9th Party Congress : Draft Resolution on Environmental Protection and People-centric Development

“Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.”

-- Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1

1. Destruction of livelihood, grab of land and resources, eviction from land, pollution that endangers health and safety, and devastation of environment, is all being justified by the ruling classes in the name of ‘development.’ At the same time, people are being deprived of basic rights of education, health, housing, and other kinds of social welfare, which ought to be the fundamental parameters of development in any country.

2. Asserting a people’s agenda of development calls for firm measures to reverse corporate-led ‘development’, and counter the rampant privatisation of resources, assets, and services; and for placing people’s own concerns and local, participatory democratic decision-making at the centre of development. The basic principle of development must be redefined as ensuring people’s control over resources; and use of revenue generated from such resources for social welfare as a priority.

3. Over the past few decades, the growing damage to ecosystems and living environments, and the diminishing access to resources that sustain human lives have brought to the fore serious concerns about environmental degradation and ecological imbalance. The fallout of the damage to ecosystems and environment has to be borne mainly by the most deprived and vulnerable sections of society – fisher people, communities who depend on forests and common pastures for their livelihoods, the urban poor who live in slums that dot our cities, small farmers and landless agrarian labourers and so on. Moreover, even within these deprived communities, it is often women who shoulder a far greater burden of the damage.

4. ‘Solutions’ offered by the ruling classes for a host of environmental problems – from global warming, to industrial pollution and depletion of water and forests resources – inevitably fall within the same market and profit-based framework which exacerbated the problems in the first place. Moreover, these ‘solutions’ often end up forcing the poorest of the poor and the most marginalised people – who are usually also the victims of environmental degradation and ecological damage – to bear the whole burden of environmental ‘protection’. It is the responsibility of the revolutionary movement to oppose and reject this framework and forcefully articulate environmental and ecological concerns from a completely different framework rooted in the interests of the most vulnerable and deprived sections of society. We have to articulate a vision of development that does not destroy the source of peoples’ livelihoods, a model of development that is safe, as well as sensitive to the real needs of the rural and urban poor.

Environmental Concerns in Agriculture

5. Over and above perpetual neglect of agriculture, the excessive and indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, promoted by the state in the interest of their manufacturers and to try and temporarily manage the agrarian crisis, is causing long-term damage to soil fertility in this country known for its fertility over the ages. Moreover the exposure to chemicals and the slow seepage of dangerous and hazardous chemicals into soil and water is resulting in the alarming rise of all sorts of diseases, including cancer, amongst farmers in areas with a long history of heavy pesticide and fertilizer usage. The extraordinarily high incidence of cancer in such regions – far above the national average – is a telling confirmation of this dark side of ‘development’.

6. The issue of the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has also brought to the fore the blatant double standards being followed by imperialist forces led by the US. To begin with, on the one hand, these powers coerced countries like India to adopt a model of chemical-intensive agriculture in order to protect the interests of agri-business back home. On the other hand, they are now rejecting Indian products on the ground that they are ‘unhealthy’ and contain unacceptable level of pesticides. Also, super-rich multinational corporations follow very different food safety standards in countries like the US and UK and in third world countries like India. The pesticide contents in the very same products sold by the same company are different in different countries, in a classic indication of double standards and the lack of concern for the health and safety of people in the third world. It is therefore important to raise the demand that the Indian government scientifically regulate the use of chemicals and promote alternative agricultural techniques and the use of organic pesticides and fertilizers.

7. Rather than addressing the structural problems of agriculture, the ruling classes in India have been trying to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Already Bt Cotton has been used on a substantial scale and the experience is highly alarming. In many cases the initial high yields stagnated pretty soon and pesticide use actually increased in the long run, contrary to the advertised benefits. Above all, the continuing spate of farmers’ suicide in areas of Bt Cotton cultivation suggests that at least in the current Indian conditions this is a curse on our agriculture and agriculturists.

