Archive for Debates

Investment beats environment in BJP Manifesto

Gujarat pollution

In Modi’s manifesto, ecology and environment seem to be solely understood in terms of creating a suitable climate for industries disregarding the loss of livelihood, forced land acquisition, irreversible damage to the environment and permanent loss of natural resources

By Rohit Prajapati

The word ‘Environment’ is formally and casually mentioned at 7 places in BJP “MONEY-FESTO – MODI-FESTO” and same is the case with Congress “All is Well Manifesto”.

BJP’s crucial understanding and concerned about environment is mentioned at page 29 “Decision-making on environment clearances will be made transparent as well as time-bound.” The word environment clearance is highlighted in bold, which clearly reflects that Modi’s Money-Festo’s main concern is speedy clearance for the industries and not the environment.

The other word ‘time-bound’ is also clearly reflects that Modi’s Money-Festo’s main concerns is speedy clearance for the industries and not the environment. To make it very clear on the same page the Money-Festo further states “Frame the environment laws in a manner that provides no scope for confusion and will lead to speedy clearance of the proposals without delay.” This well spell-out assurance of Mr. Modi is to the industrialist that they should not worry about environment laws because Modi will remove all their hurdles so that just by filing some papers and giving some vague assurance they will get the clearance. This is the “Gujarat Model of Development” which led Gujarat State to become number one in pollution.

To make it further crystal clear Money-Festo states that “Take all steps: like removing red-tapism involved in approvals, to make it easy to do business, invest in logistics infrastructure, ensure power supply and undertake labor reforms, besides other steps to create a conducive environment for investors.” The Modi-Festo says in very clear words to mortgage the environment and labor laws.

At page 11 Money-Festo states “performance review, social and environment audit would be mandated for all Government Schemes and programmes.” Why should not social and environment audit will also be compulsory for the industries? That means Modi is stating in clear words that when he talks about social and environment audit it is not for industries.

At page 33 Money-Festo states “Sewage treatment plants to prevent the pollution of rivers.” Modi-Festo is completely silent on the issues of river pollution by industrial effluent. At page 36 Money-Festo states “Cleaner fuels will be promoted so as to bring down the pollution levels particularly in the cities.” Modi is completely silent on the issue of air pollution by the industrial cluster in rural and urban areas. It further states “Ecological Audit of projects and pollution indexing of cities and townships will be done on scientific basis.” Modi-Festo does not want to talk about “Ecological Audit – Pollution Indexing” for industrial cluster of India which is called Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI). In fact, Gujarat is the most polluted state in India.

In 2009, the Ankleshwar’s industrial area, with 88.50 CEPI, topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India. In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list.

On the issue of river pollution there is only mention of river Ganga at page 41 by completely sidelining the issue of number of severely polluted rivers of India and specifically the issue of severely polluted rivers passing through the industrial cluster of Gujarat.

In Gujarat rivers are “used” for industrial and domestic effluent dumping

Constituency of Modi – Vadodara’s rural area’s ground water is highly contaminated and it is red. If you travel just 10-20 kms you can witness reddish ground water.

The word Climate Change at page 35 of Modi-Festo states “encouraging research and application to meet the challenges of climate change and for forecasting prevention and mitigation of natural hazards, particularly floods, cyclones, earthquakes, drought and landslides.” This clearly indicates Modi-Festo’s narrow understanding of climate change which completely ignores the impact of industrial pollutants on climate change. It further states at page 36 “We will take Climate Change mitigation imitative with all seriousness and work with global community and institutions in this regard.” The word Climate Change mentioned very casually and no real program to mitigate the climate change is discussed in the Money-Festo of BJP.

Same understanding is also reflected in Narendra Modi’s book on climate change. In his book- CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change- Modi selectively presents information and data, which are convenient to defend the ‘development model’ being pursued by the state. The book completely ignores the information from the ‘Gujarat Ecology Commission’ of the Government of Gujarat, and the press coverage on pollution in Gujarat by almost all newspapers over the last 15 years. Even a Google search on ‘pollution in Gujarat’ would have provided plenty of information.

The author could also have accessed basic information from the Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to find out the status of the environment of Gujarat State. Even the Gujarat Ecology Commission report and recent CAG report acknowledges the abysmal status of the environment in Gujarat. Why did Modi base his book on cherry-picked evidence that ignores the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat?

Modi has included in his book on page 132-133 a photo of the ‘Common Effluent Treatment Plant’ of Vapi, a facility which has not been able to fulfill the environmental norms prescribed by Gujarat Pollution Control Board since many years. While the photo is very large, there is no discussion about the functioning of CETP of Vapi. The book completely ignores the failure of all major ‘industrial effluent treatment facilities’ of Gujarat. Why?

The so-called success story of the two-digit growth and tall claims of capital investment in Gujarat State has masked the several digit realities of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources, which are treated as free goods in this development model. The investment figure, without the figures for displacement, destruction and depletion of natural resources and the employment figure without loss of livelihood does not make sense. No wise person would talk about the income without talking the cost of acquiring that income or wealth.

This capitalist development has never tried to arrive at even a realistic estimate of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources figures but the magnitude of the loss can be guessed from some of the facts emerging from various important research works on status of environment in Gujarat.

“Money-Festo – Modi-Festo” of BJP clearly reflects the understanding of environment of Gujarat Development Model of Mr. Modi.

Rohit Prajapati is a social activist based in Vadodara

If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em

woman- journalist-sexual -assault

The media trial that sought to vilify the complainant in the Tejpal case would reverse the currently increased receptivity to women’s complaints of sexual abuse and restore the public culture of silence against sexual violence

By Ayesha Kidwai

Over the last one year, since the rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus, the Indian public sphere has been repeatedly rocked by reports of egregious sexual harassment and sexual violence against young women, usually committed upon them in the course of their work. What has been unusual is not the occurrence of these incidents, but the fact that so many of these incidents have become complaints, materialising from the crisp backlit text of email, blogs, and the social media on our computer screens into brutally-thumbed and casually bandied-about complaints and depositions.

Public institution after institution — the judiciary, the media, and academia — has felt the impact of this unanticipated shift. But ever since the problem has gotten off the bus and knocked insistently at the door of whichever institution, one considered to be one’s home, the initial enthusiasm for the bracing winds of social change has abated. Three recent journalistic pieces — one by Manu Joseph in the Outlook and two by Seema Mustafa in The Citizen and the Statesman — show that the strategy to contain the contagion of complaints have evolved in disturbing ways.

Quite obviously, the complainants lie at the heart of every problem, but dealing with them is not an easy task. For one, they do not cower behind the anonymity that is their right under law, but never ever get; for another, even when they have been subjected to the most public violations of privacy, confidentiality, and due process, they do not back away from their complaints. And since the law holds that a survivor is her own true witness in the allegations she makes, the best way to discredit her is to cast her asunder from her words. In Manu Joseph’s view, this separation is effected by what the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s elevator landing saw (i.e. CCTV cameras in the landing areas outside the elevator); from Seema Mustafa’s version of what the Elevator Landing speaks to, a woman’s right to voice even a perceived grievance is denied to her.

While Joseph’s and Mustafa’s pieces have been extensively critiqued in the electronic and social media (most admirably by the Network of Women in Media [NWMI]) for the many breaches of ethical professional journalistic conduct they embody, what allies them most is the lengths that both go to elide the word ‘complainant’, or the more popular word ‘victim’, from the lexicon of their (this-is-not) rape narrative. As Pratiksha Baxi points out, in her Kafila piece, Joseph’s use of Young Woman for the complainant is a reference that does “not evoke the popular image of the innocent rape survivor”.

It is clear that for Joseph, there is only one set of victims here — Tejpal and his family. It is he who has been “destroyed” and it is his family who has been “evicted” from their home, as his wife suffers the “indignity” of defending her husband’s “consensual” relationship. The complainant of course has not suffered in the same way: though she has had to move as well, it is only to a “new home on the outskirts of Delhi”. There is no mention of her mother at all, and her father cannot be told that Tejpal raped her because of his ill-health; in short, no grieving kin or friends. And while she is “in a delicate mental state”, this fragility is not because of the assault she has been subjected to, but because she is “consumed by the intense fear” that her character will soon be put on trial. And lest we begin to empathise with her, we should know that “details of her past are already in the air” i.e. she has a past that needs some worrying about! Comparing this to Tejpal’s ordeal of sitting in a small cell in a Goa jail, we know which one of the two could qualify as the veritable zindaa laash, were it not for Tejpal’s love for his journalistic craft, embodied in his ceaseless striving (through Court petitions) for stationery supplies in jail.

Mustafa’s characterisation of the complainant is even more partial than Joseph’s. Since, unlike Joseph, Mustafa does not appear to have even bothered to meet the complainant (whatever happened to the journalistic code of checking and balancing sources, we wonder), it’s only the woman on the CCTV footage who she describes as the “alleged victim”. This purposely cruel phrase — more so because Mustafa refers to Tejpal (only once) with the contradictory ‘”alleged accused” (note, not “alleged perpetrator”) — discredits every part of the complainant’s deposition, even those incidents that the Elevator Landing couldn’t see, most importantly the act of the rape itself.

The choice of this phrase as the descriptor (although the usage of the term ‘alleged victim’ to mean complainant does exist in US legal parlance, it is novel for Indian journalism) then allows Mustafa the latitude to interpret what the CCTV evidence should mean for the case: since the woman did not show “visible (to Mustafa) signs of agitation”, and because she chose not to take the stairs in the second incident complained about, Mustafa concludes that “the jury is clearly out on this one.”

Both Joseph and Mustafa have stoutly defended their positions by invoking the criterion of objectivity, but one is puzzled as to how that criterion is served by their unwillingness to question information fed to them and which is clearly directed towards a “media trial” of the complainant. Surely, intrepid journalists like these two should have entertained enough skepticism about such information fed to them and carry it over to the copy they generated. Nevertheless, even if we were to assume that every alleged contradiction pointed out in these articles are “facts”, as Mustafa asserts, surely there has to be an understanding that any “fact” is always interpreted as one within a particular context. The context here is one of sexual violence, for which there is ample evidence that the trauma causes confusion, numbness, memory lapses, etc in the victim. In the universe of this discourse, it is no longer a ‘fact’ that recollection and narration of a sequence of events must be instantaneously seamless and fluent for it to be credible.

The burning question is why Mustafa and Joseph have done this? Are they misogynistic ‘supporters’ of Tejpal or fearless worshippers of fact and intrepid journalism? While the latter question may be good for an author’s self-image, and the former one can be dismissed as presupposing too tidy a critique, the real issue is a general failure amongst the professionals to come up with an adequate response to what the changed mood in the middle class demands. Mustafa and Joseph’s failures are just repeats of ones that we have witnessed over and over again, and each profession has plunged into a crisis when a colleague has been accused: How does a ‘senior’ professional approach the fact that some young woman has gone and complained about something that wasn’t even a grievance just a few years ago? After all, it is ”her’ word against ‘his’ and we know him; and while he may have his faults, he has done so many good things, and he is above all, secular. In any case, why are these outsiders, this “bunch of feminists” getting so involved in these matters (which are always so stippled with grey when seen from our side)?

For an outsider feminist like me, the answer is obvious: no one but this bunch knows what to do when a complaint is made from within one’s own kind. When the complaints have been made from within academia or within the judiciary, it is this bunch that has fought for them to be addressed, protested and thwarted the misuse of hierarchical power and its machinery of slander and intimidation, and reminded their professions that the ideal of equality must first be expressed in the creation of conditions conducive to its access. In doing so, they have imbued the phrase “let the law take its own course” with substantive meaning.

It is time for some of our journalist friends who have long written about women’s empowerment to emulate a fraction of what Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover did in the complaints against the judiciary. Disputing their and other activists’ rights to dispute one’s own article may serve to create a comfortable ‘Us vs. Them’ binary that facilitates self-justification, taking feminists names along with the website-hacking Hindu Right may exaggerate the sense of injury (and dare I say it, “alleged victimhood”), but using the suicide of Khurshid Anwar as a stick to beat all feminists and complainants with does not serve the memory of a man whose commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation and equality has been cited as proof of his innocence.

It may be thought that the fact that the court has already taken a position on the Insightful Elevator Landing renders the current debate irrelevant, but this would be a terrible mistake. Across the spectrum of professions, what is at stake here is the fundamental right of a woman to make a complaint, and the vilification of the complainant that we are witnessing currently targets the all important court of public opinion. The increased receptivity to women’s complaints that we have witnessed in recent times must be reversed, and what better way to do it, but to turn the woman against her word. If complainants are no longer as readily believed, if feminism’s misdeeds begin from supporting such untrustworthy women and end with draconian punishments like the death penalty (which they were in truth the first to oppose), the re-creation of a public culture of silence about sexual violence can perhaps be hoped for. It needs no guessing as to whose interests this aspired to future will serve, but must we be doomed to dream the nightmares of the communal misogynistic right?

Ayesha Kidwai is a professor of linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University

If you don’t vote for Modi, you are a terrorist

Narendra-Modi

A concerted attempt by investigative agencies and sections of media seeks to foster suspicion and hatred against the minority community and create an image of the BJP’s controversial PM candidate Narendra Modi as being the target of terrorists

By Kavita Krishnan
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014, several instances of politically-motivated violence have been witnessed. The communal violence at Muzaffarnagar, intended to sharpen communal polarisation
and consolidate the dominant and majority community in UP and neighbouring states in favour of the BJP, is a good example. In Bihar, the murder of a young Muslim schoolteacher Akbar Khan followed by the murder of CPI(ML) Liberation leader Budhram Paswan, have also been used to serve a political purpose.

Following Comrade Budhram’s murder, feudal forces fired celebratory shots in the air, aiming to terrorise the poor supporters of CPI(ML). Following Akbar’s murder, there was a malicious attempt to spread a rumour that he was killed because he cheered for Pakistan in a cricket match. Fortunately the communal canard failed, because the young Akbar, who used to teach poor children for free and organise actions to keep the streets free of sexual harassment for schoolgirls, enjoyed the affection and respect of local people of all communities. As the elections unfold, it is disturbing to note a trend of communalisation and politicisation of terror investigations.

