Modi and the Politics of Development

In his first 100 days…

1. Mechanisms of Public Deliberation Suppressed.

The Modi model of development is based on a deeply authoritarian vision that is focused almost exclusively on economic growth while excluding considerations of social inclusion, economic equality or environmental sustainability.  This exclusion manifests itself in Modi’s policies as a consistent hostility towards Democratic processes of informed consent and public deliberation.

The following changes, in various stages of implementation, have all been proposed since May 2014, and expose a clear and consistent pattern of attempts to diminish the public’s ability to participate in decisions about their own development, including by seeking recourse in the Judiciary:

2. Development agenda remains subservient to corporate interests.

The Modi election campaign made “development” its public relations centerpiece, promising to do for India what Modi supposedly accomplished for Gujarat. Yet, after coming to power the Modi government has announced a budget that places a higher priority on minimizing government, thereby aiming to reduce investment in public welfare. Given this proposal for further withdrawal of the state, it is clear that what the administration means by “development” more closely approximates what took place over a decade in Gujarat under Modi – strong state support for private corporate projects with little public oversight on environmental, social and economic impacts.  While it is too early to be able to measure the actual  social and environmental impacts of various development projects that have been greenlit in the last three months (or of the proposed changes to public consent mandates and exemptions to environmental regulations), we can nevertheless anticipate some of the effects of Modi’s neoliberal development model based upon his record in Gujarat.

We engage with this in some detail in the “Previously in Gujarat” section below. In order to gauge the present government’s approach to development, at least two important observations may be made. One, Modi announced his intention to dissolve the Planning Commission, once the centerpiece of India’s post-colonial development agenda. Despite undergoing a defacto shift towards neoliberal policies under previous UPA and NDA governments, the Planning Commission remained an institution that could still accommodate some popular demands for the redistribution of resources for social programs. By announcing his intention to dissolve the Commission, Modi is effectively denying the public access to one of the most important sites of decision-making regarding the allocation of public resources.  This intention also signals Modi’s narrow understanding of development, as a process primarily directed towards the goals of neoliberalism (privatization, liberalization and globalization), and only secondarily towards the social and economic needs of the vast majority of toiling Indians. Despite the fact that the recently announced budget retained UPA initiatives like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, or NREGA (albeit with funding trends that indicate a continued relative diminution of allocations), it is expected that the Modi government will come under intense pressure from its corporate supporters to drastically reduce spending on popular initiatives that benefit the poor. 

 3. Anti-people amendments to Land Acquisition laws proposed.

On June 27, 2014, barely a month after Modi was sworn into office, the Minister of Rural Development, Nitin Gadkari, proposed a full list of amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, or RFCLARR which was enacted in September, 2013 by the previous administration.

The 19 amendments proposed by the Modi administration, it is important to note, respond to critiques made by the corporate lobby when the law was first passed in 2013. In responding to such concerns, however, many safeguards for the affected communities that were built into the legislation are set to be diluted, deleted or replaced, as follows:

  • Currently, the law requires consent of 70 or 80 percent of the affected people depending on whether the acquisition was for public-private purpose, or solely for private purposes. This number has been brought down to 50 percent.
  • RFCLARR’s definition of an “affected family” recognizes that the livelihood of many people, such as agricultural laborers, tenants, sharecroppers, artisans, forest- dependent communities, fisherfolk, boatmen, etc. depend on land owned by others and on common lands.  Therefore, it allows for compensation to not just the land owners but to all folks whose livelihoods are lost. The changes proposed seek an amendment of this important aspect of the law on grounds of its “misuse”.
  • One of the key features of the RFCLRR legislation was the Social Impact Assessment or SIA process which allowed an assessment of the project’s impact on the ground. The amendments propose that since SIAs may delay land acquisition, they should therefore only be confined to either large projects or public private partnership (PPP) Projects.

Loss of land and/or access to water often amounts to loss of livelihood for many in rural India, and therefore land acquisition continues to be the subject of intense conflict.  The proposed changes stand to exacerbate these conflicts and increase displacement and impoverishment, all in the name of development.

