Thursday, March 12, 2009

Policy challenges before ‘shining’ India


Rural India has been facing multiple crises during the recent past, which has directly or indirectly impacted upon rural livelihoods, human development indicators, employment scenario, citizens’ rights, displacement and migration, and environmental and ecological sustainability. Basic issues, related to human health and education, have failed miserably to come into the forefront when India followed a different development paradigm after the liberalization of the economy since 1991. In the following paragraphs, the effort has been to identify some of the problems, which may have cropped up or has been noticed, due to media intervention, research done by social scientists and grassroot activism made by civil society and individuals. It is pertinent to bring under the microscope such events and their consequences, which had a lot to do with people’s livelihoods, human development and their coping up strategies. Though it is a difficult task to pull together all the strings to create a holistic narrative, some form of story telling has been kept in mind, which most of us are aware of.

Rural livelihoods

Promotion of rural livelihoods has become a pertinent issue before India, which currently faces massive level of poverty and unemployment. Although majority of the population (i.e. almost two-third of the total population) relies on agriculture for its livelihoods in the rural areas, yet due to poor performance in terms of productivity, the per capita income emanating from this sector has been comparatively lesser. According to the Economic Survey 2007-08, the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product (GDP) has registered a steady decline from 36.4 per cent in 1982-83 to 18.5 percent in 2006-07. The labour-to-land ratio in India is quite high leading to the problem, which economists term as ‘disguised’ unemployment. Compared to China, land productivity in India is low. The country has seen suicides being committed by the farmers in the face of agrarian distress and crisis. The rising cost of inputs like fertilizers, seeds and electricity owing to the State curbing subsidies in the post-liberalisation era has badly affected the fate of the farming community. There is no doubt that agriculture suffered from technological backwardness and fragmentation of land holdings, which held back its growth. The earlier gains made during the green revolution has diminished over time. Growth rate of population exceeded growth rate in foodgrain production leading to the problem of food insecurity.

Livelihood security approaches take into account how an individual live while relying upon a particular occupation or profession. Livelihoods comprise of a variety of on-farm and off-farm activities, which together provide an entire gamut of procurement strategies for food and cash. So, individuals would have several possible sources of entitlement, which could constitute their livelihood. Issues related to food insecurity has given birth to such approaches. However, livelihood security is a much broader concept than food security and it also focuses on the impact of external environment on individuals during the time of natural disasters, conflicts and wars, economic shocks and environmental degradation. Coping-up strategies adopted by men and women during testing times are essentially studied under various approaches to livelihood security. Research on livelihood security relies on research methodologies adopted not only by economists but also by nutritionists, anthropologists and sociologists. Concepts and issues related to household food and nutritional security, which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, gave way to the development of the concept of household livelihood security during late 1980s and 1990s. Amartya Sen’s work on capabilities approach during the 1980s, which focuses on positive freedom i.e. a person's actual ability to be or do something, furthered people’s understanding of livelihood security. He first framed the notion of entitlements in the seminal work Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981).

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) has become an essential tool in the hands of non-government organizations (NGOs) and other agencies to take into account the knowledge and opinions of the local people in development related schemes and programmes, which are aimed at ensuring their livelihood security. PRA techniques can help the rural people in examining their own problems, setting their own goals and agendas, and monitoring their own achievements and outcomes. The activist adult learning methods and experiments of Paulo Freire in the Latin American region on the poor labouring classes gave way to PRA techniques. According to Robert Chambers, PRA techniques are meant for decentralisation and empowermnent of the local people in a sustainable way, whereby they can learn about themselves. Some of the methods of PRA include participatory mapping and modeling, transect walks, matrix scoring, well-being grouping and ranking, seasonal calendars, institutional diagramming, trend and chance analysis, and analytical diagramming, which are all undertaken by local people. PRA has quite often been in use for resources management (soil and water conservation, village planning, etc.), agricultural and rural development, health, nutrition and food security studies, and successful implementation of various pro-poor programmes.

