Big deal

Industry's learnt the development shibboleths

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

essar Steels is on the road to opening a steel plant in Chaibasa, Jharkhand. The Mittal-owned company has promised an ambitious rehabilitation project for the villagers they are going to evict. The fundamental premise of the deal is that Essar will not start operations until alternative accommodation and livelihoods are found for the people who will be turfed out of their homes. The options on offer are contiguous relocation with limited jobs in the proposed plant, or, presumably, more distant peregrinations. Even the job offer, however, is a hedged bet. What Essar's representatives have, on record, offered is generation of incomes. Permit us to be a little sceptical about the capacity of big industry to help displaced people to haul themselves back on their feet.

Several points need to be noted. One is deliciously ironical.The son of one of independent India's most eminent tribal leaders made the package public, in his capacity as a senior manager of the company. But that is not really the point. What is more important is the assumption on the part of the company, going by the tone of the announcement, that it is doing the displaced people a big favour by putting a rehabilitation package in place. One would be forgiven for assuming that taking other people's land entails an automatic compensation obligation.

But there is also the small matter of corporate responsibility as a larger social idea. Essar did not even have to make the gesture it ended up making. No one needs to labour under the illusion that corporate entities have a responsibility beyond making profits -- charity and social justice is not in the domain of corporate practice. Otherwise, to state the obvious, capitalism would not be capitalism, which we know it is.

What we need to focus on once again is the role of the state. Eminent state theorists have elucidated the umbilical link between state and society -- we shall not, at the moment, get into the Marxist proposition of the state being the organ of the ruling classes. But what we do need to focus on is the fact that the people we elect to govern the country are accountable to us, unlike corporate honchos. It is their responsibility to ensure that private interests are regulated to subserve larger public interests.

In Chaibasa, the government seems to be missing. So, what's new?

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