In the month of March, there has been a concerted attempt by investigative agencies and by sections of the media, to create an image of the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, as a leader who is the target of terrorists and to foster suspicion and hatred against the minority community as well. Following the arrest of four youths in Rajasthan recently, the media carried many stories claiming – supposedly based on ‘IB alerts’ that these four men were part of a terror plot against Modi. The Delhi Police Special Cell that made the arrests chose to hold a press conference about the arrests. What was the need for a press conference in an ongoing investigation, when no substantial facts are available? Such an exercise, in an election season, smacks of a political motive.

Communal profiling in terror Investigations: Report from Abgila, Arwal, Bihar

A team comprising CPI(ML) leaders Dhirendra Jha, Kavita Krishnan, Mohd Salim, Rajaram and Mahanand, as well as senior advocates and activists of Rihai Manch, Mohd Shoaib and Asad Hyatt, visited Abgila village in Arwal district on March 31, 2014. Below, we summarise what the team was told by people of the village:

National Investigation Agency (NIA) asks ‘Why won’t you vote for Modi?’ Maqsood Alam, father of 19-year old Aslam Parvez told the team that his son has been held in NIA custody since March 5th. Alam had taken his son to Karauna OP of Jehanabad after being informed by the police to present himself there. In his presence, his son was beaten by the NIA team and asked to confess to involvement in the blasts.

Subsequently, he was held in NIA custody in Delhi and papers reported on April 1 that he was produced in a Ranchi court on March 31st and that he has ‘confessed’ to involvement in the blasts.’ Maqsood Alam and other family members were told by the NIA to present themselves in Delhi on the day of Holi. Alam saw his son in NIA custody in Delhi, and according to him, ‘Aslam Parvez appeared crazed by torture, talking incoherent rubbish. It was heartrending to see my young son in this condition.’

Maqsood Alam himself was interrogated by the NIA. During interrogation he was asked to which party he belonged, to which he replied ‘Maaley’ (CPIML Liberation is known in Bihar by this name). Asked ‘What’s Maaley’, he replied ‘It’s Dipankarji’s party (Dipankar Bhattacharya is the party General Secretary)’. To which an NIA interrogator asked him, ‘Why won’t you and your family support Modi, vote for Modi?’ Maksood Alam is a homoeopathic doctor; the NIA also tried to instigate his landlord to evict his clinic from the premises.

Aslam Parvez’s cousin Irfan Ansari had been picked up on March 1st, and tortured in NIA custody. In Jehanabad, he was stripped naked and beaten on his legs and soles of the foot. In NIA custody in Delhi,
soap was put in his mouth, and his head was held under water repeatedly. A chair was placed on his chest, and NIA personnel would sit on the arms of the chair to create unbearable pressure on his body. He put be placed in a room all night with no clothes on, with the fan on. Irfan Ansari said the NIA told him – ‘We’ll ensure that no Muslim from Arwal ever gets a government job.’ Irfan has been selected for the CRPF, and the NIA told him that they would ensure that he lost his place.

Irfan was asked to confess to having introduced Aslam Parvez to some ‘Hyder’ and to have been in Gaya on the day of the Bodh Gaya blasts (7 July 2013). He had in fact travelled by train to Asansol via Dhanbad; and the train passes through Gaya. However, he said he never alighted at Gaya. He was shown photographs of persons and asked, under torture, to identify them – but he was unable to do so. Irfan was released and told that he would be interrogated again at a later date.

During interrogation by the NIA in Delhi, Manzoor Alam was brought face to face with Aslam Parvez, and the latter said to Manzoor, “We met together at Gaya with Irfan and Hyder to plan the Bodh Gaya
blasts.” Manzoor Alam said that Aslam Parvez’s manner revealed that he was under duress and severe torture.

Irfan’s brothers Rustom and Sohrab, Murtaza Ansari, Parvez Alam, Sarfaraz, Sarfuddin and Naushad Alam are some of the other youth from the village who have been summoned and interrogated by the NIA. There is an atmosphere of palpable terror, with every youth living in the village fears that he will be tortured and branded a terrorist.

The NIA Act is a draconian law under which an accused can be held in police custody for 30 days, and further detained without charges for 180 days. For Aslam Parvez, this has meant that the NIA has the powers to extract false confessions under torture.

The whole episode displays a disturbing trend of politicisation and communalisation of terror investigations.

Gujarat development myth: 16 questions to Narendra Modi

Gujarat pollution

The growth story of Gujarat has masked the multiple realities of land acquisition, displacement, loss of livelihood, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources, writes Vadodara based human rights activist Rohit Prajapti in an open letter to right- wing politician and PM aspirant Narendra Modi

Here is the full text of the letter:

Mr. Modi,

Subject: Clarify your position on key environmental issues for the General Election 2014 to enable meaningful debate and not empty rhetoric.

I would like to raise certain issues for you to respond to during the ensuing General Election 2014 debate, as you project yourself as PM in waiting, making unsustainable claims about the so-called two digit growth of Gujarat.

I am sending you the points for discussion in advance to enable you to respond in writing during your election campaign in Vadodara and Varanasi constituencies. I am also sending a copy of the letter to the press so that you can respond to the press directly as well. These issues are not new; I have repeatedly raised them in number of letters sent to various departments of the Government of Gujarat, as well as directly to you. I have yet to receive a proper reply though to any of them.

The CMO has, instead of answering categorically, passed the buck by referring these letters to the so-called concerned department even when straight questions were addressed to you. I am ready for dialogue in an open meeting with you as well on these issues. I am also prepared to attend a press conference to discuss these issues. I assure you that I am eager to engage in dialogue with you and hence am sending you people’s concerns in advance so that the discussion may be thoughtful and productive.

I would like to clarify that some questions I raise have equal relevance for the Congress Party who have yet to address the questions that I am raising. However, since it is you who makes tall claims for Gujarat and since you have been in power in Gujarat State for many years, it is in the fitness of things that I address these questions to you now.

The so-called success story of the two-digit growth and tall claims of capital investment in Gujarat State has masked the several digit realities of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources, which are treated as free goods in this development model. The investment figure, without the figures for displacement, destruction and depletion of natural resources and the employment figure without loss of livelihood does not make sense. No wise person would talk about the income without talking the cost of acquiring that income or wealth.

My questions relate to the ‘development model’ celebrated and propagated by you for the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign and the Destruction of Natural Resources and Livelihood that has resulted directly from this

(1) In 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in keeping with the demands of the people’s organisations working on environmental issues, decided to use a new method of indexing the pollution levels of these areas, which is now known as the ‘Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index’ (CEPI). The CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. However, our demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food / agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming such food – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.

As per the agreed upon measures, industrial areas with a CEPI of 70 and above are considered ‘critically polluted’ areas while those with a CEPI between 60 and70 are considered ‘severely polluted’ areas. In our opinion, those industrial areas with CEPI between 40 and 60 ought to be labelled as ‘polluted areas’.

In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial estates was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Government of India were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted areas’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted’ areas. Following this study, the MoEF on 13 January 2010 was also forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas. At that time, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and other environment protection groups had asked for a moratorium on all the 75 (43+32) polluting areas, but it was not done, under pressure from the powerful industrial lobby and state governments. The murky politics and economics of ‘GDP growth’ prevailed over the cause of ‘life and livelihood’ of ordinary people and ‘environment and conservation.

As such the process of declaring moratorium was started from Ankleshwar in Gujarat in 2007. The industries located in Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia GIDC estates treat their effluent in their Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and then, after giving further treatment ‘at the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) at Ankleshwar discharge the effluent into the sea. The FETP, from its inception, did not work as per the prescribed norms set by the GPCB. Even today it is not able to meet the prescribed norm. For this reason, on July 7, 2007, GPCB, on the directions of the CPCB, imposed a moratorium on the industrial areas of Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia. The moratorium is in force even today, since there has been no substantial improvement in the pollution levels even after the implementation of the so-called ‘action plans’ prepared by these estates. The same plant’s disposal pipeline project was inaugurated by you on January 25, 2007. By inaugurating this plant, you tried to send out the message to the investors not to worry too much about compliance with environment laws in the state. Despite this moratorium being in force officially, the active connivance of the industrial lobby with the collusion of politicians along with the official machinery in Gujarat has surreptitiously lifted the moratorium from some area at different times.

Why did you inaugurate the FETP pipeline project despite its non-compliance with the GPCB norms? Why do you endorse the public paying when industries pollute?

In reply to my RTI application to you dated 23 April 2010 about the inauguration of FETP by you, your office states that “In addition, would like to inform you that about point no. 1 & 2 of your RTI application dated 23 April 2010, information sought by you is about the period before date 25 January 2007 and government’s term was over in December 2007 and after new government came in as per our working method, old records were destroyed so demanded information can not be made available to you.”

It is difficult to believe that a responsible and publicly accountable office such as yours, especially with your emphasis on “transparent and effective public governance” would destroy official records of public importance, even while you continue to be the chief minister in the consecutive term. With your emphasis on ‘information technology’ in governance, the soft copies of the correspondence should be present in some official data bank, or one would assume that you or your office are deliberately withholding or denying information that should be in public realm and your public accountability as the chief minister stands questioned, following such a stand of destruction of official records on the mere pretext that it happened because of change in Government. Why do you want to hide this information? What is the stated policy on destruction of records? Under what rule or law have such critical documents been, as you say, destroyed?

Despite the “Polluter Pays” principle, common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) were highly supported by public money; 25% of the cost was state subsidy, 25% central subsidy, 30% loans from financial institutes, and only 20% was directly paid by industries. In essence, half of the supposed ‘solution’ to the pollution generated for private profit, was funded by the general public. As if this subsidy was not enough, the subsidy for the CETP has been increased from 25% to 50% by the Central Government.

The pipeline project of Final Effluent Treatment Plant of Ankleshwar was built with the sweat of tax payers. Out of a total project cost of Rs. 131.43 crores, the industries paid only Rs. 21.75 crores (about 17%); the rest of the tab (Rs. 109 crores) was borne by the Central Government, the Gujarat Government, and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) – all of which ultimately draw from public money. It is a familiar story: the profits are distributed privately, but the institutional costs and environmental burden are borne by general public. Can we find a better example of the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of the costs, burdens and hazards?

With no improvement in the levels of pollution being shown by the CEPI of the CPCB, the MoEF again, through its order of September 17, 2013 re-imposed a moratorium for some industrial areas. However, surprisingly the same order also lifted the moratorium from some polluted areas in the name of ‘promises, presumption and assumption’ of improvement. However, in our opinion the moratorium ought not to be lifted until these units bring down their CEPI to below 60.

In Gujarat, the GPCB has served repeated closure notices to several industries, which have been openly flouting environmental norms. However, the CPCB report of May – November 2013 has revealed no significant change in these industrial areas

Strict action needs to be taken against such industries and their ‘treatment facilities’. The CPCB report of 2009 covered 88 industrial estates, but the reports of 2011 and 2013 covered only 43 ‘critically-polluted areas’. In our opinion, the CEPI of all 88 areas should be conducted by the MoEF, CPCB and SPCBs. Other areas should also be included if the residents so wish.

In 2009, the Ankleshwar’s industrial area, with 88.50 CEPI, topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India . In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list . What do you want to say about this number one?

The Gujarat Government is neither uttering a single word on these issues nor are you ready for any kind of dialogue or debate on this issue.

I am not and cannot be concerned only with the quantum of investment, but also with what is being invested, what the goal of the investment is, and how it affects the people in general. The Gujarat Government has consistently opposed these moratoriums per se, without acknowledging the environmental concerns brought up by affected people and environmental groups despite the obvious need. Given that the industries are facing moratoriums from the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the unabated cycle of pollution, which continues to impact adversely all kinds of lives – human, agriculture and livestock, I am interested to know what you have to say regarding the industrial moratoriums in our state. What is your position on environmental concerns that have led to the moratoriums?

(2) Why does your government fail to have a land use policy?

Why is an abundance of chemical industries allowed on fertile land, including the ‘vegetable basket’ of Gujarat like Padra Taluka of Vadodara District?

(3) On 7 May 2004 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 657 of 1995, the Supreme Court ordered Gujarat State to provide clean drinking water to residents of villages near Vapi, Ankleshwar, and Effluent Channel Project of Vadodara, where the water supply was irrevocably damaged by industrial activities. Yet, there are ongoing actions contrary to what the Court has ordered. This order is still awaiting implementation. When will your government implement this order?

(4) The quality of groundwater in Gujarat has reached a critical stage and yet it is being contaminated continuously. Orders for clean drinking water are passed based on the visit of the Supreme Court committee, and the committee is not able to visit all the affected villages of the Golden Corridor. The groundwater of about 14 districts and about 74 talukas of Gujarat are critically affected by pollution, even if we consider the routine parameters like Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Total Hardness (TS), Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), and some heavy metal like Cadmium, Copper, Lead, Mercury, Iron etc. Thus the condition of the groundwater of Gujarat requires immediate attention as the rural population is deprived of the very basic need of safe drinking water and clean water for their animals and crops.

The groundwater of about 14 districts and about 74 talukas of Gujarat are critically affected by pollution

Ahmedabad, Daskroi, Mehmedavad, Vadodara, Ankleshwar, Bardoli, Choryasi, Kamrej, Mangrol, Olpad, Palsana, Valod, Vyara, Navsari, Sanand, Dhoraji, Jetpur, Okha Mandal etc. talukas are critically polluted. Amreli, Jambusar, Junagad, Mandvi, Kalol, Morvi, Upleta, Mahuva, Chorila, Dhangadhar, Limdi, Bansda, Umbergaon etc talukas are found moderately polluted. If we talk about Vatva to Vapi – the Golden Corridor – it is clear that 70% of the groundwater is contaminated and it has reached the irreversible level. When are you going to act on this serious issue of contamination of ground water?

(5) The air pollution situation is also alarming in the Golden Corridor of Gujarat. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board admits in writing “5. PROBABLE POLLUTANTS: … (B) Air: HCl, SO2, NH3, H2S, NOx, PM2.5, PM10, VOCs, PAHs, PCBs, Vinyl Chloride. Note: Benzene, VOCs, PAHs, PCBs, vinyl chloride are not being monitored by GPCB, as no measuring facility is available with GPCB. This statement speaks for itself. In an “advanced state” like Gujarat, why do we not have facilities to take these basic measurements? Moreover, when will you take actions to clean up the air quality, which has become so poor?