8. Moreover, there are several serious ecological concerns related to the use of GMOs, such as the adverse impact they have on biodiversity and the culture of mixed cropping. The use of GMOs kills weeds as well as other plants in their vicinity. In our country weeds are not considered entirely ‘useless’ plants; in many areas they are used as leafy green vegetables for human consumption or as fodder for livestock. Similarly, medicinal plants which GMOs destroy are valuable for health and veterinary care. For all these reasons we must demand immediate ban/moratorium on the use of these deadly organisms in both cash and food crops.

9. While opposing all such corporate-dictated technocratic ‘solutions’ imposed on us at the behest of international agri-business, we demand adoption of alternative strategies of agrarian development suitable for peculiar Indian conditions with state planning, funding and encouragement. It is entirely possible to advance along this way by properly utilising the indigenous seeds, manures and other inputs and by mobilising the knowledge of Indian peasants accumulated over millennia as well as patriotic agricultural scientists who are not agents of MNCs. We must bring the pressure of mass movement to bear on the government and force it to stop such conspiracies and change over to a pro-peasant pro-people strategy of agrarian development based on thoroughgoing agrarian reform.

Industrial pollution and environmental concerns

10. Industrial pollution – pollution of the air by routine release of gases and pollutants, the pollution of water sources by discharge of hazardous effluents, and the solid industrial wastes dumped by industries – is yet another serious environmental concern. This problem is growing more acute by the day, what with the so-called Pollution Control Boards seeped in corruption and deeply committed to protect the interests of big business. Of particular concern are (a) occupational health and safety concerns of workers in the polluting factories and (b) the industrial effluents released into rivers and lakes without proper treatment, which are making the water practically unusable by local communities. The problem of polluted water resources is further aggravated by the massive intake of fresh water by industry but the government remains as unconcerned as ever.

11. While demanding that industries should be forced to meet existing environmental standards and be penalised for violations, we should also demand better and stricter regulations. Moreover, there is a need to try and go beyond the ‘end-of-pipe’ solutions for tackling industrial pollution, by demanding that industries install technologies and processes which are more environment-friendly and generate less pollution.

Issues Concerning Nuclear Energy

12. Especially in the wake of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal signed by the UPA Government and the subsequent nuclear overdrive, there is an urgent need to confront the use of nuclear energy even for so-called ‘peaceful’ purposes of generating energy. The government is pushing for a massive increase in India’s installed nuclear capacity from the current 4,120 MWe to a whopping 63,000 MWe by 2032. And this road-map was not changed even after the Fukushima disaster, which happened in one of the so-called ‘safest’ and most ‘technologically-advanced’ plants in the world, raising concerns about what would happen in case of an accident in a backward country like ours!

13. Accidents apart, the entire process of energy generation from nuclear fission routinely exposes people to harmful radiations on a continuous basis. Moreover, as opposed to false claims routinely made by nuclear establishment across the world, nuclear power plants are most often more expensive than other sources of energy; far from being ‘renewable’ and ‘perennial’, the existing supplies of uranium will last us a maximum of 80 more years after which there will be no nuclear fuel to run our plants; and taking into account the entire process of generating nuclear energy, from mining to storage of wastes, it is no less harmful in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to coal or gas based electricity generation. The proposed plant at Jaitapur (with the European Pressurised Reactor technology) for instance will cost Rs 19.5 crore/MWe as compared to Rs 5 crore/MWe for a coal-based plant. Moreover, the cost of nuclear power has been increasing, as opposed to the falling costs of solar and wind power.

14. It is precisely for these reasons that globally, the dependence on nuclear energy has been falling; the number of nuclear reactors nuclear power stations in operation worldwide is likely to decrease by 22% by the year 2020, and by about 29% by the year 2030. Germany for instance has announced that it will close down all its nuclear power plants and become nuclear free by 2022. But the ruling elite in India is shamelessly going the opposite way to please the US imperialism in utter disregard of people’s interest and national sovereignty.

