What slaughter mining and power plants have done to the people and the environment
What now ?
"Colliery is in a coma. And only a change in the policy of the government - they must believe in self reliance in the coal sector - will ensure proper growth of the industry," says A K Roy, leader of Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union, Dhanbad. Several industry experts say the government should privatise a major part of the existing coalmines as this would help the government in reducing losses and the mines will be run on more professional lines. J L Srivastava, ccf (Wildlife), says: "If you are giving bonus for worker's inefficiencies, then no one can stop a company from making losses."
However, the trade union leader Roy - quite obviously - does not buy the idea of privatisation. He says it will create further problems for the workers. "Now they are talking about reverting to denationalisation. It is said that nationalisation has failed and collieries should either be closed or handed over to contractors and mafia.As if thing will move now backwards. A handful of people with vested interests want this so that they can enjoy a monopoly over natural resources," he raves.
It is of critical importance that the government comes out with a proper, clear mining policy. Nobody seems to have a clue about the present policy. J L Srivastava complains that the government is releasing forest areas for development work everyday. In such a scenario, any claim to maintaining 33 per cent of forest cover is living in a fool's paradise. Srivastava says the need of the hour is people's participation, without which the bureaucrats and politicians will continue in the same mode.
About the issue of relocating people living in areas facing subsidence and fires, S P Singh, bccl 's director (technical), planning and projects, says, "If your coat is on fire, are you going to say 'I will put out the fire only if you give me a job' . The people of Jharia don't want to vacate the town before they get adequate compensation. Is it possible to provide 38,000 jobs."
And then there is the issue of land reclamation. "If you do proper planning you don't require a big amount for it. The land purchased can be sold after reclamation," points out N C Saxena. "We must concentrate on post-mining land use plan, which hardly exists in the country," he reckons. The government has to give top priority to reclaiming degraded lands through afforestation, says J L Srivastava.
T N Singh says that if proper electrostatic precipitators are used, the air pollution problem can be solved. "Most plants here claim that the precipitators are working properly. But I doubt if it is happening," says T N Singh. He warns that if the government does not make a proper plan at the earliest, a time will come when the land in jcf will start subsiding very fast as the sand stowing has not been done properly.
"There is no guideline for preparing environmental impact assessment studies for the coal industry," says the cmri scientist M K Chakraborty. "What should the eia include? There is no data," says he. Several people say most such studies are only conducted on paper.
There are more twists in the story than can be perceived. Yet everything to do with these issues is subdued and hushed. All of these issues need to be addresses if colliery in India is to get out of the coma it is in.
Reported by Manish Tiwari and Richard Mahapatra
Bridging the gap
A long haul
Leftist politicians have a reputation across the world for being immensely centralised in their thinking. So, what was different in Kerala, where the major steps in the decentralisation drive have been taken by the ldf alliance? For one, the socioeconomic conditions desperately called for a change. For another, a highly active civil society made it into a political issue, which the politicians could no longer ignore.
"Both agriculture and small-scale industries sectors were not making any progress in the past few decades due to the bureaucratic system. We desperately needed an overhaul," says E M Shreedharan, a member of the State Planning Board (spb). Even as agriculture sustains more than half the state's population, crop yields are significantly lower than the national average.A study paper prepared by T M Thomas Isaac, who heads the spb's People's Plan Cell, explains that economic stagnation led to overexploitation of natural resources like fisheries and forests. Stepping away from traditional water management systems has made drought a recurrent feature every summer. The result was decline in agriculture as well as in social life. "Kerala was socially stagnant for decades. It was starving for a social intervention to lift its morale," says Shreedharan (see box: Dealing with the suicide malady).
A clear reflection of this is that in the past three decades, no major party has recorded any growth in its vote base. A series of coalition governments made it virtually impossible for any intervention for economic recovery. After returning to power in 1996, the ldf realised that decentralisation was inevitable for its political survival.
When the left front came to power in 1957, they were aiming for legislation in favour of local self-government. But the government was dismissed. When the left front returned to power in 1961, it started merging Panchayati Raj institutions and the municipalities into a uniform system. But the first clear sign came only in the 1970s with the setting up of district planning offices. Although the district council law had been passed in 1978, elected representative bodies at the district level could be realised only in 1991.
The district development councils (ddcs) were asked to plan for their districts in consultation with the block panchayats and the gram panchayats. The 1991-92 budget outlay for ddc s was increased to Rs 250 crore. But a Congress-led United Democratic Front (udf) came to power in 1991, and it gradually withdrew the powers of the ddcs. In the following year, the allocation for ddcs came down to a paltry Rs 1.97 crore. However, A K Antony, former chief minister and a top leader of the Congress, says his government did not oppose decentralisation: "What we opposed is that it should not be made a party programme." In fact, it wasn't just the Congress. The same allegation came from the Communist Party of India (cpi), a coalition partner in the ldf government. The cpi accused the dominant Communist Party of India-Marxist (cpi-m) of involving only its own cadres.
