From an Indian Communist
Source Louis Proyect
Date 06/02/23/20:19

INDIA'S GEOGRAPHICAL AREA is 329 million hectares (2.45 % of the earth's
land mass) and its population is 1,027 million (2001 census) which is about
16% of that of the world. The renewable fresh water resources of the
country are 1,869 km3/year, which are only about 4% of those of the world.
Although some water is received from the upstream countries, precipitation
is the main source of water availability. Most of the surface water is
available during monsoon months mainly in a few flood events. Irrigation is
the biggest consumer of water, accounting for around 85% of current water
use. In the year 2050 it is likely to consume about 74%. India's food grain
requirement by 2050 is estimated at 450 million tonnes. Meeting such a need
is not an easy task. The present net cultivable area available is 143
million hectares, which can increase only to 145 million hectares by 2050
because the limit of land available for cultivation has almost been
reached. Agricultural productivity has to be increased to take India's
current food production from around 200 million tonnes to 550 million
tonnes by the middle of the century.

Majority of the irrigation projects being implemented have been aimed at
providing water for cultivation in lowland areas, where richer peasants own
lands. These rich peasants demand more water for raising commercial crops,
which fetch more return. For example, sugar is grown on just 3 - 4% of the
total cultivated area in the Indian state of Maharashtra, but it absorbs
over 70% of total irrigation water of the state and the highest
agricultural subsidies on power (electricity and diesel) and fertilisers,
as it uses these inputs more intensively than other crops. Even so, sugar
has the lowest yield among the major crops grown in the state and it
supports just 2% landowners.

Many of these irrigation projects, 'symbols of progress' as the politicians
advertise, have turned out to be huge ecological disasters. Silitation,
drying up during summer months, run-offs during rainy season etc. result
from poor planning and bad location of projects, often influenced by
political compulsions and corruption deals. Poor quality of workmanship,
due to heavy kick-backs have severely undermined the effectiveness of these
irrigation projects. For example, the irrigation efficiencies of some of
the projects in the state of Andhra Pradesh are a case in point:

Nagarjun Sagar Right bank canal -- 23%
Left bank canal -- 33%
Sriram sagar -- 17%
Rajolibanda -- 32%
Tungabhadra LLC -- 46%

More than any other factor, it is the enormous human cost involved that is
most alarming. Most of the people displaced due to irrigation projects are
those in the uplands -- mostly poor and marginal farmers, and tribals
(Adivasis- people belonging to hill tribes). It is estimated that 3600 or
more big dams constructed since independence have caused tens of millions
of displaced people and most of them have not yet been properly
rehabilitated. Even after the most adverse experience from large
dam projects over the years, governments and businesses continue to push
large dam projects. The reasons are many:

1. Immediate benefits in the form of lucrative contracts and kick-backs.
2. Advertising the achievements as progress, pushing the human cost
involved under the rug.
3. Bad and hasty planning, driven mostly by self aggrandizement, by
hankering after World Bank and ADB loans, with all the strings attached.

The ruling elite are prepared to restructure the economy as per their
dictates, disregarding the loss of livelihood for tens of millions of poor
farmers and craftsmen. This has resulted in thousands of poor farmers and
handloom weavers committing suicide in states such as Andhra Pradesh in the
last couple of years, unable to pay back the loan sharks.

The ruling elite talk of interlinking of rivers across the country from the
Ganges in the north, Brahmaputra in the east, Narmada in the west to
Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery in the south of the country (popularly known
as Ganga-Cuavery scheme) at a gargantuan cost of US $ 124,000 million. This
plan is actively encouraged by the World Bank, ADB as well as the private
businesses. The government obviously can not meet this astronomical
expenditure, without outside help. This fits in perfectly into the
structural adjustment policies of the World Bank et al.

The ultimate result will be privatization of water resources and power,
de-enfranchising of the poor and marginal farmers who ultimately end up as
cheap labour in factories and Capitalist farms. Hundreds of thousands of
village tanks across the country as well as traditional methods of water
harvesting have been neglected and allowed fall into disuse. Now farmers in
dry-land areas depend on pumping of ground water using electrical pumps.

The disastrous effects of this kind of mindless shift in irrigation of
dry-land crops has not only led to severe depletion of ground water tables,
but also has made the farmers totally dependent on electricity, produced
from fossil fuels. With the privatization of power and consequent
escalation in the cost of power, farming in dry-land areas is increasingly
turning out to be uneconomical, driving poor marginal farmers to go for
short term loans from money sharks. About 63% of the country's 1.06 billion
population depend on agriculture and agriculture needs about US$ 22.5
billion every year in short-term loans. Credit is needed for water, for
fertilizers, for pesticides, even for seeds.

