Must We Rebuild Their Anthill? A Letter to/for Japanese Comrades

Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis

Dear comrades,

We are writing to express to you our solidarity at a time when the pain for those who have died or have disappeared is still raw, and the task of reshaping of life out of the immense wreckage caused by the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear reactor meltdowns must appear unimaginable. We also write to think together with you what this moment marked by the most horrific nuclear disaster yet in history signifies for our future, for the politics of anti-capitalist social movements, as well as the fundamentals of everyday reproduction.

Concerning our future and the politics of anti-capitalist movements, one thing is sure. The present situation in Japan is potentially more damaging to people’s confidence in capitalism than any disaster in the “under-developed” world and certainly far more damaging than the previous exemplar of nuclear catastrophe, Chernobyl. For none of the exonerating excuses or explanations commonly flagged in front of man-made disasters can apply in this case. Famines in Africa can be blamed, however wrongly, on the lack of capital and technological “know how,” i.e., they can be blamed on the lack of development, while the Chernobyl accident can be attributed to the technocratic megalomania bred in centrally-planned socialist societies. But neither underdevelopment nor socialism can be used to explain a disaster in 21st century Japan that has the world’s third largest capitalist economy and the most technologically sophisticated infrastructure on the planet. The consequences of the earthquake, the tsunami and, most fatefully, the damaged nuclear reactors can hardly be blamed on the lack of capitalist development. On the contrary, they are the clearest evidence that high tech capitalism does not protect us against catastrophes, and it only intensifies their threat to human life while blocking any escape route. This is why the events in Japan are potentially so threatening and so de-legitimizing for the international capitalist power-structure. For the chain of meltdowns feared or actually occurring stands as a concrete embodiment of what capitalism has in store for us —an embodiment of the dangers to which we are being exposed with total disregard of our well-being, and what we can expect in our future, as from China to the US and beyond, country after country is planning to multiply its nuclear plants.

This is also why so much is done, at least in the US, to minimize the severity of the situation evolving in and around the Fukushima Daiichi plants and to place the dramatic developments daily unfolding in and out of the plants out of sight.

Company men and politicians are aware that the disaster at Fukushima is tremendous blow to the legitimacy of nuclear power and in a way the legitimacy of capitalist production. A tremendous ideological campaign is under way to make sure that it does not become the occasion for a global revolt against nuclear power and more important for a process of revolutionary change. The fact that the nuclear disaster in Japan is taking place in concomitance with the spreading of insurrectional movements throughout the oil regions of North Africa and the Middle East undoubtedly adds to the determination to establish against all evidence that everything is under control. But we know that nothing is further from the truth, and that what we are witnessing is the deepening crisis, indeed the proof of the “unsustainability” of the energy sector — since the ‘70s the leading capitalist sector— in its two main articulations: nuclear and oil.

We think it helps, then, in considering this crisis, to think the Fukushima disaster together with different scenarios that, in their representation on the US evening news seem to have nothing in common with it and with each other.

*Libya: where NATO and the UN are collaborating with Ghedaffi in the destruction of a rebellious youth whose demands for better living conditions and more freedom may jeopardize the regular flow of oil.

*Ivory Coast: where French, UN and Africom (the US military command devoted to Africa) troops have joined ranks to install a World Bank official, handpicked by the EU, to clearly gain control of West Africa’s most important country after Nigeria and create a solid Africom-powered bridge connecting the Nigerian, to the Algerian and Chadian oilfields.

*Baharain: where Saudi Arabian troops are brought in to slaughter pro-democracy demonstrators.

Viewed, in this context, the threat the disaster at Fukushima poses to international capital is not that thousands of people may develop cancer, leukemia, loose their homes, loose their sources of livelihood, see their lands and waters contaminated for thousands of years. The danger is that ‘caving in’ in front of popular mobilizations, governments will institute new regulations, scrap plans for more nuclear plants construction and, in the aftermath, nuclear stocks will fall and one of the main sources of capital accumulation will be severely compromised for decades to come. These concerns explain not only the chorus of shameless declarations we heard in recent weeks (bouncing from Paris and Rome to Washington) to the effect that the path to nuclear power is one with no return, but also the lack of any international logistic support for the populations living in the proximity of the melting reactors. Where are the planes carrying food, medicines, blankets? Where are the doctors, the nurses, and engineers? Where is the United Nations that is so readily fighting in Ivory Coast? We do not need to ask. Clearly, as far as the EU/US are concerned, the guideline is that everything must be done to prevent this nuclear disaster from sinking into the consciousness of people and trigger a worldwide revulsion against nuclear power and against those who knowingly have exposed so many to its dangers.

There is also something else however in the response of the world politicians to this juncture. What we are witnessing, most dramatically, in the response to the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, especially in the US, is the beginning of an era in which capitalism is dropping any humanitarian pretense and refusing any commitment to the protection of human life. Not only, just one month after its inception, the catastrophe that is still unfolding in Japan is already being pushed to a corner of the evening news in the same way as nothing is any longer said about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We are also repeatedly informed that catastrophes are inevitable, that no energy path is safe, that disasters are something to be learnt from, not a cause for retreat, and, to top it off, that not all is negative, after all, Tokyo’s troubles are Osaka’s gain!

