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Showing posts from October, 2013

Ahead of the stone-laying ceremony of Statue of Unity, activists, villagers "detained" off Narmada dam

By Our Representative
In the wee hours, the powerful Gujarat government administration cracked down on activists and villagers around the Narmada dam who are protesting against the state government’s refusal to give any assurance to 70-odd villages that their land would not be acquired for the sake of the tourism project in the downstream of the dam. The crackdown took place ahead of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s stone-laying ceremony of the Statue of Unity, envisaged by him as the tallest statue in the world, about three times higher than New York’s Statue of Liberty. The stone laying ceremony is marked with the birthday of Sardar Patel, in whose memory the statue has been proposed.

Rejected by MP, "main purpose" of Garudeshwar weir across Narmada is to supply water to industry

By Rajiv Shah
Amidst fresh controversy over the Gujarat government’s decision to go ahead with the construction of Garudeshwar weir across the Narmada river, allegedly without environmental clearance (click HERE to read), a top official in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya has confided to www.counterview.net that the “real purpose of the weir is to supply Narmada water to the industrial complexes in the nearby regions, especially in Bharuch district.” The official, who did not want to be named, said, “The state-owned Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) has been asked to work out final details of the industrial areas that would need the water.”

NGO demands to stop work on weir across Narmada river, begun "without environmental clearance"

By Our Representative
In a strongly worded letter to the secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, top Gujarat-based environmental body Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has demanded that “immediately” should be taken to “stop the construction of Garudeshwar weir”, being constructed across the Narmada river, about 12 km downstream of the Narmada dam. Citing a letter written by a senior official attached with the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), responsible for giving clearances to the Narmada project, the PSS states, the work on the weir has begun “without any social or environmental impact assessment, public consultation and environmental clearance from the environmental sub-group (ESG) of NCA.”

Bihar, Odisha "ensure" benefits of growth accrue to the poorest. In Gujarat, growth has "bypassed" the poor

By Our Representative
In a recent analysis, well-known academic, Prof Himanshu, who is assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and visiting fellow at Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi, has said "going by logic, the poor in richer states should be better off than their counterparts living in poorer states. This is especially so when the country is seeing a welcome trend: Income growth in rural areas and poverty reduction has witnessed unprecedented acceleration". However, he says, this does not happened "necessarily", as seen on the basis of the data from Gujarat vis-a-vis other states.

Following protests off Narmada, govt disbands tourism authority, but will acquire land as "public purpose"

By Our Representative
The Gujarat government has given clear indications that, despite the tribal farmers’ protests, it will go ahead with the proposed tourism project around the so-called Statue of Unity it is planning just about three kilometers downstream of the Narmada dam. In a statement issued ahead of the stone-laying ceremony for the statue, to be in the memory of Sardar Patel on October 31, the birth anniversary of the Iron Man, and envisaged as “three times higher than the Statue of Liberty” in New York, the state government declared the area around the statue will be developed into a “world-class tourism spot”, but refused to say how much land it would acquire under "public purpose" provision of the new land acquisition Act.

NAPM calls for consultations on new land acquisition Act, says it will not end 'corporate-induced' conflicts

By Our Representative
In an important move, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an apex body of several environmental and human rights groups, has decided to hold consultation with activists and experts on November 19-20, 2013 at Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, in order to come a “reasonable critique” of the Right to Fair Compensation, Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, or the Land Acquisition Act, passed by Parliament recently. In a statement sent to activists and experts to take part in the consultation, NAPM has said, the new Act “will not put an end to forcible land acquisitions and conflicts around that.”

NYT says Modi can't lead country "effectively", apprehends fear among dissidents, minorities, marginalized

By Our Representative
In an editorial titled “Narendra Modi’s Rise in India”, the New York Times (October 26, 2013), which may create major ripples around Modi’s supporters, has said that the Gujarat CM and India’s Prime Ministerial aspirant cannot hope to lead a country effectively which has multiple religions, more than a dozen major languages and numerous ethnic groups and tribes. The editorial apprehends, Modi “inspires fear and antipathy among many of its people.” The editorial has been published in the US edition of the NYT's Saturday Review.

