The action on the proposed Vedanta university, exploitative microcredit, nuclear liability and Bhopal issues appears to indicate that India’s politicians are moving in a better direction. However, the writer’s optimism was dampened by a warning from a New Delhi correspondent: “These few instances are mere exceptions. Indian politicians like others elsewhere are a rotten breed.”
An Indian court found that land was illegally acquired to build Vedanta University in the Puri area of Orissa and refused permission to build.
Environment Minister Jairam Prakash refused to give Vedanta’s mining project in Niyamgiri hills in Orissa clearance because it violated forest laws.
Action has been taken to rein in exploitative microcredit companies, a theme highlighted in detail for many months by Devinder Sharma.
In November, the “Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010,” which renders both suppliers and operators liable for eighty years after the construction of the reactor in the event of a nuclear accident, has shocked foreign corporations and their governments because hitherto international standards governing nuclear commerce have placed liability exclusively on the operator of a nuclear reactor while immunizing its suppliers.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s recent election success: this is acknowledged to be due to good governance, including providing bicycles to school-going girls, reserving 50% seats for women in panchayats and local bodies, building of long-delayed bridges, re-laying roads, keeping crime in check, appointing and monitoring the attendance of over 100,000 school teachers and ensuring that doctors worked in primary health centers. Devinder Sharma writes: “Unlike most other political leaders, I found Nitish Kumar more receptive and sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalised. While the Bihar verdict amply demonstrates his willingness to improve the lot of the masses, I still recall the brief meeting when he asked me several years back as to what I thought was the major reason behind farmer suicides . . . This was the time when farmers defaulting the banks and private moneylenders (with petty outstanding dues) were hauled up and put behind the bars. Thousands of farmers in distress preferred to commit suicide rather than to face the humiliation that comes along with indebtedness . . . he invested in the people, and the people paid back.”
And now India is seeking to more than double the compensation paid by a US chemical company for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster. But international political manoeuvring gives cause for concern – in line with Devinder’s verdict: In August, there was uproar in India after a senior US official was accused of making a veiled threat to block a World Bank loan to Delhi over the Bhopal leak issue. In an e-mail, he noted, “we are still hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue”, and appeared to warn of a potential “chilling effect on our investment relationship”. [Though that seems to fall far short of the compensation needed it is a step in the right direction.]
Time alone will tell whether this apparently more caring trend will be maintained and extended.