15. We must therefore expose and resist the US-sponsored nuclear overdrive, and run campaigns bolstered by facts and logic to support and strengthen the ongoing anti-nuclear plant movements in Jaitapur, Koodankulam, Haripur, Fatehabad and elsewhere. The UPA along with the Nitish government has recently proposed two new plants in Katihar and Nawada districts of Bihar, and here too, the projects will have to be robustly opposed.

Environment and Health: Asbestos, Dumping of Toxic Wastes

16. On 13 May 2011, the Supreme Court banned the use, sale, production and export of endosulfan throughout the country, citing its harmful effects, till the time a joint committee (formed under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Agriculture Commissioner) submits its report to the court about the harmful effects of this widely used killer pesticide. The verdict came as a major boost to the protracted, two-decade long movement against endosulfan – a movement that exposed the unholy nexus between government institutions and profit-hungry corporations. This battle needs to be continued till a country-wide ban is imposed.

17. There is also a need to intensify struggles against other potential killers like asbestos. All forms of asbestos pose completely unacceptable hazards to workers who mine it or work with it, and also to anyone who is exposed to asbestos for substantial periods of time. However, in a repeat of the tragic story of endosulfan, despite well-documented information, governments at the central and state levels are hell-bent on promoting the asbestos industry. While fifty-five countries in the world have already banned asbestos, new asbestos plants are being set up in India. In Bihar, new plants are proposed in Bhojpur, West Champaran, Muzzafarpur, Vaishali and Madhubani, and the Bihar government has even passed the Bihar Agricultural Land Conversion for Non-agricultural Use Act in 2012 to facilitate the construction of these plants. This promotion of asbestos continues despite the fact that alternatives to asbestos exist. Moreover, the central government has allowed countries like Russia and Canada to dump huge quantities of this toxic material in India.

18. The ship-breaking industry in Alang (Gujarat) and some other ports constitute yet another area of concern. In these ports hazardous substances are imported and handled by workers – mostly migrants from Bihar, UP, Orissa and Jharkhand – often in a clandestine and non-transparent manner in order to hide blatant violations of a host of laws. We oppose all such anti-people policies and practices and extend our fullest support to various campaigns against these.

Wildlife Conservation and Human-animal Conflicts

19. In different parts of the country, we continue to witness human-animal conflicts: whether is the almost daily struggle of villagers against elephants in Kerala and Karnataka for instance, or the state-sponsored eviction of people in the name of wildlife conservation. These issues definitely pose a challenge of achieving a balance between the need to ensure human sustenance and the equally important need to protect natural ecosystems and the various species dependent on them. This challenge is rendered all the more difficult by the efforts of the ruling classes to portray the victims as the real ‘problem’. Thus the tribal living in forests, who has a long history of coexistence with the tiger, who has no real desire to poach and kill tigers simply to hang their skins as wall decoration, suddenly becomes the ‘intruder’, the poacher, the prime enemy of the wildlife conservation project.

20. Two major issues need to inform our positions on the human-animal conflict. Firstly, if steps are not taken to maintain at least a minimum forest cover and if this basic survival need of various species is not addressed, the conflict will increase. Secondly, poaching of animals is driven not by the local population but by the market consisting of upper class customers in far-away cities and countries. When forest cover is destroyed, it is mostly to cater to the needs of industry, real-estate and middle-class and upper class interests, while the villagers physically closest to the forest bear the brunt of animal attacks. It is they who understand the conflict best, and also have no interest in destroying ecological balance and exacerbating the conflict, so they are the best placed to find appropriate solutions. It is therefore necessary to actively involve local communities and villagers living in close proximity to animals in the process of conservation.

On Climate Change and Water Scarcity

21. Global warming and climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions have already assumed alarming proportions, with concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere being way beyond the safe limits demarcated by scientists, and continuously increasing. While there is a crying need to address this issue globally in a holistic manner, any possible solution has routinely been stymied by the arrogance and bullying tactics of imperialist forces led by the US.