Slow down effect: Annual rate of closure of textile units in Gujarat is 39% over a decade; one lakh jobs lost

Counterview Desk
Textile industry in Gujarat, once considered the Manchester of India, are all set to see a thing of the past in the state. A new study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India (ASSOCHAM), of the top industry bodies, has said that Gujarat, over the decade between 2000-01 and 2010-11 experienced closure of 39 per cent of textile units per year, which is the highest for any state. “Gujarat registered maximum growth of about 39 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in non-operational textile units, i.e. from over 290 factories to over 2,800 factories during 2000-01 and 2010-11", the study said.

Despite environmental, livelihood "concerns", ombudsman refuses deterrence on Tatas' ultra mega project

By Our Representative
Despite NGO allegations of environmental and livelihood violations, the powerful ombudsman body of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank group, has refused to recommend any deterring steps against the IFC, which is part-funding the Tata Power’s ambitious 4.14 billion dollar Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP) along the Mundra coast in Gujarat. Though the ombudsman, in its latest report, takes particular objection to the IFC’s failure to take “cumulative impact” of the UMPP, the Adani Power’s 4,620 MW plant (being implemented not far away), and the Mundra Port and Special Economic Zone (MPSEZ), it says it is “reluctant to review IFC management decisions on project selection.”

Gujarat government 'cannot hope to collect' more than 10 per cent of the iron needed for Sardar Statue

By Rajiv Shah
Even as Gujarat’s powerful babudom is gearing up for the high-profile stone laying ceremony on October 31, birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, for the so-called Statue of Unity, proposed as the tallest statue of the world, insiders close to chief minister Narendra Modi doubted if his idea of getting iron from farmers from all over the country in order to build its structure would ever succeed. A senior official, refusing to be named, suggested, even Modi believes that even the most ideal scenario it would not be possible to collect more than 700 tonnes of iron.

Mission Rio16: Gujarat NGO to file PIL against official apathy to Deaflympics wrestling gold medallist

By Our Representative Top Gujarat-based cultural NGO Drishti, which takes up social issues to fight for the underprivileged through digital visual media, has declared that it will file a public interest litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court against official indifference towards Virender Singh, the deaf wrestler who won gold medal at the Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria, in August 2013 in the men’s 74 kg freestyle event. He won the coveted medal defeating Oguz Donder of Turkey. The announcement came at the film release ceremony of 58-minute documentary, produced by Drishti, on the top wrestler, who has received no official help so far.

Activists "unearth" misuse of public funds, flouting of rules during Modi's sadbhavna festival in 2011-12

By Our Representative
Gujarat-based activists have said that there was a “fraudulent use of public money” between September 2011 and February 2012, when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s 34 sadbhavna programmes, claimed to create a harmonious inter-community relations in Gujarat, took place. Alleging that the programmes, in which Modi would observe day-long fast for symbolic “purification”, reflected Modi’s ”arbitrary nature of functioning and total disregard for written provisions”, the activists said, “Evidence on record shows huge funds were diverted from government departments for personal gain and projection of Modi keeping the next year’s state elections in mind.”

Calling it Statue of Disunity, activists allege it will displace tribal people from land, forest and livelihood

By Our Representative
Four well-known activists, Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatt, and Kannagi Brahmbhatt, in a strongly-worded statement have described the proposed Statue of Unity in the memory of Sardar Patel as "Statue of Disunity", whose main aim is to "remove people from their land, forest and livelihood". Envisaged by the Gujarat government as the tallest statue of the world in the memory of Sardar Patel three kilometres downstream of the Narmada dam on Sadhu Bet, the activists have said also termed it as the Statue for Tourism Industries, Statue for Narendra Modi’s Name and Fame and Statue for Criminal Waste of Public Money.