Previously, in Gujarat…

1. Land Acquisition – criminalizing and repressing protests

Gujarat was the first state to pass the SIR (Special Investment Region) ACT in 2009. Analysts say this was done in anticipation of the passing of the land acquisition act at the federal level, and to preclude its mandates that land cannot be acquired unless 80% of the residents consent to the acquisition. Farmers, pastoralists and agricultural workers in Gujarat are opposing the state government’s attempts to acquire agricultural land for industrial use through formations such as JAAG (Jameen Adhikaar Andolan Gujarat = Land Rights Movement, Gujarat) and AVS (Azad Vikas Sangathan = Open Development Coalition). However, the groups are finding that their right to protest and their ability to communicate their opposition to the wider public and to the media are being curtailed by the government, as seen in the following examples:

  • JAAG had sought permission to hold a public meeting in August and October of 2013, and again in January 2014 but was denied all three times. Further, when leaders of JAAG asserted their right to protest, they were arrested for defying orders.
  • The state government gave land to Maruti Suzuki, an automaker, in village Hansalpur without consulting with the affected families. In October 2013, the villagers’ plan to organize a cattle rally to protest this deal was denied permission, and they were lathi-charged by the local police.
  • Even in instances where environmental regulations are apparently being observed, it is not guaranteed that the people are heard. For example, members of the public in attendance at the Environmental Public Hearing for the Dholera SIR, held in January 2014, raised several issues about the project but the government officials remained unresponsive. Further, the hearing was abruptly concluded by the officials hours ahead of the officially posted time of closing. Farmers have expressed unhappiness with the public hearing process and are challenging the constitutional validity of the SIR Act through the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a grassroots farmers’ organization.

2. Development for whom? The Gujarat “model” myth

Examining Modi’s record in Gujarat with regard to development is made challenging by the fact that it is embellished beyond recognition by public relations firms such as Washington, D.C.- based APCO-Worldwide that was hired with public money to sell Modi and Gujarat to the world, and because this record goes largely unquestioned by the Indian media, with a few notable exceptions. As of September 2013, Gujarat ranks 12th amongst all Indian states on the development Index according to data from India’s Finance Ministry.  i.e. Far from being a “model”, Gujarat is doing only a little better than the all-India average in many respects. Analyses by many eminent economists (Jean Dreze, Maitreesh Ghatak, Jayati Ghosh, Ashok Kotwal, Raghuram Rajan, Sanchari Roy, among others) have demonstrated that claims for Modi’s record in Gujarat are misleading in at least three ways.

  1.   First, the record exaggerates Gujarat’s development achievements.
  •    Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Contrary to the myth that Gujarat is a powerhouse attracting large FDI inflows, in 2012-13 its share in FDI was a meagre 2.38%, ranked 6th, compared to Maharashtra’s 39.4%. Analyses of economic data have shown that impact of the much-celebrated “Vibrant Gujarat” conferences is questionable, and that the fantastical sums of money that were promised in investments didn’t actually come through. Far from being the favorite destination for FDI in India, Gujarat, specifically, is way down below Maharashtra, New Delhi and Karnataka and has received less than 1/6th the FDI received by Maharashtra, and less than 1/3rd the FDI received by New Delhi.
  • Human Development Index: Gujarat has the lowest human development indices among states with comparable per capita income. The state has fallen from 6th position in mid-1990s to 9th position in the second half of 2000s. Even Orissa, which has high levels of poverty, performs better on Human Development Index than Gujarat. The dominant pattern, in data for indicators of poverty, nutrition, education, health or related indicators, is one of indifferent outcomes.
  • High levels of Hunger: Gujarat has the highest prevalence of hunger in states with comparable per capita income, and its implementation of NREGA is the worst among large states. Gujarat ranks alongside Orissa and Bihar in terms of its population’s high level of hunger with only Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh having higher hunger levels. The co-existence of high hunger levels along with high per-capita income suggests social and economic inequalities and large income disparities among the population.
  • Employment: Job growth in manufacturing and services turned negative between 2008-2013, and even prior to that was concentrated in the informal sector.
  • Claims of Prosperity: Gujarat is also not overall the richest state; Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra and Kerala are all much better off, primarily because they have lower rural poverty rates.
  • Social inclusion:  Poverty among urban Muslims in Gujarat is 800% more than that of caste Hindus; this is almost twice the national average. Urban Muslims in Gujarat are also 50% poorer than that of OBCs and SCs/STs in the state, which is again twice the national average. Further: Despite a large educational disparity between Muslims and caste Hindu population, Gujarat refuses to implement the Central government’s nationwide scholarship scheme which would allocate 53,000 scholarships to Muslim students. While a full examination of the travesty of the 2002 pogrom against Muslims is not possible in this space, it is worth noting that of the over 200,000 people that were displaced in 2002, over 16,000 people were still living in 83 refugee camps 10 years later.
  1.   Second, the record fails to note that many of the developmental achievements have little to do with Narendra Modi.
  • In 1991, a full 10 years before Modi became Chief Minister, as many as 17,940 out of 18,028 villages in Gujarat were already electrified.
  • The asphalting of 87.5% of Gujarat roads was also accomplished pre-Modi.
  • Between 1994-2001, well before Modi, Gujarat’s state domestic product grew at 10%-13%, way higher than the all-India average. These growth rates are based, in part, on Gujarat’s share in manufacturing at the national level which went from 16.29% in 1980-81 to an impressive 28.71% by 2000-2001, just prior to Modi became CM.
  • Further, well before Modi, Gujarat accounted for 45% of India’s petroleum products, roughly 18% of the country’s cargo handling, 23% of our total requirement for crude oil and 30% of our natural gas needs from offshore basins. i.e., Gujarat has been a poster child of growth before Modi.
  • Port traffic in Gujarat jumped from a mere 3.18 million tonnes in 1981 to 86.17 million tonnes in 2001. In the same period, Gujarat’s share of national port traffic increased from 45.36% to above 76% and has stayed there ever since. Modi’s decade has not made that percentage grow.
  1. Third, the model casually attributes these achievements to private enterprise and economic growth.
  • Public Indebtedness: The growth in Gujarat has come at large expense to the people of Gujarat. One of the best examples of the Modi administration’s largesse to corporates are the staggering subsidies offered to Tata for its Nano plant and other projects. Against an investment of 2900 crores, Tata received a loan of 9570 crores at 0.1% interest, to be paid back on a monthly basis after 20 years, in addition to land at much below market rates, with stamp duty, registration charges and electricity paid for by the state.  All the rules were bent to provide the Adani Group with a power supply contract costing the state of Gujarat in excess of Rs. 23,625 crores over 25 years, and other companies, including Reliance Industries and Essar Steel, were extended similar favours.  These tax breaks mean that the people of Gujarat will not be getting any of this money back in the near future. Not surprisingly, given these economic priorities, Gujarat’s debt has increased from Rs. 45,301 crores ((USD 7.475B) in 2002 to Rs. 1,38,978 crores (USD 22B) in 2013. In terms of per capita indebtedness, the situation is even more worrying, given the size of the state: each Gujarati carries a debt of Rs. 23,163 if the population is taken to be 60 million.

