Pages

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Year of Government’s Contempt towards Parliament, CAG, Environment & Health


Press Statement

Year of Government’s Contempt towards Parliament, CAG, Environment & Health

Nuclear Liability Rules, UID Bill, Home Ministry’s Guidelines for NPR,
Companies Bill, LARR Bill, NFS Bill, BRAI Bill, MMDR Bill etc reveal
it

Journey from Paid News to Paid Legislation Underway

New Delhi: Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation headed
by P Karunakaran in its 84 page report dated December 16, 2011 reveals
that UPA government has lost the confidence of the Parliament. It has
shown that the government is repeatedly disregarding parliamentary
recommendations with impunity.

Parliament’s intent of Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 was
undermined through the notification of Civil Liability for Nuclear
Damage Rules, 2011, an act of subordinate legsilation ahead of Prime
Minister's meeting with US President on November 18 at Bali, Indonesia
by limiting the liability period from 80 years to 5 years for the
culprits of the nuclear accidents. There was such an unprecedented
hurry that the government did not have time to consider why countries
after countries are giving up nuclear energy option. It did not even
wait for the proposed Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill to be
passed and re-examine the views of at least 8 secretaries of
Government of India who have expressed reservations about nuclear
plants in their own way in their testimony to the Parliamentary
Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests.

On the same day, Dow Chemicals Company’s Union Carbide Corporation
(UCC) filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, but the same was not
disclosed until the return of the Prime Minister. The affidavit
stated, “The Union of India (UOI)’s Curative Petition seeks to
invalidate the final settlement of all claims arising out of the
Bhopal disaster, which was approved twice over by the Supreme Court of
India over two decades ago. The Petition is an affront to the rule of
law – completely unfounded, both legally and factually.” Unlike in
India, in the US Dow settled a case brought against its subsidiary UCC
by workers exposed to asbestos in the workplace in January 2002. The
case was filed before acquisition of Union Carbide by Dow. Carbide’s
new owner, Dow reached a settlement in the case. The company has set
aside $2.2 billion to address future liabilities. Globally companies
facing asbestos liabilities seem to be in the process of setting up
compensation fund-as an out of court settlement exercise- to escape
further civil and criminal liability for knowingly exposing workers,
their families and consumers domestically and the world over. How is
it that UCC is liable for deaths and diseases due to asbestos exposure
in the US but it is not so for deaths and diseases caused by UCC’s
Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance considering the
National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) Bill, 2010
presented its report to the Parliament on December 13, 2011. The
report rejecting biometric data based identification of Indians. The
report
severely indicted the hasty and `directionless' project which has been
"conceptualised with no clarity of purpose". The Standing Committee
found the biometric technology `uncertain' and 'untested'. There is no
data protection law in place and the one which is in pipeline seems
obsessed with Information Technology alone. The Standing Committee is
categorical that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) constituted
for the purpose of collating the two schemes namely, the UID and
National Population Register (NPR) supposedly under Citizenship Act,
1955 has failed. Biometric data collection by the government does not
have legal mandate. It held that Government’s role can only be
characterised by the Standing Committee as `unethical and violative of
Parliament's prerogatives'. This vindicated the demands of citizens
groups.

After Rajya Sabha rejected the Lok Pal Bill, UPA leadership seems to
have persuaded the Union Home Minister (who had given an impression
for public consumption that he is opposed to it) to allow UID/aadhaar
to progress after the Standing committee rubbished it. It is high time
Team Anna realized the adverse consequences of UID/aadhaar and NPR,
which is part of an engineered e-governance project with ulterior
motives. In a related development, on 21st December, Electronic
Delivery of Services Act, 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha “to
provide for electronic delivery of public services by the Government
to all persons toensure transparency, efficiency, accountability,
accessibility and reliability in delivery of such services and for
matters connected therewith or incidental thereto” by Kapil Sibal,
Minister of Human Resource Development. This Bill also merits rigorous
scrutiny along with several subordinate legislations under Information
Technology Act, 2000.

In the meantime, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2011 that was
introduced in the Rajya Sabha for inserting suitable provisions in the
Citizenship Act 1955 to remove certain lacunae that were noticed
during its implementation and review of provisions relating to
overseas citizen of India. It was introduced on 8th December and has
been referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for
examination and report. Written memoranda to it can be sent latest by
13th January, 2012.

Two contradictory things which happened in the Lok Sabha on December
14 reveal current government’s character. The Companies Bill, 2011 was
introduced by Dr Moodbidri Veerappa Moily in the afternoon that makes
provision for up to 7.5 % of annual profit of companies as corporate
funding of political parties and NGOs and 2 % of the annual profit for
Corporate Social Responsibility. Within hours of the introduction of
this Bill, Manish Tiwari, National Spokesperson of the ruling party
who stood up to speak about government's seriousness in dealing about
Black money. He stated, “I feel ashamed to state that black money
which is linked to our advertisement policy is related to electoral
finance that needs to be rectified”.