Goonga Pahalvan: A film about fierce dedication of a differently-abled champion and sports babudom

By Our Representative
In a country that hardly produces world champions and Olympic medalists, Ahmedabad-based NGO group Drishti, which uses media and the arts to empower communities valuing their self-expression and human rights, has come up with a new documentary, “Googna Pahalvan”, highlighting the story of a man who, for the better part of his life, has been just that - a World Champion and a Deaflympics (Olympics for the Deaf) Gold Medalist. Drishti team has described the film (click HERE to see trailer) as “a story of grit, fierce dedication and hope”, adding it is “an attempt to make possible the dream of India’s most successful deaf athlete, his dream of making it to the Rio Olympics 2016.”

Based on "assurance" from Ahmedabad collector, JAAG decides to postpone cattle rally to Gandhinagar

By Our Representative
The Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) has decided to “postpone” its scheduled “cattle rally” from Hansalpur village in North Gujarat to the state Capital in Gandhinagar based an “assurance” from the district collector, Ahmedabad, to “look into” various demands of the maldharis, who were protesting against the Maruti-Suzuki Company’s acquisition of huge tracts of land in the area. A JAAG statement signed by its leaders Lalji Desai and Sagar Rabari said, “The collector has assured the villagers that he would represent maldharis’ and other communities’ demands to the appropriate authorities.”

Gujarat has 30 per cent of India's major accident hazard units, yet doesn't have chemical emergency plan

By Our Representative In a major revelation, senior environmentalists Rohit Prajapati and Trupti Shah have said that Gujarat has the highest number of major accident hazard (MAH) factories anywhere in India. According to their estimate, the state has a total of 497 MAH class factories, which amounts to 30 per cent of MAH factories of the country. “Major accident” means an incident involving loss of life inside or outside the site or ten or more injuries inside and/or one or more injuries outside or release of toxic chemical or explosion or fire of spillage of hazardous chemical resulting in ‘on-site’ or ‘off-site’ emergencies or damage to equipments leading to stoppage of process or adverse effects to the environment.

Government of India assures NBA: Narmada dam height will not be raised till the last oustee is rehabilitated

By Our Representative
The Government of India has said that there will not be any movement towards increasing the height of the Narmada dam from the present 122 metres to 138.64 metres, which is the full reservoir level, till the last oustee is rehabilitated. The declaration came at a meeting of representatives from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by Medha Patkar in Delhi following two-day dharna by hundreds of oustees affected by the dam from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat at Jantar Mantar.

Calling to unite against danger of fascism, Binayak Sen says there is more freedom in Gujarat than Chhattisgarh

By Our Representative
Top human rights campaigner Binayak Sen, against whom the Chhattisgarh government filed a sedition case for fighting against state terror unleashed on the tribal people, has warned that the nation may be slipping into fascism, and something urgently needs to be done to evacuate the situation. Speaking at a meeting in Ahmedabad, Sen said, he was not alone to face the sedition case, and though he is now out on bail, “the draconian law is being misused and thousands of people have already become victims of the legislation.”

Western, Indian NGOs lobby against power project, wonder if trading MNC has snapped ties with Adanis

By Our Representative
In an open letter to Laurent Michel, director-general for climate and energy, Ministry for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, French government, 29 non-government organizations from western countries and India have come together wondering if EDF Trading, top MNC player into the international energy markets, has at all delinked its contractual agreements with the Adani Power project at Mundra, Gujarat, about which it had declared it on August 13. In a newspaper statement, the EDF Trading had said that it would not be associated with Adanis’ “supercritical coal power project in India”, and would “never purchase carbon credits from it”.

National Human Rights Commission goes sou motu, begins to take notice of illegal mining activities in states

By Our Representative
Anti-mining activists have noted that two of the recent National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) judgments suggest the top body may not take problems of the mining affected people lying down any more in India. One of them relates to a recent judgment by the NHRC where it issued notice to the Kerala government taking suo motu cognizance of allegations of illegal sand mining in coastal areas following reports that Jazeera V., a woman from Kerala, accompanied by her three small children, had moved to Delhi to protest at Jantar Mantar.