(6) You are the Chairman of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority and the same authority has to implement ‘The Gujarat State Disaster Management Act, 2003. The Act clearly states ‘(2) (h) “disaster” means an actual or imminent event, whether natural or otherwise occurring in any part of the State which causes, or threatens to cause all or any of the following: (i) widespread loss or damage to property, both immovable and movable; or (ii) widespread loss of human life or injury or illness to human beings; or (iii) damage or degradation of environment.’ However, the web site of Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority states ‘The GSDMA has been constituted by the Government of Gujarat by the GAD’s Resolution dated 8th February 2001. The Authority has been created as a permanent arrangement to handle the natural calamities.’ What about environmental disasters? There is no ‘Comprehensive Chemical Emergency Plan’ with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority. The Director, Health and Safety Department has an ‘Off Site Emergency Plan;’ but when I demanded a copy of it, I was told that it is secret. Kindly clarify your position on the crucial issue of a disaster management plan and its transparency.

(7) A direct outcome of our persistent efforts since 1994 has been forcing GPCB / Government to act against Hema Chemicals of Vadodara, which was responsible for illegal dumping of hazardous chromium waste in Gorwa area of Vadodara. As per the direction of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, the company was ordered in 2004 to pay Rs. 17 Crores as first instalment towards remediation of the site. Why has your government failed to remove the hazardous waste dumped by Hema Chemicals, and recover the Rs 17 Crores fines from Hema Chemicals, as per the direction of the Supreme Court?

(8) Which law allows the effluent that does not meet Gujarat Pollution Control Board norms to be discharged from Tadgam Sarigam Pipeline, from FETP, Ankleshwar, ECP, Vadodara, CETPs of Ahmedabad? I would like you to clarify your position on the issue of such an open and blatant disregard of environment laws.

(9) Your book CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change selectively presents information and data, which are convenient to defend the ‘development model’ being pursued by the state. The book completely ignores the information from the ‘Gujarat Ecology Commission’ of the Government of Gujarat, and the press coverage on pollution in Gujarat by almost all newspapers over the last 15 years. Even a Google search on ‘pollution in Gujarat’ would have provided plenty of information. The author could also have accessed basic information from the Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to find out the status of the environment of Gujarat State. Even the Gujarat Ecology Commission report and recent CAG report acknowledges the abysmal status of the environment in Gujarat. Why did you base your book on cherry-picked evidence that ignores the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat?

(10) You have included in your book on page 132-133 a photo of the ‘Common Effluent Treatment Plant’ of Vapi, a facility which has not been able to fulfil the environmental norms prescribed by Gujarat Pollution Control Board since many years. While the photo is very large, there is no discussion about the functioning of CETP of Vapi. Your book completely ignores the failure of all major ‘industrial effluent treatment facilities’ of Gujarat. Why?

This post-facto regularisation of illegal residential complexes sends a clear message that the safety norms can be bent to accommodate economic interests. This is going to be a disastrous action on the part of the concerned authorities as far as the health and safety of the people is concerned. Instead of taking firm action and enforcing the regulations, these departments are succumbing to pressure from all sides from powerful rich people who want to legalise their illegal residential complexes. In spite of support by Gujarat Sate the builder had lost the case in High Court of Gujarat and ultimately people won the case.

Any post facto relaxation in the present environmental guidelines and norms is nothing but manipulation of present environmental norms to legalise illegal construction activities in order to favour powerful rich people who can pressurise the Government to act against the interests of ordinary people. I have opposed to the proposed dilution of norms, and have expressed this and written letters to you. I would like to know why your government finds it acceptable to relax safety norms of your own administration. Why accommodate violators instead of punishing them?

(11) Most of the cities and towns are openly and brazenly violating ‘The Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000’ since long. For example, the Vadodara Mahanagar Seva Sadan is dumping its municipal solid wastes into the ravines, ditches, hillocks of Vishwamitri River by violating the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The action of the corporation is directly violating laws, which provide that water bodies should not be permitted to be polluted.

Instead of protection and preservation, the government and its corporation are themselves destroying the Vishwamitri River with their unlawful and unethical dumping of Municipal Solid Waste. This has repeatedly also led to terrible floods from River Vishwamitri

On 25th of May 2005 the Chairperson of Gujarat Pollution Control Board had given clear directions to the Municipal Commissioner of Vadodara Municipal Corporation: (1) To stop dumping of Municipal Solid Waste on the banks of the river “Vishwamitri“ and re-collect all the waste from about 70,000 sq. meter area and dispose it on the landfill site. (2) To re-collect solid waste from the bank of the river and clean up natural waterway to avoid the flooding during monsoon season. (3) To re-collect solid waste from the site near Akota Garden and on the banks of the river near VUDA Circle and dispose of it at the landfill site. (4) To stop burning of Municipal solid waste all over the city immediately. (5) To direct the concerned personnel to be more vigilant and careful. (6) Directed them to comply with the direction issued in the authorisation granted.

Now VMSS does have the so-called legal site, yet the direction dated 25 May 2005 is not implemented by the VMSS and illegal dumping is still continued at the illegal site. This is nothing but butchering of the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. Why there is no legal action under the act as initiated against the VMSS by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board?

(12) I had also launched a complaint against residential and commercial complexes coming up in the vicinity of hazardous solid waste sites in Ahmedabad (Vatva & Naroda) in violation of GPCB notification on industrial hazardous solid waste and The Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989. These complexes were in violation of the Central Pollution Control Board & Gujarat Pollution Control Board guidelines and norms requiring a 500 metres safety distance from TSDFs to residential complexes.

Instead of punishing the violating builders/contractors, The Forest & Environment Department and Urban Development and Urban Housing Department of Government of Gujarat decided, in the meeting dated 5 September 2011, to relax the required 500 metres safety radius to only 100 metres for the purpose of legalising all illegal residential complexes, which came after the notification. For future, it was decided that the 500 metres distance would be enforced.

The original guideline was issued with the intention of preventing risk to the health and safety of the people. The revision obviously looks at the profit margin of unscrupulous contractors, not the innocent residents who will suffer in future.

About 70 adjacent tribal villages cannot even access Sardar Sarovar Dam water for irrigation. Worse, the view is gaining ground among them that water is only for urban and industrial use

(13) Another hot spot is near Sardar Sarovar Dam. The work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam, began without necessary environmental clearance from the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) of Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA). It is very clear if one looks closely at the letter dated March 24, 2013 written by a senior member Mr. Shekhar Singh of the ESG of NCA to its chairperson Mr. Dr V. Rajagopalan, the secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India. He expressed surprise over the Gujarat Government’s decision to start work for the construction of the Garudeshwar weir without obtaining necessary environment clearances.

He states in his letter that “Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the SSP dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 Million Cubic Meters, is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA.”

He further states in his letter “In my estimation, the construction and operation of the GW will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream.

However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”

At the end of the letter, he clearly demands, “If this is correct, I find this problematic as ESG has not yet cleared the construction of this weir. Under the circumstance, I urge you to: (1) Ask the Government of Gujarat (GoG) to immediately stop construction of the GW. All other activities related to the GW should also be stopped. (2) Ask GOG/ SSNNL to submit the full feasibility report, environment and social impact assessment report including impacts during construction and operation of the GW to the ESG and seek clearance of the ESG for this work. (3) Ask GOG not to start any work in this regard till the ESG clears this.”

The six villages, which were the first to hand over the land way back in 1961-63 to build the Staff Colony, Government Offices and Guest House to build the Sardar Sarovar Dam, have even decades later not been considered “equal” to other project affected persons (PAPs), thus remaining deprived of all the facilities which other PAPs of Sardar Sarovar Dam of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have been offered. In fact, there are about 70 adjacent tribal villages which cannot even access Sardar Sarovar Dam water for irrigation. Worse, the view is gaining ground among them that water is only for urban and industrial use.

The view is also gaining strongly among the villagers that all this is being done at a time when the Gujarat Government has decided to build the highest statue of the world in the memory of Shri Sardar Patel by spending Rs. 2,500 crores near Sardar Sarovar Dam, around which tourism will be developed.

Lakhan Musafir and Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and Savitaben Ganpatbhai Tadvi & Mavajibhai Jesangbhai Tadvi, residents of affected villages filed a case [Application No. 10 of 2014 (WZ)] before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) – Pune to stop construction of ‘Garudeshwar Weir’. The first hearing took place at Pune on 21st January 2014 and National Green Tribunal-Pune bench (Western Zone Bench) issued a notice to respondents and further hearing of the case was fixed on 31st January 2014.

The case is filed against (1) The Chairman, of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, (2) The Chief Secretary of Government of Gujarat, (3) The Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Delhi (4) The Chairman, Environment Sub Group of Narmada Control Authority, New Delhi, (5) The Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, New Delhi, (6) The Chairman, R & R Sub-Group of Narmada Control Authority, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, New Delhi, (7) The Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, New Delhi & (8) The Chairman, Narmada Control Authority, New Delhi.

On 31st January 2014 Advocate Mr. Nirzar Desai appeared as legal counsel of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited. He requested 4 weeks time to file the reply. Our lawyer, Mihir Desai argued before the court that the construction work of Garudeshwar Weir is on and is affecting the villagers, construction work is creating an irreversible situation in the area, and that is why we request the court to grant interim stay on the construction of the weir. After hearing both sides the court passed the following order.

“We have heard learned Counsel for the Applicants. Mr. Nirzar Desai, appears for the Respondent No. 1. The Counsel for the Applicant states that he will file affidavit of service during course of the day.
The Counsel for the Respondent No. 1 seeks time to file reply affidavit.

According to learned Counsel for the Applicants, ongoing work is likely to impair the rights of project affected people in the vicinity. He submits that there will be irreversible damage caused if major work will be carried out. He further states that only a part of the work so far, is done. Hence, he urges to take-up the matter expeditiously for grant of interim relief. The Counsel for the Respondent No. 1, seeks four (4) weeks’ time.

Gujarat Government has decided to build the highest statue of the world in the memory of Shri Sardar Patel by spending Rs. 2,500 crores near Sardar Sarovar Dam

We deem it proper to grant three (3) weeks time to Respondent No. 1 to file reply affidavit and make it clear that in the meanwhile if any work is done, it will be subject to final outcome of the present Application, without claiming any right of equity arising out of execution of construction work and without pleadings in advance of any ‘fait Accompli’. Stand over to 25th February, 2014.”

On 25th February 2014 the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s powerful quasi-judicial environmental watchdog, has agreed to a Gujarat government plea for “more time” to reply. The NGT order states that “Heard learned Counsel Neha Pathak, holding for Mr. Mihir Desai Advocate, Learned Additional Advocate General Mr. Tushar Mehta, appears for Respondent No. 1 and 2. Ms. Shugta Busar learned Counsel, appears for Respondent No. 3, Learned Additional Advocate General, seeks time to file comprehensive reply affidavit, as regards the nature of project in question. He submits that filing of such affidavit requires co-ordination of various departments and agencies, which will take certain time. He therefore, seeks reasonable time to complete the exercise of preparing reply affidavit. He undertakes to maintain directions as regards keeping of equity, in the light of earlier order dated 31st January 2014. Stand over to 17th April 2014.”

This order makes it very clear that as of today the Government of Gujarat is not in a position to give any clear categorical answer on two counts: a) whether Garudeshwar Weir has environment clearance or not, b) under which law of the land or notification or permission the construction of Garudeshwar Weir is being carried out.

The lack of categorical reply in court reflects that there is no substance to the hyped perception of your efficient Government of Gujarat. To file a reply with crucial information about environment clearance and issues raised by us in our petition the Government of Gujarat needs two months time. That clearly indicates that even prima facie all is not well with Garudeshwar Weir and the legality of the ongoing construction of Garudeshwar Weir is in question. Kindly clarify your position on this crucial issue.

(14) Regarding the activity around “Statue of Unity Project” near Sardar Sarovar Dam in the river downstream from the dam, just 3.2 km from the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, in an eco-sensitive zone and involving massive infrastructure – work has started without legally mandatory environment clearance, environment and social impact assessment or any public consultation process.

This is clearly illegal, in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 and EIA notification of September 2006 and a number of NGT and Court orders about such massive kind of construction on the riverbed. On 31st October 2013, the foundation stone was laid by you for the project amidst huge fanfare and media attention. Tenders have also been floated. Even the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, began without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) of Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA).

The website clearly states the purpose of tourism and involvement of the ‘Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust’ (SVPRET) to build ‘Statue of Unity’, 3.2 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam inside the Narmada River on an islet called Sadhu bet.

The website says: “A 13km. long water body (pond) will create an excellent tourist spot with available infrastructure on both the banks.

The Gujarat Government wants to forcibly take over agricultural land at low cost, it wants to ensure that workers are paid low wages, and it will do its best to ensure that industrialisation does not confront ‘stupid’ hurdles like workers rights and environment laws

The Statue of Unity is planned to be erected on the river bed downstream of the main dam in the Garudeshwar Weir pond. A permanent standing water pool in and around the Statue of Unity will be created by Garudeshwar Weir, which will enable boating activity around the statue.”

The estimated cost of the project is more than Rs. 2,500/- corers (Rs 2063 crores is the cost of “DESIGN, ENGINEERING, PROCUREMENT CONSTRUCTION, OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE STATUE OF UNITY D/S of Sardar Sarovar Dam, Village Kevadia Ta. Nandod, District of Narmada Gujarat State, India” as per tender notice, see: http://www.statueofunity.in/tendernotice.html). The Government of Gujarat website (http://www.statueofunity.in/) clearly states that “A monument, that will not just be a mute memorial like the rest, but a fully functional, purpose-serving tribute that will boost tourism and facilitate development in the surrounding tribal areas”.