Sustainability of agriculture matters a lot. Over-usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides not only affected soil health and condition but also posed threats to human health and life. Although the ideal ratio for NPK usage is 4:2:1, the ratio in reality got distorted over the years due to variation in the cost of either of the components of NPK and lack of capacity-building amidst farmers. There have been reports in the media that those farmers who relied upon moneylenders and middlemen for getting loans, committed suicides by consuming chemical fertilizers after facing repeated crop failures. The 59th Round of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) found that out of the total number of indebted farmers, 61 per cent had operational holding below 1 ha. Certain states like Maharastra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala et al saw frequent crop failures. The loan waiver scheme announced by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for small and marginal farmers came as a measure to combat such shocks. There has been limited access to easy credit in the rural areas for agricultural production. Farmers have been unable to reap the gains of Bt cotton.

The falling terms-of-trade, which was being faced by agriculture before the 1990s, was thought of getting improved after the reforms, via adoption of openness policies. It was speculated by a group of economists that India’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995 and relentless pursuance of the ‘free trade’ tenet would benefit the farmers in terms of higher international prices vis-à-vis the low domestic prices for their farm goods. Stiglitz (2006)[1] noticed that globalisation has not been inclusive because of blindly following the models adopted by Western international institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The international trade model under the WTO was based on the assumption of perfectly competitive markets. The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) equates subsistence cultivation system of India with the agriculture system that prevails in the industrialized nations. Stiglitz (2006) has therefore asked for globalisation, which follows fair rules for all the parties involved in the game, respects sovereignty of national economies and discards ‘market fundamentalism’. To add here, the United States objected to the ‘special safeguard mechanism’, designed to protect farmers in the developing world against temporary surges in cut-price imports of cotton and rice, during the Geneva talks held in July, 2008.

Falling share of public investment in sustainable irrigation and agricultural R&D clearly made a dent on agricultural productivity in the worst possible manner. Agriculture remained rain-fed in most parts of the country. Farmers’ lobby had to wage a fight against gene piracy by Western agribusinesses and seed manufacturing companies pertaining to basmati, neem and turmeric. There were movements being held at the grassroot level for conservation of indigenous varieties of seeds. Environmental and ecological degradation posed the greatest ever dangers to Indian agriculture during the 1990s. Water table in many parts of the country, which includes Punjab, came down raising doubts over the sustainability of Indian agriculture. Some have argued that excessive subsidies led to adoption of inefficient agricultural practices. Rainwater harvesting and watershed management were prescribed to combat water shortages. Conservation of traditional water bodies became a big movement in Rajasthan, India (Mishra, 1993)[2]. Megsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh carried out his water harvesting movement in Rajasthan. However, user charges on water for efficient usage and consumption were termed as privatization of natural resources by some. Many doubted ‘tragedy of the commons’.

There were debates held in the public domain over the usefulness, challenges and threats of genetically modified (GM) and engineered (GE) crops. It has been argued that GE and GM crops posed risks to health and environment despite having a positive impact on agricultural productivity and food security[3]. According to a news report published by Andrew Pollack in the New York Times on February 19, 2009, biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops. While reviewing the book titled ‘Going Organic: Mobilizing Networks for Environmentally Responsible Food Production’, which has been written by Steward Lockie, Kristen Lyons, Geoffrey Lawrence and Darren Halpin (2006), Christopher Rosin (2007)[4] says that promotion of the organic sector can be a positive alternative to an existing agri-food system that is ridden with environmental degradation and social exploitation. Organic farming can help the small and marginal farmers unlike conventional agribusinesses. Dr. Vandana Shiva finds that farmers’ suicides in India is well-connected to Bt cotton due to increased costs of agricultural inputs and falling market prices, resulting in insurmountable debts and desperation. Policy emphasis on growing cash crops turned out to be dangerous for the farmers. A study conducted by Navdanya on Bt cotton in the Vidharva region (Maharastra) shows that Bt Cotton is making the soil infertile by decreasing microbial activity[5]. In another article, it has been found that Mahyco-Monsanto Bt cotton, Bollgard, has failed miserably for small farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India, in terms of yields, profitability, cost reduction, reduction in pesticide usage and environmental damage [Abdul and Kiran (2005)][6]. The Plant Variety Protection and Farmers' Rights Act (PVPFR) 2002, which was formulated under the sui generis option of the WTO recognises farmers' rights to save, use, sow, exchange, share or sell his farm products including the seed of a variety protected. The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which came into being in 1961, has the scope and potential to restrict the age-old traditional right of the farmer to "plant back seeds" in order to safeguard the vested interests of western seed manufacturing corporations. Hence, one can say that UPOV and the PVPFR cannot co-exist in the case of India (Krishnan, 2002)[7].