But, as the pressure from the civil society was getting stronger, the decentralisation process did not get stalled due to political bickering. "It is a people's programme. It can cause conflict between two parties, but it can never be a single party's programme," says Kutty. By 1996, when the ldf returned to power, the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments had been carried out, imposing the formal three-tier Panchayati Raj local governance system. "It was also the time for the final heave. We got the constitutional mandate," says Shreedharan. One of the first decisions of the new government was to devolve 35-40 per cent of the state's outlay for projects and programmes in the Ninth Five Year Plan to local bodies, showing a great deal of political commitment to the process.
For the first time, decentralisation of planning was projected as the only way for wider community participation. "The basic guiding principle was: what can be done best at a particular level should be done there itself, and not at a higher level," says Isaac. To begin with, the state government bifurcated the planning process for the Eighth Five Year Plan. A list of schemes and topics for which proposals could be sent from the districts was distributed.
"But fundamental reforms cannot be merely legislated. Legislation is only empty words unless powerful movements oversee their implementation. Legislation is necessary but not sufficient by itself for decentralisation," says Isaac. The People's Campaign for Decentralised Planning was inaugurated in 1996. It is a special wing of the implementing agency of the decentralisation process, the spb. Its functions include large-scale training, policy evolution programmes, and providing a forum for the state's policy planners and economists to debate (see charts: Bottom to top and The money flow).
"Even though the panchayat s have the constitutional mandate for self-rule, the hurdle for their effective functioning was the lack of financial and real administrative powers," says A B Rajan, programme officer of the Programme for Community Organisation, a Thiruvananthapuram-based non-governmental organisation (ngo). "Past experiences indicate that the methods adopted for decentralisation don't work. Their preconditions are either resisted by the highly bureaucratic set up or are just ignored as another set of government jargon," says Isaac. "You don't have to wait till eternity to give power to local bodies," says R Radhakrishnan, former president of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (kssp), an ngo with leftist leanings that is involved with popularisation of science. It claims to have forced the decentralisation agenda on the state government
The decentralisation programme is based on the experiences of Kalliasseri, a coastal village in Kannaur district, where the kssp initiated a community-managed development plan. The ngo brought out a book entitled Kerala's Wealth , which extensively recorded the resource utilisation in Kerala. The organisation also set up village science fora to evolve into village-level planning groups. In 1989, after successfully fighting environmentally threatening schemes like the Silent Valley Project and the Kuttanadu Development Project, it embarked on a mass movement for decentralised planning. This was followed by 48 padayatras (marches), covering all the panchayat s in the state.
"Necessity forced the state government to embark on administrative reforms, which are definitely impressive," says M K Prasad of the kssp . "Some political leaders, who were enjoying the role of intermediaries and were calling the shots in the earlier system of centralised planning, were resistant to decentralisation. These leaders came from both the ruling ldf and the opposition parties. There were several cases of local politicians trying to block the process," explains Radhakrishnan. "But the civil society, including several academics, ngo s, and fisherfolk's groups, never let the pressure cool down," he adds.
As the movement gained momentum, the state government appointed a committee to recommend modifications to the state's Panchayati Raj Act of 1994. Called the Satyabrata Sen Committee, it prescribed the principles of decentralisation: autonomy, facilitation, role clarity, uniformity, people's participation, accountability and transparency.
In the first year itself, panchayats were asked to draw up their own plans and budgets and also execute the same. Their allocation gradually rose from Rs 749 crore in 1997-98 to Rs 1,020 crore in 1999-2000 (see graph: Increasing monies). Before 1996-97, the figure was limited to a paltry average of about Rs 20 crore. Now, for 2000-2001, Rs 1045 crore have been earmarked, which doesn't include funds from schemes sponsored by the Centre and institutional loans that can be generated through government schemes. During the Ninth Five Year Plan the state government is giving Rs 6,000 crore to local bodies out of its total outlay of Rs 16,100 crore - more than 37 per cent. "Earlier the panchayat used to get around nine per cent of the planned fund," says S N Kurup, secretary to the spb.
As a result, the state budget is now a list of the local bodies' plans. More than 65 per cent of agriculture related issues have been now transferred to panchayats. The micro-level planning is conducted by the gram sabha (all voters are its members). Panchayats can approach voluntary agencies and even order government officials to be present to help the residents. " Gram sabha meetings are like the discussions in the legislative assembly. The only difference is that the beneficiaries are themselves the participants," says Ratna Kumar J, secretary of the Ezhuvathirujhi Gram Panchayat in Mallapuram district.