The key issues that beg immediate scrutiny are (1) The project clearly needs environment clearance under the EIA notification of September 2006, but has not applied for or obtained the clearance at any stage. (2) The Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary boundary is touching the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir (as a part of the Environmental Protection measures of the Sardar Sarovar Project, the earlier Dhumkal Sloth Bear Sanctuary was extended to meet the reservoir boundaries and is called Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary.) Since the statute is only 3.2 kms from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, it is certainly near the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary. (3) The Project involves construction on the river bed and the proposed reservoir will be close to the sanctuary in an eco-sensitive zone, and hence will have serious impacts on the ecology and environment. Hence, EIA and EC are crucial. (4) The project will affect the downstream river, its biodiversity, people and livelihoods and other related aspects. (5) A comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the ‘Statue of Unity’ and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area has not been done. (6) The project also needs public consultation, but none has happened so far. (7) During the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam due to hard rock digging, the seismic area already carries the burden of artificial activity in the bed rock and added load in what is deemed geologically a fault line area. Public reports on geotechnical and geological studies on the proposed site have raised issues of structural stability as well as safety. This cannot be taken casually by authorities. The seismic hazard analysis claimed to have been done by the Gujarat Government’s in-house “Institute of Seismological Research” (http://www.statueofunity.in/execution.html#sthash.jEBrofSN.dpuf) or the Geological and Geotechnical investigation commissioned to another government institute WAPCOS cannot be considered credible unless peer reviewed and put in the public domain.

In view of the above facts on record, we demanded that (1) Direct the Government of Gujarat to submit application for environment clearance and till that is obtained, not to do any work related to the project. (2) Direct the Government of Gujarat to immediately stop planned project called ‘Statue of Unity’ and direct them to stop all other activities related to the ‘Statue of Unity’. (3) Declare the action – of the foundation stone installation on 31st October 2013 for the project called ‘Statue of Unity’ – of the Chief Minister of Gujarat State as illegal, in violation of the EIA notification of September 2006 and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Till date, we have received no response from the concerned authorities. A reminder was also sent to the concerned authorities. The silence on their part is a criminal act of tacit compliance to all safety and environmental violations perpetrated by the executors of the ‘Statue of Unity Project’, and we assume the concerned authorities acceptance of these violations; hence they too would stand to face the legal consequences. While they have not categorically responded to any of the issues raised, instead you directed the Principal Secretary of Departments of Forest and Environment as well as the Additional Principal Secretary of Narmada, Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpsar Department of Government of Gujarat to reply to our queries. We have not received any response from these departments, either.

Having laid the foundation stone for this ambitious project which will cost the taxpayers more than 2,500 crores, it is expected from you that you remain abreast of all the details of this project and be responsible for putting them in public domain. You and your office have failed to clarify in response to our letter, or on any public forum, on this critical issue of environmental and safety concerns.

This leads us to assume either the CMO’s complicity and tacit assent to violations of public safety and environmental norms for the Statue of Unity Project, or your official refusal to share key aspects of project and put them in the public domain. Why are you and your office silent on this crucial issue?

(15) Centre and State Government is collectively undemocratically pushing proposed 6000 MW Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant. This is the area where the Manmohan – Modi governments have planned in tandem, to set up a 6000 MW nuclear power plant spread over 777 hectares of prime agricultural land, against which the local villagers have led a consistent, vocal protest.

Orchards of mangoes, chikoos, coconut trees, lush greenery, sea and ships passing by, describe aptly the Mithi Virdi – Jaspara area in the Talaja block of Bhavnagar district. This lush green area is the irrigated region of Shetrunji dam. In a time when `Special Investment Region’ has become the most lobbied term in the state of Gujarat, this region too should be announced as SAR (Special Agriculture Region) for agricultural purposes. Situated on the Saurashtra sea coast, one might assume that the land is barren and uninhabited, but a visit here belies all these assumptions. It is perhaps from this mistaken presumption that the proposal for a 6000 MW nuclear power plant spread over 777 hectares on this green lush land must have taken place.

Presently on this 777 hectare of land spread in Jaspara, Mithi Virdi, Khadarpar, Mandva stand 50,000 fruit trees. Also, bajra, cotton, groundnut, onions and other crops are sown round the year because of the irrigation facilities. This area is therefore aptly called Bhavnagar’s Food Basket. This is the reason why local villagers who stand to lose not only their land and livelihood but will also be exposed to a potential environmental risk if the nuclear power plant were to come up as the government proposes, are protesting and are resolute in their desire to keep the neighbourhood nuclear power free.

On June 11th, 2013, while giving the so-called CRZ clearance/ recommendation for CRZ clearance to the NPP, the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) stated that “The Authority deliberated the proposal of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and after detailed discussion, the Authority decided to recommend to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India to grant CRZ clearance for construction of intake, outfall facilities, jetty and Desalination plant at Village: Mithi Virdi, Dist: Bhavnagar by M/S Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, only after submission of the following details to this Department : 1. Detailed note regarding the safety aspects and site selection criteria along with its advantage for this site and submit to this Department. 2. A site visit should be carried out by GCZMA Member.”

This clearly means that the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authorities is not serious about the CRZ clearance. Kindly explain such a dubious illegal action of Gujarat State.

NPCIL needs 81 hectares of forest land in addition to the other land for the nuclear power plant. To facilitate this the Taluka Development Officer (TDO) of Gujarat State sent a letter dated July 15, 2013 to the Sarpanch of Jaspara directing him to pass a resolution on the lines of the copy that he had sent, so as to have the village body’s stamp of approval for the state government transfer of forest land to the NPCIL. In this letter the TDO, instead of seeking the opinion of Gramsabha as per the law for the land transfer, illegally and unconstitutionally orders the Sarpanch to pass the readymade resolution. The Gramsabha of Jaspara unanimously condemned and rejected such an unconstitutional letter of the TDO. The Gramsabha unanimously resolved not to hand over the forest land for non-forest use to be handed over the NPCIL.

Is this the new way of getting the consent from the villagers by Mr. Modi’s Gujarat State?

(16) The Gujarat Government wants to forcibly take over agricultural land at low cost, it wants to ensure that workers are paid low wages, and it will do its best to ensure that industrialisation does not confront ‘stupid’ hurdles like workers rights and environment laws. It is evident from what the then Finance Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Vajubhai Vala, said while addressing a day-long pre-Vibrant Gujarat Summit seminar at Ahmedabad Management Association on ‘Industry Responsive Skill Development: The Emerging Trends in Gujarat’ on January 11, 2011: “A farmer engaged in agriculture on a five acre plot will earn enough only for his family. But if an industry is set up on that land, it will provide sustenance to families of 25-30 thousand workers.” He asked local industrialists not to spoil workers by giving them more than what is rightfully due to them. Thus, it is evident that for the Government of Gujarat, ordinary people do not matter at all. Kindly clarify your position on the viewpoint of your then Finance Minister of Gujarat.

There is little to debate regarding the factual basis underlying our concerns. I have also made our perspective clear: the environment and the well-being of people in general should be treated with more respect than industrial/profit-making interests. By writing this letter, I am soliciting your stance on these issues in writing. In the interest of democracy and transparency, I feel that you will clarify your position and you will not keep silent on these issues.

Tejpal manipulating public opinion to sway judge

Tarun-Tejpal

By asking to make the CCTV footage public, Tejpal hopes to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character

By Kavita Krishnan
Tarun Tejpal’s demand to make the CCTV footage public is, in fact, a call to the general public to be voyeurs, examine the woman (complainant), place her smile, her demeanour and her gait on trial, ready to declare her guilty if her conduct does not conform to the 70s Hindi film stereotype of the ‘raped woman’.

Tejpal wants the public (through media) to try and declare him innocent. He wants to use the media, including social media, to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character. A step towards this has already been taken by his friends who have sent mails with her photos asking – “Check out her pose! Is she traumatised? No! Is she happy? Yes!”

We, in the women’s movement, can only hope that the courts will not behave like the ‘court of public opinion’.

For, if a woman is brutalised, her bloodied body/corpse available as incontestable proof of her victimhood — in conformity with those Hindi movie images we just talked about — then a court MIGHT hand out the death sentence based on ‘public opinion’. I use the word ‘MIGHT’ because here too, for a Bhotmange or a Manorama or a Soni Sori, the brutalised body is no guarantee of public opinion or courts perceiving the heinousness of the crime.

In cases where the victim doesn’t have a brutalised body to display to gratify voyeurs — the ‘peanut-crunching crowd’ — the courts are again all too likely to mirror public opinion and declare that the woman doesn’t really look or behave ‘raped’ enough.

Even when courts appear to be ‘sensitive’ to women, there’s a catch. There is one landmark verdict of the Supreme Court which holds that a conviction can take place even on the ‘sole testimony’ of the complainant. However, what the verdict actually said was: “It is conceivable in Western society that a female may level a false accusation as regards sexual molestation against a male”. However, “A girl or a woman in the tradition bound non-permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred” and therefore isn’t likely to lie about rape! The detailed argument in this verdict has sickeningly sexist imaginings of why ‘Western’ women are likely to lie about rape

Not surprisingly, this notion of ‘chaste Indian woman’ versus ‘loose Westernised woman’ is what Tejpal’s defence is relying on. In his bail plea, lawyer quoted this verdict to argue that she could not be raped, the sex must be consensual because the complainant is “a liberated, emancipated modern woman”.

So, women can only HOPE — against hope — that courts will stand aloof from public opinion, and will deliver justice on merits of the case rather than on jaundiced notions about how raped Indian women are supposed to behave, as opposed to the loose, liberated, modern women…

Tejpal claims there’s no evidence against him, that the charges are flimsy. The charges are by no means flimsy as he suggests but rather, there’s an embarrassment of weighty facts — straight from Tejpal’s own words — enough to make this a very serious case.

Tejpal claimed in an email to his friends that the whole thing was “an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!)”. However, based on the CCTV footage, the charge sheet establishes that the lift took much longer than usual to make the two-storey climb, certainly much longer than the ‘less than a minute’ claimed by Tejpal.

This unwarranted time in the lift the first time and the footage of him taking her into the lift on a second occasion (a second encounter which Tejpal’s email to friends didn’t mention) is certainly grounds for invoking Sections 341 (wrongful restrain) and 342 (wrong confinement) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Moreover, his own ‘apology’ email established his admitting to invoking his status as her boss — though he claims to have retracted it. The very fact that he admits to invoking it to overcome what HE calls her ‘clear reluctance’, goes to show a strong basis for invoking 376(2) (f) (person in position of trust or authority over women commits rape on such women) and 376(2) (k) (rape of a woman by a person being in position of control or dominance over the woman) IPC.

And the testimony of several of the complainant’s colleagues that she told them immediately after the first episode that she was assaulted, and of course her own complaint that has remained stable and unchanged while Tejpal’s has mutated time and time again, are pretty strong grounds for invoking Sections 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 354-A (outrage modesty).

However, though these are undeniably strong grounds, the matter is sub-judice and it is for the court to pronounce him guilty or not.

Finally, Tejpal claims that his arrest is “an early sign of the inherent fascism of the right-wing that will target its detractors in the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is India is imbued with no tolerance for dissenters and critics, of whom I certainly am one.”

I know neither Mr. Tejpal nor the complainant personally. I know them both from their work as journalists and public intellectuals. And I can say: Mr Tejpal, you don’t have to be male and a senior editor to be a ‘dissenter and critic’ against communal politics. The complainant — a young journalist who has done courageous and forthright journalism — is no less a dissenter and a critic. And we, who stand up for her rights, are no less dissenters and critics.

Tejpal trivialises the anti-fascist struggle by trying to use it to demand impunity from accusations of rape. Being a dissenter and a critic doesn’t provide us with some kind of AFSPA-type shield to being prosecuted for rape.

Can we please keep the word ‘draconian’ confined to laws like AFSPA, MCOCA, sedition and so forth? The new rape law is NOT draconian

The new law very correctly expands the definition of rape and provides graded punishment for different types of sexual violence; and it very correctly states that consent cannot be presumed without a clear YES, ‘by word or gesture’ from the woman. These are not draconian provisions. Ten years, for the compound crimes Tejpal is accused of, is not necessarily excessive. It should jolt us that Tejpal’s friend can refer to what he is accused of as a ‘mere pass’. Even a ‘pass’ is now sexual harassment. And holding a woman against her will in a closed space, disrobing her and forcing your finger or tongue inside her private parts is not a ‘pass’ — and it’s downright scary that some can think of it as such.

The same pal of Tejpal’s said, chillingly, that if this is rape, 50% of editors and CEOs will be in jail for rape. Do editors and CEOs (Tejpal seems to think these are all male) really see it as their entitlement to do these things to their woman employees?! If so, it reminds me of the sense of entitlement that Bihar landlords used to expect, as their due, from Dalit woman workers in their fields in the 1980s. Those bosses who think women have to submit to such treatment must indeed be in jail.

I am willing to discuss, in a general context, the need to retain some discretion for the judge in sentencing, but I’ll do so in a context of concern for justice for women, so that courts should not be deterred from convictions and discretion should not move from the judges to the cops. And I’ll discuss these when we have some evidence that the new law is indeed acting against women’s interests in this regard. To use those concerns and debates of the women’s movement to paint Tejpal as a victim is abhorrent.

To those who accuse feminists of defending a draconian law to play ‘media darlings’, allow me to point out that the women’s movement has consistently — on the same media — articulated and defended the UNPOPULAR positions against draconian provisions of death penalty and lowering of the age of juvenility and raising the age of consent.

We have interrupted the media’s self-congratulatory narratives on Tejpal or Asaram to remind them of their own double standards on Manorama, Kunan Poshpora, Soni Sori, countless Bastar rapes, rape of Dalit women in Haryana and so on. The same activists who make use of a few minutes in the media to counter the insidious campaign of vilification that Tejpal and his pals are carrying out against the complainant, have also spoken — again in the face of abuse and hate speeches — against the hanging of Afzal Guru and the conviction of Shehzad in the Batla House case. We have made the women’s movement’s dissent and outrage heard against the custodial killing of the December 16 rape accused Ram Singh inside Tihar jail.

I am one of the handful of people who have, after carefully examining available evidence, rather than the feverish imaginings of a sexist media campaign, questioned the obnoxious, appalling Aarushi verdict, which was a ‘media trial’ if ever there was one. A secular friend, who today accuses me of participating in media trials of ‘secular’ men accused of rape, was only too happy to repeat the prejudiced misinformation peddled by the media in the Aarushi case, warning me to stick with public opinion rather than my own assessment and conscience in that case!

I have also spoken AGAINST ‘potency tests’ for Asaram and Tejpal. I hold potency tests to be just as demeaning, unscientific and humiliating as a two-finger test for rape survivors.