The contraction of the public distribution system (PDS) during the 1990s and 2000s certainly affected the small and marginal farmers as net consumers. The PDS was unable to reach out to the rural hinterland. Since the opportunity for ‘gainful’ off-farm employment was minimal, so concerns about alternative sources of livelihoods gained momentum. Lack of proper marketing, storage and transportation facilities became major hurdles, which reduced profitability of the farmers. The food procurement system of the government saw problems like inefficiency, mismanagement, rising cost of storage, wastage of procured foodgrains, pressure tactics being adopted by the farmers’ lobby from the Western part of India for raising the minimum support prices (MSP) in the case of wheat and rice etc. The country has also seen stringent anti-dumping measures being undertaken by the Indian government. After the United States began sending food to Orissa in November 1999, a Delhi-based environmentalist group, which comprised of Dr. Vandana Shiva too, accused it of 'dumping' genetically modified (GM) soya and corn on India in the form of food aid "in a bid to create an artificial market and keep the tottering genetic-engineering giants afloat". There have been demands for adoption of protectionist policies when India faced shortfalls in foodgrain availability. India’s reliance on imports of pulses and edible oil continued during the post-liberalisation era. Lack of road connectivity to mandis posed a challenge before the farmers due to which they relied upon traders and middlemen for sale of the farm output.

Seldom the entrepreneurial capabilities of the farmers have been taken into account while formulating agrarian policies. The farming community faces a lot of risks pertaining to weather, irrigation, natural disasters etc. The National Commission on Agriculture (NAC) under the able leadership of MS Swaminathan came out with a set of policy recommendations for evergreen revolution. The Eleventh Five Year Plan estimated agricultural growth by 4 percent annually, which seemed difficult to be achieved. Some of the new initiatives undertaken by the government for agricultural development are: National Food Security Mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Policy for Farmers, 2007, National Horticulture Mission, Microirrigation, Technology Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture, National Bamboo Mission, National Project for Cattle and Buffalo Breeding and Livestock Insurance. The Bharat Nirman project of Government of India envisions infrastructure development in rural areas. Most of the infrastructure projects, which are running on the basis of public-private partnerships, have been criticized on various grounds. The hike in fuel prices in 2008 affected agriculture. There has been limited media coverage of local best practices, which could have been replicated elsewhere in the country. The information and communication technology (ICT) revolution helped the farmers in bargaining and selling their farm goods at better prices in certain pockets of rural India. The MCX and NCDEX have evolved as markets in forward and futures trading in the recent past, which helped the traders at the cost of farmers, as some have argued. The high food prices affected the poor and the destitute badly in the recent times, according to a report titled ‘The Challenge of Global Hunger 2008’ (International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI).

