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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 36, August 28, 2010

Fresh Breeze from Niyamgiri Hills


Thursday 2 September 2010, by SC


The Union Government, and the PM in particular, have reasons to heave a sigh of relief: the contentious civil nuclear liability Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha—the outcome of a broad consensus between the Congress and BJP with the former giving in to the latter’s insistence on a crucial change in Section 17(b) of the legislation reinforcing thereby the liability of the supplier in the event of a nuclear mishap.

However, this nuclear liability Bill was not the only issue that acquired prominence in Parliament in the last few days. The monsoon session also witnessed the rare spectacle of MPs, cutting across party lines, disrupting the Lok Sabha proceedings demanding a hike in their own salary and allowances in excess of the proposed 200 per cent increase—and their “concerted efforts” did bear fruit: they (Laloo Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav et al.) were able to wangle another Rs 10,000 per month; so the final monthly pay packet of an honourable parliamentarian now comes to Rs 1.60 lakh! There was none to register even a mumble of protest. Gone are the days when Marxist Coordination Committee member A.K. Roy could boldly shout on the floor of the Lower House in the eighties against a similar pay hike for MPs (that was, incidentally, peanuts compared to what they are going to get today): “People on the streets would henceforth spit on you.” He was worried about the growing disparities between the aam aadmi and an MP as a consequence of such pay hikes, but at present most of the parliamentarians rue the fact that their salaries do not compare with those of the CEOs of major industrial houses (leave aside the multinationals)!

But notwithstanding such a depressing develop-ment what has come as a silver-lining in the gloomy setting is the decision of the Centre, based on the N.C. Saxena Committee report as well as the firm stand of Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, to reject environmental clearance to the Vedanta group’s $ 1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills due to serious violations of the Environment Protection Act 1966, Forest Conservation Act 1980 and Forest Rights Act 2006. The rights of the indigenous tribals, that were sought to be trampled underfeet by the Vedanta group and Orissa Government in the name of ‘development’, have thus been upheld. This is also a tribute to the worldwide campaign by human rights groups, voluntary organisations and civil society in general in defence of those tribals. But in a sense what is more significant is the manner in which Rahul Gandhi has thrown his full weight behind those tribals who worship the Niyamgiri hills as Niyamraja, their god. He visited the area and underlined that development was meaningless if it uproots the locals and deprives them of their livelihood. His comprehension of development is an inclusive one that the prevailing neo-liberal paradigm seeks to ignore and nullify. If he sticks to this stand it would have a positive effect on the entire national scenario.

The latest fresh breeze from the Niyamgiri hills doubtless offers a ray hope in the midst of allround despondency.

August 26 S.C.

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