22. The poor and developing countries of the world have always maintained that different countries should have differentiated responsibilities towards tacking the problem of climate change based on (a) the historic or accumulated contribution of different countries in generating greenhouse gas emissions and (b) current per capita emissions. Historically, it is the heavily industrialised, super-rich ‘developed’ nations which have been responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The US for instance is responsible for 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The per capita emissions in the US are also by far the highest in the world: 20.1 tonnes of CO2 - compared to India’s 0.9 tonnes, and China’s 2.3 tonnes per person per year. Therefore, the US should have the greatest responsibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

23. By contrast, the US has always demanded that developing economies with huge populations like India and China should also submit to legally binding emission reductions, even if their per capita emissions are no way comparable. India and China have finally capitulated to this bullying: according to the dubious deal reached at the Durban Climate Change conference (November-December 2011), global climate change negotiations will not be based on the question of equity any more. We find this unacceptable and demand of the Government of India to continue the fight for a just and effective policy framework in tackling climate change. It is particularly necessary to ensure that the issue of climate change does not become yet another mechanism for the rich corporations (suppliers of techniques and instruments of pollution control for example) and nations to make more profits at the expense of poorer nations, that poor and developing countries receive adequate global funds for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that these funds are efficiently used.

24. It is the poor who bears the brunt of climate change – whether from the unpredictable monsoon patterns, the growing reduction in water availability in our snow-fed rivers, or from the diseases like malaria and dengue whose prevalence is linked to climate change.

25. Our country has 20% of the world’s population but only 4% of the world’s fresh water. That too is rapidly depleting owing to fast urbanisation, increased use of water in post-green revolution agriculture and by reckless industrialists and sundry other factors. Meanwhile, urban areas are reeling under regular water shortages while inter-state conflicts over river water (e.g., between Karnataka and Tamilnadu over Kaveri water) has become a recurring phenomenon. Even as ground water is getting depleted from the aquifers, surface water is often highly polluted. The many rules and regulations on the books are regularly flouted by industry or remain on paper simply because there are no adequate sewage treatment facilities. Simultaneously with improving such facilities and other measures like regularly cleaning up the rivers, lakes, canals and other water resources, it is necessary to develop a new scientific approach to water conservation and utilisation. The focus must be shifted from massive projects to small and less dramatic attempts to recharge depleted aquifers and ensure adequate water for agricultural and home use in villages by (a) reconstructing traditional village tanks, (b) building a series of small check dams to collect rainwater during the monsoon season, (c) replant deforested areas to address the real water needs, and similar other measures have proved much more successful. In urban centres such rain water harvesting projects can and must be pressed into service.

Forest Rights and Development

26. Struggles against land acquisition and mining projects and for forest rights have emerged as a key area of militant mass movement in India today, one that has thrown up a tough challenge to the use of state power to expropriate natural resources in the interests of big capital, indigenous and foreign.

27. While supporting these struggles against accumulation of capital by dispossession of the labouring people, we demand that all natural resources must be brought under democratic, collective control. We therefore propose the following basic principles as the foundation for all laws relating to forests, land and minerals:

a. All community and individual rights under the Forest Rights Act must be recognised and respected. Similar procedures should be put in place to recognise individual and community rights over revenue lands.

b. The powers of the gram sabha under Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) must be respected. All forest diversion in violation of the FRA and done without the consent of gram sabhas must be immediately stopped. State governments – like those in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh – which have framed Rules contrary to PESA must be made to withdraw them. All tribal areas should be brought under the Fifth or Sixth Schedules.

28. Samatha, a group working in the Scheduled Tribes areas of Andhra Pradesh, filed a case against the state government for leasing out tribal lands to private mining companies in such areas. The SLP filed in the Supreme Court led to a historic judgment in July 1997 by a three judge-bench. Known popularly as the Samatha judgment, it nullified all mining leases granted by the State government in the Scheduled areas and asked it to stop all mining operations. Only the State Mineral Development Corporation or a cooperative of the tribal people, it ruled, could take up mining activity and that too in compliance with the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. It also recognised the Constitution (73rd) Amendment and the PESA, under which gramsabhas are competent to preserve and safeguard community resources, and reiterated the right of self-governance of adivasis. This judgment must be followed in letter and spirit in all relevant cases for safeguarding the lives and livelihood of the marginalized people.

