• Taxing prices

    It is high time Parliament took serious note of the sordid story of the unwarranted hike in the prices of petroleum products.

  • Small car

    PRAFUL BIDWAI'S column ("Small cars, big problems', February 15) was thoughtfully written and well researched and made an analysis that was very different from the mainstream media hype about Nano. The media in general happily compared the car ownership ratio of the United States and India and welcomed Nano as the poor man's car that would improve the ownership ratio in India. It would be interesting to compare the public transport ratios of the two countries. Rajeev Ahal Maseru, Kingdom of Lesotho THE Tata Group has finally managed to unveil its small car. This would certainly help the middle class to realise its dream of owning a car. Arvind K. Pandey Allahabad


    THIS refers to the column "Far from failure' (February 15). The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) is an inefficient way to revive rural economy. It would be better to improve infrastructure such as road and electricity in rural India and encourage the growth of industries. Only this would ensure employment and income to the poor. Brajendra Kumar Bardhaman, West Bengal

  • On the upswing

    The West Bengal Power Development Corporation's Bakreswar Thermal Power Project in Birbhum district. WEST BENGAL has emerged as one of the fastest-growing States in India and is the third largest economy in the country. So its growing reputation as a preferred investment destination should come as no surprise. The State has registered a high growth in real State domestic product (SDP) over the past eight years and is one of the top-ranking States of the country in terms of growth in per capita income. Despite being one of the most populous States in the country and the State with the highest population density, West Bengal achieved a growth in per capita income of 5.72 per cent in 2004-05, well above the national growth rate of per capita income in the same year, which was 5.2 per cent. In the period between 1991 and 2004, West Bengal's share of foreign direct investment (FDI) was $1,789.3 million. However, between 2004 and 2006 alone, the State attracted FDI worth $119 million, spread over 178 new industrial units that are being set up now. The State's exports also grew from $816.1 million in 1995-96 to $3,769.5 million in 2004-05. In fact, with respect to the volume of export, it has been found that West Bengal ranks seventh amongst all the States. According to different human development index indicators such as literacy rate and life expectancy at birth, the State has performed impressively. In the National Census 2001, West Bengal's literacy rate was estimated to be over 69 per cent as against the national average of 65 per cent. Urban market The sheer volume of the State's market is its primary attraction. With a population of around eight crore, according to the 2001 Census, and with steady economic growth in terms of the net State domestic product (NSDP) and per capita income, West Bengal has more people with greater disposable income than many other States. West Bengal is, in fact, the third largest State in terms of savings, with the commercial banks accounting for almost Rs.855 billion. Besides, West Bengal is ideally located, with a vast hinterland, comprising Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim and the north-eastern States, that increases the market size by about another 180 million consumers. West Bengal is also one of the most urbanised States in the country, with an urban population, according to the 2001 Census, of 22.5 million persons, 60 per cent of whom are below 30 years of age. This, in the context of rising incomes and the general boom in urban renewal and economic activity, has resulted in an increasing demand for quality goods and services. Kolkata, the State capital, alone accounts for a consumer profile of around 10 million, and major towns such as Siliguri, Durgapur, Asansol and Malda are also on an upswing. Rural market SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH South City, a Rs.10-billion multi-use project in the heart of Kolkata. It is not just the urban market that is undergoing a paradigm shift; it is happening in the rural sector too. With the enormous potential that exists in agriculture and farm products and food processing and agro-based industries, the State government is looking into