While the hollowness of Concept of Corporate Social Responsibility
(CSR) is well known, the same is being introduced in the Companies
Bill. Clause 135 of the Bill refers to Schedule VII of the Bill that
provides a list of "Activities which may be included by companies in
their Corporate Social Responsibility Policies"

These activities relate to:— (i) eradicating extreme hunger and
poverty; (ii) promotion of education; (iii) promoting gender equality
and empowering women; (iv) reducing child mortlity and improving
maternal health; (v) combating human immunodeficiency virus, acquired
immune deficiency syndrome, malaria and other diseases; (vi) ensuring
environmental sustainability; (vii) employment enhancing vocational
skills; (viii) social business projects; (ix) contribution to the
Prime Minister's National Relief Fund or any other fund set up by the
Central Government or the State Governments for socioeconomic
development and relief and funds for the welfare of the Scheduled
Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes, minorities and
women; and (x) such other matters as may be prescribed.
The activities that have been mentioned above are functions of the
state towards its citizens. This is a case of outsourcing functions of
the government to companies. It may have been better if instead of
letting companies do CSR activities if the same 2 % of their annual
profit is collected as tax to create a fund for undertaking state
funding of elections?

This illustrates the double speak, insincerity and inconsistency of
the ruling party. It is the Companies Bill which is needed to be
rectified to deal with black money and corporate funding for electoral
campaigns but this has not happened. The root of rampant corporate
crimes committed with impunity, environmental destruction, poisoning
of food chain and human rights violations by security forces has been
traced to corporate funding of political parties. In the aftermath of
industrial disasters, frauds and war crimes by companies world over,
this Bill merits rigorous scrutiny by all sections of legislatures and
society. The 397 page Bill gives greater role to shareholders
promoting shareholder democracy of sort instead of poor common man’s
democracy. It seems to be an engineered act of legislative corruption
that merits more consideration than Lokpal Bill before it is passed by
the Parliament.

This disregards the recommendations of all party Parliamentary
Committee on State Funding of Election headed by the former Union Home
Minister and veteran CPI leader, Indrajit Gupta who had submitted the
report to the Government on January 14, 1999 endorsing demand for
state support for elections. Prime Minister's National Relief Fund
itself can collect it as Government of India did so acting as parens
patriae (guardian of the nation) in the Bhopal disaster case but now
it appears to have accepted companies as its guardian.

The provision of corporate funding of political parties and NGOs in
the Companies Bill must be looked at in the backdrop of the decision
of Supreme Court of USA on January 21, 2010 and the Report of the
sub-committee of Press Council of India on Paid News. In the US the
decision in the Citizens United case has removed the limit on
electoral funding by companies. It was denounced by US President
Barack Obama for the sake of record in the way Paid News is denounced
in theory but is practiced in a routine manner. Payment to media
houses gives birth to Paid News and corporate funding to political
parties and NGOs creates Paid Legislations phenomenon that pose a
grave threat to genuine democracy.

As a result of tireless campaign and advocacy and questions in the
Parliament against the white asbestos industry, this year National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to concerned central
ministries, state governments and administration of Union Territories.
Earlier, Kerala Human Rights Commission banned its use in schools,
hospitals etc. Indira Awaas Yojana of Union Rural Development Ministry
continues to promote asbestos roofs despite the fact that as Union
Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh had adopted a Vision Statement on
Environment and Health that underlined the need for its phase out.
Following consistent engagement, so far Ministries of Labour,
Environment, Mines and Chemicals have acknowledged the hazardous
nature of white asbestos and need for prohibition but Ministries of
Commerce and Finance continues to support the trade and use of the
killer fibers of white asbestos with criminal disregard towards public
health of present and future generations.

This year NHRC member, Satyabrata Pal rightly underlined that the use
of carcinogenic asbestos has the capacity to invite health problems
but unmindful of this central government has slashed import duties of
asbestos to 70-80% to allow its use in low cost housing by the poor
despite its impending disease burden. In fact a zero tariff regime for
asbestos trade is under negotiations as part of free trade agreement
with Canada. This year Google India, a subsidiary of US-based Google
Inc moved the Supreme Court seeking quashing of a criminal complaint
filed against it for allegedly carrying defamatory material on its
website against an Andhra-based asbestos manufacturing firm. This year
saw a Singur like anti-asbestos struggle in Bihar which succeeded in
Muzaffarpur but the struggle is going on in Bhojpur, Vaishali,
Madubani and West Champaran due to state government’s disregard
towards public health.

