Helpless government should go

Despite having a renowned economist as the Prime Minister and several stalwarts like Pranab Mukherjhee, P.Chidambaram, etal the Union Government is sinking ship every moment.  The common perception is that the government works for the rich and ignores the poor. Some one aptly captured UPA as the reverse Robinhood – robbing the poor and paying the rich. Oh! the helpless UPA government for the sake a billion Indians do something to change your helpless state.


Bharat Karnad writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 20 July 2011


On June 29, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with the editors of a few newspapers.

When asked about whether he had been putting pressure on the environment ministry (then headed by Jairam Ramesh) to overlook environmental violations of several projects, Dr Singh said yes, and justified his action thus: “As Gandhiji said, ‘Poverty is the biggest polluter’.

We need to have a balance.” The Prime Minister was probably referring to what Indira Gandhi had said at the first UN Environment Conference in Stockholm in 1972: “Are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?” In that same speech, she had also quoted from the Atharva Veda:

“What of thee I dig out, let that quickly grow over,
Let me not hit thy vitals, or thy heart.”

Dr Singh conveniently ignored the more significant quote. The Prime Minister’s duty is to uphold the Constitution and nation’s laws, including environmental laws, not subvert them. By admitting that he has been putting pressure on the environment ministry, Dr Singh admitted that he was, indeed, subverting the law. Most commentators view the removal of Mr Ramesh from the environment ministry during the July 12 Cabinet reshuffle as a further step in environmental deregulation.

While quoting Indira Gandhi to justify his subversion of environmental law, the Prime Minister forgot that it was Indira Gandhi who created the country’s environmental governance structure; he forgot that it was Indira Gandhi’s intervention that strengthened the call of movements and scientists not to build a hydro-electric project in Silent Valley in Kerala, thereby saving a biodiversity rich ecosystem. And it was Indira Gandhi’s concern that Mussorie, the Queen of Hills, was being stripped naked by limestone mining that led to the Supreme Court order that shut down the mines in 1983.

In pre-liberalisation days, it was accepted that if commerce undermines ecosystems which support life, then commercial activity must stop, because life must carry on. Article 21 of the Constitution makes it the duty of the state to protect life. Since ecological processes support life, the state has a duty to protect ecology. Under Dr Singh’s leadership since the 1990s, based as it is on “growth fetishism”, all ecological devastation has been justified in the name of growth. But who is driving this ecological devastation and pollution? The rich and powerful corporations or the poor and powerless farmers, tribals and displaced rural communities who become urban slum dwellers?

The poor do not cause the pollution, but live in polluted places because they are displaced from their homes in rural areas where they lived sustainably for millennia. This is environmental injustice and it is an inevitable consequence of outsourcing of pollution from rich countries in the garb of FDI.

Coastal Orissa is a case in point. In the Jagatsingpur district, where Posco’s giant steel plant is planned with a massive FDI ($12 billion), farmers grow betel and paddy, coconut and cashew, fruits and fish. There is no pollution and no waste. There is a prosperity that the GDP does not count. This economy of sustenance is being uprooted violently to enable Posco to export our iron-ore and steel. Every law of the land, including the Forest Rights Act and the Coastal Zone Regulation Act, is being violated. But when the committees of the ministry of environment confirm the violations, the Prime Minister puts pressure on the environment minister to give approval to Posco. The women and children of Govindpur, Dhinkia and Nuagaon lay down under a scorching sun to stop the land grab in June. They know what the Posco project will bring: ecological destruction, pollution, displaced people and the destruction of our democracy.

In India, the major polluters are the giant coal-based power plants and industries, like the automobile. Emissions from the use of fossil fuel are driven by the economically powerful, not the poor. But it is the poor who are most vulnerable to the floods, droughts and cyclones that climate change intensifies.

The same applies to toxic pollution. A case in point is the pesticide, Endosulfan. The UN has banned it. Most countries in the world have banned it. The Supreme Court has ordered an interim ban after it was reported that over a thousand people have died and more than 9,000 crippled in Kasargod where Endosulfan was sprayed on cashew plantations for 20 years. The innocent victims did not cause the toxic pollution. It was caused by powerful corporations who influence decisions, who have blocked a ban on Endosulfan even as people die and children are born disabled.

Toxic agrichemicals harm all life. Synthetic fertilisers run into rivers and oceans, creating “dead zones”. Nitrogen oxide released from nitrogen fertilisers accumulates in the atmosphere as a green house gas that is 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide. These synthetic fertilisers also make bombs, as the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the Oklahoma bombings have shown.

We now have a new form of pollution in agriculture — genetic pollution from genetically engineered crops. Genetic pollution is destroying biodiversity and devastating farmers’ livelihoods. The chemical corporations are the gene giants who now control seed. Here too, instead of being the voice of poor and vulnerable farmers, the Prime Minister is the voice of powerful global corporations through his repeated reference to genetic engineering as the second Green Revolution.