With the process of privatization and cutting down of subsidies, financial
institutions meet only 12% of the requirement. And this mostly goes to big
land owners. Poor peasants have no other option other than going to local
money sharks, who charge many times the banks' interest rates. The result
is that the poor farmers end up with loans they can never repay and the
only way out is to end their lives. The country has seen a spate of suicide
deaths by thousands of farmers in Andhra Pradesh and many others states in
the last couple of years. Recognition and respect of the inalienable and
nonnegotiable rights of peoples and communities to their land, forest and
water resources is the last thing that crosses the minds of the policy
makers, when planning and implementing these projects.

The handloom and crafts sectors are major non-farm employers in the
country, ranking next only to agriculture in terms of providing livelihood
to nearly 16 million weavers on this sector and 20 million more craftsmen
of various trades such as cobblers, metal smiths and stone sculptors. For
example, the contribution of the handloom sector to total cloth production
in the country has been around 22 percent. The fastening of the process of
modernization and commercialization of agrarian economy, following the
green revolution, has had a drastic impact on the rural farming, artisan
and other occupational communities like the potters, blacksmiths,
carpenters, etc., in the sense of the erosion of their traditional
livelihood patterns and social life. Since 1985, the government's textile
policies had undergone a major policy shift away from protection and
encouragement to the rural handloom weavers and craftsmen.

Instead of treating them as the bearers of centuries of India's cultural
tradition, they have been increasingly looked up on a burden on the
country's exchequer, a burden which has to be avoided at the earliest
opportunity. The result is that, weavers and craftsmen's co-operatives have
been neglected and starved of funds, and ultimately many of them have been
wound up. The millions of independent crafts men have left to the mercy of
private businesses and ultimately the proud symbols of India's cultural
heritage have been reduced to penury, debt and starvation. Naturally many
of them have migrated to cities and took up low paid jobs in private sector

The less fortunate among them have settled for less remunerative jobs such
as rickshaw pullers are simple physical labourers. It is no surprise that
this sort of migration of labour is the primary requirement for building a
capitalist economy, but the enormity of this human tragedy involving
millions of rural poor is mind boggling. In one case, in a village which
was once famous for its exquisite woven silk sarees in Andhra Pradesh, a
MNC had started a Jeans factory and most of these once proud weavers had
taken jobs as tailors and garment workers, to ward off starvation.

The hype surrounding the "India Shining" campaign of BJP 2004 election
campaign is for winning support from a section of the Indian population for
the program of privatisation and the integration of India into the global
economy. As money flows into the pockets of those directly and indirectly
benefited by this process, inequality increases and investment funds are
used to cater to this section of the Indian population with a large
disposable income, meaning less investment funds available for projects of
public welfare. A growing number of shopping malls, coffee shops and
nightclubs for the new richer Indian urban middleclass are fast changing
the Indian urban landscape. On the other hand, the ever-growing urban poor,
surviving in slums, are being continuously pushed into darkness by slum
demolition drives, neglected in sanitation, power, and water. The
government lavishes public money in the form of subsidies and tax breaks on
MNCc to set shop in India.

And they produce luxury cars and fashion garments. An influential magazine
has recently published an analysis praising the present younger generation
(Gen-X?) for their generosity in thronging shopping malls. "The youth of
our country are very fortunate. They can drive any make of car they want,
travel frequently by air, buy expensive foreign clothes and savor
Californian oranges." It is more than obvious who constitute this so-called

The resources of the neglected rural areas are being diverted to
transform Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, and other Indian
mega-cities into the new global centers of back-office work. The millions
of India's urban poor and those living in rural India, who do not have
access to basic education and minimum social infrastructure, are the ones
who are paying for the costs of developing this world class infrastructure,
thus widening the class and regional disparity in living standards. The
fight of tribal people in Kalinganagar in the state of Orissa against
appropriation of their traditional lands for setting up a private sector
steel mill is a case in point. And the present Congress government is
pushing ahead with the process of privatization, with total disregard to
the opposition from the leftists.

PS: I could bring out only a small part of the total picture, but like
fractals, any smaller part of the image can reflect the total picture.

Vijaya Kumar Marla

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