Naxal issue: Open letter to P Chidambaram

Dear Shri Chidambaram,

This is in response to your repeated taunts on NDTV that the civil society must respond to the wanton killing by the Naxals. It appears that the interview was tailor-made for getting the consent of the Cabinet for more firepower and airpower to combat the Maoists. The diabolic support of Arun Jaitly, be it by describing you an injured martyr, was designed to achieve his ambition through the support of the mining barons of the BJP-ruled states.

As a member of society I hope I am being civil in disagreeing with you on your hard line approach against the innocent tribals. I also hope you will not find it too shocking for being accused of being largely responsible for the rise and growth of Naxalism, as the following happened on your watch as Finance minister.

Is it not true that  Naxalism  grew exponentially in the last ten years to become the present menace? In fact you have yourself identified the time frame of the last ten years in your interview with NDTV.

Is it not true that the rise in popularity of Naxalism is also coincidental with the rise in iron ore mining profits which increased from around Rs. 50 per tonne to over Rs. 5000 per tonne in the last ten years?

Is it not true that the map of Naxalism is also the map of the Indian Minerals. These minerals belong to the people of India but have been handed over to mining barons and corporates in a relationship of mutual benefit, more appropriately described as crony capitalism. It is for this reason that Arun Jaitly is your staunchest supporter because the fate of four state governments ruled by BJP is dependent on the money from the mining mafia.

Is it not true that during your watch as Finance Minister for four and half years, corporates raked in a profit of over two lac crores through legal and illegal mining, mostly in the iron ore sector? How was this profit shared?

Is it not true that during your entire tenure as FM the royalty on iron ore was not revised and remained at a ridiculous Rs 7 to 27/tonne (depending on the type and grade of iron ore) with the average of around Rs 15 per tonne. This royalty was neither made ad valorem nor was it revised from year 2000 onwards when the international price of iron ore rose to dizzy levels.

Is it not true that the minerals are owned by the people of the State? Is a meager 0.5% royalty on iron ore profits adequate compensation to the owner of the resources? Would you sell your one crore property for Rs. 50,000?

Did you fulfill the oath that you took as a Minister to abide by the Constitution, in particular Article 39 (b) and (c) of the Constitution, which directs the government to use natural resources owned by the people of the country to subserve the common good?

Would the Naxal problem have been there if 25% of the mining profit was spent on the poor and the tribals living in the mining area and whose life was uprooted by the greedy corporate/mining mafia with active connivance of the law enforcers and policy makers ?

What prevented the government from nationalizing the iron ore mine industry and handing it over to a PSU or NMDC whose shares of Re 1/- were lapped at a premium of Rs. 300 (30000% premium) and using the profit for benefit of the people?

Are you aware that even a resource rich and affluent country like Australia with a low population base is imposing an additional 40% windfall tax on the mining profits? Can a poor country like India afford to forgo these windfall profits?

Will you reveal as to how many times you have defended public interest through PIL and how many times you have defended corporate interest during your professional career as a lawyer? The question is relevant because of your empathy for the corporate sector is in apparent conflict with that towards the toiling masses.

Is it wrong for the civil society to conclude that both as Home Minister and Finance Minister you have been protecting the corporate profiteers (by first allowing them to loot the mineral wealth belonging to the people and now securing these mines for them) and not protecting the interest of the poor and tribal people who are victims of corporate greed and crony capitalism of the political parties? You in particular should have known better, having been a Director of Vedanta Resources!

In your appearance on NDTV you talked about the two-pronged approach and one of them having been weakened. It is the prong of development which has been weakened and is non-existent. The royalty collected is not sufficient to pay for the various types of direct damages done by the mining industry (health, environment, water, roads, rehabilitation etc); let alone the cost of security forces.

Is it not true that the killing of innocent security forces and tribals is the direct result of the policy of securing the mineral wealth for the corporate profiteers and political parties who share the loot?

It was shocking to know that you were more concerned about your CV falling short by a few months of completing five years as Finance Minister when you met your maker (refer the NDTV interview) than about the blood of the innocent that has been spilled on both sides as a consequence of corporate profiteering.

It is not surprising that all the state governments, which get re-elected on the money of the mining mafia, are interested in using air cover to make mining safe and profitable ever after. You should know better the role of money in elections after having managed to squeak past the post while the DMK MPs romped home with handsome margin. Mr Raja retained his portfolio!

What is at stake is the credibility of the State: that it is using force to benefit the mining mafia and that it has a vested interest in the profiteering of the mining mafia which is prospering because of crony capitalism.

To restore its credibility the government should resume all the mines which in any case belong to the people and give a solemn pledge that a minimum of 25% of the mining profits will be used for the benefit of the local people. The solution is not only just but one mandated by the Constitution. It is only after restoring its credibility that the State will have the right to act. That one hopes, will not be necessary because honest development based on the resources belonging to the people is the best contraceptive against the Maoist ideology. (One is happy to note that according to newspaper report the Mining Minister has made a similar proposal, and not surprisingly, facing resistence)

What happened Mr Chidambaram, you used to be a nice guy? You resigned over the Fairgrowth affair when you were not even guilty.