investment proposals of considerable value from corporates for the procurement and large-scale marketing of agro products. This is expected to facilitate an increase in rural purchasing power and consumption profile. Agro industries With six agro-climatic zones, West Bengal offers an extensive variety of environments for the development of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical agricultural and horticultural produce. Agriculture contributes 30 per cent of the SDP and employs 57 per cent of the workforce. In fact, the State accounts for 30 per cent of India's potato production, 27 per cent of its pineapple production, 12 per cent of its banana production and 16 per cent of its rice production. The State ranks number one in the country in meat production (including poultry) and is one of the largest producers of fish, satisfying nearly 80 per cent of the country's carp seed demand. West Bengal also accounts for around 10 per cent of India's edible oil production and is the second largest tea-growing State in the country, contributing around 21 per cent of the total production in the country. A study conducted by the Government of India estimates that the investment potential in the State's food processing industry is Rs.154.52 billion over the next 10 years if the processing level is increased from the existing 2 per cent to 10 per cent in the same period. West Bengal has certain intrinsic strengths that give it an advantage in the field of food processing: vast agro raw material resources, six agro-climatic zones, an abundant supply of water from the many rivers across the State, fertile alluvial soil, low-cost and skilled labour, self-sufficiency in power, a large domestic market, and easy access to markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. In a recent conference on industries, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee emphasised the need for a modern market mechanism in the agricultural sector in the State. "Even though agricultural production is increasing, there is no proper method of preservation. As a result 10 to 20 per cent of the vegetable produce perishes every year mainly because of the lack of a modern marketing mechanism. We want more companies investing in this sector, and that will also help the economy in rural areas grow,' he said. Floriculture, including ornamental plant production, is an emerging industry in West Bengal. The State produces around 58,000 tonnes of flowers every year and has more than 10,000 acres (1 acre is 0.4 hectares) of land devoted to that purpose. Flowers are mainly grown in Kalimpong, Panskura, Ranaghat, Thakurnagar, Bagnan and in regions around the State. The main flowers produced are tuberose, gladiolus, rose, gerbera, carnation and cockscomb, and the countries that import flowers from West Bengal include the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and West Asian states, mainly Sharjah. The State government has already set up a floriculture park at Mungpoo in north Bengal, and a mega flower mart is also coming up in Kolkata at a project cost of Rs.250 million. Apart from these, there is a multi-storied flower market at Panskura, and another floriculture park is being developed at Jagulia in Nadia district. The State government recently received a $33-million proposal for setting up an open-air floriculture park on 200 acres of land at Rajarhat in Kolkata. Iron and steel PTI Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. is India's second largest integrated petrochemical complex. Apart from being one of the main priorities of the State government's industrial drive, the iron and steel sector is one of the oldest industries in the State. The establishment of the Bengal Iron Works at Kulti in Bardhaman district in 1870 ushered in the era of iron and steel in the State. The growth of the industry in the State is largely related to the proximity of raw materials, skilled manpower, port facilities and the vast market for iron and steel products. In the period 1991-2004, as many as 243 new iron and steel units were set up, involving a total investment of $1,856.8 million. In fact, between 2002 and 2004 alone, 108 iron and steel projects, with a total investment of $414.3 million, were implemented. According to the State government, the largest investment in 2007 also came in the steel sector. JSW Steel of the Sajjan Jindal Group is setting up the 10 million-tonne-capacity integrated steel plant

