Regulation and bureaucracy are marked words for many educated Indians. The incomplete analysis that is presented by our media for the most part1, seems to have convinced many Indians that the government has to be forced out of virtually every aspect of people’s lives. As I have mentioned before, the masses do not share this view, although they do bear the brunt of an onerous bureaucracy. Since the 90s the Indian state has embarked on an economic liberalization problem, that has indeed brought some much needed de-regulation and made some PSUs perform better. But the Indian state is now abandoning its most basic responsibilities in the name of de-regulation. Two recent instances are the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) ‘notification’ and revamping of GM food regulation in the country.
A democratic state must use its authority in accordance with the wishes of its people. The resources of the country are the responsibility, not the property of the state. But with the recent EIA notification2, promulgated and made into law by using a loophole in our legislative mechanism, the state is using force and trickery to effectively give ‘developers’ a free hand in exploiting the country’s resources. The people of a particular area must have first claim over the resources there. Under the previous environmental protection regime, the ‘developer’ needed to secure the approval of the local population and propose adequate safeguards to protect the ecosystem. However the new EIA notification completely does away with the safeguards, giving the project proponent a free hand with project guidelines and environmental safeguards. It reduces the involvement of the local people to almost nil, allowing the proponent to bypass the people’s approval.
Equally more disturbing, it further weakens an already weak compliance and monitoring setup. 4 regional teams of a handful people are supposed to monitor compliance for the hundreds of projects being approved every month all over the country. The officers are overworked and underpaid, perhaps deliberately !
A similar situation is developing for the regulation of GM food in the country. In India, where the cultivation density is very high, and a large percentage of the population depends directly on the land, ad-hoc and uncontrolled introduction of GM seeds can be catastrophic. No doubt, GM seeds may bring benefits, but they must be studied well before they are introduced on a large scale, and most importantly the farmers must give their consent before they are brought in.
We need to stop assuming that we ‘know whats best’ for the masses. Solutions are going to mostly from the masses themselves, they just have to be given the right opportunities and protection. We have to get rid of the infrastructure envy we seem to have developed3, and let people improve their own lives, instead of shoving development down their throats.
1: This is not to say that the Indian media is completely un-activist, but that it is much less so than it can be. In 2007, only 0.8 percent of the news stories were environment related, as opposed to 17 % for sports.
2: A notification is simply an addendum that can be added to existing legislation. It has to be debated in Parliament eventually, but becomes part of law as soon as it is added (without the debate).
3: I mean, yes, our infrastructure does need improvement, but come on do our airports have to be the best looking in the world ?