Human Development Indicators

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) first came out with the Human Development Index in 1990, which combines normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment and GDP per capital for countries worldwide. The concept of human development refers to the process of widening the options of persons, by giving them more opportunities for education, health care, income generation, employment etc. Ergo, human development looks at the all around development of a country. According to the UNDP, “human development is a development paradigm that is about much more than the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about creating an environment in which people can develop their full potential and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests.” The goal of human development paradigm is to enhance people’s freedom and facilitate participatory democracy. The persons involved behind the idea of human development were: Mahboob ul Haq, Prof. Amartya Sen, Lord Meghnad Desai and Prof. Gustav Ranis. India (HDI=0.609) ranked 132 while China (HDI=0.762) ranked 94 in terms of human development index out of 179 countries during the year 2006. The best performing countries in terms of human development index are: Iceland, Norway, Canada and Australia. The adult literacy rate in India stands at 65.5 percent, which is lower than that in China (70.9 percent). The chart above provides literacy rates across various states of India.

At the all-India level, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) of girls in the 6-11 years group (classes I-V) has been 85.18 while that of boys for the same age group has been 104.08 during the year 2002-03, according to the data released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The GER of girls in the 11-14 years group (classes VI-VIII) has been 49.66 while that of boys for the same age group has been 67.15 during the same year. This clearly shows gender divide in education. Literacy rate among the scheduled caste (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backward classes (OBCs) has been lower compared to the general population. There also existed rural-urban divide in education. The urban youth has been a priviledged class compared to its rural counterpart in terms of access to good quality educational institutes and schools. Lack of availability of skilled workers has badly affected the Indian economy recently. The Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2008 finds that children whose mothers did not attend school achieve a far lower level of reading proficiency than children whose mothers did attend school. The ASER Report (Rural) 2008 also finds that enrollment in private schools is on the rise. Children from Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh show improvement in their reading and arithmetics abilities. 61 percent of children in Standard V can tell correct time on a clock. While assessing the infrastructure situation in rural villages, it has been found by the ASER Report (Rural) 2008 that primary schools are available within 1 km of 92.5% rural habitations. The Economic Survey of India 2007 (OECD) found out that public expenditure on primary and secondary education is somewhat lower than in other emerging economies. There are suggestions in the report that India should follow the steps of Mexico and Brazil of giving the poor cash grants that are linked to the continued education of their children.

The objective behind Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which started in 2001, is to provide education to children between 6–14 years by 2010. The programme focuses specially on girls and children with challenged social or financial backgrounds. Education Guarantee Scheme and Alternative and Innovative Education are components of the SSA. The Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP) seeks to provide updated skills and new knowledge to poor aseetless women in 10 different traditional sectors, namely: agriculture, animal husbandry, dairying, fisheries, handlooms, handicrafts, khadi and village industries, sericulture, social forestry and wasteland development. The importance of MDM scheme lies in reducing drop-out rates especially among girl students, reducing the number of out-of-school children, providing employment to women cooks who would serve meal to students, increasing cohesiveness among students who would be eating together (via MDM scheme) despite coming from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds, and preventing the curse of child labour when the poor parents do not have to worry about the cost of sending their children for school education. Employment of child labour in hazardous industries has been quite prevalent in India. India currently faces rural-urban, male-female and inter-state disparities in outcomes pertaining to heath care. The country lags behind its neighbouring countries in many of the health parameters as can be seen from the table above.

The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), which came into being on 12 April, 2005 aimed at providing accessible, affordable and accountable quality health services to the poorest households in the remotest parts. The NRHM relies upon a community health worker i.e. ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist). The ASHA worker is supposed to serve a village having a norm 1000 population. It has been reported lately that the ASHA workers are deprived of their full salaries in many parts of the country. The NRHM tries to offer its services in a decentralised fashion for which it depends on primary and community health care centres. Some major health related programmes presently running in the country are: Universal Immunization Programme, Pulse Polio Immunization Programme, National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), National AIDS Control Programme etc. The government has recently given emphasis on Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). Water supply and sanitation continues to be inadequate in rural India. Open defacation is quite widespread and is a major cause behind deaths occuring due to diarrhoea.