  • Zones for scam

    The contentious issue of land acquisition for industry cannot be resolved justly without a "precautionary principle' approach that respects livelihood rights. GOING by the number and intensity of protests against displacement under way in numerous States, land acquisition for industrial, mining and infrastructure projects has become India's single most contentious issue. Land is now the main site of struggle as popular movements confront predatory capital, which can only accumulate through dispossession. At stake are thousands of square kilometres of land on which at least a few million livelihoods depend. For instance, the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which have received formal or "in-principle' approval will alone need over 2,000 square kilometre. If the even larger swathes typically involved in mining leases, plots earmarked for industry, and areas claimed by highway development, and above all, by suburban housing

  • Water for all

    PIPED drinking water of good quality may be a dream for many of India's citizens but not for those in Guntur. Here 85 per cent of the people get treated water in abundance at their doorsteps. It is probably one of the few cities in the country that has multiple sources of water that could be tapped in emergencies. Though the city is deficient in groundwater, its residents do not feel the pinch thanks to the Guntur Municipal Corporation (GMC), which supplies water from sources situated in the north-eastern part of the city. "A major quantum of raw water, however, comes from the Krishna through canals [especially the Guntur Channel] and the Sangam Jagarlamudi filtration plant,' says Municipal Commissioner Siddhartha Jain. Equitable, round-the-clock distribution of quality water is the ultimate goal of the GMC. In order to make the city water-surplus by 2036, the GMC plans to reduce consumption of power needed to lift water from the source and deliver it at the customer's doorstep, augment new sources of raw water, carry out complete lining of the Guntur Channel and reduce wastage by taking a zonal approach to distribution. The project, visualised by GKW Consultants under the Central government's Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT), will cost the GMC Rs.200 crore. More than half the city's population gets free drinking water. Despite this, the GMC is able to meet its operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. For 90,000 property tax assessments, there are only 50,000 individual tap connections; 5,750 of these have been given to the poor at Rs.1,200 a connection and the remaining are public taps. A second filtration plant with a capacity of 45 million litres a day, which was set up recently at Thakellapadu on the city's outskirts, has helped the corporation filter water effectively from the Guntur Channel; this acts as a standby for the existing plant. A second water pipeline that would carry an additional 10 million gallons a day (MGD) of raw water from the Guntur Channel is to be set up soon. Rationalising water charges and metering water consumption are the long-term plans of the corporation to meet future O&M costs. Currently it collects Rs.4 crore annually as water cess from the 50,000 customers, including 1,700 commercial and bulk water users, who get metered supply. The steps taken by Mayor Kanna Nagaraju to have the Sangam Jagarlamudi plant and storage tanks cleaned and modernised has enabled the GMC stabilise its inflow and save crores of rupees. Checking leakages and improving services are not possible without the involvement of the stakeholders. The Municipal Commissioner proposes to hold regular meetings of customers under each local reservoir where minor, day-to-day problems could be sorted out. Water audit at each reservoir has improved the accountability of the engineering staff and the public. Under the audit, the GMC measures the outflow of water every hour and the total real consumption/receipt in the area it serves at the citizen's point. A modern gas equipment has been installed at reservoirs to improve water chlorination and ensure the right quantum of chlorine when it reaches the consumer.