Whether it is atmospheric pollution, toxic pollution, genetic pollution or urban waste pollution, all environmental pollution is an externality of a greed-based economy which privatises natural resources and socialises pollution. The rich accumulate the land, the biodiversity, the water, the air and the profits; the poor bear the burden of dispossession and accumulated pollution. We expect the Prime Minister to uphold the Constitution and environmental laws. We do not expect him to support and promote the polluters. We expect the Prime Minister to remember that he holds our precious natural heritage and natural capital in trust for future generations, not to be given away to greedy corporations and destroyed for short-term profits.


The Murdoch Syndrome

Till the phone hacking scandal broke out, Rupert Murdoch was dominating the global media space. The disgrace came suddenly and took away all the reputation he had acquired through right and wrong means. Finally the man had bow down his head and accept a heart quake. For years, his group has been doing all the dirty work to capture world eyeballs. Unfortunately they couldn't sustain their model of media dominance. The verdict is out, Murudoch is clearly out of the good books of the public and Government corridors atleast for the time being.


Robert Cohen writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 20 July 2011

Peter Oborne, writing in the conservative Daily Telegraph, recently suggested that the Conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was not merely in a mess, he “is in a sewer”. That seems about right. Cameron lost it over Rupert Murdoch. He showed staggering lack of judgement in hiring Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, as his first director of communications at Downing Street, a hubristic decision made against the best advice and apparently with a dual aim: to show he was not an old Etonian “toff” and to get favourable treatment from the 37 per cent of the British print media owned by Murdoch.

He then spent a fair chunk of time during his first year in office in 26 meetings with various News Corp honchos, including Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested by the British police on July 17. Brooks happened to be part of the Chipping Norton set, well described by Oborne as “an incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners, located in and around the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency”.

When I was at Oxford University many decades ago, the surrounding countryside was still just that — countryside and a delight. That was before the masters of the universe starting acquiring their Cotswold gems as weekend homes and gentrification went into overdrive, complete with helipads, of course. Brooks and her husband live a few miles from Cameron’s constituency home. Matthew Freud, the public relations guru married to Elisabeth Murdoch, also has a weekend home in the area. Chipping Norton was the limestone British Camelot. Who would have dreamt it?

Cameron’s judgment is in serious question. His coalition’s earlier green light for News Corp.’s acquisition of the 61 per cent of British Sky Broadcasting that it does not own — a deal now aborted — demands further scrutiny. It is hard to resist the impression that Cameron was completely in the thrall of Brooks, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch. I had thought there was more to the Prime Minister than slickness.

But it is not only Cameron who is in the sewer. The culture of the United Kingdom as a whole has been reeking pungently of late — its venal, voyeuristic, reality-show-obsessed, me-me-me nature thrust under the magnifying glass by revelations about what the tabloid press would do to satisfy the prurience of its readers, hacking into phones at any price, even the phone of a 13-year-old murdered girl. It may be debated to what degree Murdoch created this culture, or reinforced it, through his ruthless, no-holds-barred approach to journalism — and its ultimate deviation into criminal activity.

Certainly he had a significant role. The police and members of Parliament were compromised. But would Western societies, including the United States, be betraying these same characteristics — obsession with celebrities (and especially their sex lives); blurring of the lines between news and entertainment; extreme self-indulgence (I am my Facebook Wall); a dearth of political principle and a surfeit of political attraction to money — without Murdoch?

I suspect they would.
The Murdoch story is a cautionary tale for our times that goes well beyond the now-compromised fortunes of News Corp.
The United States, after all, has been doing its own good impression of life in the political sewers recently. Republican ideologues with no notion of the national interest do their brinkmanship number as the country hovers near an unthinkable default. The only thought in their heads seems to be: How will all this play next year in the election and how can we hurt US President Barack Obama without being blamed for it?

Is the calculation of these Republicans that different from Cameron’s? It’s all about the next news cycle, and spin, and ego, and where the money for political campaigns is, and a total absence of judgment. What it’s not about is responsibility and the commonweal.

Murdoch is a flawed genius whose very ruthlessness has now led him to his comeuppance. He knew, more viscerally than anyone, what postmodern societies wanted to satisfy their twisted appetites and he provided that material in all its gaudiness. I don’t think he created those appetites. But he sure fed them.

Something deeply insidious and corrupt is at work that has been on view in both Britain and the United States. It involves the takeover of politics by money and spin and massaged images and privileged coteries. It is the death of statesmanship.

Murdoch’s Fox News has played a big role. But all the major technological and other forces in Western societies are pushing towards polarisation. Google is profiling you through your searches and directs you to the material most likely to reinforce your world view and ideology. Increasingly, we live in our political comfort zone. Debate and dialogue die. The sordid dance of Cameron and Murdoch has ended up revealing deep flaws in the British society that are also deep problems in Western societies as a whole. Will the two men recover? Cameron is much younger and so in theory he should be able to claw his way out of the sewer. But I’m not sure he will get over this. Murdoch has more backbone and so a better chance, even at this late stage.