This is the same doctrine that today we are dished out in debates on the financial crisis. Financial experts now all agree that it is impossible to prevent major economic crises, because, however clever government regulations may be, bankers can elude them. As Paul Romer, a finance professor in Stamford University, put in a New York Times interview (3/11/2011): “Every decade or so, any finite system of financial regulation will lead to systemic financial crisis.” That is, those of us who are on pensions or have a few savings or have taken out a mortgage must prepare for periodic losses and there is nothing that can be done about it!

What we see, then, today in Japan, is the moment of truth of a world capitalist system that, after five centuries of exploitation of millions across the planet, and after endless litanies on the fact that science opens a path of constant perfectibility of the human race, has decided that it is not their business to offer solutions to any major human problem, obviously convinced that we have become so identified with capital, and have so lost the will and capacity to construct an alternative to it, that we will not be able to prise its future apart from ours even after it has demonstrated to be totally destructive of our lives. We are reminded here of the response that Mr. Chipman, an official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), gave when asked, thirty years ago, if “American institutions” would survive an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. “I think -–he replied– they would, eventually, yeah. As I say, the ants eventually build another anthill.”

We think is our task to prove Mr. Chipman wrong –to prove that we will not be like the mindless laborious ants who mechanically reconstruct their hill not matter how many times it is destroyed.

We believe it will be a major political disaster if in the months to come we will see business as usual prevail, and the surge of a broad global movement protesting what has been done to the people of Japan and to us all as the current will bring to our shore the radioactivity leaking from the unraveling plants.

We are concerned however that a mobilization in response to the disaster in Japan should not be limited to demanding that no more nuclear plants be constructed and those in existence be dismantled, nor that more investment be directed to the development of ‘clean energy’ technology. Undoubtedly, the Fukushima meltdowns must be the spark for a worldwide anti-nuclear movement. But we think, judging also from our experience in the aftermath of the disaster at Three Mile Island, that this movement will not have any hope of success if the struggle to eliminate nuclear plants or against the existence of nuclear armaments, is approached in the narrow manner characteristic of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s, if approached, that is, as a special issue, according to the argument that if we do not eliminate first nuclear power we will not be around to deal with other issues. This, we believe, is a short-sighted argument, as death, genocide and the ecological destruction of the environment come in many forms. Indeed, rather than as exceptions we should see the proposed proliferation of nuclear plants and the callous indifference demonstrated by world politicians to the possible destruction of million of lives under a nuclear regime as symptomatic of a whole relation to capital and the state that is the real threat to people across the planet.

What we need is to approach the question of nuclear power as the prism through which to read our present relation to capital and bring our different struggles and forms of resistance together. Short of that, our political activities will remain powerless, separated and fragmented like the reports about Libya, Ivory Coast and Japan on the networks’ evening news.

A first step in this direction is to establish that Nuclear Power has nothing to do with energy needs, in the same way as nuclear arms proliferation had nothing to do with the alleged threat posed by communism. Nuclear power is not just an energy form, it a specific form of capital accumulation and social control enabling capital to centralize the extraction of surplus labor, police the movements of millions of people, and achieve regional or global hegemony through the threat of annihilation. One of its main objectives is pre/empting resistance, generating the kind of docility and passivity that we have witnessed in response to such capital-made disasters as Katrina, Haiti and today Japan, and that in the past enabled the French and US governments to explode hundreds of atomic bombs in open air and underground tests in the Pacific and use entire population from the Marshall Islands to Tahiti, as guinea pigs.

Nuclear power, therefore, can only be destroyed when social movements come into existence that treat it politically, not only as a destructive form of energy but as a strategy of accumulation and terror– a means of devaluation of our lives– and place it on a continuum with the struggle against the use of the “financial crisis,“ or against the cuts to healthcare and education. To this program, those of us who live in the US must add the demand for reparations for the descendants of the people who have been the victims of US nuclear bombs and nuclear tests. For our struggle must revive the memory of the crimes that have been committed in the past through the use of nuclear power beginning with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For with memory comes the demand for justice.

In solidarity,

Silvia and George


The “Liberation” of Bamboo – The Caveats

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

The recent victory of village Mendha (Lekha) in securing control over its bamboo deserves celebration. For the first time, after a struggle of decades by forest dwellers across the country, a village has regained control over its forest and over a key livelihood resource. For the first time – despite intense, illegal resistance by the Forest Department till the very last minute – it has been acknowledged that the forest bureaucracy has no God-given right to extract and destroy the livelihood resources of forest dwellers while harassing and repressing them.

But it is also necessary to remember that this is a very limited and partial victory. Claims that “bamboo has been liberated” are greatly exaggerated. This is because in several ways, Mendha is no ordinary village. If this is not to remain merely an eyewash, it is necessary to look more closely at what has actually happened.

First, Mendha is one of the handful of villages in the country whose rights to conserve, protect and manage its community forest resource (CFR) have actually been recognised and recorded by the authorities. In the vast majority of villages these rights have not been recognised at all; and in the few hundred where this has happened, as in Andhra Pradesh, the right has mostly been illegally handed over to the Forest Department-controlled Joint Forest Management committee rather than to the village. In other cases, even if the JFM committee’s name has not been mentioned in the community title, rights only on the area allocated for JFM by the forest department have been recognized (instead over forests falling within their customary boundaries) and the titles made conditional to continuing control of the forest department. As we said in our statement on the Environment Ministry letter on bamboo, the Environment Ministry has now consciously tried to limit ownership and control over minor forest produce to only these handful of villages whose CFR rights have been ‘officially’ recognized. In all other villages, Forest Department control will continue, in violation of the law.