What about bail for Tejpal? I believe bail is a right that all undertrials are entitled to. I, along with many others, have thanklessly struggled for bail for NOIDA workers, Maruti workers, held on far flimsier grounds. Soni Sori got bail after years of incarceration. Many of my own comrades languish in jail without bail on cooked-up charges relating to mass movements led by them.

In the case of those accused of heinous crimes, courts tend to deny bail irrespective of how flimsy the charges are. And this has nothing to do with the new rape law. It has been the case long before last year. Tejpal, therefore, cannot claim he’s being denied bail because of political vendetta or a ‘draconian’ law. Rather, if at all he gets bail, it will be because he has a posse of lawyers and he is viewed as ‘respectable’ and ‘respected’, unlike your average worker or slum-dweller or common man/woman accused. And if he gets bail, I would not oppose it.

The very phrases ‘media darlings’, ‘BBM-ing feminists’ and so on are redolent of rank sexism. We do the cause of democracy and secularism a grave injustice by resorting to this manner of campaign. Tejpal is entitled to a defence, surely. But we cannot allow the complainant to be subjected to a moralistic, voyeuristic pillory on the pretext of his defence. She is being put through hell, has had her mindspace and professional world turn from a zone of comfort and achievement into an ugly space of abuse and jeers, not because of her own actions but because she made the hard decision to complain about rape by her boss. This is the tough, painful world of rape survivors.

For those of us who ask why we activists cannot remain ‘neutral’, survivors and complainants get through this hell by relying on the support of the women’s movement. So, yes, we are not going to stop supporting rape complainants because the accused happens, on occasion, to be part of the secular or democratic camp. That’s because democracy includes women’s rights.

Tarun Tejpal’s Press Statement 18.2.2014:

“If conclusive proof was needed of the political vendetta that has been
unleashed against me, under the guise of a sexual molestation
investigation, it has been emphatically provided today. In a blatant
attempt at twisting and concealing the facts, the Goa police while
filing a 3000 page highly spurious charge sheet, has not presented or
handed over the most crucial piece of evidence in this case, the CCTV
footage of the incident

In my first and only press note of November 22nd 2013 I had urged,
“the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that
the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed”. I said this
at a time, from Delhi, when I had neither accessed nor seen the
footage. But since I was the man on the spot I knew the truth of what
had happened.

It is violative of due process, to not make all collected evidence
available to the accused at the time of filing the charge sheet. In
fact, receipt of the footage is what we have been impatiently waiting
for since the last three months. This duplicity is in keeping with the
sinister and motivated political vendetta that is being pursued.

I have been in jail since November 30th simply because the goa police,
clearly acting under the orders of their political bosses, have
refused to release this crucial footage of the relevant days, 7th and
8th November. This entire case hinges on the 130 and 45 seconds (as
per the charge sheet) of contested time which can be brought to light
via the CCTV footage. The goa police know their fabricated case will
collapse the moment the footage is revealed and compared with the
‘testimony’ of the alleged victim, on the basis of which the Goa
police filed it’s FIR under draconian provisions.

As it were, I viewed the relevant footage of both days whilst being
‘held’ in police custody and the footage clearly validates me. The
fact is most of the officers in the crime branch know there is no
case, and have said as much to me. Even so the IO has been pursuing an
agenda spelt out for her by her political masters, totally violating
the principle of police neutrality.

I’m afraid what we are witnessing here is an early sign of the
inherent fascism of the right wing that will target its detractors in
the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government
machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of
all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame
that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is
India is imbued with no tolerance of dissenters and critics, of whom I
certainly am one.”

Devyani Khobragade Case: Defense strategy deviates from core issue of labour rights

Domestic-workers-at-NY-Indian-Embassy

The Domestic Workers’ Forum, India and New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) argue that the recent defense strategy of Devyani Khobgrade – that of the visa application being misread – does not take away the criminal charges against her and demands that the Indian Government respect and recognise the rights of domestic workers both at home and abroad

Feministsindia is publishing the full text of the statement here:

In the most recent turn of events, Devyani Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack has argued that there has been a major error with regard to reading the visa application documents, and that Ms. Khobragade’s salary of $4500 has been mistakenly understood to be that of her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard.

Arshack has claimed that in visa application form for Sangeeta (DS-160), $4500 may be the figure mentioned in the box asking for salary of the employer (in this case Ms. Khobragade). This may have been mistakenly read as the intended salary of the domestic worker.

As recent news reports indicate, this claim has also been supported by a screenshot of the visa application form, indicating that Preet Bharara’s office may have misread the visa form.

In this statement, we investigate the implications of this latest development for the deeper underlying charges laid down in the official complaint against Ms. Khobragade, and if there was a misreading, whether that constitutes valid ground for the charges to be dropped.

According to a news report, “Khobragade is said to have helped Sangeeta fill up DS-160 around October 15, 2012. On November 11 the same year, the diplomat and her maid signed the state department mandated employment contract, which guaranteed Sangeeta an hourly wage of $9.75, indicating certain benefits and stating that impermissible deductions would not be made. It projected an average of 40 working hours per week (approximately a salary of $1560 per month) and stipulated off days and other details, all as required by the US state department for receiving the A-3 visa”.

The news report further states that Sangeeta is later said to have asked for a second employment contract, requesting that her basic salary of Rs. 30,000 be transferred to her husband’s account in Delhi, as he was unemployed. A separate employment contract was, thus, signed between Ms. Khobragade and Ms. Richard on November 23, 2012, guaranteeing this.

The report further notes, “According to government sources, Khobragade fulfilled all her commitments in the form of $560 (or Rs 30,000 transferred to Sangeeta’s bank account in India every month), another $375 as deducted from the salary to pay for her chargeable utilities like telephone usage, cable TV, non-work related conveyance, expenses and another $625 given in cash, occasionally with signed receipts. As there were several months where the weekly hours fell well below 40 working hours, the cash payment was apparently adjusted accordingly”.

We argue that this claim takes attention away from the core charges against Ms. Khobragade, as per the text of the original complaint against her. We must not forget that as per the original complaint against her, she is accused of lying on the visa form about payments to her domestic worker, and drawing up a second unlawful contract. Those charges cannot be brushed away irrespective of whether $4500 was mistakenly read as the intended salary of the maid.

Criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade
The criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade allege she lied on official documents submitted to obtain an A-3 visa for her domestic help and never intended to comply with the terms of the employment contract set therein. Ms. Khobragade is known to have obtained an A-3 visa for her domestic help, for which she submitted an employment contract that listed her hourly wage as $9.75, as per the prevailing wage. She is accused of later signing a second unlawful contract, which was concealed from the U.S. authorities, and which attempted to revoke rights guaranteed by the first contract and by U.S. law. The second contract did not list fair hours or working conditions/duties, and held that Ms.Richard would be paid a maximum of 30,000 rupees per month (about $3.31/hour) – an expected monthly salary of Rs. 25,000 per month, and an additional Rs. 5,000 for overtime. Ms. Richard has alleged that she was instructed not to mention anything about the second contract in her visa interview, and maintain that she would be paid the hourly wage of $9.75, and that she would work 40 hours per week.

The charges that led to her arrest are based on the differences in the two contracts, the second of which fell way below U.S minimum wage regulations, and are also driven by Ms. Khobragade’s alleged treatment of Ms. Richard. Ms. Khobragade has been accused of making Ms. Richard work for more than 40 hours a week, from morning until late at night, seven days week, amounting to a wage of less than $3 an hour.

Sangeeta worked very long hours
Ms. Richard’s lawyer, Dana Sussman, a staff attorney at Safe Horizon, a New York based non-profit working with victims of trafficking, has argued that “she essentially worked very long hours, was isolated within the home, and attempted to ask for more time off, ask for more reasonable hours, but those attempts to resolve the issues were unsuccessful.” In a petition to the Delhi High court filed in July 2013, Phillip Richard, Sangeeta’s husband alleged, “Even though the contract stipulated that Sunday would be an off-day she worked from 6 am to 11 pm, minus 2 hours for church even on Sunday. She worked from 6 am to 11 pm on Saturday as well.” He has argued that “the treatment of Sangeeta by Devyani Khobragade is tantamount to keeping a person in slavery-like conditions or keeping a person in bondage”.

The family has further alleged that Ms. Khobragade confiscated Ms. Richard’s passport upon her arrival in the U.S, and turned down her requests to be sent back to India, indicating a coercive situation for the domestic worker. Ms. Richard, who worked with Ms. Khobragade from around November 2012 to June 2013, left the house after her requests were turned down, as she could no longer stand the miserable working conditions. It is claimed that she left with clothes on her back, and very little money, and lived off help from the Indian American community, through whom she eventually connected with Safe Horizon. In addition to the charges of non-payment of minimum wages and disregard for fair working hours, the ones that have surfaced with regard to confiscation of passport, turning down Ms. Richard’s requests to be sent back to India, and retaliation and threats by Ms. Khobragade to Ms. Richard and her family in India indicate a coercive labour situation, and collectively rise to the level of labour trafficking.

Driving attention away from core charges
By zeroing down upon the figure of $4500 as a misinterpretation, Ms. Khobragade’s attorney is seeking to divert attention from the underlying charges against her, which are based on the fact that there was a ‘second’ unlawful contract, indicating that Ms. Khobragade never intended to pay her domestic worker as per U.S laws. Further, the claim that her salary amount was adjusted partly by payments to her family in India, and partly adjusted towards her living expenses and chargeable utilities in the U.S, is once again violative of U.S laws. For, a careful reading of the text of the complaint against Ms. Khobragade, which is also clearly referenced against the required terms of an employment contract under an A-3 visa, indicates that, “The contract must state that after the first 90 days of employment, all wage payments must be made by check or by electronic transfer to the domestic worker’s bank account. Neither Mission members nor their family members should have access to domestic workers’ bank accounts… Further, the bank account must be in the United States so that domestic workers may readily access and utilize their wages.”

All this once again draws attention to the case that Ms. Khobragade clearly misrepresented the terms of the employment contract, and that this misrepresentation goes way beyond the figure of $4500. It lies in the forging of a second employment contract that was violative of U.S laws, in Ms. Khobragade’s treatment of Ms. Richard, and in the manner of transaction of payments, which are compounded by the allegations of threat and coercion.

This case, and the subsequent reactions to it, once again highlights the need for greater protections for domestic workers across the world and the role of their home countries and the countries where they work.

In the shadow of a groundbreaking international covenant on domestic worker rights at the International Labor Organization, it is unfortunate that domestic workers like Sangeeta continue to face extreme exploitation and retaliation from employers. And when they work for consular officials and diplomats, too often their home countries actually act to defend the rights of their abusers.

We urge the Indian Government to reverse its course and take a human rights position going forward. Specifically, we demand that the Indian government:

1) Stop blocking the prosecution of Ms. Khobragade and waive any applicable immunity so that the case against Ms. Khobragade can move forward in the U.S. courts;

2) Respect and recognise the rights of domestic workers at home and abroad;

3) Enact a Comprehensive National Level Legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers

4) Ratify ILO Convention 189 -Domestic Workers Convention 2011

Statement prepared by: New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and Domestic Workers’ Forum – India, (NDWFI)

Featured Photo: Domestic workers protest outside the Indian consulate in New York

Scrap Article 377, defend LGBT /queer rights

LGBT-rights-India

The apex court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of IPC 377 that criminalises gay sex is a massive blow to the very cornerstone of democracy-pluralism

By Soma Marik

In 1895, during the trial of Oscar Wilde, the German socialist Eduard Bernstein wrote a few articles in the German Social Democratic press on the issue. While confused by today’s standards, Bernstein made a few cogent points. On the view that same sex relations were unnatural, Bernstein commented:

“Our entire cultural existence, our mode of life from morning to night is a constant offence against nature, against the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only a question of what was natural, then the worst sexual excess would be no more objectionable than, say, writing a letter – for conducting social intercourse through the medium of the written word is far further removed from nature than any way as yet known of satisfying the sexual urge. Have there not been observed among animals (usually amongst domestic and captive animals, of course, but these are still significantly closer to nature than man himself) and amongst so-called natural peoples practices relieving the sexual urge which would colloquially be termed, “unnatural”?

He went on to argue that in reality, in most civilised countries, sexual intercourse, while formally being described as being related to the propagation of new generations, was actually conducted for pleasure, and was “unnatural” in the sense that all attempts were usually taken to ensure that childbirths did not result from the act.

Bernstein used the word “abnormal” in preference to “unnatural”, suggesting that this was a deviation from the norm. He suggested that there was a need to understand the history of same sex relations rather than to condemn it. In particular, he made out an extremely strong argument. It is the male same sex relation that has been the prime target. Both English and German law condemned this. Anal sex perpetrated between two men was a criminal offence, as it indeed still is, in terms of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But quoting Kraft-Ebbing, Bernstein showed that Prussian law did not punish sodomy when one partner was a woman. As he argued, this latter was most often carried out on women who had no say in the matter, so that it was in fact “inferior” (in his words) to such a relationship between two males. The rise of the “paternal-right family” meant the woman’s body was of little consequence. If she was a prostitute, the state in Prussia oversaw the health of her sex organs to the extent that if a man infected her with a sexually transmitted disease, she was kept locked up. But how a man, whether the husband or the customer, used a woman’s body was of supreme unconcern to the state.

Bernstein’s authority being Kraft-Ebbing, he had the problem of viewing same-sex relations as a medical or psychological issue. Despite that, a century and eighteen years back, he, and a large part of the SPD, were involved in the campaign for the abolition of punishment for homosexual relations.

118 years later, the Supreme Court of India as well as the entire range of Indian political parties have shown their inability to grasp this. Bernstein had grasped, however imperfectly, that hetero-sexism is rooted in the heterosexual, patriarchal family relations. Under capitalist conditions, the family of this kind is important for the perpetuation of class divisions from one generation to the next. It provides a cheap and ideologically acceptable mechanism for reproducing human labour. This involves using unpaid, and overwhelmingly female labour in the family to care for the young, the old, as well as for the male working adult. Monogamous, heterosexual love as a compulsion is a central aspect of the family system as it exists. The state and its laws, the medical and psychiatric establishments, much of the educational system, are all tailored to promote procreative heterosexuality and to stigmatize and suppress other forms of sexuality, often described as abnormal, irresponsible, or medical cases.