Meanwhile, 27 workers died this year on Alang beach in Gujarat’s
hazardous ship breaking industry due to rising influence of hazardous
waste traders and shipping companies over the state and central
government. Some 200 dead and toxic ships currently stand dumped there
with impunity adversely affecting the fragile coastal environment,
villagers, fishermen and the workers. This year incessant diplomatic
efforts resulted in the world witnessing a turning point at the 10th
Conference of the Parties of the UN’s Basel Convention on the Control
of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, as
178 countries which are Parties to it agreed to allow an early entry
into force of law of the Basel Ban Amendment that prohibits all
exports of hazardous wastes, including electronic wastes and old
obsolete ships from rich to poor countries like India. The issue
regarding the submission of fake certificates by the ship
owners/agents remains unresolved.

This year it came to light from the Office Memorandum that Ministry of
Environment & Forests (MoEF)’s Standing Monitoring Committee on
Shipbreaking has suggested that since Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and
Customs were not able to verify the authenticity/genuineness of ship’s
registry/flag in the fast in respect of some ships referred to them,
this task in respect of each ship may be referred to the Directorate
General Shipping, Ministry of Shipping ought to undertake such
verification henceforth. The GMB officials informed MoEF that “the
suggestion of the committee is acceptable to them subject to such
verification by DG Shipping is done within a period of 2 working days.
If no information is received from the DG Shipping within 2 working
days, it will be presumed that the certificate submitted is authentic
and genuine.” Such callous approach that calls for presumption of
genuineness of fabricated documents disregarding consequences for
towards environmental and national security cannot be approved.

Towards the end of the year, it emerged that in spite of inexplicable
and hurried resignations of the Chairman and several members of the
Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes created
by October 14, 2003 order remains alive and government has filed its
unsatisfactory compliance report on SCMC’s recommendations based on
Court’s order that has endorsed UN’s Basel Convention.

As of now 33 of the 41 developed countries to which the hazardous
waste export ban applies have implemented it nationally. India has
ratified Basel Convention but is yet to ratify Ban Amendment instead
it appears to be mutilating this UN treaty by signing bilateral free
trade agreements with countries like USA, Japan and Europe and others
that facilitates free trade in hazardous waste which is akin to
adopting Lawrence Summers principle of transferring harm to developing
countries. Clearly, government is putting naked lust for profit ahead
of people’s health. If government is serious it should order a CBI
probe in hazardous waste trade and desist from allowing “transboundary
movement” of hazardous waste in myriad disguises. The 5th amendment to
the Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 2008 is under way. Such
amendment has been going on since 1989 under the influence of
international recyclers and above mentioned members of World Trade
Organisation.

Despite Supreme Court order against hazardous waste incinerator
technology, 3 Dioxins emitting projects based on it are under
construction in the national capital. Disregarding the failure of
carbon trade in addressing climate crisis, India 727 registered Clean
Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, which is around 21% of worldwide
registered projects that includes highly polluting incinerator
technology based waste to energy projects. National CDM Authority of
India has given host country approval to 35 such waste related
projects most of them are based on failed hazardous technology.

Instead of LED, CFLs are being promoted without concern for mercury
pollution. 245 Lakh CFLs have been distributed so far in various
states of India - Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi under Bachat
Lamp Yojana Programme. Consequently, myopic Durban agreement on
climate crisis is not positive because it continues to rely on carbon
offsets and carbon trade without realizing that these are fake
solutions and are exercises akin to fishing in the troubled waters.

Besides Parliamentary Standing Committee on Coal & Steel, Comptroller
Auditor General (CAG) of India disclosed illegal coal mining going on
across most of the coal mines in the country, so far the government
has failed to act. The 54 page report presented to the Parliament
observed, “The astronomical figure of illegal mining in various States
clearly shows that State Governments are insensitive and indifferent
towards the problem of illegal mining and failed to discharge their
constitutional responsibilities. The Committee are extremely unhappy
to note that though the business of illegal mining has been going on
for decades causing considerable loss of human lives and to the
environment and national exchequer, no proper documented evidence on
the actual loss to the economy and environment is available. This
clearly indicates lack of will and effort on part of the Government to
combat this problem which is considered to be a national security
threat. The Committee would like the Ministry of Coal to ask all the
coal companies to prepare a comprehensive document inter-alia the
details of human lives lost, environmental degradation and resultant
loss to the national economy due to illegal mining. The Committee
would like the Ministry to take corrective measures in overhauling the
vigilance, personnel and Legal Departments of the concerned coal
companies and necessary action may be taken against those officials
who have failed to discharge their designated duties. The Committee
would like to be apprised about the action taken in the matter. They
would also like the Ministry to take stringent preventive measures to
curb clandestine activities in all the affected coalfields and the
outcome reported to them within 3 months of the presentation of this
Report to Parliament.” Central Government has not complied with these
recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee. Illegal diamond mining
in Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh is going on due to incestuous
relationship between some ruling and opposition party leaders and
despite questions in Parliament and a PIL in the MP High Court. This
year it has been in the news following the murder of Shehla Masood.