Second, through their earlier struggles, Mendha village’s gram sabha had already wrested control over its community forest from the Joint Forest Management committee in the village. In most cases, the struggle between actual community control and these committees – which, as explained in this link, are actually Forest Department proxies – is still continuing. In its letter on bamboo, also as said in our earlier statement, the Ministry is not only preventing democratic gram sabha control over community forests – it is trying to strengthen JFM committees and blocking the legal recognition of community rights. Had the Ministry’s policy been implemented in Mendha, April 27th would simply not have happened.

The MoEF has a history of saying one thing and doing the opposite in forest management. If bamboo is not to become one more example of this, the Ministry has to be pressurised to abandon its illegal positions and recognise rights over minor forest produce (as well as community forest resource rights) in all villages, dismantle the systems of Forest Department autocracy, and shift to democratic management. In the absence of these measures, April 27th will be remembered as a day when the state gave in to one village’s historic struggle – while betraying thousands of others.

More exclusions from the FRA

Rahul Choudhary

One of the most significant aspects of any right-giving legislation is the institution of layers of filters by which newer forms of segmentation and identities among “citizens” are created – a whole series of the included and excluded is generated every time a new law is legislated. If statutory laws are insufficient in this regard, judicial pronouncements fix the filtering machinery.

Persons having shops inside the Tiger reserve were not considered as “Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes” or “Other Traditional Forest Dwellers” by the High Court of Allahabad (1) and the same has been confirmed by the Supreme Court (2). A petition was filed in Allahabad High Court challenging the order of eviction passed by the Deputy Director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve and the order passed by the Chief Conservator of Forest, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve.

A notice was sent to the shop owners on 11th July 2010 for eviction from the forest area. The shop owners claimed protection of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (3). As per their contention, it recognizes the rights and occupation on forest land, of the Forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers. Under this Act a complete procedure to deal with the matter has been provided, therefore, they are liable to be governed only under the procedure prescribed therein. They claimed eviction process initiated by the Forest Department is under Forest Act, 1927 and therefore is illegal.

The stand of the Forest Department before the High Court was that the persons who have come to court are shop owners and doing business. They neither belong to any Scheduled tribe nor they are traditional forest dwellers, whereas the Forest Rights Act gives protection to Scheduled Tribe and traditional forest dwellers who depend on forest for their livelihood.

The Forest Rights Act defines ‘forest dwelling scheduled tribes’ and ‘other traditional forest dweller’ as:

(c) “forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes” means the members or community of the Scheduled Tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forest lands for bona fide livelihood needs and includes the Scheduled Tribe pastoralist communities;

(o) “other traditional forest dweller” means any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs.

The High Court came to conclusion in its order and judgment dated 22.02.2011 that the Forest Rights Act only provides protection to the Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers, and the shop owners are not covered under the Forest Rights Act.

The shop owners challenged the order before the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreeing with the findings of the High Court dismissed their petition. The Supreme Court was of the pinion that the person claiming protection under Forest Rights Act as ‘other traditional forest dweller’ has to satisfy both the requirement – of residing in and being dependent on forest. But in this case they were not residing inside the forest nor were dependent on it.


(1) Ishwer Chandra Gupta Vs. State of U.p Writ Petition No. 6887 of 2010 and other six petitions
(2) SLP (C) No. 9837-9838 of 2011
(3) Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

Environment Ministry’s Steps on Bamboo and Forest Act Amendment

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On March 22nd, the Environment Ministry announced two significant decisions: a letter to State governments on bamboo and Cabinet approval for an amendment to the Indian Forest Act. In both cases, the stated intent does not match what has actually been done; and while the claim is being made that these will protect people’s rights and reduce harassment, the former will have no effect at present and the latter will make the situation worse.

In the case of bamboo, consider the following:

  • As has recently become characteristic of the Environment Ministry, the letter has several welcome statements of principle – which are then essentially nullified by the operational provisions. Thus, for the first time, the letter recognises that the Ministry and the State Forest Departments have been breaking the law by not treating bamboo as a minor forest produce; it talks of democratic management, community planning and gram sabha transit permits; etc. But what it promises is not matched by what it actually provides for.
  • Thus, first, the letter actually does not suggest any change in the status quo in forest lands except in areas where community forest resource rights are recognised. That change is at least mandated in such areas is welcome in principle; but in practice there are hardly any villages in the entire country where such rights have been genuinely recognised. In fact this right is precisely what the governments at both Central and State levels, and particularly the Forest Department, have been ignoring and opposing.
  • In the meantime the letter goes on to reiterate the demand that Joint Forest Management committees be made into standing committees of panchayats, without allowing the panchayats themselves any say, and without addressing the real reason that such committees are anti-democratic – the fact that forest guards are their secretaries and joint account holders, that all the committees’ work is subject to Department working plans, and that their funds are controlled through the Department-controlled Forest Development Agencies. Now that communities have a legal right and power to protect and manage forests, these bodies are both unnecessary and of questionable legality. As we said in an earlier statement, keeping the forest bureaucracy in control, but making JFM committees into panchayat bodies, will not make them democratic – it will subvert actual community forest management and therefore block recognition of community forest resource rights. By advocating JFM and community forest resource rights at the same time, the letter is contradicting itself – and will nullify whatever benefits it is supposed to give while increasing conflict.
  • After acknowledging that bamboo must be treated as an MFP, the letter goes on to ignore what this actually means – namely that under the FRA, in all forest areas (not just community forests), forest dwellers are the owners of bamboo and have the right to use, collect and dispose of it. This right is being violated by all State governments with impunity. By saying that the existing arrangement will continue except in community forest resource areas, the letter is upholding an illegal system. Moreover, it goes on to talk of revenue sharing, when there can be no question of revenue sharing between the owners (the community) and a state regulatory agency (the Forest Department).
  • The sleight of hand is far more blatant in the case of the Indian Forest Act amendments that have now been approved by Cabinet. Consider the following:

