Saturday, September 09, 2006

When government falls prey to businessmen

When government falls prey to businessmen
For instance, the Haryana government is willing to hand over vast tracts of land to an Indian MNC


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Land grab, to house a strange animal, a species called an SEZ, is the energetic activity, the new buzz, on the political and business front. Human beings, honest-to-God citizens who live on the outskirts of the capital of India, find themselves hounded by a government desperate to take over their land and compensate them with what is nothing remotely close to the real commercial rate. All in an effort to take their lands and hand vast tracts over to a multinational Indian company looking to expand its business in Haryana, a fresh pasture.

The growing nexus between politicians and businessmen, hitherto hidden under opaque veils, is now finally being exposed. Government is seen blatantly and selfishly operating on behalf of an Indian industrial giant rather than doing what they have been mandated to do—provide good and fair governance. This potentially volatile controversy is bound to gain momentum, leading to unpleasant situations both in terms of street protests as well as in the courts when public interest suits are filed.

It really is quite appalling to witness this crass and unthinking scam unfold. In a country where there are acres and acres of wastelands, why do governments not allocate those spaces for SEZs? In the old days, when Nehru was determined to build a solid industrial base for this then newly independent nation-state, he encouraged businessman to go out into far-flung unconnected areas and lay the foundations for the generation of wealth and prosperity.

Industrial townships such as Jamshedpur grew and blossomed, giving jobs and opportunity to people who had been neglected, outside of the mainstream. There were many such examples. Great businesses were initiated and the effort was inclusive. Entrepreneurs took on the challenge of building a modern nation and were proud to be at the helm of the endeavour.

From the 60s into this millennium, the dilution of the earlier commitment to growth and development is becoming obvious. A selfishness has taken over. Businessmen seem to believe that is it their inherited right to have governments and chief ministers dance to their tune, fall in line with their demands, all at the cost of local people.

Farmers are constantly bulldozed into selling their land for well below commercial prices, exploited by the powerful who dangle carrots under their noses, knowing that when in poverty, mere survival will push these innocent, good people, the backbone of India, into succumbing.

Businessmen should not use malleable politicians and babus to exploit the underdog for their own private enterprises.To think that a new generation, inheritor of a larger-than-life empire, should want to use a government to virtually grab land at absurd rates, is unacceptable. It only reinforces the cliche about ‘inheritors’ when pitted against the true and committed ‘entrepreneurs’ who play second fiddle. Professionalism seems to have ebbed, giving way to the politicisation of business and corruption of politics.

This is the disease that has afflicted India and begun to consume it.

Surely, the Planning Commission should take upon itself the task of earmarking areas, well out of city limits, far away from the pockets of prosperity, for setting up SEZs so that neglected stretches of land can share in the spoils of growth and development, savour the joy of employment opportunities as well as other positive social action.

Manufacture, exports and suchlike that employ large numbers do not have to be located in prime urban space except, of course, for the convenience of the big boss who may find it tough to visit his factory as well as socialise in the city! It is the selfish thoughtlessness that is galling. And if the project is to set up malls and multiplexes, the ‘industrialist’ should be negotiating for the land himself and paying real commercial compensation. Retail must pay for itself. Government must support the establishment of infrastructure.

As the country matures, government must disentangle itself from the demands of businesses and businessmen. It must get on with governance. Business must fend for itself and generate wealth, employment, and good practice. Businessmen should be banned from hanging about in the corridors of the ministries in Delhi.

They should be left to either swim or sink, and not use malleable politicians and babus to exploit the underdog for their own private enterprises resulting in sharp disparities. This can only lead to future unrest, maybe even armed rebellion, like we are seeing today with the steady rise of naxal forces.

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