Man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources will be the tough­est job for the new govern­ment

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD -

Its sym­bolic value can­not be un­der­stated. A new govern­ment will take over in June, the month the mon­soon en­ters In­dian ter­ri­tory. Though In­dian econ­omy is get­ting delinked from the mon­soon, its im­pacts are still sig­nif­i­cant. As it is emerg­ing, there is a high prob­a­bil­ity of the El Nino im­pact­ing the mon­soon, which will re­sult in er­ratic rains. This is go­ing to be the first big chal­lenge for the new govern­ment be­cause the prom­i­nent elec­toral is­sues of food in­fla­tion and re­cov­ery of the econ­omy are crit­i­cally linked to the mon­soon. It is safe to say that the new govern­ment’s test will start with a nat­u­ral re­source-re­lated event.

This is not to overem­pha­sise the im­por­tance of nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment in judg­ing a govern­ment. Rather, this is to high­light the fact that we of­ten ig­nore the im­por­tance of en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues amid high- deci­bel po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. In the end, most im­por­tant is­sues from people’s per­spec­tive get buried in ir­rel­e­vant po­lit­i­cal de­bates.

Down To Earth has been track­ing how en­vi­ron­men­tal and devel­op­men­tal is­sues have been fea­tur­ing in the na­tional po­lit­i­cal dis­course. It comes out clearly that there is a dis­con­nect be­tween the dom­i­nant cam­paigns of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and what people want. But at the same time, af­ter a bit of anal­y­sis of is­sues from both sides, it be­comes clear they are deal­ing with the same is­sues. So the ques­tion arises: is the cur­rent elec­tion all about en­vi­ron­ment and de­vel­op­ment?

Yes. The much ma­ligned sec­ond stint of the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance ( UPA) is an ex­am­ple. If it is voted out of power, we can ar­gue that poor man­age­ment of nat­u­ral re­sources squarely con­trib­uted to this. Even though the elec­tion cam­paigns took al­to­gether dif­fer­ent hues. Whether it is high food in­fla­tion, slow eco­nomic growth or a se­ries of scan­dals, po­lit­i­cal par­ties ended up with over­sim­pli­fied you- v- us po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments. As a re­sult, there has been no se­ri­ous prob­ing on the is­sues that would sug­gest bad nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment is the main cul­prit.

What are the key con­tro­ver­sies that marred UPA- II? Just to name a few: the 2G scam, coal al­lo­ca­tion and gas pric­ing scan­dals. All of them are a re­sult of non-trans­par­ent ways of man­ag­ing nat­u­ral re­sources. The scan­dals hap­pened over who will re­ceive the scarce re­sources and how. Now, look at the ac­cu­sa­tion of eco­nomic slow­down dur­ing the UPA’s 10- year stint. As the scan­dals broke out and favouritism over re­source al­lo­ca­tion came out, a pan­icked govern­ment was caught with­out al­ter­na­tives.

This hap­pened be­cause there has been no in­no­va­tive think­ing over nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment. Add to this the prob­lem of large- scale land ac­qui­si­tion for var­i­ous de­vel­op­ment projects. Protests picked up across the coun­try over il­log­i­cal land ac­qui­si­tion us­ing du­bi­ous clauses of a morethan- a- century- old land ac­qui­si­tion law. The last five years saw de­bates over these is­sues like never be­fore. There have been his­toric Supreme Court or­ders on nat­u­ral re­source al­lo­ca­tion and man­age­ment in the con­text of the above scan­dals. Such was the pres­sure on the govern­ment that for the first time a com­mit­tee, headed by for­mer bu­reau­crat Ashok Chawla, was set up to ex­am­ine al­lo­ca­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. The or­ders of the apex court and the Chawla com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tions fairly saw the prob­lem as ba­sic de­bate over the prin­ci­ple of shar­ing nat­u­ral re­sources. But the po­lit­i­cal de­bates de­picted them as scan­dals and shied away from any se­ri­ous think­ing over the chal­lenge of nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment in the coun­try.

In­ter­est­ingly, UPA- II also faced sim­i­lar chal­lenges in its other pro­grammes. In 2009, when UPA was re-elected to power be­cause of so­cial safety pro­grammes like the na­tional ru­ral em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee law and the For­est Rights Act ( FRA), there was a gen­eral po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus over such pro­grammes. An em­bold­ened UPA- II con­tin­ued with its rights-based gov­er­nance by en­act­ing laws like the right to food se­cu­rity. But in a short pe­riod, the govern­ment’s wel­fare pro­grammes turned into sim­ple doles that hin­dered eco­nomic growth. FRA be­came the sin­gle most im­por­tant rea­son for lack of in­dus­trial in­vest­ment. Again, the po­lit­i­cal class did not ar­tic­u­late this as an is­sue of nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment. The re­sult: the busi­ness as usual growth ver­sus en­vi­ron­ment de­bate be­came just a po­lit­i­cal tool with the for­mer get­ting prece­dence.

Notwith­stand­ing the elec­tion re­sults, the new govern­ment will face the chal­lenge of nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment. The con­tro­ver­sies UPA- II faced will con­tinue to haunt the new govern­ment. This is an op­por­tu­nity to get clar­ity on the chal­lenge In­dia is fac­ing and will be fac­ing more in­tensely: how to man­age the nat­u­ral re­sources.


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