The devolution of financial power was followed by the People's Planning Campaign, aimed at empowering the elected local bodies by rallying the officials, experts, volunteers, and the mass of people around them. Most of all, it was to help panchayats put in place the first set of proposals and projects for implementation.Planning was undertaken in different phases, each with distinct objectives. The gram sabhas discussions were held in groups of 20-50 residents. Overall, about 100,000 volunteers were pressed into mobilising the people. It is estimated that nearly 2.5 million people took part in these meetings.
The second stage was to organise seminars to survey the local resources - both natural and human. This was made into a development report for each panchayat, which forms the baseline data for all future planning. These reports were discussed threadbare in seminars attended by all stakeholders. Based on the data collected, each group formed a task force to plan for projects to be passed by the gram sabha for implementation. The campaign became a model. Retired government employees and other professionals have been mobilised to provide technical expertise. "It developed into one of the largest non-formal education programmes ever seen in the country," says Isaac. In seven rounds of training at various levels, about 15,000 elected representatives, 25,000 officials and 75,000 volunteers were trained.
Four years of decentralised planning have resulted in a functional division between state plans and local plans. Policy analysts say this would lead to subsequent material improvement in local life, for example, better management of agriculture and water resources. "An important change is the right focus of planning and, so, the right use of available funds," says Paloly Muhammedkutty, the local administration minister. Isaac mentions assessments by various agencies, which show that out of 1,000 local bodies, 200 are doing very well, 300 are moderately successful and 500 are not up to mark (see graph: Slow and steady: results trickle in). "I can't claim that the programme is successful uniformly throughout the state. But if half of them are doing well than it would inspire others to do better," says he.
The state's income growth rate in 1998-99 was 5.6 per cent as against 4.9 per cent in 1997-98. This became possible mainly due to a high growth of 3.82 per cent in agriculture, which was a mere 0.8 per cent 1997-98, according to the state's economy survey for 1999-2000. Cultivable lands lying barren are being brought under the plough (see box: Banking on labour). In Kottayam district, a panchayat has brought 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of land under cultivation. In Palghat, the average paddy yield per hectare has gone up from 1.6 tonnes to 3 tonnes. "Due to easy and timely availability of water, seeds and fertilisers, productivity has gone up," claims Shreedharan. From centralised water distribution, Kerala has entirely decentralised in this sector. Says Rukumuni R R, agriculture officer with the Mulamkunnathukavu Gram Panchayat, "Watershed development is now given top priority by the villagers as it ensures their water needs during non-monsoon period."
A centralised water distribution system has been entirely decentralised. Says Rukumuni R R, agriculture officer with the Mulamkunnathukavu Gram Panchayat, "Watershed development is now given the top priority by the villagers as it meets their water needs during the non-monsoon period." For example, the Mulamkunnathukavu Panchayat in Ernakulam district has taken up watershed development as priority. Three of the wards of the panchayat are hilly and were facing water scarcity due to deforestation. "Our wells would go dry in the month of January. After that it was a four-km trek down to a stream in the valley for water," says A B Abraham, a resident.
Now, more than 30,000 shock pits have been dug to let water percolate and 70 sq km of contour bunds have been built. "For the first time I saw my well having water in the month of May," says Lisi Kurian, who lives in a settlement on top of a hill. "Agriculture is again possible as some streams have become perennial," says Pacheri I A Sunny, a resident. "Paddy is now cultivated even on hilltops," she adds.
Priorities set by the panchayat s are in total contrast to those of the planning board. Earlier, the state was spending around 5 per cent of its budget on agriculture. Now the panchayats spend more than 10 per cent on it. Sahayi, an ngo based in Thiruvananthapuram, surveyed the advantages of decentralisation. "Much greater priority is now accorded for basic needs such as housing, drinking water and sanitation by the local bodies. In the productive sectors, there is discernible shift towards animal husbandry, garden crops and minor irrigation," the survey indicates (see box: Social change and ecological health).
Moreover, a new, strong and dynamic grassroots leadership is emerging. "After effective implementation of the Panchayati Raj, it is obvious that you would have a new leadership at the ward level," says A K Antony. Various leaders of different political parties explain that during the next election to the local bodies, selection of candidates would be based on their real performance. Says Shreedharan, "Decentralisation has made the local leaders more accountable. If they don't perform they are bound to be thrown out by the people." Quips Kutty: "Local bodies are going to be the next political battleground where genuine democracy would be tested."
The next challenge
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