  • A development story

    The Guntur Municipal Corporation leaves no stone unturned to ensure the city's all-round growth. THE Municipal Corporation of Guntur dreams big for the residents of the city, which has a more than 200-year-old history. It has achieved many firsts in its relatively brief existence of less than 20 years. The young corporation also has the youngest Mayor in the country, 23-year-old Kanna Nagaraju. The 52-member Municipal Council is guided by the young dynamic Municipal Commissioner Siddhartha Jain. Guntur means the village of tanks. It is believed that this village first came up close to what is known as the Red Tank. The French held Kondaveedu, a nearby village, from A.D. 1732 and built a fort to the east of the area now known as Old Guntur. The French commander constructed houses for himself and for his troopers towards the north of present-day Nallacheruvu (Black Tank) and this area was called New Guntur. One of the fastest developing Tier-III cities in Andhra Pradesh, Guntur has pride of place among municipal corporations in the State. A vibrant city, home to some of the wealthiest traders in cotton, chillis and tobacco, Guntur has fast metamorphosed into a modern city with an array of glittering shopping malls, restaurants and commercial complexes dotting the skyline. Providing basic civic amenities to a growing city with a population of over seven lakh has been a demanding task for the local body. It, however, has achieved many firsts, and dreams of providing 24-hour water supply to domestic and industrial consumers and meet the needs of the industrial corridor that is fast coming up between Vijayawada and Guntur. The corridor is expected to convert these into major Twin Cities of Andhra Pradesh after Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The GMC has achieved remarkable progress in augmenting basic amenities such as drinking water supply, sanitation, street lighting and solid waste management. It also has an efficient system in place to redress public grievances. "The GMC is highly responsive to civic problems and innovative in toning up its administrative machinery,' said District Collector Mohammad Ali Rafath. SANITATION A series of special drives has been launched by the Municipal Commissioner to augment the quality of basic services such as sanitation. The three-bin system has become a reality in many apartment complexes in the city and garbage clearance is 100 per cent. A week-long special sanitation drive in the city identified several issues, and short-term and long-term plans have been envisaged to solve them. For solid waste management, the GMC got a grant of Rs.1.26 crore from the Twelfth Finance Commission, which was spent on procuring dumper bins and tricycles. Today local residents' welfare associations take care of 50 per cent of the house-to-house garbage collection system. The use of coloured plastic bins for waste segregation at source has been introduced in some commercial areas too. Seventy-six acres of land was recently acquired in Yedlapadu mandal for dumping waste. Works such as construction of drains, laying of roads, improvement of road junctions and development of burial grounds were taken up at a cost of Rs.24 crore. Siddhartha Jain said: "People should be proud of the city they live in and be motivated to be part of the planned development. A systematic approach to administration and planning is the need of the hour. Special drives to improve sanitation and provide water supply connections will help in identifying several issues.' MEDICAL CAMP Mayor Kanna Nagaraju. At 23, he is the youngest Mayor in India. The municipal body is going beyond its principal mandate of providing basic amenities to the people; the GMC organises mega medical camps. The camps held on the Sri Patibandla Sitaramaiah High School grounds in December every year witnesses a huge turnout. The latest camp attracted more than 15,000 people. A team of 85 doctors from 20 specialisations attended to 13,400 patients. Medicines costing Rs.8.4 lakh were distributed. As many as 180 paramedical staff, students of nursing colleges and 370 cadets of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) volunteered their services. The success of the camp motivated some private hospitals and clinics to offer follow-up medical service for the patients. They would be treated for a month at a hospital of their choice. One of the most daunting tasks for the corporation is to ensure potable drinking water for the entire city. Guntur, which does not have a raw water source, depends on the Guntur Channel and the Buckingham Channel to supply 80 million litres per day (MLD) against the total ideal assessed demand of 121 MLD. The centuries-old water source at Sangam Jagarlamudi has been renovated thanks to the special interest shown by the Mayor. A water filtration plant of 10 million gallons per day has been commissioned and four reservoirs have been built at L.B. Nagar, Srinivasarao Thota, R.T.C. Colony and Stambalagaruvu. Rise in rEVENUE The corporation saw a turnaround in its finances with a near 100 per cent collection of tax and non-tax revenue from individuals and commercial establishments. Innovative steps taken by Deputy Commissioner N. Yadagiri Rao to boost revenue collection have yielded results; of the total 1.14 lakh assessments, 941 were new assessments. The revenue wing has been trifurcated

  • New growth story

    The fact that the boom in growth has been consumption-induced, services-dominated and credit-fuelled has implications for its sustainability. WITH the release of the quick estimates of national income, which show that gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2006-07 touched 9.6 per cent, the government can legitimately claim that the recent acceleration in growth is not a short-lived phenomenon. After taking into account the performance in 2006-07, GDP growth as estimated by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) averages 8.75 per cent during the four-year period from 2003-04 to 2006-07 compared with just 4.67 per cent during the first three years of this decade. And, if forecasts by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and other sources are an indication, the advance estimates for 2007-08 are unlikely to be below this level. Five years of near 9 per cent growth do point to a new growth story. Underlying this turnaround in growth is a sudden step-up in the rates of investment (and saving) in the economy. Compared with an average level of 24.6 per cent during the four years from 1999-2000 to 2002-03, the gross domestic investment rate rose to 28.2 per cent in 2003-04 and then continued to climb to touch 35.9 per cent in 2006-07

  • A long and winding path (Cover story)

