-terror policy to withering away of the economic growth and now to the menace of corruption, warning signs were always there but both the government and the public ignored those. The result is UPA back in power with higher degree of incompetence, graft, arrogance and unaccountability. So when the second part of the above couplet says “Mujhe rahjaano se gila nahin, teri rahbaari ka sawaal hain”. Here the question is asked not only of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Congress, UPA but to all those who ignored the warning signals in 2009 and brought the country to these crossroads.

Anna Hazare, the grand old man of Maharashtra, is now in Delhi replicating his Maharashtra model. He has successfully fought corruption at all levels in Maharashtra. Now he is on a hunger strike at Jantat Mantar in Delhi against the rampant corruption in the government. He is supported by a number of activists, celebrities, professionals and people from all walks of life. It’s a welcome movement and one has to support it. The anger against the non-stop spate of graft issues is building up the anger of the nation. But there are some dangerous signals coming out of this movement. One of the dangers is people with dubious credentials joining this crusade. One already saw likes of Om Prakash Chautala and Pappu Yadav trying to hog llimelight in this fight. Next is the presence and support from the so-called ‘civil society’. When you have people like Swami Agnivesh, Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander support Anna Hazare, you wonder if this all is becoming a setup. These people are the ones running the government by proxy. If Sonia Gandhi is the remote control, they are the batteries. If they cannot fight corruption inspite of being in the system, nation should think twice before trusting them. They have the power, mandate and support of NAC chief Sonia Gandhi to formulate policies to stop graft. Why haven’t they been able to do so till now? If Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy were so concerned about probity in life, why have they not objected or resigned against the shameless corruption of the PM, the cabinet and his allies? Under no circumstances should they be allowed to hijack the movement. If it happens, it will be a repeat of anti-terror movement after 26/11. Instead of making government answerable their aim is to tar every party with same brush. Nation must distinguish that in BJP, a Bangaru Laxman or Yeddiyurappa is an exception but for Congress Sheila Dixit, Vilasrao, Ashok Chavan, Tarun Gogoi, Jaipal Reddy, Suresh Kalmadi are the rules and not just exceptions. So how much ever, the civil society tries to turn the movement to “sab chor hain”, the national agenda should be to remove the corrupt systems put in place by the Congress part y and make it pay for all the corruption of its own and its allies.

One of the main demands of Anna Hazare is Jan Lokpal Bill. Before we say that Jan Lokpal will be the solution to all the corruption problems, there is a need to understand the pros and cons of it. There is no denying that this country needs systemic changes mainly in form of political reforms, judicial reforms and police reforms. But we also need social reforms and corporate reforms. The corruption is so deeply etched in the soul of the society that just countering political corruption won’t be enough. Society too has to introspect and answers some bitter questions. Hating politicians is dangerous since it creates a political vacuum which is always filled by someone who we don’t like. There are institutions like CVC, CBI, and CAG which act as watchdogs against corruption but if they have failed, it is due to political interference as we saw in the case of appointment of CVC Thomas. The current government has systematically corrupted or destroyed institutions like CVC, CEC. Imagine that an ex-CJI faces serious charges of graft and government still relies on him to become National Human Rights Commission chief against all opposition. So even if Jan Lokpal is accepted, there is no guarantee that Congress will let that institution remain pure. So need of the hour is not another institution but a strong resounding punishment to Congress for its rape of the existing institutions. One more thing worrisome about Jan Lokpal is the demand to include members of ‘civil society’. Now this is fraught with dangers mainly because such ‘civil society’ is nothing but a brigade of arrogant charlatans who just push their master’s agenda. One has to find the right checks and balances before finalizing the Lokpal Bill. And this needs a through discussion not just outside Parliament with the jholawalas but also with the members of the Parliament.

As the nation tries to find its way out of the current situation, there is a tendency to create apathy at various levels against anything political. This is a danger to the democracy. The middleclass is already so apathetic that any increase in it would be the death knell of the democracy. The only way to bring change is by increased participation in the political process. Not all is negative. If one looks at the clean governance Gujarat has provided. Recently a study done by an IAS office for WB showed up Gujarat as being the place where corporate did not have to bribe the government. Look at the new laws in Bihar and MP where they have passed laws to act against erring babus. For all its negatives, Karnataka remains the only state where Lok Ayukta is free and fair and same time has been given powers and is not a toothless wonder. All is not lost and all that we as citizens needs to do is to forget diversions like caste, secularism and vote for clean governance.