Marxist responses subsequently to start with Engels varied from hostility, indifference, and deprioritization. Since the 1970s different currents of Marxists have been compelled to take up the LGBT issue seriously as a political issue. The Fourth International argued in 2003:

“As long as society is organized in a way which assumes that many basic needs will be met within the family, all those who are marginalized from it or choose not to live in it will have difficulty in meeting their needs. This family form under capitalism presupposes and reproduces a heterosexual norm, which pervades the state and society and is oppressive to anyone who deviates from it. As long as heterosexual love is the basis for forming a family, people whose emotional and sexual lives revolve largely around same-sex love are marginalized from family life. As long as the family is a central place where children are raised, lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgendered children will grow up alienated – even more than children and young people in general are alienated in the family; and children’s access to adults, especially unmarried adults, and other children to whom they are not biologically related will often be limited. As long as only heterosexual desire and romance permeate capitalist consumer culture, LGBT people will feel invisible. As long as heterosexuality is defined as the norm by the state and medical and psychiatric establishments, LGBT people will be explicitly or implicitly discriminated against and marginalized. Repressive laws and widespread social discrimination intensify this oppression in most parts of the world, but repealing repressive laws and combating social discrimination will not by themselves eliminate it”.

In India, the LGBTQ community is mostly hidden. The Telegraph, reporting the SC judgement, suggested the figure of 12 million for a possible size of this community. In course of the case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal & Another v. Naz Foundation & Others, attempts were made to present before the Supreme Court a mass of evidence concerning discrimination, harassment, and torture faced by LGBT persons.

The Supreme Court, in striking down the Delhi High Court judgement, has argued that the High Court had relied too much on foreign judgements, which cannot be applied to the Indian context. This is not the first time that judgements in foreign courts have been discussed by Indian courts. So this insularity has to do with a political orientation, regardless of the formal words uttered. In that case, what the Supreme Court is deferring to, is the socially constructed and maintained conservatism. This finds striking confirmation in the utterances of Baba Ramdev, the BJP, and the Darul Uloom Deoband. For Ramdev and the BJP this is a western aberration that has no space in “Indian tradition”. For the Darul Uloom Deoband deputy Vice Chancellor Maulana Abul Khlik Madrasi, “Homosexuality is an offence under Islamic law and ‘haram’ [prohibited] in Islam”.

The apex court has upheld the constitutionality of IPC 377 by rejecting the constitutional validity of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of our constitution. By this it had written off the very cornerstone of democracy,—-pluralism.

The court distinguishes between “those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course” and “those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The Court says that therefore section 377 is not classified irrationally or arbitrarily. In other words, the Supreme Court is opposed to sex against the “order of nature”. But in that case, should the Supreme Course not oppose, in a spasm of judicial activism, the Government of India’s decades long birth control or the so–called ‘population control’ campaigns? Sex using condoms, sex after various measures to ensure that women do not get pregnant? Is not it going to the extent of authorising the policing of sex lives to check whether fellatio is committed?

The Supreme Court has also argued that the LGBT community is a very small community. So it seems that if a community is sufficiently small, then being a minority confers no assistance. Rather, if you are a small enough minority, then your rights can be violated with impunity since that does not disturb the public peace. The Court cites the fact that there have been only a handful of convictions as proof the community is small. It prefers to ignore how the police routinely harass, take bribes, etc, when it sees same sex activities. The fact that the existence of the law acts as a perpetual threat to the LGBT community is totally ignored.

The court also rejects the claims that Article 377 leads to violation of the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity and sexual choice and the right to live with dignity. The cases cited by the court have been extremely confused. Of course, the women’s movement has long opposed certain uses of the argument of privacy, for e.g., when it is used to hide rape of a wife by a husband. But that is not the concern of the SC. Ignoring the fact that what was under the scanner was consensual sex between two adults, the SC cited a case where a doctor had disclosed the HIV positive nature of his patient to her fiancée. In that case, it had been correctly held that privacy was subordinate to the right of health and freedom of others. But changing the scope of Article 377 to remove consenting adults from its purview does not come under this head. Once again, if two consenting adults have any kind of sexual relations, whose health and freedom is negatively affected?

The strategy of over-reliance on judiciary can sometime be counter-productive. To cite two landmark cases, the Supreme Court did not come out with a rights perspective for the marginals. It had rejected the Narmada Bachao Andolan plea, and had acquitted the accused in the Mathura Rape Case. If we focus on the elite, if we focus on well-paid lawyers arguing in courts, we cannot expect a wider discourse of rights to be articulated or honoured. To rely on NGOs, to lobby, cannot go far when fundamental social issues are involved. And at the beginning of this essay that is what we argue. To decriminalise and recognise the equality of same sex relations is detrimental to fundamental interests of the ruling elite.

Lesbian/gay liberation is part of a broader, human liberation we are fighting for

We cannot fight for full rights for LGBTs and think that we do not need to fight for the immediate scrapping of the AFSPA. Even closer to the community itself, the ‘queer movement’ of the subcontinent has to look at the queer who are poor, who are not from the upper castes, who are non-urban. To get rights one has to fight for rights, not just lobby for rights. Lobbying can get little advantages for small segments. Full equality cannot be gained other than by mass struggles. It is when there are mass struggles that courts, legislatures, have shown themselves to be willing to be positive. This is not a call for rejecting court battles, but a call to recognise that if we want, not slight gains for small sections of LGBTs, but full equality, then we need to fight for it.

One needs to be grateful for the SC nonetheless, for it has forced into the open the issue of LGBTs. One is grateful also to the BJP, for having come out openly, showing that it is reactionary across the board. But what about the hypocrites in the mainstream parties who are today suddenly concerned about LGBT rights? Much calculation goes into their stances. The Congress has today declared it will bring legislation or push for ordinance. Where was it all these years, especially in periods when it enjoyed comfortable parliamentary majorities? Clearly, at best, the Liberals on the Right wanted to let the courts decide. To take up the cause of alternative sexualities risked losing votes, which they were not keen to do. The reason for Rahul Gandhi’s sudden concern is not far to see. The Deobandis have already declared that they are not particularly keen to take the side of Congress against the BJP. Meanwhile the Delhi elections have shown that the younger generation and the middle class generally has rubbed the Congress out. So this is a desperate gesture to try and regain some support. At the same time, it is quite a safe gesture. The government will either try for a “curative petition” (i.e., again ask the Supreme Court) or ask Parliament, a very safe option since in the current parliament the bill cannot be driven through with a party whip, as not enough parties are openly for the decriminalization of alternative sexualities, so that the congress gets left-liberal approval without antagonising its other potential voters too much.

Nor, sadly, are those whose stated agenda are for social change fully behind the struggles of the LGBTs. The AIDWA demonstrated criticising the Supreme Court. Yet it was also the same AIDWA that had criticised the World March for Women, because in the AIDWA’s opinion, the WMW was wrong in putting LGBT rights upfront along with issues like economic security. Biman Bose, the CPI(M) leader and Chairperson of the Left Front in West Bengal, was blunt. He is on record as having said that there is no hurry as there are more important issues. In other words, the Left is unable to understand that pushing LGBTs back to the closet will be worse for LGBTs from socially deprived sectors.

The women’s rights movement has also not always taken up LGBT rights sufficiently seriously, or in a sufficiently central way. One can think of moments when one has seen LGBT organisations visibly distressed by the reluctance of the sectors of the women’s movements one has participated in, to foreground LGBT rights.

The LGBT movement, likewise, has to recognise that political rights and civil liberties are indeed indivisible

If we fight for civil and political rights, we cannot afford to be sectoral. One cannot say that one is supporting the rights of people of Manipur but not someone accused of being a Maoist. Likewise, one cannot desire rights for LGBTs but say that one is unconcerned about the rights of others. It is by building popular alliances, by launching peoples’ struggles, that we can win. And we cannot fight purely on the terrain of courts.

Soma marik is a member of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha and visiting Professor at School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University

Why I support Aam Aadmi Party

Aam-Aadmi-Party

Lalita Ramdas, feminist and long time environmental activist discusses her experience of participating in the Aam Aadmi Party’s caller campaign and reflects on the reasons for her support

In the first week of November this year, I decided to do some voluntary work for Aam Aadmi party and made some 200 calls to random numbers on a data base for Delhi Aam Aadmi Campaign.

I understand this does not sound like a big deal – Only 200 in 10 days? Others are managing over 200 calls in one day – and some of our whizz kids have hit over 5000 calls. My own humble effort makes me realise the extent and depth of the time commitment made by so many from across India and abroad.

Looking at the total statistics on the Citizen Call Campaign computer prompt also show that out of a total number of calls made to date, the number of calls not reached/wrong has now overtaken those of the calls made. But even on a conservative count of 50% of those not reached voting for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – we are looking at approximately 60% of those polled actually voting for AAP. Can we dare to hope that the polls and predictions of 40 plus seats in the Delhi assembly will indeed be realised?

Statistics and surveys and demographics and psephology can be seductive and addictive. I would like to share some qualitative reflections and feedback about the actual experience of making these phone calls.

But first – a quick personal introduction. Who am I and Why am I supporting AAP?

I live in a village in the Konkan region of Maharashtra – am in my early seventies – and have been actively engaged with peoples’ movements and developmental issues for over three decades.

I have been an Armed Forces daughter and wife,[my father was the first Indian officer to head the Indian Navy [1958-62] – and I married another Navy man, who also rose to head the Indian Navy [1990-1993] . For the first few decades, like most of us in the services, we were encouraged to stay away from `politics’. I was a `loyal’ and mostly unquestioning supporter of the government of the day. It was only after I got actively involved with questions of poverty, injustice, illiteracy in urban slums in Mumbai and Delhi from the mid seventies, that I began to look at our governance, our leadership, and increasingly, our politics, more closely and critically. And in his final years my father – totally disillusioned by the loss of values and integrity all around him – used to talk to me about how he would have joined politics had he been younger.

I have already written in a recent post that a major turning point in my own political journey was the experience of being in the frontline of action post PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. In an unprecedented, spontaneous coming together of students, activists and hundreds of others over many months we defied curfews, marched for peace in the face of angry mobs wielding trishuls and iron rods, pushed a reluctant police force to register FIRs, and worked days and nights comforting the grieving widows, mothers and children, while also collating testimonies gathered from traumatised victims in the refugee camps at Nanaksar and Farsh Bazaar.

We had seen up close the ugly reality and the true face of communal and divisive politics of the government of the day and yes, of the opposition too. And many of us were part of a three day conclave in 1985 where we struggled seriously with the possibility of creating a new political order which might forswear the cynical exploitation of caste, religion and community and instead, truly live by the ideals laid down in the Indian Constitution and to which we pledged allegiance.

Alas we did not or could not seize the moment – and allowed the three Cs of Corruption, Criminalisation and Communalisation of politics to become rampant in the decades following 1984. The rest as they say, is history, and it has taken another 30 years, and many tragedies and corruption of unprecedented scale –to get us to the point where there is finally a viable political alternative for us to choose and support.

I speak of Arvind Kejriwal and the birth of the Aam Aadmi party which is providing us an opportunity which we need to seize with both hands, if we don’t want to make the same mistake we made in 1984. We are being shown a tantalising prospect of another world – where honesty, and integrity are valued; where the voice of people might be able to prevail with the revival of the Gram or Mohalla Sabhas, and where the calculations of caste and creed and religion will not be a factor in electoral politics. And it is exciting for all the potential it offers.

Yes, I too, like many of my friends and colleagues, have had a few doubts, and some continuing questions and concerns – be it initially about the choice of the name [where was Aam Aurat?!] , how will direct democracy work? Can an obviously Hindi speaking leadership and North Indian urban based constituency build traction in the south? What about economic policies? And yes – what is your political ideology? Whose side are you on? Can an `upstart’ party jump in the fray at such a late stage and hope to gain a following?

My position today, after a year of fairly intensive and sustained engagement with the party leaders and many who are critical and oppose AAP, through discussions on thematic subject areas, in person and over email, is a quiet, confident and unhesitating affirmation that this is indeed a historic opportunity that we should not lose. Both Congress and BJP for many, many good reasons have forfeited the trust and confidence of we the people of India. Yes – no doubt this will only be proven finally– once in December and then again in the general elections next year. They have been given many chances – I am NOT willing to trust them again – but certainly I am putting my energy, my support and my hopes on the leadership and integrity of Arvind Kejriwal, and the ultimate knowledge that the collective wisdom of the people of India, the Aam Insaan, will prevail.

I am excited and delighted by the sheer audacity and creativity of the entire campaign model – as well the refreshing candour and the direct challenge to the big money bags in all other parties. This will be a true test of whether we really need thousands of crores of Rupees to fight elections – or whether indeed people will rally around to support genuine candidates without expecting sops and incentives to do so. This then could herald a true, functional democracy.

The transparency of their fund raising and Donation drives is also refreshing – I love to see the humble donor of Rs 1, sharing the same space and importance as the person who sent 50 Lakhs, on the web site.

How I wish I were twenty years younger – that I could join the volunteers as they go from door to door in Delhi – talking, persuading, convincing the people that they should vote for the “jhadoo “– convincing them that this is our best chance to bring that fresh breath of clean air to Indian politics – and to give voice to the genuine aspirations of the Aam Aadmi and Aurat. But alas I have been unable to do so for a number of reasons.

And so I do the next best thing – which is to sit in my village home and call up random people in Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad as they go about their work and during their leisure hours asking them if they vote in Delhi? Will they vote on Dec 4? And may I ask if they might consider voting for AAP?

This has been one of the most educative experiences in a long series of many experiences over the decades – and there has been times in the phone calls where I have almost blessed the 73 years plus that I can bring to bear as I speak to so many about why their vote for AAP is so important.

I have had a few people who banged down the phone when I announced that I was a volunteer calling on behalf of Aam Aadmi Party —–but they were too few to bother about. By and large many who spoke English – told me that they would vote for the BJP – and Modi in particular because India needs a man like him at the helm. By and large they were also more impatient and certainly less civil.

In contrast about 60 -70% – mainly men, who have answered their cell phones and spoke in Hindi, were courteous, patient, well informed and ready to support AAP – and when they heard I lived in a village far away, they decided to take a few moments longer to tell me more about why they were excited about AAP !!