Rural labour markets suffer from segmentation and differentiation, which affect mobility across various occupations, wage rates and even the degrees of freedom the workers enjoy. There exists no single or homogenous labour market as it was often being presumed in the earlier literature on neoclassical economics. Labour markets in rural India are based on caste-based and sexual divisions of labour, which leads to lesser remunerations or wages for the under-privileged and the weaker sex. There exists labour market discrimination due to which women get 20-40 % lower wages compared to men workers, both in the organized and unorganized sectors. Investment in women's education, skill and training is low due to which they are found at the lower-end of skill ladder and get lesser wages and remuneration. Caste-system is an economic organization found in India, which determines rules of production and distribution (factor distribution). There are some regular features: (a) Caste-system rewards distribution of occupation across the social groups. The property-right is pre-determined by caste; (b) Caste-system notably determines division of property rights but it fixes those rights to the ownership by different social groups; and (c) It not only divides the property rights and restricts its ownership but encourages unequal distribution. The labour force participation rate (on current daily status basis) for rural male turned out to be 53.1 percent in 2004-05, which was higher than that of females (23.7 percent). Employment growth in the organized sector has declined between 1994 and 2005, thus leading to informalisation of work. There has been an increase in unorganized workers in organized enterprises from 20.46 million in 1999-2000 to 29.14 million in 2004-05, according to the Economic Survey of India, 2007-08. Almost 92 percent of workers are found in the unorganized sector, with neither social security nor a steady flow of incomes. Illegal mining depended on employing unorganized labour.

Jobless growth has been a perennial problem for India. The 62nd round of NSSO shows that unemployment rate for rural areas according to usual status approach was around 2 per cent (3 per cent for males and 2 per cent for females). The table above can help one understand the employment situation in India.

The Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) was launched in April 1999 after restructuring the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) and allied programmes. It is the only self-employment programme being implemented currently for the rural poor. The objective of the SGSY is to bring the assisted swarozgaris above the poverty line by providing them income-generating assets through bank credit and government subsidy. The Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) was launched on September 25, 2001. The objective of the programme is to provide additional wage employment in the rural areas as also food security, alongside creation of durable community, social and economic infrastructure in the rural areas. SGRY programme in 330 districts has already been subsumed in National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) (200 districts in first phase during the year 2006-07 and 130 additional districts in second phase during 2007-08). SGRY programme was about to be entirely subsumed in NREGS with effect from April 1, 2008. By providing 100 days of work to a person (one each from a single household) under NREGS, during the lean seasons (i.e. between rabi and kharif), the livelihood security of those who are willing to do manual labour can be ensured. However, in its performance auditing draft report presented in 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of India has criticized dilution of the scheme under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) due to poor record maintenance, delayed payment of wages and non-payment of unemployment allowance. Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have performed better compared to states like West Bengal while implementing the NREGS. The loopholes within the NREGS have been well discussed among the Indian academic circles and the intelligentsia. In order to prevent siphoning off, it has been decided that payment of wages would be done through post offices and banks apart from regular conduction of social audits.

The minimum wage legislation and the Employment Guarantee Act have not been enforced effectively in India till now. Software packages that have been developed by Microsoft, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and NIC are of great help in monitoring and evaluation of the various components of the scheme. While criticizing the NREGA, Prof. Abhirup Sarkar, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata (1 February, 2005, The Telegraph), has said that the Act ‘may be interpreted as an attempt to inject purchasing power into the economy in the typical Keynesian fashion to stimulate demand’. It is speculated presently that the global meltdown would affect the employment status of the poor badly, particularly those who are employed in the export-oriented sector. The Interim Budget of 2009-10 has been criticised for overlooking the employment crisis arising out of the global financial crisis. Microfinance is fast emerging as a viable tool to address the issue of poverty reduction in rural areas, despite suffering from various flaws.