  • The Ministry’s press note claims that increasing the amount of money that can be levied as a fine (and hence allowing compounding of more high value offences) will reduce harassment of forest dwellers. What we need is not easier compounding of offences but an overhaul of the offences themselves. The IFA provides penalties for all kinds of things – such as collection of MFP in reserved forests, cutting grass,transporting without a permit, etc. – that are now rights under the Forest Rights Act. It also contains draconian provisions (e.g. arrest without warrant in most cases; presumption that any forest produce found on anyone is actually govt property, meaning the person is guilty until proven innocent, etc). This combination is what makes the law an instrument of harassment. Merely revising the monetary limit on compounding will only increase the power to extract bribes – indeed one might even expect an increase in booking of cases, since now the forest officers also know that they need not go through the rigmarole of courts etc. and can simply extract payment of large sums of money on the spot. As long as the Indian Forest Act continues to be a colonial and autocratic law, this decision will in fact increase harassment.
  • The most egregious perversion of law occurs in the second proposed amendment – for compounding of offences in the Fifth Schedule areas. Both PESA and the FRA empower the gram sabha to manage their forests and community resources in these areas. Now, under this proposed amendment, it will be given the farcical job of “giving views” on how the Department should punish people, i.e. on whether they should be fined or jailed. One should remember that this proposed amendment comes in a context where the gram sabha’s actual legal powers are being ignored when forests are being diverted and destroyed; but now it is to become an an aide for legitimising the Forest Department’s actions. This is an absurdity. The gram sabha is a statutory management authority to which the Department itself is subject, or ought to be subject if the law were being followed, not a sidekick of a colonial institution.
  • A New Threat to Forest Dwellers and Protected Areas

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    Having cleared the destructive Chiria mines and the POSCO project in violation of the law, the Environment Ministry has proceeded to grossly violate people’s rights in protected areas – to the detriment of both people and wildlife. On February 8th, it issued new guidelines for the declaration of “critical wildlife habitats” under the Forest Rights Act. These guidelines are in direct violation of the Forest Rights Act and will encourage the kind of brutal forced relocation that harms people, increases conflict with wildlife and leads to more destruction in protected areas. Everyone from the Tiger Task Force through numerous conservationists themselves have pointed out the dangers in the current relocation process.

    Once again, we see that the primary interest of this system is not in wildlife, forests, people or even “development”: it is retaining its own power.

    The guidelines are in violation of law on the following counts (for a quick summary see table below):

    • Identification of CWHs: As is admitted by most wildlife organisations and by the government itself, existing national parks and sanctuaries have often been demarcated arbitrarily without consulting either the people of the area or scientists; as a result many are of limited wildlife significance. Therefore the FRA requires that a consultative and scientific process, “case by case, on the basis of scientific and objective criteria” (s. 2(b)) for identification of critical wildlife habitats should be undertaken in all existing protected areas. In order to ensure that this process is actually sound (and not arbitrary again), it should be done by an Expert Committee including experts from the locality and a Tribal Ministry representative. The new guidelines do not satisfy any of these requirements.
      • Scientific basis:The new guidelines say nothing about which “scientific and objective criteria” are to be used. They also ignore the requirement that critical wildlife habitats should only be established where it can be scientifically proven that the presence of forest dwellers is causing irreversible damage to wildlife and that co-existence is not possible. The only reference to any of this is a vague statement that studies on human impact should be carried out – but this is in Annexure 2, a list of points to be taken into account for financial planning, long after identification is over. Finally, the process of identification is to be carried out by the DFO and a “local scientific institution” in the space of a mere 60 days. The result can only be imagined – exactly as occurred in the case of critical tiger habitats, all existing protected areas will simply be sought to be converted into critical wildlife habitats, followed by pressurising people living inside them to relocate. The guidelines also sneak in the intent of extending CWHs to areas “in and around” protected areas (point 5.6.2) thereby leaving room to extend PA boundaries to larger areas. This is a total perversion of the intent of the law.
      • Consultation: On consultation, the guidelines are a farce. The identification of the habitat, as said above, will first be carried out by the DFO; whereupon the guidelines say there should be “extensive consultation” with forest dwellers by an Expert Committee. What will happen to the results of this “extensive consultation” and the comments of the people? Nothing. They are never referred to in the guidelines again. Thus this consultation process is actually non-existent.
      • No Expert Committee:Indeed, the role of the Expert Committee – which is to identify the critical wildlife habitat – has been reduced to “motivating” villagers for relocation, after the two technical members have on their own decided the area to be demarcated as a CWH. In sum, the guidelines reduce the process of identification to an administrative exercise controlled by the Forest Department.
    • Relocation: In addition to the scientific evidence of irreversible damage from people, the law requires that relocation from a critical wildlife habitat requires the free informed consent of the gram sabha (s. 4(2)(e)), must provide a secure livelihood (s. 4(2)(d)), and can only take place after rights are recognised (s.4(2)(a)), and facilities are complete (s. 4(2)(f)). Every one of these conditions is violated:
      • Consent of gram sabha: There is no reference in the guidelines to taking the consent of the gram sabha for relocation at any point, except when the section itself is quoted. Instead there is talk of relocating even if “a small number of families agree”, which by implication means that the majority do not do so – and hence the gram sabha could not have consented. This will open the way for individually pressurising families and pushing relocation step by step, once again in violation of the law.
      • Secure livelihood: The guidelines again say nothing about providing any livelihood at all, leave alone a secure one acceptable to the people. Instead, they say that two “options” will be offered (based on the Project Tiger package) – Rs. 10 lakhs per family or a vague reference to “rehabilitation by the Forest Department.” In fact, the law does nota allow such provision of mere cash compensation, as this is at the root of all the rehabilitation failures of the past. It is also a total violation of people’s rights, since they lose their livelihoods and access to the forest and only get a sum of cash – which itself often doesn’t reach them.
      • Completion of recognition of rights: Once again there is no reference to this except in Annexure 2, where it is irrelevant. Since rights are hardly being recognised in protected areas and the guideline imposes an absurd 60 day time limit, relocation will now proceed without bothering with people’s rights – making harassment and pressure on forest dwellers more likely.
      • Completion of facilities: This was intended to protect against hasty relocation without any facilities being provided. In the last year alone, two people have died (in Similipal in Orissa and Achanakmar in Chhattisgarh) after being forcibly relocated from tiger reserves and not provided any proper shelter.There is not a word about this requirement anywhere in the guideline.