Non-committal on demands, Gujarat govt gets assurance that Modi's "iron rally" will not be disturbed

By Our Representative
Representatives of Narmada project affected persons belonging to tens of villages surrounding the Kevadia colony, the spot where the Narmada dam is situated, returned from Gandhinagar without getting any concrete assurance about their main demand – not to turn the entire region into a tourism spot by acquiring their land. A statement issued on behalf of the affected persons soon after the meeting, which took place in the state Capital in the afternoon, said, “The Gujarat government for the first time agreed that there was a problem and there should be negotiations. However, it refused to give any assurance.”

Anti-untouchability resolution: National Dalit rights body urges on "effective" measures to end discrimination

By Our Representative
Following the European Parliament resolution favouring engagement with countries where untouchability is rampant, particularly in South Asia, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), which is the apex body of all Dalit rights organizations, has urged the Government of India to take “effective measures” to prevent and address violations stemming from caste discrimination. It adds, “More in depth debate in state institutions and civil society is needed on how to tackle the issue of lack of implementation in political, civil society and also among media spheres.”

Of 27 persons hacked to death for using the RTI tool, four were from Gujarat alone: Campaigners

By Our Representative
The Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), the state’s premier Right to Information (RTI) campaign body, has expressed dismay over the fact that during the last eight years, as many as 27 RTI whistle blowers were hacked to death all over India, out of which four were from Gujarat. Those who were killed in Gujarat after fighting for their rights under RTI were -- Vishram Dodiya,Amit Jethva, Jabardan Gadhvi, Nadeem Saiyyad. Suggesting that this is a “poor record” for a state which calls itself progressive, a presentation on the eighth anniversary of the RTI Act said, in the country as a whole over 155 whistle blowers were “brutally attacked” in India but survived, of which 24 such attacks took place in Gujarat.

Top US-based think-tank opines there is nothing exceptional about Gujarat growth over last decade

By Rajiv Shah
A top expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a foreign-policy think tank with centres in Washington DC, Moscow, Beirut, Beijing and Brussels, has strongly disputed those who tout Gujarat’s growth over the last decade as exemplary, saying whether it is foreign direct investment, overall investment in the economy, or governance, the state has been an average performer. Milan Vaishnav, associate, South Asia Programme, and previously with the Columbia University with primary research focus on the political economy of India, neither was there what the Gujarat chief minister called “pro-people good governance” nor “minimal government, maximum governance,” as he claimed before India’s largest business houses.

Extend term of MB Shah commission inquiring into illegal mining or face agitation: civil rights groups

By Our Representative Several civil society bodies have come together to ask the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, to urgently stop the “wrongful termination” of the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry, which was constituted in 2010 in response to growing number of cases of illegal contracting, flouting of royalty payments and encroachment on public lands by large- and small-scale iron ore and manganese ore mining operations in India. A statement issued by a dozen NGOs and concerned individuals said, though the commission's investigations have led to closure of hundreds of illegally operating mines, including one of the nation’s largest iron ore mines in Bellary, its work still remains incomplete.

European Parliament passes resolution treating casteism on par with discrimination based on race, religion, gender

By Our Representative In a resolution with far-reaching implications for Indian policy makers, the European Parliament, which met in Strasbourg, Austria, has declared that caste-based discrimination in several Asian countries, including India, should be treated on par with other grounds of discrimination such as “ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexuality”. Passed after a debate opened by Green member of European Parliament (MEP) Eva Joly, prior to adopting the resolution, several MEPs argued that “goods from caste-affected countries should be boycotted”, the International Dalit Solidarity Network said in a statement from its office in Copenhagen.

As corporates rush to fracking for gas extraction, experts argue it may lead to water depletion

By Our Representative
In a social network post, which is being widely circulated, Gujarat-based social senior Wilfred Dcosta has warned that fracking, slang for hydraulic fracturing, is finally set to come to India, and India’s top companies have already begun the job. Fracking means creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. But environmentalists say, fracking could lead to contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, noise pollution, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and the health effects of these, like cancer.