The Sardar Sarovar Dam provides one of the clearest illustrations of this pattern of broken promises and social and economic inequality. The project was scripted in the name of the poor, and made specific promises including providing drinking water to drought-prone rural areas of Gujarat such as Kutch, and irrigation for the farmers in the South of Gujarat. In reality, however, water has been diverted to various industrial projects in Special Investment Regions (SIRs) and projects in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, and about 400,000 hectares of farmland has been taken out of the command area of the Dam and diverted to Industrial uses. Narendra Modi’s neo-liberal vision of development where growth has been at the expense of basic human development will only exacerbate the disasters wrought by the neoliberal economics of the last two decades.

3. Accumulation by Dispossession – flouting laws to enrich corporations at the expense of the people

To examine the various land deals between industrial groups and the state of Gujarat in the last decade is to observe the neoliberal process of accumulation through dispossession as, for example, when small farmers subsisting on tiny parcels of land, pastoralists that depend on grazing lands, etc. are dispossessed of their land holdings, displaced from their homes,  restricted from accessing the commons, etc.  through the processes of privatization, commodification of public assets, state redistribution, etc.

  • Investigations by Forbes magazine have found that the Adani group has leased land from the Gujarat government for as little as one U.S. cent a square meter; in turn the Adani group has sublet this land to other companies, including state-owned Indian Oil Co., for as much as $11 a square meter. And in a textbook illustration of crony capitalism, it turns out that this land was also granted to the Adani group without competitive bidding.
  • Between 2005 and 2007, at least 1200 hectares of grazing land was taken away from villagers. Villagers in Adani’s SEZ say their grazing land was signed away by earlier village chiefs without their knowledge; this points to the fact that due process, involving public deliberation about the land acquisition in Gram Sabhas (village councils), was not followed. The villagers have filed multiple cases in the Gujarat High Court to contest the government’s actions, but several cases are still pending.
  • In another instance, the land given to Maruti Suzuki, an automaker, in village Hansalpur was land that belonged to various underprivileged communities, Maldharis, Dalits, etc. that were landless and had received the land in a grant from the government in 1954. The village wasteland, used by the community as grazing land was also given away to Maruti Suzuki which directly affected the ability of this cattle-rearing community to pursue their livelihoods.
  • Villagers from Zarapara, Gujarat, filed a case about a 1000 acres of their grazing lands being given away to the Adani SEZ. When the case reached the Supreme Court of India, Adani agreed to an out-of court settlement where it would offer villagers 400 acres of grazing land. The villagers say they haven’t received any land so far while Adani maintains that it has offered the land.