    Despite some weaknesses and internal inconsistencies, the October 2007 guidelines that this order replaces had covered all these issues. This new set of guidelines completely throws to wind the law and violates all the Act’s provisions on procedures of determining and notification of critical wildlife habitats. Indeed, relocating anyone on the basis of these guidelines would be in direct violation of the law; and hence a criminal offence under section 7 of the Act. Following this policy will only ensure the continuance of the earlier form of forced arbitrary relocation, harming both people and wildlife.

    Summary of Violations of Law

    Provision Requirement of Law What Guidelines Actually Do
    s. 2(b) Decide wildlife habitats on basis of scientific and objective criteria No criteria specified; left to administrative fiat
    s. 2(b) On a case by case basis Left to concerned DFO “in consultation” with “local scientific institution”
    s. 2(b) Decide through a process of consultation by an Expert Committee Identification entirely by DFO and “local scientific institution”, without any consultation; role of Expert Committee is restricted to “sensitising” people to the relocation package after the proposal is sent to MoEF
    s. 2(b) Recognition of rights and other pre-conditions to be met prior to any relocation (s.4(1) and 4(2)) Ignores and therefore violates both
    s. 4(2)(a) Rights have to be recognised first Completely ignored except irrelevant reference in Annexure 2
    s. 4(2)(b),(c) No relocation unless can be shown that human presence causing irreversible damage and co-existence not possible Completely ignored
    s. 4(2)(d) Relocation must provide a secure livelihood Rs. 10 lakh compensation or vague “rehabilitation” mentioned; no reference to providing a livelihood
    s. 4(2)(e) Free informed consent of the gram sabha to be taken in writing Ignored; no procedure stated, implicitly refers to consent of individual families
    s. 4(2)(f) No relocation until facilities at new site (by implication including livelihood) are complete Completely ignored

    In sum, every provision of the law has been violated.

    The POSCO “Green Signal”

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    On January 31st the Environment Ministry finally gave its long delayed decision on the POSCO project. The brazen chicanery of this decision is already well known. It asks the Orissa governmen,t already caught lying, to lie again, and promises a forest clearance in exchange; it imposes wonderfully meaningless conditions, such as the craven request that the company “voluntarily sacrifice” water which does not belong to it; and it violates the Forest Rights Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. All this is hardly surprising from a government that has shown time and again that it cares a fig for the rights of people.

    But the true message of this decision has nothing to do with the “environment” alone. It is quite simple: when a government is faced with real democracy, when it confronts organised people’s power, it will brush aside law, constitution and environment to destroy it. POSCO, the government and the business media all agreed on one point – how could they possibly accept that people themselves could decide on the fate of a project? How could they tolerate the idea – now required by law – that the project could not take forests and forest lands without the consent of the local community? Bring on the guns and the numbers – 51,000 crores, etc. etc. – to justify brazen illegality. Never mind that an international study exposed that this project will destroy far more livelihoods than it creates. Never mind that an official enquiry committee said “such attempts, if allowed to succeed, will result in neither development nor environmental protection, but merely in profiteering.” Who needs to know the facts when bigger issues are at stake. The key question that jarred our nation’s “best minds” was – who are these people to say we cannot take their resources? So what if the law is on their side?

    Today land and forests are too important to be left to democracy and the rule of law. Even as the resource grabbing proceeds apace, a great charade has been played out in the media between our supposedly “green” Environment Minister and our supposedly “anti-green” industrialists, all of whom, however, agree at the end: they must control the decisions, not the people. Even when they don’t, they will act like they do; thus, after six years of determined people’s resistance to POSCO, the entire media today talks as if the only opponent of POSCO in India was the Minister. January 31st exposed this “debate” for what it always was: a farcical dance between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. On the one side, a Ministry whose only consistent act has been to deny people’s rights; on the other, a big business class that knows only too well that the state is on its side (as a CII representative said, “We know most clearances get through”) but likes to deflect the debate away from the issues and on to personalities.