    Raika herders in Rajasthan. They will benefit from the Forests Rights Act if their claims are accepted by gram sabhas along their migration route. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Rights (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, had already made an impact on the ground when it came into operation on January 1, 2008. There were reports that the State Forest Departments were rushing to carry out evictions from allegedly encroached lands before its provisions to stay all evictions came into force. Reports from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and other parts of India spoke of fresh clearing of forests at the instance of political parties, with the promise that these would be regularised under the Act. More quietly, communities and civil society organisations at some sites began preparations for implementing the Act in such a way that both forest protection and livelihood security could be enhanced. Now that the Act has been operationalised (with the notification of Rules), the question is: will it achieve what it sets out to do, and what will be the larger impact? The preambular text of the Act clearly lays out the context for its operative provisions. It is meant to undo historical injustices meted out to forest-dwelling populations in not recognising their rights to land and resources. But it also stresses that the rights of forest-dwelling communities include responsibility for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. Will its implementation help achieve this rather difficult balance between livelihood security and ecological conservation, which has eluded most conservation or development programmes in India so far? In a sense, this Act is 60 years late. The Indian state should have granted forest-related rights to Adivasi and other forest-dwelling communities, whose survival and welfare was integrally connected to their natural surrounds, immediately after Independence. This did not happen, and over the last few decades such communities have been massively dispossessed and often rendered criminals in their own homelands. In Orissa, for instance, over 25,000 sq km of land has traditionally been under shifting cultivation; those lying above 10 degree slopes were unilaterally declared government lands, and much of these as forest land. Suddenly, the cultivators, many of them Adivasis, became "encroachers'. This should not, of course, hide the fact that significant forest loss has also taken place because of encroachment. The motivations for this are mixed, from desperate forest clearing by poor people with no other alternative to encroachment by oustees of "development' projects who received no rehabilitation to powerful vested interests forcibly occupying forest lands for various purposes. It should also not obscure the painful reality of forest-dwellers being alienated from their homelands by "development' projects or by powerful vested interests, instances of injustice that have hardly been addressed by the Indian state. Simultaneously, forests across the country have seen a horrendous onslaught from industrial and commercial interests and agricultural expansion. Over 4.5 million hectares of forest was officially diverted from 1952 to 1980. Slowed down by enactments such as the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA) of 1980, the pace of forest diversion has once again increased in the past decade as the full force of globalisation and unbridled economic growth has made itself felt. Of the total 1.1 million ha of forests officially diverted since 1980, about a third has been only in the past five years. Responses to this devastation have mostly been in the form of laws and judgments resulting in stricter regulation of how forest lands are to be used. The most stringent have been protected areas (PAs) set up under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The nearly 5 per cent of India's territory covered by PAs has been invaluable in stemming the tide of wildlife destruction. But the manner in which PAs have been set up, ignoring the rights and needs of several million people dependent on their resources, has only created mass hostility and anguish. The tremendous traditional knowledge and practices, which were often strongly conservation-oriented, have also been ignored. This is an approach now rebounding on conservation itself, as these communities either simply refuse to cooperate with forest officials in stopping forest fires or reporting poachers, or actually become conduits in poaching and wood theft. The disappearance of tigers in Sariska is no surprise to anyone observing the brewing of a disastrous conservation recipe: ill-equipped and often unmotivated forest staff, hostile local villagers, and the absence of the political will to change things. The Forest Rights Act is a product of this history. Indeed, it is doubtful if it would ever have come into being if the people behind the Indian Forest Act, the FCA, and the Wildlife Protection Act integrated a livelihoods perspective into their vision. Had the interests and traditions of forest-dwellers been taken on board in the past few decades, the country would have had several million more supporters of conservation. A cauldron of impacts The debate on the Forest Rights Act has seen some incredible assertions about what it is going to result in. On the one side are a handful of conservationists (and prominent journalists) claiming that the Act will end up destroying all of India's forests and be the final nail in the coffin for the tiger. One sees a lot of rhetoric in their position, but little logic. On the other side are human rights advocates who wax eloquent about how the Act will revolutionise Adivasi existence and save India's forests from being