Life is not about arguing a brief in Court for money. It is about arguing for what is right. You have wrongly accused us  being “clever nor being devious” (refer interview with NDTV), because we are not capable of it. We cannot argue the way you do. Your arguments in Parliament over the oil for food programme while shielding Reliance from being referred to the Pathak Committee were indeed “brilliant”. Were you being clever or devious in your arguments? (Refer the book Reliance: The Real Natwar written by the undersigned for deciding the issue) Please do not use the civil society as an excuse for your omissions and commissions. We have no vested interest except that what belongs to the people should go to the people and that innocents, whether the security forces or the people forced to join the Maoist, should not die for corporate profits.. We are not powerful to tie the State governments with legal cases on police excesses. Those trying to uphold human right violations do so at considerable risk to their life and liberty and deserve our respect and not condemnation as misguided romantics.

On a personal note Sir, Will you resign and argue my PIL before the High Court involving three lac crores of iron ore being gifted by the State to Posco and Arcelormittal (as Palkhivala did to argue the Minerva Mill Case) . It will be difficult to lose the case because law, facts and most important you will be on the same side.

If you agree to do so, Sir, I am sure He will give you far more credit than He would for the extra six months that you missed out as Finance Minister!

In case you are interested I will send you a copy of the petition.

Looking forward to hearing from you. For far too long you have been shifting the blame on the civil society. We too need answers..

With warm regards,
Arun K Agrawal
Bangalore

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar.)

This, is “News”

BY MANOJ KEWALRAMANI

“This,” he said with a determined look, before pausing for a moment. “Is news,” he continued, as the screen faded into darkness.

That’s as honest as one can be these days, I thought, with the image of Ryan Seacrest hosting E! News still in my head.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of just how cynical I have become or perhaps it’s just a measure of how the trade has evolved.

Yes it’s a trade; it’s always been one. All it has done is metamorphosed from the practice of a skill to the far more realistic you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours stage.

Nah, that’s a dirty phrase. It just trivializes the effort that goes into sustaining the mystique of morality while manufacturing opinion.

It’s an art; it always was and still is. It’s an art to howl aloud clichés like “your views” “your call” “your channel” “your paper” and pretend to be “your conscience” while still selling you a product that you don’t even know you are consuming.

Truly, it is an art, an art that perhaps those in PR circles would describe as “environment management.” And with the way we live today, the degradation of the environment with each passing day should hardly come as a surprise to us.

“No money, no news,” is how noted journalist P Sainath described the scenario during the Maharashtra elections last year.

Painting a grim picture, he added: “The game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – an iceberg that perhaps began melting publicly when the cash-for-votes scam hit Parliament.

As journo after journo and channel after channel debated the new low that the legislature had sunk to, there was hardly any discussion about the behind the scenes tapes and recordings that seemed to exist but didn’t see the light of day.

Political favour you presume? Well most certainly. But a better answer can perhaps be found in the convoluted books of accounts and the equity structure or even something as simple and transparent as the advertising contracts.

Still not convinced, you’d probably scoff and parrot the old adage of everybody needing to run a business one way or the other. What’s more, being a little stingy with the truth is a bargain that maybe you can live with.

Fair enough, perhaps we can; and perhaps sometimes it’s better for the health of a crumbling edifice, that is our system and our faith in it, to not let the hammer strike it with full force.

But then, that’s acceptable if only the rot had decided to limit itself till where it was. In reality though, the spectrum (pun intended) it covers is far wider and far deeper.

While the Telecom Minister may hang on to his chair, courtesy the limitations of coalition politics or rather the dire need of those who want him there, the real question is how did he, with a murky track-record, get the job in the first place?

By now, of course we are all familiar with the tale. Boys meets girl. Boys hire girl. Girl pushes their agenda through a complex mix of favours and persuasion. A few hiccups later, the Raja is seated on the much-vaunted throne. It’s just poetic justice how the story of the great Telecom battle of 2009 was narrated through taped conversations.

It’s a familiar script, but the devil lies in the minor details. In that story, this may have been a miniscule sub-plot, but in the larger scheme of affairs, it is anything but a small deal when noted journalists get named in confidential reports for lobbying to get the ‘right man’ in the right place.

And that’s just how the system works. You cover not at the behest of public good, freedom, accountability and maintaining a check on the way things are. You cover as per the requirements of your balance sheet, or at least the ones who are keeping it balanced.

That’s what it generally means when the bold “Exclusive” flashes on your screen. There’s a price to be paid for such exclusivity. In our world today, that price is ethics and independence.

The last time I somberly told a journalist friend of mine about this fact, he turned to me cherry-faced, accusing me of pedaling sanctimonious bullshit that doesn’t survive the test of reality.

I didn’t have an answer then, but I do today. Read through the article again and then tell me who it is that’s being real and who it is that bellows holier than thou crap like “trust,” “honesty,” “credibility,” “truth,” 24×7.

(Manoj Kewalramani is a guest writer with Canary Trap. He has worked with top media houses like NDTV before becoming an Independent Blogger and Writer.)