    After the Vedanta mining decision, we called it “a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words.” That betrayal has come true today. Whatever law, democracy and human rights exist in this country are a reflection of the struggles of people. The “rule of law” is upheld by resistance, not by the state. The same is true of environmental protection; it was people’s resistance that stopped Vedanta and it is people’s resistance that will stop POSCO. At least now let us not hear of “green” Ministries and caring policies; the mask has been torn off to show the face of pitiless greed underneath.

    A “Green Signal” for the Rape of Justice and the People: Environment Ministry Decision on POSCO


    Jairam Ramesh and the UPA government have shown their true colours with their decision today on the POSCO project. Ignoring the reports of its own advisory bodies and enquiry committees, violating its own orders and the laws of the land, this Ministry has shown that the naked face of corporate greed – not the “rule of law”, the “aam aadmi”, “inclusive growth” or any of these other lies – is what rules this country. The decision today can be summarised in one sentence: “Repeat your lies, give us promises that we all know are false, and then loot at will.”

    We repeat: we will not give up our lands, our forests and our homes to this company. It is not the meaningless orders of a mercenary government that will decide this project’s fate, but the tears and blood of our people. Through the road of peaceful demonstrations and people’s resistance we have fought this project, in the face of torture, jail, firings and killings. If this project comes it will come over our dead bodies.

    We note the following about today’s decision:

  • The Orissa government has been asked to give an “assurance” that the people of the area are not forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act, after which the “final forest clearance” will be granted. The Orissa government has already lied on this count on numerous occasions. Indeed, the majority report of the POSCO Enquiry Committee said “The Committee finds that the government’s own records such as census reports and voters list confirm that there are both other traditional forest dwellers (OTFD) and forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes in the project area and the statement of the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur to the contrary is false” (para II.1, Conclusions and Recommendations). Even the dissenting member agreed that the Act had not been implemented. The same finding had been reached by the subcommittee of the Saxena Committee earlier. After the Ministry’s own enquiry committees have found the Orissa government guilty of lying, what is the meaning of saying the project can proceed if the liars repeat their lies?
  • This Ministry has earlier made a song and dance of respect for people’s views and environmental laws. Under the Forest Rights Act, the consent of the gram sabhas of the area is an essential requirement, and this was confirmed by the Ministry’s own order. Three different committees – the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Ministry’s own Forest Advisory Committee – all therefore said the clearance should be withdrawn. The Minister today claims that the project can go ahead if he and the Orissa government decide they want it to. So much for the law and for people’s rights.
  • On the environment clearance, we recall again the words of the majority Enquiry Committee, which said “Potentially very serious impacts …have not even been assessed, leave alone planned for…. The cavalier and reckless attitude of the concerned authorities to such potentially disastrous impacts is horrendous and shocks the collective conscience of the Committee….There appears to be a pre dominant belief that conditionalities in the EIA/ CRZ clearances are a substitute for comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact by the authorities. Imposing vague conditionalities seems to be a way out for the various agencies from taking hard decisions on crucial issues.” Again, it is not us who said this – it is the Ministry’s own Committee! And yet this is exactly what the Minister has chosen to do.
  • Independent reports and studies by reputed academics have confirmed what we have always said – this project will be of no benefit to anyone except POSCO’s profit margins. But yet we find this being called a project of “strategic importance.” To whom?
  • Today the veil stands ripped open; the government stands exposed before the nation, a mercenary willing to put its regulations, officials and security forces at the disposal of the highest bidder. Let the UPA and the Central government answer: where is the rule of law today, in the name of which you crush struggles across the country? Where is your much vaunted love for the people and for the environment? What do you stand for if not for corporate greed?

    Ministry uses rhetoric of “community control” to hide the actuality of intensified state control

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    Much press attention in the last week has been devoted to the Environment Minister’s statements on “democratic forest management” and how the existing forest management system needs to change. Such statements are welcome, for they mark an official admission that India’s forest bureaucracy has impoverished millions and increasingly been an opponent of both forest conservation and forest dwellers.

    But what the Ministry says does not at all match what the Ministry does. Not only is the Ministry not moving in the direction of democratic management; it is moving against democratic management, while using the rhetoric of “community control” to hide the actuality of intensified state control.

    At a time when state control over forests and forest lands is a major weapon in the assault on people’s resources and livelihoods, this is not an arcane policy issue alone; it is one component in the ongoing intense struggle over deciding how we will use our natural resources and how we will define our society.

    A simple comparison throws up what is actually going on (click on links to know more about each issue):