The women I was able to reach were relatively fewer in number – almost making me wonder if mobile phones were more likely to be owned by men? The women by and large also tended to be much more guarded in their responses and reluctant to divulge their thinking, or to come out openly in support of any party. Clearly the Aam Aurat will need much more engagement if she is to truly feel empowered and confident that she can and must take a political position – either as a voter or as candidate. This is a huge and critical challenge. And only when women are equal and strong members of parties, of parliaments, of assemblies and of Aam Sabhas, can we hope for a truly strong and vibrant functional democracy.

Laboratory of Fascism: Capital, Labour and Environment in Modi’s Gujarat

Gujarat pollution

By Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah

We are caught in a false debate in which the reality is presented in an erroneous perception. Narendra Modi, the perpetrator of 2002 carnage is counter posed with Mr. Modi the “development leader”. We call it a false debate, since for us, who have lived and grown in Gujarat over the past five decades the two aspects are actually the same – that of fascist. And we use the label of fascist for Modi with utmost seriousness and with full awareness of what the term involves. Of course, we have a different situation in India today, compared to Italy or Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Then, bourgeois parliamentary democracy was not too deep-rooted in those countries. By contrast, despite the efforts of Maoists on the extreme left and fascists on the extreme right, parliamentary democracy has struck considerably greater roots. This has had implications for the far left as well as the far right. Our concern today is the far right.

Since the Sangh Parivar has been consigned by fate to operate within ‘bourgeois democracy’ for a far longer time than it had originally envisaged (in 1947-48 it had clearly planned for a fairly swift grab for power, creating a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ analogous to Jinnah’s plan for a ‘Islamic State’), it has been compelled to split its operations. The BJP, as the electoral arm, has to look “moderate”. Of course, it is “moderate” only if one argues that a hyena is moderate compared to a wolf-pack. One should remember that the Mr. L. K. Advani, hailed these days as a “Statesman”, was seen as aggressive as against the “moderate” Mr. Vajpayee back in 1989-1992.

So the issue is not as if there is a “fascist tendency” in the Sangh Parivar, but also a “developmental discourse”. The issue is, how is the fascism of the Sangh Parivar going to be utilised for capital? This is where the ‘Modi model’ is crucial. It is Gujarat, a rapidly industrialising province that is showing, in a small way, what the Sangh Parivar is willing to do for capital.

The success story of the two-digit growth has masked the several digit realities of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement and permanent loss of natural resources, which are treated as free goods in this process. The investment figure, without the figures for displacement and depletion of natural resources and the employment figure without loss of livelihood does not make sense. No wise person would talk about the income without talking the cost of acquiring that income or wealth.

It is a shocking fact that we have never tried to arrive at even a realistic estimate of these figures but the magnitude of the loss can be guessed from some of the facts emerging from various important research works. This is just a tip of iceberg.

What the Government data shows:

In order to forestall charges that we are using tendentious data, we propose to build our case by using, in the main, data released by government sources, or data not repudiated by the regime.

The Gujarat Government claims that it has generated vast numbers of jobs. This is the first thing we wanted to investigate. Activists of the Gujarat based Jyoti Karmachari Mandal, an independent militant trade union, Amrish Brahmbhatt and Rohit Prajapati, in collaboration with the Documentation and Study Centre for Action chose a close scrutiny of Government of Gujarat’s latest “Employment Effort”, the “Swami Vivekanand Youth Employment Week” in February/March 2012 as an instance. In response to our RTI application, the Gujarat Government told us that spread over months, 489 melas were organised, and 65,000 youth were given employment through the ‘Rojgar Melas’.

In April 2012, we filed a detailed RTI application to the Chief Minister’s Office of Gujarat (CMO) and Principal Secretary, Labour and Employment department, Gujarat seeking details on 18 counts.

Instead of getting collated data from the CMO or the Principal Secretary, Gujarat Labour and Employment Department, which would have given a state-wide comprehensive picture, we started getting fragmented replies from each of the ‘District Employment and Training Department’ across the state.

The Employment and Training Departments in the districts were not in sync with each other, as some provided statistics in their replies of the district employment or data to some of the queries, while some did not, without giving any satisfactory reason.

Instead of 65,000 beneficiaries, the number of jobs provided based on information given by the authorities in 23 districts, totals only to 51,587. Out of that 11,172 are apprentices (30.4%). i.e. the actual figure is 40,415 and not even 51,587. But, the names of only 32,372 were provided to us.

We had sought specific information on what post, what pay and which industry and if each of them provided ‘employment’ in this “Rozgar Mela” would be entitled to benefits under labour and other statutory laws.

Again, we received no categorical reply about entitlement of benefits, saying the information would be best available with the concern employers. While some gave details about post employed, the employer’s name, none gave details about the pay and other legal benefits they will get.

Collating all the information, we got some important facts. Nobody had been given an ‘Appointment Letter’. What they got was a piece of paper called ‘Employment letter’, which is bad in law. Secondly, the total amount spent for these melas came to Rs 1, 87, 70,000 according to the Department of Employment and Training. This excluded the money spent on the participation of the ministers – including the Chief Minister – in these melas. The Department of Employment and Training categorically told us that it had not spent money for their participation. This money therefore came from other sources.

Thus, we get a picture that some 32,000 to 40,000 (at best) got some sort of unspecified jobs, while another 11,000 odd got apprenticeships. In Ahmedabad, 4,370 were recruited but all as apprentices. The Apprentice Act, 1961 under which the employers of certain factories have to recruit certain number of apprentice in their factories clearly states that they are not employees of the factories and therefore they are provided with no legal benefits but only stipend of Rs.1,490 for the 1st year, 1,700 for the 2nd year, and 1,970 for the 3rd year. In the other cases, where people did get actual jobs, those were mostly temporary in nature.

Thus, the ‘employment’ given ranged from apprenticeship to private sector employment for temporary jobs, with very few being skilled workers. The state was using its finances and officers to procure low paid workers for private capital, for example the GIDCs.

We leave out the fraudulent information given by the state, not because we forgive the fraud, but because that is not central to our present arguments. It is however important to note that many names have been put more than once to pump up the figures, and also that people who got jobs on their own and were already in job have found their names listed as beneficiaries of Mr. Modi. What is vital, however, is that most of the workers we could actually contact and interview stated they have low wages, high working hours (in some cases even 12 hours per day). Most of them do not get any other legal benefits like Provident Fund or leave except weekly leave.

In Anand district, 2,464 candidates were provided jobs by the Employment and Training Department. The list of Anand District shows that 621 (25.21%) graduate/post graduate/MA-B.Ed/PGDCA were given job as School Coordinator. They were promised the salary of Rs 4,500-5,000/month but they received only Rs. 3,100-3,500/month. This is less than the statutory minimum wage! With some of them, an 11 years contract was signed but they were relieved after 10-11 months.

The central picture that emerges from the foregoing is, the rhetoric of Mr. Modi is belied by the reality that his government is driving down state expenses and also the expenses on wages by private employers, using force and fraud.

Environment and Industry in Gujarat:

The Gujarat Government has charted out its roadmap clearly. It wants to take over peasants’ land at low cost, it wants to ensure that workers are paid low wages, and it will do its best to ensure that industrialisation does not confront ‘stupid’ hurdles like labour rights and environment protection. The then Finance Minister of Gujarat Mr. Vajubhai Vala while addressing a day-long pre-Vibrant Gujarat Summit seminar at Ahmedabad Management Association on ‘Industry Responsive Skill Development: The Emerging Trends in Gujarat’ on January 11, 2011 said that “A farmer engaged in agriculture on a five acre plot will earn enough only for his family. But if an industry is set up on that land, it will provide sustenance to families of 25-30 thousand workers.” He asked local industrialists not to spoil workers by giving them more than what is rightfully due to them.

Thus, it is evident that for the Gujarat government, toiling people of any kind do not matter.

Modi’s hymn singers, and today they are increasing, as so many among the privileged think they should take the “right” side before it is too late for them to get a fair share of the gravy. They will therefore contest our claims, accusing us of at least overstating our case. We will therefore make the case in further details.

GDPise Chemical State – Gujarat State does not have Comprehensive Chemical Emergency Plan:

Gujarat is the only state where all registered chemical factories have been identified and categorized in various hazard classes, by the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health considering their hazard potential. Major Accident Hazard (MAH) factories are identified as per standard norms of related laws. Gujarat state has the highest total 497 MAH Class factories which amounts 30 % of MAH factories in India. At present, 3204 ‘B’ +’C’ class hazardous chemical factories are identified in the state. Gujarat is having a total 30,310 factories registered under the Factories Act (employing directly 940567 Workers) out of which total 4,559 (15%) are hazardous chemical factories.

Over a period of time, Gujarat has also succeeded in widening its industrial base. At the time of inception in 1960, the industrial development was confined only to four major cities viz. Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat and Rajkot and some isolated locations such as Mithapur and Valsad. Today, almost all the districts of the state have witnessed industrial development in varying degrees. Such a massive scale of industrial development has been possible on account of haphazard and severe exploitation of natural resources. The discovery of oil and gas in Gujarat in the decade of 1960s has played an important role in setting up of petroleum refineries, fertilizer plants and petrochemical complexes. During the same period, the state government has also established a strong institutional network. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC), established industrial estates providing developed plots and ready built-up sheds to industries all across the state. Institutions were also set up to provide term finance, assistance for purchase of raw materials, plant and equipment and marketing of products. Later, District Industries Centers (DICs) were set up in all the districts to provide assistance in setting up industrial units in the form of support services. The state also developed infrastructure facilities required for industries, such as power, roads, ports, water supply and technical education institutions. The Government also introduced incentive schemes, from time to time, to promote industries. All these initiatives have made Gujarat emerge as the highly industrialized state in the country today.

Gujarat contributes more than 62% of national petrochemicals and 51% of national Chemical sector output. It leads all states in India in terms of the investments committed in the chemical and petrochemical sector. 30% of fixed capital investment is in the manufacturing of Chemical and Chemical Products. Manufacturing of chemicals and chemical products contribute to around one fifth of the total employment in state. The production capacity of major suppliers of polymers, PE/PP/PVC in Gujarat is nearly 70% of the whole country’s production. The province also has large quantity of production of basic chemicals like caustic soda, caustic potash and chloromethane. It is the largest supplier of bio-fertilizers, seeds, urea and other fertilizers.

But the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), it seems, doesn’t think that chemical industries have potential to cause chemical disasters in the state. Despite the Bhopal gas tragedy that took place 28 years ago, which killed at least ten thousand persons and resulted in about 500,000 more people suffering agonizing injuries with disastrous effects of the massive poisoning, the Gujarat government doesn’t seem to have learnt anything. Replying to one of our Right to Information Application (RTI) about Chemical Emergency Plan of the Gujarat state the GSDMA stated in their replies that “A Chemical Emergency Plan is currently under consideration at the Disaster Management Authority.”[11] GSDMA further stated in their replies “In reference to your above mentioned letter where information like numbers and names of the chemical industries, chemical used, final product, pollutant generated and its impact, also information about engineered landfill site – treatment storage and disposal facility, effluent treatment plants, common effluent treatment plants, etc. have been sought by you, we would like to inform you that the requested information is not available with this office.”

The ‘Honourable’ Chief Minister is the chairman of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority and the same authority has to implement ‘The Gujarat State Disaster Management Act, 2003. The Act clearly under clause 2(h) states that “disaster” means an actual or imminent event, whether natural or otherwise occurring in any part of the State which causes, or threatens to cause all or any of the following: (i) widespread loss or damage to property, both immovable and movable; or (ii) widespread loss of human life or injury or illness to human beings; or (iii) damage or degradation of environment;’ but the web site of Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority states ‘The GSDMA has been constituted by the Government of Gujarat by the GAD’s Resolution dated 8th February 2001. The Authority has been created as a permanent arrangement to handle the natural calamities.’. What about environmental disasters? There is no ‘Comprehensive Chemical Emergency Plan’ with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority. The Director, Health & Safety Department has an ‘Off Site Emergency Plan;’ but when we demanded a copy of it, we were told that it is secret.[15] A chemical emergency plan is not among the priorities in Gujarat, a state with one of the country’s highest concentration of chemical industries.

The Cases of Critically Polluted Area – Vapi and Ankleshwar:

This is another first for Gujarat, though this finds no mention in Gujarat chief minster’s speeches.

In 2009, the Ankleshwar’s industrial area, with 88.50 CEPI, topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India.

In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list.

Thus Gujarat is able to top in 2009 in ‘critically polluted areas’ in India and continues to maintain its position in 2011 & 2013.

The Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi who is the BJP’s PM-designate does not comment or engages ever on this issue. We, the concerned citizens challenge him for an open discussion on this issue.

Mr. Narendra Modi in his book ‘Convenient Action: Gujarat’s Response to Challenges of Climate Change’ published in 2011, on p. 132-133, has printed a photograph of Vapi’s Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) which even today does not operate as per the prescribed norms of Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). When the CETP of Vapi industrial area is not able to meet the prescribed GPCB norms, what message does the CM want to convey to the country and the world by printing a two page photograph of this treatment plant? On this issue we have posed several questions to him in our review of his book but he has been unable to answer a single question.

The constant advocacy by the pollution affected people and people’s organisations and NGOs regarding the increasing pollution levels in the industrial areas of India forced the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) in 1989 to initiate the process of indexing the critically polluted areas. At that time 24 industrial areas including Vapi, Ankleshwar, Ludhiana etc. were declared ‘critically polluted’.

Thereafter, in several meetings of CPCB and SPCBs serious debates on the pollution status of these areas were undertaken. Even after formulation of ‘action plans’ for the said industrial area no substantial or qualitative change was observed in these industrial areas. For this reason, in 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in consistence with the demands of the people’s organisation’s working on environmental issues decided to use a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of these areas, which is now known as the ‘Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index’ (CEPI). The CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. However, our demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food / agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming it – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.

As per the agreed upon measures, industrial areas with a CEPI of 70 and above are considered ‘critically polluted’ areas while those with a CEPI between 60-70 are considered ‘severely polluted’ areas. In our opinion, those industrial areas with CEPI between 40-60 ought to be labelled as ‘polluted areas’.