Citizen’s Rights

In a country like India, rights of the citizens are often being violated or ignored by the State and the other actors of the society, leave aside how much right a dalit, a poor woman or an old person enjoy. Civil and political rights are considered as important for the protection of peoples' physical integrity; ensuring procedural fairness in law; protection from discrimination based on race, gender, caste, religion etc; protection of individual freedom of belief, speech, association and the press; and political participation. India made its first human rights commission in the year 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act- the National Human Rights Commission [NHRC]. Generally, the former Chief Justice of India is made the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and the Chairperson of a state commission must be a former Chief Justice of the High Court. Human rights are important since everyone is entitled to live with dignity and no one, neither the State nor the community, nor the family, nor society has any right to discriminate or treat anyone unfairly or unjustly. India, in the past, has signed and ratified the two main international covenants on human rights - the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights form the International Bill of Rights. The Fundamental Rights in India is enshrined in the Part III of the Constitution of India to guarantee civil liberties. One must mention here about Dr. Binayak Sen who was imprisoned by the police force of Chattisgarh during 2007 on charges of being a naxallite and suffered due to human rights abuse. He was actually working among the tribals as a pro-poor doctor.

The Right to Information (RTI) Bill and the Lokpal Bill have provided the citizens right to hold the government accountable. Enactment of the RTI Act has empowered the citizens. This law was passed by the Indian Parliament on 15 June, 2005 and came fully into force on 13 October, 2005. Information disclosure in India was hitherto restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act now relaxes. The doomed Freedom of Information Bill 2000 gave way for the draft Right to Information Bill that was tabled in the Parliament on 22 December, 2004. The Supreme Court of India earlier held that the fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution was based on the foundation of the freedom of right to know and all citizens have the right to know about the activities of the State.

The right to food campaign worked for guaranteeing basic entitlements to be provided by the State. This led to a sustained focus on legislation and schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guaranty Act (NREGA), the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Mid-Day Meals (MDM) scheme, and the Public Distribution System (PDS)[1]. The fundamental right to be free from hunger and undernutrition is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, and hence realising this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems, but also entitlements relating to livelihood security such as the right to work, land reforms and social security. Food security generally means physical and economic access to food at the household level at all times to ensure healthy and active life. Right to food is a human right and is a binding obligation well established under international law, recognised in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to a Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (E/CN.4/2006/44/Add.2, 20 March, 2006), “…In the year 2000 the press reported on people dying from starvation, especially in the drought-stricken regions of Rajasthan, while food rotted in the government storage facilities. Reports suggested that food was being thrown into the sea or exported internationally at highly subsidized prices to reduce storage costs rather than being distributed to the hungry and starving. With growing public outrage at the paradox of starvation amidst overflowing foodstocks, this led to a ground-breaking public interest litigation being launched by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) against the Government before India’s Supreme Court. PUCL petition argued that the right to food was part of the right to life of all Indian citizens and demanded that the country’s food stocks be used without delay to prevent hunger and starvation. Interim orders of the Supreme Court ordered assistance be extended to those at risk of starvation. It ordered the full implementation of all the food-based schemes across India…This landmark case has brought the issue of the right to food as a human right back into public debate…” The same report also mentions about occurrences of starvation deaths, prevalence of rampant corruption in government funded schemes and programmes, and large-scale displacement due to construction of big dams and forced mining. Right to property by women would ensure their right to food. Judicial activism has played a key role in ensuring civil rights. However, lok adalaats and fast track courts are yet to become as popular as the existing judicial system.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 is concerned with the rights of forest dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades due to the continuance of colonial forest laws and practices in India. The Act is also known as Forest Rights Act, Tribal Rights Act, Tribal Bill and Tribal Land Act, in popular parlance. The Indian Forest Act 1927 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 gave the powers to forest settlement officers to settle a community elsewhere or to compensate the community if they are displaced, in case they are found to cause damage to the nearby environment of a forest. This snatched away the land rights of the tribal communities who were originally residing on a particular piece of land. Eligibility to get rights under the Forest Act is confined to those who "primarily reside in forests" and who depend on forests and forest land for a livelihood. The purpose of the Act is not to distribute forest land but to recognise lands that are already under cultivation as on December 13, 2005, and not to grant title to any new lands. However, enviromentalists opposed the Act feeling that the new law would lead to huge floods, droughts, and global warming.