    Issue What the Ministry Said What the Ministry is Doing
    Diversion of forest land for corporate projects One and a half years after passage of FRA, Ministry finally issues Aug 2009 order that requires FRA compliance i.e. recognition of rights and consent of gram sabha before land can be handed over * As per public minutes of Forest Advisory Committee, there is not a single project in which the Ministry has complied with FRA or its own order. In Polavaram, the FRA has been brazenly and publicly violated. In only one project has compliance even been considered – POSCO – but even after non-compliance has been exposed by three different committees, and five years of protest by the people, the forest clearance is still standing.
    * Meanwhile, there are ongoing attempts to get the order withdrawn.
    Joint Forest Management Throughout this year, including this week, statements by Minister that Joint Forest Management has become a Forest Department proxy and needs “reform.” * The reality is that there is only one nation-wide law that provides for democratic community control over forests – the Forest Rights Act(PESA provides even more extensive powers in Scheduled Areas). This supersedes all existing schemes. Therefore, if the Ministry is genuinely interested, the first steps for democratic control would be to shut down JFM, put the funds into the NREGA or other systems which permit local institutions to decide their priorities, and direct forest authorities to comply with local powers as provided in the FRA. MoEF would then have to join other Ministries in a coordinated effort towards democratic resource management, which is not MoEF’s domain alone.
    * What is happening is exactly the opposite. There is repeated talk of “revamping” Joint Forest Management (which has no legal validity), and this translates into giving JFM committees powers that actually belong to democratic institutions.
    * Even the basic fact that forest guards sit as the secretaries of JFM Committees, and their funds are controlled through the Forest Department, is completely ignored.
    In short, the Ministry is strengthening its proxies, not democratising them.
    Forestry Projects The Ministry repeatedly claims that the huge amount of money being poured into forestry projects will benefit forest dwellers and be spent in a “decentralised” fashion under “people’s control.” The money put into forestry includes money from the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) (1,000 crores per year), the proposed Green India Mission (46,000 crores in total), Japanese-funded “external” forestry projects, the National Afforestation Programme and the developing international REDD agreement. In every single one of these programs, funds are being channeled or are proposed to be channeled through JFM and the Forest Department, directly undermining democratic control and driving land grabbing. This is true in the case of CAMPA – despite a direct indictment by a Parliamentary Standing Committee. For details of other programmes see our statements on the proposed Green India Mission and the MoEF approach to REDD. If the Ministry is interested in democracy, why is it channeling funds to the very institutions that undercut democratic control – and this after it has itself said that they do so?

    The “forked tongue” approach that has come to characterise the forest bureaucracy and this Ministry is extremely dangerous. It blocks actual change by claiming to be engaging in it; and then it does precisely the opposite, cleverly garbed in the right terms and the right language. In the process, “participation” becomes a code word for devolving huge amounts of money to select individuals and sections of villages in order to create what are essentially state proxies and vested interests. Nor is this confined to the Environment Ministry; we now have a “Integrated Action Plan” for “developing” Maoist areas by putting thousands of crores into the hands of the very officials who have destroyed people’s lives and livelihoods, organised inhuman repression and violated all norms of democracy. In the long run, this approach is a formula for dividing communities, breaking resistance, undermining democracy and destroying resources. It may make sense for the interests of corporations and state machinery; but to the rest of us it is a formula for resource grabbing and destruction.

    On the Saxena Committee Report on the Forest Rights Act

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    The controversial Saxena Committee on the Forest Rights Act has submitted its report, which has finally been made public. We know that this report will be projected as pro-people and pro-rights. But this report will be most useful to those who set it up – a Ministry and a forest bureaucracy (see the note below) that wants more power, while presenting a facade of being sensitive and pro-people. Here are some reasons why.

    Regarding the implementation of the Act, the Committee has endorsed what we and others have been pointing out for a long time. It points out the problems in rights recognition, recommends action against illegal evictions, and calls for recognition of community rights, coming to the same conclusions as the Council for Social Development report and what the movements have been saying. It identifies the forest bureaucracy as a major problem. In itself, this is welcome. But when it comes to what should be done about these problems, and especially about MoEF and the forest bureaucracy, the report falls apart.

    On the Environment Ministry: The Committee’s recommendations target everyone except the Environment Ministry, the Central agency most responsible for policies in violation of the Act. Out of eleven pages of findings in chapter 11, MoEF’s actions are covered in half a page. The most dangerous of these actions (click here to know more) – illegal forest diversion for corporate projects; rapidly expanding afforestation and “conservation” programs with enormous potential for land grabbing and conflict; and the huge sums of money being deployed for this – are barely touched in the recommendations. The chapter on development projects admits “some clearances” were illegal. But there has not been a single case where the Ministry has complied with the law on diversion, and the Committee neither recommends cancellation of illegal clearances nor justice for those whose rights have been illegally violated. There are no recommendations on afforestation, except for vague statements that policies should be “reviewed” and should “respect the FRA.” Whose job is it to review these illegal actions, if not this Committee?

    On Joint Forest Management: The Ministry’s current favorite program – Joint Forest Management (click here to know more) – is being expanded across the country and is a major tool in the Forest Department’s efforts to block communities from managing forests or exercising rights. It is condemned in the first half of chapter 8 of the report and in one part of the recommendations; but other parts say it should continue in most areas and even that it has “advantages.” Then, the “alternative recommendations” (signed by half the members of the Committee) condemn it again. Thus the Ministry can do pretty much anything on JFM and still claim the Committee’s endorsement.

    On “redefining forest governance”: On this issue – which was said to be the Committee’s raison d’etre – the report says that the status quo of Joint Forest Management and Forest Department supervision should continue in the vast majority of forest areas (those where communities do not file formal claims for community forest resource rights). The “alternative recommendations” say there should be changes, but agree that there is no legal requirement for them (they would need “a new statute or amendment of existing statutes”). This is the escape clause the forest authorities have been looking for. After the structure of the Forest Department has been identified as being the single biggest reason for the failure to respect the law, when even the Home Secretary has attacked their zamindari attitude and abuse of power, the committee legitimises the status quo until there is a “new statute or amendment of existing statutes”. This is a total misreading of the law and a backpedaling on the most crucial issue in forest areas today.