In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial estates was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Government of India were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted areas’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted’ areas. Following this study the MoEF on 13 January 2010 was also forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas. At that time, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and other environment protection groups had asked for a moratorium on all the 75 (43+32) polluting areas, but it was not done under pressure from the powerful industrial lobby and state governments. The mucky politics and economics of ‘GDP growth’ prevailed over the cause of ‘life and livelihood’ of ordinary people and ‘environment & conservation.

As such the process of declaring moratorium was started from Ankleshwar in Gujarat in 2007. The industries located in Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia GIDC estates treat their effluent in their Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) and then, after giving further treatment ‘at the Final Effluent Treatment Plant (FETP) at Ankleshwar discharge the effluent into the sea. The FETP, from its inception, did not work as per the prescribed norms set by the GPCB. Even today it is not able to meet the prescribed norm. For this reason, on July 7, 2007, GPCB, on the directions of the CPCB, imposed a moratorium on the industrial areas of Ankleshwar, Panoli and Jhagadia. The moratorium is in force even today, since there has been no substantial improvement in the pollution levels even after the implementation of the so-called ‘action plans’ prepared by these estates. The same plant’s disposal pipe line’s project was inaugurated by Narendra Modi on January 25, 2007. By inaugurating this plant, he was sending out the message to the investors to not to worry much about the compliance/s of environment laws in the state. Despite this moratorium being in force officially, the active connivance of the industrial lobby with the collusion of politicians along with the official machinery in Gujarat has surreptitiously lifted the moratorium from some area at different times.

Despite the “Polluter Pays” principle, common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) were highly supported by public money; 25% of the cost was state subsidy, 25% central subsidy, 30% loans from financial institute, and only 20% was directly paid by industries. In essence, half of the ’supposed’ solution to the pollution generated for private profit, was funded by the general public. As if this subsidy was not enough, the subsidy for the CETP has been increased from 25% to 50% by the Central Government.

The pipe line project of Final Effluent Treatment Plant of Ankleshwar was built with the sweat of tax payers. Out of a total project cost of Rs. 131.43 crores, the industries paid only Rs. 21.75 crores (about 17%); the rest of the tab (Rs. 109 crores) was borne by the Central Government, the Gujarat Government, and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) – all of which ultimately draw from public money. It is a familiar story: the profits are distributed privately, but the institutional costs and environmental burden are borne by general public. Can we find a better example of the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of the costs, burdens and hazards?

With no improvement in the levels of pollution being shown by the CEPI of the CPCB, the MoEF again, through its order of September 17, 2013 re-imposed a moratorium for some industrial areas.[18] However, surprisingly the same order also lifted the moratorium from some polluted areas in the name of ‘promises, presumption and assumption’ of improvement.[19] However, in our opinion the moratorium ought not to be lifted until these units bring down their CEPI to below 60.

In Gujarat, the GPCB has served repeated closure notices to several industries, which have been openly flouting environmental norms. However, the CPCB report of April 2013 has revealed no significant change in these industrial areas. Strict action needs to be taken against such industries and their ‘treatment facilities’. The CPCB report of 2009 covered 88 industrial estates, but the reports of 2011 and 2013 covered only 43 ‘critically-polluted areas’. In our opinion, the CEPI of all 88 areas should be conducted by the MoEF, CPCB and SPCBs. Other areas should also be included if the residents so wish.

Struggle against proposed 6000 MW Mithi Virdi Nuclear Power Plant:

At Mithi Virdi, in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat, the Central Government, with full cooperation of the state government, is seeking to build a 6000 MW Nuclear Power Plant. Thousands of villagers are up in arms, protesting this with the slogan ‘Not here, not anywhere; not in any country in the world’¬. The Government of Modi is perfectly aware, that Mr. Manmohan Singh is trying to dilute the Nuclear Liability Act even further, so that private profits are safeguarded even as Fukushima exemplified all over again how risky N-plants are.

Indeed, Mr. Modi is not merely silent. The agencies of the Gujarat government, in this matter, are working hand in glove with the centre. As The Hindu reported in August, CRZ clearance has been given in a remarkably slipshod way. During and before the Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) for the proposed Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), villagers, local Panchayats and organisations like Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti have brought to the notice of the authorities that Engineer India Limited (EIL), the consultant of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) does not have necessary accreditations to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA) for a NPP. However, in an instance of utter disregard and disrespect to the Environmental Law and the Constitution of India, NPCIL and EIL went ahead with the EIA study and the collector tried to go ahead with the illegal Public Hearing in March 2013.

On March 5, 2013, on the day of Public Hearing more than 6500 villagers, local Panchayats and Voluntary Organisation raised certain basic legal issues and sought clarification from the Chairman of the Public hearing, the then collector of Bhavnagar Mr. V. P. Patel. He had no answers to the important questions raised by them but instead tried to go ahead with the illegal hearing. The villagers were left with no choice but to walkout from the illegal, unconstitutional public hearing.

The EPH was held in a coercive and terror-filled atmosphere, in order to prevent the villagers from making free and fair representation. Not only a heavy posse of police force but also private security guards were hired at the EPH site, frisking and checking every entrant, and at places questioning villagers and participants about their antecedents. Unnecessary barricades and iron wire fencing separated the collector’s dais and the participants area, a first ever arrangement during the EPH in recent times in Gujarat. While the barricades and iron wire-fencing might have been put for “the safety and security” of the collector and officials, they created an atmosphere of coercive tactics that invoked state control and fear over the proceedings of grave public concern.

The collector allowed songs and recordings in favour of the NPCIL and benefits of nuclear power plant to be broadcast from the public address system arranged by the collectorate. These recordings continued to be played till the EPH proceedings began formally. This was a clear violation of the neutral approach that the collector should have taken on the issue and instead made clear his predisposition on behalf of the NPCIL. On the contrary, the villagers were not only prevented from making free and fair representation; their representations on procedural issues were also ignored during the EPH.

There were at least thirty odd people sitting on dais on both the sides of district collector during the EPH, whose presence and background went unaccounted with no one introduced or briefed about who they were and in what capacity they sat there. The villagers and their elected representatives on the other hand got no such chance and instead were frequently frisked and subjected to irritating queries.

The NPCIL and EIL has since then continued to resort to the illegal practices by keeping silence on the issues raised by the villagers. This is evident from its application and presentations for Costal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance to the authorities in Gujarat without submitting adequate documents and information.

Members of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Krishnakant, Swati Desai, and Rohit Prajapati, environmental activists in Gujarat, wrote letters to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), alleging that the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance by the State Government was without any site visits and documentation of ground realities.

On June 11, 2013, while giving the so-called CRZ clearance/ recommendation for CRZ clearance to the NPP, the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) stated that “The Authority deliberated the proposal of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and after detailed discussion, the Authority decided to recommend to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India to grant CRZ clearance for construction of intake, outfall facilities, jetty and Desalination plant at Village: Mithi Virdi, Dist: Bhavnagar by M/S Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, only after submission of the following details to this Department : 1. Detailed note regarding the safety aspects and site selection criteria along with its advantage for this site and submit to this Department. 2. A site visit should be carried out by GCZMA Member.”

This clearly means that the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authorities is not serious about the CRZ clearance because they have casually given this clearance/recommendation for CRZ clearance without asking for and reading the note on safety aspects, site clearance report and without undertaking the site visit. GCZMA has also not taken in account the basics, for instance eventualities like population increase in the immediate vicinity of the proposed plant. What the CRZ clearance does, therefore, is to endorse the illegal and unconstitutional act of NPCIL and EIL. Activists earlier alleged that the EIL had no accreditation to conduct an environment impact assessment for a nuclear power plant. It appeared as if the GCZMA is a victim of the non-transparent and secretive approach of NPCIL, which has not attached the report dated June 28, 2007, of Site Selection Committee even in the Environment Impact Assessment document and also to the GCZMA.

NPCIL needs 81 hectares of forest land in addition to the other land for the nuclear power plant. To facilitate this the Taluka Development Officer (TDO) of Gujarat State sent a letter dated July 15, 2013 to Sarpanch of Jaspara directing him to pass a resolution on the lines of the copy that he had sent, so as to have the village body’s stamp of approval for the state government transfer of forest land to the NPCIL. In this letter the TDO instead of seeking the opinion of Gramsabha as per the law for the land transfer, illegally and unconstitutionally orders the Sarpanch to pass the readymade resolution. The Gramsabha of Jaspara unanimously condemned and rejected such an unconstitutional letter of TDO. The Gramsabha unanimously resolved not to hand over the forest land for non-forest use to be handed over the NPCIL.

This is the new way of getting the consent from the villagers by Mr. Modi’s Gujarat State.

Kevadia near Sardar Sarovar Dam: Old and new struggles

Another hot spot Mr. Modi faces is near Sardar Sarovar Dam.

The work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam, began without necessary environmental clearance from the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) of Narmada Control Authority’s (NCA). It is very clear if one looks closely at the letter dated March 24, 2013 written by a senior member Mr. Shekhar Singh of the ESG of NCA to its chairperson Mr. Dr V. Rajagopalan, the secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India.

He expressed surprise over Gujarat Government’s decision to start work for the construction of the Garudeshwar weir without obtaining necessary environment clearances.

He states in his letter that “Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the SSP dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 Million Cubic Meters is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA.”

He further states in his letter “In my estimation, the construction and operation of the GW will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km in length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream. However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”

At the end of the letter, he clearly demands, “If this is correct, I find this problematic as ESG has not yet cleared the construction of this weir. Under the circumstance, I urge you to: (1) Ask the Government of Gujarat (GoG) to immediately stop construction of the GW. All other activities related to the GW should also be stopped. (2) Ask GOG/ SSNNL to submit the full feasibility report, environment and social impact assessment report including impacts during construction and operation of the GW to the ESG and seek clearance of the ESG for this work. (3) Ask GOG not to start any work in this regard till the ESG clears this.”

In a clear example of how area development authorities, notified by the Gujarat Government, behave vis-à-vis local villagers, a letter written by the Chief Executive Officer, Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA) has threatened the Sarpanches of 52 villages adjoining the Sardar Sarovar Dam that they better agree to hand over their villages for tourism purpose or else they would face consequences. The four-line letter dated March 6, 2013 sent to the village Sarpanches under the heading “Regarding the decision to include your villages under KADA”, threateningly states “the government has decided on development oriented work in these villages, even then you have not passed resolutions on your letter-heads agreeing to be included under KADA.” Calling the behaviour of the 52 village Panchayat “improper”, the KADA letter says, “You are requested to send your approval for the use of your villages for developmental purpose within seven days. In case you fail to do it, then – keeping that in view – we will be forced to take further steps against you.” Significantly, KADA comes directly under the Gujarat Urban Development Department and has been given the task of “developing” the area around the Sardar Sarovar Dam into a tourism spot, complete with all types of entertainment facilities, hotels and sports.

KADA Chief Executive Officer Mr. D. B. Rahewar said that his office has so far only asked consent from 54 villages to get consent of the village Panchayats for town development purpose, and the process was still at initial stage. “We have added 54 more villages under our scheme and have sought consent from the Panchayat but are yet to get their consent. We intend to develop the area under town planning scheme. The systemic development of the basic infrastructure in the region will be meant for mass service,” he said.

The six villages, which were the first to hand over the land way back in 1961-63 to build the Staff Colony, Government Offices and Guest House to build the Sardar Sarovar Dam, have even decades later not been considered “equal” to other project affected persons (PAPs), thus remaining deprived of all the facilities which other PAPs of Sardar Sarovar Dam of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have received. In fact, they cannot even access to Sardar Sarovar Dam water for irrigation. Worse, the view is gaining ground among them that water is only for urban and industrial use.

The view is also gaining strong among the villagers that all this is being done at a time when the Gujarat Government has decided to build the highest statue of the world in the memory of Shri Sardar Patel by spending Rs 2,500 crores near Sardar Sarovar Dam, around which KADA’s tourism will be developed. Already, 16 villages have been brought under KADA, while the plan is to take the number to 70.

On October 2, 2013 a huge contingent of police force was mobilised by the Gujarat state police department to create an atmosphere of terror and threat among the villagers to prevent them from reaching the place of the meeting where they were to discuss and raise their grievances against KADA (Kevadia Area Development Authority) near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. Government authorities photographed as well as video recorded the villagers who made their way to the meeting venue as a means of intimidation.

This happened a day after October 1, 2013, when the Collector, district Narmada and KADA authorities organised an urgent meeting with Sarpanches, Panchayat members and the Talati of 70 villages where they spelled out in not many words to dissuade the locals not to join the October 2 meeting. In spite of these “efforts” by the state and KADA authority, over 1500 people from the villages attended the meeting and resolved to fight back this inhuman and unconstitutional action. Protesting tribals shouted, “jaan denge, jameen nahi (we will give our life, but not our land)”, “jameen rotlo aape chhe (we get food from our land)”, “amaro gaam, amaro raaj (our village, our rule),” “vikas joiye chhe na ki vinas (we need development and not destruction)”, among others, to register their protest against the move of the KADA to acquire land.

The Chairman, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, the Chairman & CEO, KADA and Collector, district Narmada were invited for the meeting to put forward the information, facts and figures before the villagers on October 2. Much to everyone’s regret, they all chose to remain absent from the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the villagers and concerned citizens took a pledge with Narmada water in their hand.

In other words, in the Modi development model, if you are workers, dalits, adivasis, and of course Muslims, then you may expect extremes of oppression and suffering. Tie this in with the export of the Gujarat model to the rest of the country, starting with the experiments in Uttar Pradesh (Muzzaffarnagar). The BJP sent a tested criminal, Mr. Amit Shah into UP to apply the lessons of Gujarat to the country’s biggest state, since Mr. Modi has decided that whoever wins UP wins India. In UP, Shah communalised the state or large parts of it, pitting the Jats against the Muslims. Incidents were concocted so that pogroms could be whipped up. This resulted in the mass violence. At least 48 people died, many more are still missing and huge numbers had to flee their homes. And meanwhile the thugs who fanned the flames of this cynically orchestrated violence and destroyed thousands of lives gather for a photo-op in the corridors of the UP state assembly. This is what projecting Modi as PM implies – capitalist development in the interest of the top layers of the country, mass exploitation of workers and other toilers, along with mobilisations based on extreme communal politics and the destruction of peoples’ organisations. This is precisely Indian fascism.

This article was originally published on Radical Socialist website