Watchdog or a lapdog?

Just as it went after Team Anna for daring to question the government on its will to fight corruption vis-à-vis the Lokpal Bill, a good section of the English media is now cross with the apex court for daring to blame the “neoliberal” economic policies of the government for two problems that it dealt with recently — Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh and black money.

By Prasanna Mohanty (Issues)

Published: Sat 16 Jul 2011, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:49 AM

It seems as if the government has become a new holy cow; as if the media is no more a watchdog of democracy but a lapdog of the government, at least for these English dailies. One daily wondered aloud “whether Justice Arundhati Roy was also a member of the bench” and another said “never-ending lectures” on the post-reform neoliberal economy had the “intellectual depth of a JNU postgrad”.

The offending portions of the orders had traced the root cause of the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh to “the culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neoliberal economic ideology” and blamed generation of black money on a “greed-is-good” culture promoted by the “neoliberal ideologues”. It helps to know that both the orders came from the same bench – of justices B Sudershan Reddy and Surinder Singh Nijjar.

In the process, Arundhati Roy too had to be denounced. When the attack on Team Anna was at its peak in April, she wrote that the era of “liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation” had led to a situation where “our rivers, mountains, forests, minerals, water supply, electricity and communication system have been sold to private corporations” and corruption had “grown exponentially”.

What Roy said or what the judges said was not without a solid basis. The Maoists may have their own political agenda and the seeds of which may have been planted much before the liberalisation era began, but if they accquired a deadly edge in the recent years it was only because the tribals decided to join their war. What was it that made the tribals wage a war on the side of the Maoists against their own government? The straight and simple answer is: denial of their rights and handing over their home, the forests bearing rich mineral resources, to the private sector.

As Roy pointed out, several states witnessing the Maoist insurgency now signed hundreds of secret MoUs gifting away forests and mines bearing iron ore, coal and bauxite. Chhattisgarh alone signed more than 100 of such MoUs. In the process, thousands of tribals lost their home, with little or no compensation. Many more thousands face such a prospect. In Dantewada, several villages were handed over to Essar Steel and Tata Steel a few years ago to set up steel plants without the consent of the tribals as mandated by the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996. Any wonder the district turned into a deadly battlefield?

The same law also provides “ownership” of the forest produce to the tribals but the tribals still get a paltry sum as “wage” for collecting tendu leaves even though the trade is controlled by the state. The Salwa Judum and its fallout, which was the subject the apex court was dealing with while “lecturing” on neoliberal policies, began in 2004 in Bijapur over a fight over better wages for these leaves.

Since then, Chhattisgarh has zealously followed the World Bank dictated neoliberal policies. The river Sheonath has been handed over to a private company, denying tribals access to its water or fish. Several thermal power companies have been handed over coal bearing forest land, the latest being those coming under the “no-go” area of Hasdeo-Arand bio-diversity zone. Recently, a minister’s son, a tribal himself, was found buying tribal lands on behalf of a private company to overcome legal restrictions on sale of tribal lands to non-tribals.

But you will not find these stories in the English dailies which have taken the cudgel on behalf of the government, defending all its follies with a degree of conviction and vigour not seen in recent memory.

Prasanna Mohanty is deputy editor of Governance Now

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