a. Land use plans should be made in a democratic process, involving local elected bodies.

b. All projects that involve acquisition of land or expropriation of natural resources must require the informed consent of the gram sabhas of the affected villages, all the more so in tribal and forest areas.

c. Any change in land use above the land ceiling should be treated as an acquisition and therefore subjected to requirements for consent of the community and provisions for rehabilitation.

d. State subsidies and projects should be awarded to local people for running a project on a cooperative basis or utilising the natural resources collectively. Subsidies and tax incentives for corporate expropriation of resources should be halted. In place of forced acquisition, land and other resources needed for mining and industries may be leased from local communities through democratic consultations.

e. All pro-corporate legislations like the SEZ Act 2005 and the present Land Acquisition Bill must be strongly opposed. Where large projects are voluntarily agreed to by communities, ownership of share equity in the project should be provided to the community as per the Bhuria Committee recommendations of 1996; there should also be provision of complete rehabilitation in tribal areas with land for land and land to landless people. Further, a white paper should be brought out by the government about the total displacement, rehabilitation and resource expropriation that has taken place since independence. Further expropriation for large projects should be halted until this is completed.

29. In the past two decades of liberalisation, there has been a relentless drive towards privatisation of natural resources – as exemplified by the successive changes to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act (MMDR Act) that open up minerals for private/corporate control, and also by moves to open up forests, rivers, and land for corporate use. This corporate grab of resources and land has led to intensified displacement and eviction, backed, as a rule, by intense state repression. It has also heralded massive corruption and threatens the country’s food security and forest cover. The only beneficiaries of this policy have been the mega corporations that have amassed huge profits from private expropriation and export of precious national wealth, and corrupt politicians that have facilitated the plunder. Protection of natural resources by all means, including nationalisation of mineral resources, must be an urgent priority.

People’s Welfare and People’s Rights

30. On the one hand, natural resources which are a national asset are being indiscriminately plundered to benefit a handful of Indian and foreign corporations, with no benefits, in fact huge losses for the national exchequer. On the other hand, ‘fund crunch’ becomes the plea for privatisation, which puts basic health, education, housing and other essentials for dignified survival, out of reach for the poor.

31. India’s abysmal social indicators in the matter of nutrition, and maternal and child mortality point to the disastrous impact of crumbling public health infrastructure. Vast areas of rural India, more so the forest areas, are devoid of the most basic healthcare. Preventable diseases routinely spiral into epidemics, claiming thousands of lives every year. With the privatisation of health care, the poor denied access to hospitals and left at the mercy of exorbitant private hospitals. Diagnostics and medical investigation are increasingly privatised and expensive, and preventive healthcare (for e.g prevention of communicable diseases and epidemics) is completely and criminally neglected. In the name of a promise of free healthcare to BPL card-holders, corporate hospitals get public land at throwaway prices, but subsequently, the poor are denied care and subjected to indignities.

32. We must strive to build popular struggles for people’s right to public health; demanding well-equipped health centres in every village; preventive health campaigns to end epidemics; well-equipped public hospitals modelled on AIIMS in every state with all facilities for diagnostics and research; and free prosthetics, educational and other aids to ensure a dignified life for all differently-abled people.

33. The right to education must also be a rallying point for popular struggles. Privatised schooling and higher education, exorbitant fees, a permanent divide between good quality schools for the rich and poor quality schools for the poor, have all emerged as features of the Indian education system. Struggles against arbitrary fee structures and exploitative school and college managements, by parents and students alike, are being witnessed. We must strive to build popular struggles for the right to equitable schooling through a neighbourhood common school system, and the universal right to public-funded school and higher education.

34. The right to universal food security and housing must also be an essential part of a people’s agenda for development and dignity. The country urgently needs a pro-people policy shift to protect resources and uphold people’s rights, dignity and autonomy, and the party shall work relentlessly to that end.

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