    Riddled with other contradictions: On non-timber forest produce, crucial to people’s livelihoods, the report identifies many problems, but then only says free sale should be permitted – while advocating continuation of other existing structures, which numerous government reports have condemned (the “alternative recommendations” disagree). Satellite imagery (currently a major tool for rejections) is endorsed and celebrated as a mode for verifying rights in one section, which however also contains one sentence admitting it “cannot verify the existence of any right under the Act” (p. 66). On whether or not people should be removed from wildlife habitats, the report advocates two diametrically opposed views in the same paragraph (p. 131), one of which is called “dissenting” – but is in the main text. After describing critical tiger habitat notifications as “in violation of the Act”, once again it only recommends a “review” (p. 217).

    In sum, the report is a mishmash that permits the Environment Ministry to do what it pleases, and still to claim the mantle of being pro-people. Indeed, almost any point raised in favour of people can be contradicted by citing some other part of the report.

    When the Campaign was invited to join this Committee, we declined for precisely this reason. It is not the findings of government committees that matter, but whether and how they can be used by the powers that be. The nature and constitution of this committee, as reflected in its report, lent themselves to precisely such manipulation. We can be sure that all the ambiguities and contradictions in this report will be exploited to the fullest extent, even as the positive points it raises will be quietly discarded except where they serve the establishment’s interests.

    The struggle in forest areas is today reaching a pitch where the Central government is on the back foot. Whether in Vedanta and POSCO, or in the hellholes of Operation Green Hunt, or in the anti-dam movements of the Northeast, we see people resisting a brutal machine that respects neither law nor life. The forest bureaucracy is one crucial cog in that machine. Let us not permit it to clothe itself in the language of rights and hide its true face.

    Note: The fiction of a “joint committee” does not require much attention. This “joint committee” includes six forest officers, one of whom is co-chair, as against one Tribal Ministry representative. Meanwhile, as the report itself describes, this “joint committee” was first notified by the Environment Ministry alone, which then roped in the Tribal Ministry after criticism. In August, the Tribal Minister chose to write to the Environment Minister to complain about the Committee’s functioning, not to the chair, showing who actually controls the Committee. Finally, the report itself declares that the Tribal Ministry member “hardly attended the meetings of the Committee, nor sent his representative.” The “joint committee” fiction was just the result of pressure from the Environment Ministry on an apathetic and weak Tribal Ministry, in order to escape the charge of exceeding its mandate.

    The Significance of the Vedanta Decision

    Campaign for Survival and Dignity

    The rejection of Vedanta’s application for permission to mine in Niyamgiri, Orissa, is being hailed as a step forward and a change in the country’s policy discourse. It is indeed all that; but it is crucial to understand why.

    The project’s main problem was that it violated the Forest Rights Act’s provisions requiring “recognition of habitat and community forest rights” and the consent of the gram sabha prior to taking forest land. This sounds like technical legalisms. But the basic point is that, under the law, the Dongria Kondhs have the power to protect and manage their forests and lands. Simple, but unprecedented; it has never happened before.

    Contrary to much of the media coverage, this is not a reflection of the Environment Ministry or the forest bureaucracy suddenly becoming “pro-tribal”. Even as Vedanta stands rejected, many other equally illegal projects are going ahead; most recently, the Polavaram dam, which will affect literally hundreds of times more people, was given final forest clearance in total violation of the Forest Rights Act. Polavaram will also affect members of the so-called “Primitive Tribal Groups”, who were the centrepiece of the Environment Minister’s statement on Vedanta. Meanwhile, more than 15,000 hectares of forest land have been illegally given in principle or final diversion clearance in MP and Chhattisgarh alone since 2006. Meanwhile, the Ministry is promoting programmes that themselves do not respect democratic control and involve large-scale land grabbing.

    So, then, why did it happen? Electoral compulsions of the Congress party, say some. Targeting of opposition-ruled States, howls the BJD. The Sonia touch, says the business media. All of which are truisms, but they miss the real point. Every ingredient of the Vedanta decision – the public sympathy; the Forest Rights Act itself; the govenment’s sudden sensitivity to adivasi issues; and, most importantly, the resistance of the Dongaria Kondh people – was a reflection of people’s struggles, in the area and elsewhere. Vedanta was not rejected because Rahul Gandhi or Jairam Ramesh decided on a strategy in their head. It was rejected because, steeped in betrayal, illegality and mercenary brutality, the state machinery and the ruling party was forced by its own need for people’s support to, just once, comply with the mandate of democracy and justice.

    And this is the real victory of this decision. On its own letterhead, in its own words, a Central government agency has come out and said: we should not take resources without the consent of the people. We should not grab lands and minerals without respecting people’s collective mandates. Of course they are continuing to do so, as rapaciously as before. But they have exposed themselves, and shown through their own words that they no longer have even the fig leaf of law to hide their robbery. And they have in the process opened a new space; for now their future robberies will be counterposed, in law as in reality, against the decisions of people’s assemblies, a small step towards a real democratic collectivity and real social control over resources. Thus does the battle for democracy grow.

    When the Forest Rights Act was passed, we described it as “a victory and a betrayal.” So too is the Vedanta decision – a victory for the heroic struggle of the Dongaria Kondhs and for the spirit of democracy; and a betrayal, because the government will not comply with its own words. The struggle goes on.