Citizens have become more empowered since they are able to form associations and clubs, go for signature campaign for a particular cause, and report about important events and incidents in media and their personal blogs. Creative expression of both personal and public dissent by the citizens could be observed in the forms of street theatres, documentaries, articles et al. Participation of common masses in rallies has become more visible.

Displacement and Migration

Development policies of the Indian State very often took little or no care about the problem of displacement due to the construction of big dams for hydropower projects, special economic zones (SEZs) and mines. During the construction of Bargi dam on Narmada, 70,000 villagers from 101 villages were about to be displaced. The community never had the opportunity to know about its fate due to a particular project. In the case of the Nagarjunasagar Project in 1960, the Andhra Pradesh government declared its willingness to take the responsibility for the full rehabilitation of the dislocated and the displaced. However, according to a draft report on displacement by the Planning Commission[2], by 1965 the concern for full rehabilitation had been considerably eroded.

The oustee receives a rate, which is much below the market rate, and the solatium of 30 per cent [or even 100 per cent as is being proposed in a new draft Land Acquisition Act (LAA) Bill under consideration with the Government of India] is considered as far from enough to bridge the gap between the market and the registered prices. Due to illiteracy, victims due to displacement are often not aware of the legal details of the Land Acquisition Act. Tribals and rural persons hold little experience in handling cash, which they get as compensation. Oustees deplete cash compensation in short periods by fraud, for repayment of old debts, in liquor and conspicuous consumption. Displaced persons are unable to secure alternate cultivable lands. Forced evacuations carried out by the State are violent in nature. In the case of Hirakud dam, it has been reported that only one-third of compensation claims had been disbursed. It is mainly women and children who are disproportionately burdened by displacement. Loss of access to traditional sources of livelihoods due to dislocation has affected women. The Narmada Bachao Andolan came into being in 1988 under the leadership of activist Medha Patkar. After a relentless struggle, the World Bank withdrew from the Narmada Dam project in 1993. Big dams, which symbolised modernity, in the name of development, actually increased income disparity. Such a top-down approach to development later faced criticisms from both Gandhians and environmentalists.

Displacement and migration are inter-related. When a farmer looses his/ her land due to a mad rush for industrialisation for establishment of special economic zones (SEZs), s/he decides to migrate to another city or town for alternative sources of livelihoods. Inter-state and intra-state migration in India can be due to both push and pull factors. A push factor is a flaw or distress that drives a person away from a certain place. A pull factor is generally a benefit that attracts people to a certain place. Hate campaigns have been raised previously against persons who have migrated from a different place or region into a particular city. In November 2003, fifty-six persons from Bihar got murdered in Assam due to ethnic violence. Although freedom of movement within the country is Constitutionally guaranteed, yet incidents related to ethnic violence and xenophobia do keep on occurring. Patterns of migration are affected by caste, social networks and historical precedents. Seasonal and circular migration are the usual survival strategies adopted by the poor [Deshingkar and Start (2003)][3].


Environment related movements in India gained momentum during the 1970s due to media coverage of the Chipko Andolan (Hug the trees movement) in the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal. Environmentalism in India is concerned with local people’s rights and control over natural resources. Many a times the State, the bureaucracy, the contractors and the mafia took control over the natural resources (including forest) and exploited them at the cost of local people’s access. Government policies towards industrialization and growth gave birth to problems of dislocation, industrial pollution and deforestation. The timber mafia had to face resistance from the rural masses when it tried to take control over huge parts of forest areas. It has often been felt that enviromental degradation affect women in terms of their access to natural resources like: fuelwood, water, local herbs, forest based food and tubers etc. According to an article titled Empowering Women, Dr. Vandana Shiva suggests that a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved through reinstating a system of farming in India that is more women-centric. She has thus advocated against the prevalent "patriarchal logic of exclusion", arguing that a woman-centric system would change the current system in a positive manner without adversely affecting the environment and ecology. Norman Clark (2005)[4] has argued for the inclusion of issues of continued (and worsening) poverty, environmental sustainability, private sector activity, the complementary roles of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs), the importance of farmer knowledge, the growth of relevant agribusinesses and changing (national and global) macroeconomic conditions while developing agricultural science policy. He has asked to integrate agricultural science better with client need and complementary capabilities.

