The brutal killing of 13 unarmed civilians, who were protesting against the toxic Sterlite Copper plant in Tuticorin, is extremely serious in nature. It is a clear instance of state’s reckless and depraved disregard for the lives of its own people and thus qualifies to be termed as state terrorism. It appears that the government is fighting on behalf of the plutocrat cronies to safeguard their ‘ease of doing business’ when the people are fighting for their ‘ease of living’.
The copper plant has a history of failing to take adequate safety measures to prevent toxic leaks and industrial accidents, and was indicted by the pollution control authorities and even by the judiciary. The plant, owned by Vedanta Resources, a London- based mining company, which along with some other mining companies, has been accused of usurping the mineral-rich tribal lands, resulted in the displacement of scores of innocent tribals.
It all happens in the name of development. They say the natural resources have to be tapped to bring about development. Development for sure will happen. But whose development? Private properties will boom with hardly any accompanying investment in the social sector. The only people who develop are the billionaires, who will move further up in the billionaire rankings.
Any country, if it wants to put itself on the path of a sustained and equitable development, has to take care of its four capitals — economic, social, human and natural. It is clear that the current neo-liberal government is only interested in promoting economic capital. This will only lead to more concentration of wealth and the making of more plutocrats.
The natural capital, which consists of natural assets such as soil, air, water and biodiversity, is very essential for human sustenance and any deterioration in the quality of the natural capital adversely affects the quality of life of the people, especially the poor.
The current development model is such that to satiate the greed of a few people, the natural capital is being destroyed, and the people who traditionally depend on natural resources to earn their livelihood such as tribals and fishing communities are displaced. Moreover, after making the air and water unfit for consumption, they create demand for mineral water, water purifiers, air purifiers and even canned fresh air, which are affordable only to the wealthy. The worst sufferers, ultimately, are the poor.
Governments, in their excessive enthusiasm to empower the corporate houses to pursue their profits, are ignoring the natural capital. When Prime Minister Modi stated that the ‘ease of doing business is ease of living’, he couldn’t have been more wrong. The police firing in Tuticorin is an example of the two being antithetical to each other. The ease of doing business, or deregulation, gives full freedom to tycoons as if they are infallible philanthropists. It also compels the state agencies and even the judiciary to toe the line of the tycoons in the name of promoting investment.
These tycoons, whose greed knows no bounds, attempt to accumulate wealth at the expense of the ordinary citizens by grabbing lands, flouting environmental norms, violating labour laws, and usurping precious natural resources that belong to the entire society. And the ordinary people get next to nothing except pollution, displacement, and in the case of Tuticorin, the bullets fired by the police and death.
Ever since India baptised itself into the neo-liberal cult, ‘ease of doing business’ has become a buzzword and the high-pitched campaign for it made everybody forget the fact that there is something called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as part of which every business must take the interests of the surrounding society into consideration while operating.
The main reason behind the widespread public unrest against the Sterlite Copper plant is its repeated disregard to take adequate measures to prevent pollution, thereby harming public health and the rampant apathy of the regulatory agencies to take note of the health hazards posed by the plant. Moreover, the local community does not have much stake in the so-called development that happened because of the plant.
The way hitherto largely peaceful protests suddenly turned violent and the way police resorted to firing by using assault rifles on unarmed civilians lead to many suspicions. There is also evidence emerging that the firing in Tuticorin was pre-planned. Therefore, the incidents leading to the firing should be thoroughly investigated and the findings should be made public. History is testimony to the fact that where large commercial interests are involved, things are sabotaged to suppress popular movements to ultimately benefit the ultra-rich.
Vedanta Resources is one of the biggest donors to the political parties in India with the BJP securing the lion’s share of these donations. In 2014, when the general elections were held, it donated Rs 22.5 crore to the party and emerged as the second largest donor, next only to the Bharti-led Satya Electoral Trust, which donated Rs 41.37 crore.
Hence, it is apparent that business tycoons provide politicos with campaign financing, and the politicos pay them back with ease of doing business denying the ordinary people the ease of living – the denial of a breath of fresh air and a gulp of fresh water.
And, in the entire process, democracy is hijacked and it is transformed into “a government of the 1%, for the 1% and by the 1%”. On top of that, when people take to streets seeking justice, they face a volley of bullets, which is not only patently heartless but also atrocious.
(The author is a former Associate Professor)