Following numerous complaints about the Adani port and SEZ in Mundra, the federal government created an investigative committee headed by environmentalist Sunita Narain in September 2012.   The committee found that the Adani SEZ had violated multiple green rules at different points of its project, destroying mangroves, filling creeks and causing land and water degradation by dumping fly ash. JAAG is demanding that the government should “declare a moratorium on sale of common property resources and pasture land”.

Read more…

1. Mechanisms of Public Deliberation Suppressed

  1. “Arvind Kejriwal Flays Narendra Modi, Says ‘Vikas Purush’ Gave Away Crores to Favoured Industrialists – Indian Express.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  2. “Government Planning to Clip National Green Tribunal’s Wings | Business Standard News.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  3. “Govt Eases Environment Rules to Attract Investments | Business Standard News.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  4. “Gujarat and the Illusion of Development: Shipra Nigam | Kafila.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  5. “India’s Environment Dealt a Double Blow by NDA Government | Down To Earth.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  6. “Modi: Hype vs Reality – Praful Bidwai.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  7. “Trending Modi | Frontline.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  8. “Centre forms National Board for Wildlife, flouts norms”.  Accessed September 17, 2014

2.  Development for whom? The Gujarat “model” myth

  1. “Gujarat Shining Story?” Accessed September 18, 2014 .
  2. “CAG Report Slams Gujarat Development Model – Corruption, Cronyism”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  3. “Gujarat Shining: Relative Development of Gujarat ad Socio-Religious Differentials”, US India Policy Institute, April 2012.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  4.  “High farmer suicides in Gujarat (5,000 in less than 10 years)”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  5. “The Gujarat Muddle”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  6.  “The Gujarat Middle”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  7.  “Vikas Purush is more Bakwas Purush”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  8. “Development in Vikas Purush Narendra Modi’s constituency at a sluggish pace”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  9. “Building euphoria but in Modi’s Gujarat the difference between development and darkness is all too visible to those who care to see”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  10. “Mirage of development”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  11. “India’s New Right”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  12. ” “We Have No Orders To Save You”: State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  13. “The National Health Survey Report”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  14. “Raghuram Rajan Committee report demolishes Modi’s claims of development in Gujarat”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  15. “Report of the Committee for evolving a composite development Index of the states”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  16. “Development work in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat done with central funds: Kapil Sibal”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  17. “Telling the wrong story”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  18. “Gujarat’s Internally Displaced: Ten Years Later”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  19. “Gujarat share in FDI  slips to 2.38%, 6th rank”. Accessed September 18, 2014.
  20. “The Gujarat Model of Development: What would it do to the Indian Economy?” Economic and Political Weekly  Vol – XLIX No. 11, March 15, 2014. Rohini Hensman
  21. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Which Is the Most Dynamic State of Them All?”.  Accessed September 17, 2014.
  22. “Modinomics: Do Narendra Modi’s economic claims add up”?  Accessed September 21, 2014.
  23. “Have workers in Gujarat benefited from “development”? “.  Accessed September 21, 2014.
  24. “Gujarat’s growth for growth’s sake.” Accessed September 21, 2014.

3.  Amending Land Acquisition laws to serve corporate interests

  1. “All Is Not Well with the Gujarat Land Acquisition Model – Business Today.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  2. “Dholera Special Investment Region Protests: 18 Arrested – The Times of India.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  3. “Doing Big Business In Modi’s Gujarat.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  4. “Farmers Unhappy with Public Hearing on Dholera SIR – Indian Express.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  5. “Government Seeks to Make It Easier to Acquire Land – The Indian Express.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  6. “Gujarat Farmers Protest against Land Acquisition for Maruti Plant – Business Line.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  7. “India Together: All Set to Lose out on the Gains?: Kanchi Kohli – 11 August 2014.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  8. “Industry Disappointed over New Land Bill | India’s First NewsPortal on Projects.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  9. “Nitin Gadkari Hints at Amendments to Land Acquisition Act – Livemint.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  10. “Preparing to Protest Land Acquisition for Maruti Suzuki, Maldharis of Mandal-Becharaji SIR Lathicharged.” Accessed September 17, 2014.
  11. “The ‘New’ Imperialism: Accumulation by Dispossession”.
  12.  “In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, farmers renew agitation against Maruti Suzuki land allotment”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  13. “Guj offers Rs. 9570 cr loan for Nano”.  Accessed September 18, 2014.
  14. “Vibrant Gujarat? Your coast is not clear, Mr Adani”.  Accessed September 21, 2014.