Some of the environment related problems currently faced by India are: excessive presence of arsenic in drinking water in parts of West Bengal, persons suffering due to disposal of radiation waste by the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) in the Jaduguda district of Jharkhand, melting down of glaciers in the Himalayas due to climate change, pollution of river waters due to disposal of untreated industrial wastes etc. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 if they melt and recede at the current pace. This is to mention here that the victims of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy are yet to receive their compensation from Union Carbide.

The Kyoto Protocol must find mention here while one is talking on environment in order to know India’s commitment towards reducing green house gases and prevent climate change. It. is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during 3–14 June, 1992. Kyoto Protocol is informally known as the Earth Summit. The Kyoto Protocol establishes legally binding commitments for the reduction of four greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexaflouride), and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) produced by industrialized and developed countries. As of the year 2008, 183 countries have ratified the Protocol. The Protocol is based on a 'cap and trade' system that imposes national caps or ‘upper limits’ on the emissions made by industrialised countries. On average, this cap requires countries to reduce their emissions 5.2% below their 1990 baseline over the period-2008 to 2012. Although these caps are placed at national-level commitments, in practice most countries have to pass on the emissions targets to individual industrial entities. India, China and other developing countries were not included in any numerical limitation of the Kyoto Protocol because they were not the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions during the pre-treaty industrialization period. India signed and ratified the Protocol in August, 2002. Since India is exempted from the framework of the treaty, it might gain from the protocol in terms of transfer of technology and related foreign investments. Despite being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Protocol. On 25 July 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized, the US Senate unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which stated that the country should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing nations as well as industrialized nations, which can cause damage to the US economy.


If the ‘shining’ India boasts about itself on the basis of high economic growth, information and technology revolution and corporate success, then one must remind them this time that there is a whole lot that needs to be done particularly for agricultural and rural development. A fairer and more equitable growth is the answer to achieve the goals of human development, and perhaps the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations. There are challenges open before the policy makers, and their say would decide India’s new growth trajectory. The growth rate of GDP has come down to 5.3 percent during the third quarter of 2008-09, yet there is lot of hope that India might bypass the present global and financial crisis. There is dearth of sound agricultural science policies, which is yet to be fulfilled. Otherwise, there is little that could be done for uplifting the majority of the population out of poverty and destitution.

[1] For more information, go to:
[2] Note:
[3] Deshingkar, Priya and Start, Daniel (2003): Seasonal Migration for Livelihoods in India, Coping, Accumulation and Exclusion, Working Paper 220, Overseas Development Institute, August,
[4] Clark, Norman (2005): Science Policy and Agricultural Research in Africa--A Capacity Building Needs Assessment, January, African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology,

Further Notes:

[1] Stiglitz, Joseph (2006): Making Globalisation Work: The Next Steps to Global Justice, September, WW Norton.
[2] Mishra, Anupam (1993): Aaj Bhi Khare Hai Talab.
[3] Note: A recent study by a French scientist named Gilles-Eric Seralini, which was released in January 2009 has found that Bt brinjal produces a protein that could induce resistance to the widely-used antibiotic kanamycin (New concerns over Bt brinjal plans by Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, 08 March, 2009).
[4] Rosin, Christopher (2007): Review of book titled: ‘Going Organic: Mobilizing Networks for Environmentally Responsible Food Production’, Vol. 15(2), December, International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food,
[5] Effect on Soil Biological Activities due to Cultivation of Bt Cotton by Navdanya,
[6] Qayum, Abdul and Sakkhari, Kiran (2005): Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh-A Three Year Assessment,
[7] Krishnan, BJ (2002): Move in join UPOV-Farmers’ rights in jeopardy, The Hindu Business Line, 2 October.