Odisha-based campaign group says declaration to start construction work at Posco site is "illegal"

By Our Representative
Top Odisha-based campaign group Lok Shakti Abhiyan (LSA) has strongly protested against the announcement to kickstart the construction work of South Korean steel major Posco following a meeting South Korean ambassador India Joon-gye Lee had with Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. LSA said, “When the hearing on dispensation of environmental clearance for Posco project is going on in National Green Tribunal and there is a stay order for cutting trees, this is nothing but to dishonour the rule of law as well as against international human rights law.”

Comparisons of India's child malnutrition with Sub-Saharan Africa are based on "faulty" WHO criteria

By Our Representative
Amidst raging controversy around whether Gujarat’s child malnutrition levels have actually gone down, with the Gujarat government vehemently denying a recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report that every third child in the state suffers from malnutrition, a recent research paper by one of the senior-most economists, Prof Arvind Panagariya of the Columbia University, has sharply contested the criterion of comparing India’s child malnutrition levels with those of Sub-Saharan African countries, which have much lower per capita incomes and poorer health indicators.

A whopping 21 per cent of Gujarat's annual plan either remained unspent or was diverted in fiscal 2012-13

By Rajiv Shah
Latest data made available from authoritative sources in Gujarat’s finance department have revealed something about which the state’s policy apparatus should be worried: A whopping 21 per cent of the annual plan allocation for the last financial year, 2012-13 remained “unspent” – or possibly diverted to the “non-plan” sector. As against non-plan expenditure, which is made of all the “necessary” expenditures which the Gujarat government must make, including payment to nearly six lakh government servants, interests on debts and other such obligations, annual plan allocation is made for satisfying the developmental needs of the state in fields as education, health, social justice, woman and child development, and amelioration of the backward areas.

Activists, experts come together to criticize neo-liberal economists, favour "investment" in food security

By Our Representative
In a scathing attack on neoliberal economists, Prof Jagdish Bhagwati, Prof Arvind Panagariya, and Prof Surjit Bhalla, a high-level consultation by Gujarat-based activists and experts has said that the recent decision to include wide sections population under food security cannot be termed as a drain on budgetary resources. If Prof Hemant Shah, an economist, calculated that the “actual budgetary burden for food security will be not more than Rs 7 per capita per day”, senior activist Sejal Dand, Gujarat adviser to the Supreme Court-appointed national commissioner on food security, said, “Food security is an investment to ensure a better future of those who are go hungry.” The consultation was organized by Pathey, an Ahmedabad-based NGO specializing in budget analysis.

After a lull, JAAG warns: Remove Maruti-Suzuki project or maldharis will flood Gandhinagar with cattle

By Our Representative
In a unique move, as a mark of their protest, in October third week the maldhari cattle breeders of North Gujarat will be flooding Gandhinagar with their cattle after traversing 80 kilomtres starting at Hansalpur, the spot where the Maruti-Suzuki has proposed to set up its second and a more modern plant of the country. In a statement issued on behalf of the maldharis, Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG) leaders Laljibhai Desai and Sagar Rabari have said, the maldharis’ rally – accompanied by their cattle – will start on October 23 morning at Hansalpur and will reach Gandhinagar on October 25.

Villagers oppose Gujarat government "decision" to acquire their land off Narmada for tourism purpose

By Our Representative
Fearing forcible acquisition of land for tourism purpose, a villagers’ meeting near Kevadia colony, the site of the Narmada dam, has taken the pledge that they would not part with their “land, forest and river”, sought to be “snatched away by the state and the authority”. The pledge, taken on the 114th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on the bank of the river Narmada, added, “We the working people collectively resolve that the forest, land, and the river are a lifeline for us which are our heritage handed down to us by our ancestors. It is our duty to protect our heritage for which we have organized ourselves. The state and authority want to snatch away our land, forest and river in the name of development.”