destroyed by the industry-bureaucracy nexus. Again, more rhetorical heat than light. In the middle are a range of observers, cautiously supporting or questioning the Act, recognising that its impact is going to be extremely mixed. Already one sees evidence of this: ? In 2007, it was reported that 24,000 ha of forest was cleared in Gujarat, under political incitement, to claim it under the Act; ? In 2007, nearly 150 acres (1 acre = 0.4 ha) of forest was cut down inside the Kawal Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, by Adivasis from outside; ? In November 2007, more than 100 families were evicted from their villages in Nepanagar tehsil, Burhandpur district, Madhya Pradesh, with forest officials reportedly wanting to hurry up evictions before the Act came into force; ? Communities in Orissa are preparing to use the Act to claim control over forests they have been conserving, in particular to stop mines, industries or other destructive "development' projects that the government is allowing in these areas. In the ongoing case against the proposed mining by Vedanta Alumina Ltd in the Niyamgiri Hills, the Act's provisions protecting "Primitive Tribal Groups' have been cited since the hills are the abode of the Dongariya Khonds, a highly vulnerable Adivasi group; ? A number of conservation organisations are preparing to influence the process of declaring "critical wildlife habitats' under the Act so as to strengthen conservation greatly while also safeguarding bona fide livelihood interests; ? The Soliga Adivasi community in Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka is being helped by the non-governmental organisation (NGOs) Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) to map resource uses, sacred groves and habitats considered by them to be critical for wildlife, and other aspects, and then invite the sanctuary authorities to prepare a consolidated plan for the implementation of the Act; ? Several States are beginning to identify "critical wildlife habitats' within their protected areas with the purpose of making them "inviolate' (which could mean a range of situations from no human use to only those human uses that are absolutely compatible with the conservation objectives of the area). Once notified, such areas would be totally off limits to any damaging industrial project (see box). The medley of positive and negative impact of the Act is partly a result of the structure of the Act and Rules, partly an outcome of the serious lack of readiness amongst the government and civil society to implement their provisions. Fresh encroachments in some States, if the reports above are valid, could be a result of the Act's provision that in the case of Adivasis, lands could be claimed for regularisation if "encroached' before December 2005. The original version of the Act had specified 1980. With a cut-off date that was many years behind, any fresh clearance of forests for encroachment could have been much easier to detect and pronounce illegal. Even now, satellite imagery could be used to detect any post-December 2005 encroachments, but this will be more difficult and the political pressure to regularise these would be much stronger. Another serious issue is the possibility of opening up forest lands that are currently safeguarded by the FCA. This would happen in two ways. One is forest lands under cultivation that would get regularised (and presumably converted into revenue land). These lands are not alienable in that forest-dwellers cannot sell them off; however, it is not clear if they would be eligible to be acquired by the State under the Land Acquisition Act and would no longer have to go through FCA procedures. In the worst-case scenario, this is one way in which the Act could become another tool in the hands of the State and industry to access lands for commercial activities. The second is forest lands that would be diverted for one or more of the development facilities (roads, health centres, transmission lines, and so on) that the Act provides as a right to villages, which are exempt from the purview of the FCA. These are within limits (for example, only one hectare per facility, with less than 75 trees per hectare), but subject to violations under political pressure. At least in some parts of India, these provisions could lead to the fragmentation of forests. However, this is not yet manifest on the ground, and civil society organisations can at least raise an alert if they see misuse of this kind taking place. A Soliga Adivasi hamlet in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka. NGOs are helping the Soligas to map resource uses, sacred groves and habitats considered by them to be critical for wildlife. There are likely to be severe problems in establishing genuine rights too. Even the definition of who is eligible is not clear; the Act says those "residing in and who depend on forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs'. This leaves unclear what "residing in' means. Does it include villages that are immediately adjacent to forests, does it include villages that are surrounded by forests but are on revenue land? Also, do both conditions (residing in and dependent on) need to be fulfilled

  • Conflict of interests (Cover story)

    As the phase of implementation of the law approaches, there is palpable unease among the tribal populations. At Pipalkhura, forest Department personnel destroyed tribal homes and took away their belongings. THE road to Pipalkhura is long, rocky and dusty. Across a parched, hilly landscape occasionally broken by a village, farm or bazaar, we make our way to this remote village in Madhya Pradesh. Suddenly, we see a cluster of white tents breaking out of the brown earth

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