On December 12, Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR)
Bill 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 12 to replace
the Act of 1957. Section 43 (7) to (11) of the 195 page Bill provides
for the manner in which the monetary and other benefits are to be
given to the mining affected families but it faces opposition from
industry associations like FICCI and CII which fund political parties
and NGOs either directly or through its members. The Bill proposes new
rules on profit-sharing to the tune of 26 per cent to go to
project-affected local communities. Union Mines Secretary S. Vijay
Kumar has revealed the reason saying it will definitely bring foreign
capital, particularly from exploration companies in droves. The Bill
new makes the grant of concessions much simpler and quicker. It makes
it more transparent. It also allows licenses to be freely traded. So a
late-stage exploration company can buy up a licensee who has spent
time acquiring the license. It will incentivise more venture capital
flow into the sector. If some people got overwhelmed by seemingly
pro-people measures, it merits examination in this backdrop. It is not
clear as to how 26 per cent of total profit will be calculated from
instance in coal mining because the real profit is not in mining but
in thermal power production, which essentially means profit will have
to be calculated from profit generated through power production. There
is an urgent need for a White Paper on state of mining, minerals,
mine, minerals wastes and abandoned mines to comprehend the extent of
plunder of natural resources and their real worth in the global
commodity market at present and in futures market in order to create
commensurate regulatory framework in supreme national interest.

It has come to light that in 2010, India shipped around 10 million
tonnes of iron ore to China, every month. Will Government of India
explain to the Parliament and to the people of India as to how it
served India’s interest? The question is will the new Bill stop such
plunder of natural resources from India?.

The other significant Bills that were introduced include the Land
Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2011 for a perfect
land market and National Food Security Bill, 2011 amidst decline by
around 8 lakh hectares of agricultural in the last five years due to
shift to non-agricultural purposes. As compared to 1,83,186 thousand
hectares during 2003-04, the agricultural land in the country has come
down to 1,82,385 thousand hectares during 2008-09. The Government
informed in a written reply to Lok Sabha on December 20. This has
happened because farm lands are being used for non-agricultural
purposes including buildings, roads and railways. These Bill will
continue to occupy the attention of citizens groups even in the new
year.

This year Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and Public Accounts
Committee that is examining the role of Andimuthu Raja as Union
Telecom Minister was approached and urged to probe Raja’s role as
Union Environment Minister from 23rd May 2004 to 17th May 2007 as well
to get the bottom of the truth of the scam that was revealed by CAG.
Coincidentally, T R Baalu’s tenure as a member of Union Cabinet as
Environment Minister from 13th October 1999 to 21st December 2003 also
falls under the time period which the JPC is examining, this also
merits consideration. Given the fact that the while being the Chairman
of the JPC, he also a Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Science & Technology, Environment & Forests, it is hoped that it would
it would factor in the inter-relatedness of the ministries to
establish the chain of events.

This year Supreme Court heard the Networking of Rivers Case (Writ
Petition Civil 512 of 2002) on October 17 which entails diversion of
rivers for linking them in both Himalayan and peninsular India and
Aral Sea like ecological disaster and the three-judge bench of Chief
Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter
Kumar adopted precautionary approach by seeking to know its financial
viability and possible displacement due to land acquisition for the
mega project. Earlier, Supreme Court had suggested that this project
should be completed by the year 2016. Since then Union Ministry of
Environment & Forests has opposed the project and Kerela, Punjab and
West Bengal have rejected this project. The new aggregated cost of the
project for diverting rivers for interlinking is Rs 1, 15, 668.20
crore or 20.7 per cent lower than the earlier aggregate cost estimate
of Rs 5,60,000 crore at 2002-03 prices. The court posted the matter
for further hearing in January 2012.

The year saw the proposal for Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of
India (BRAI) Bill that is meant to address existing deficiencies in
the system of approval of genetically modified (GM) crops turns out to
be unconstitutional, unethical, unscientific, self-contradictory, and
not contrary to public interest. This will adversely affect
agriculture, health of humans and animals, and the environment,
causing unparalleled harm. There was no democratic consultation with
people. No one knows a 18 page draft Bill that has been in circulation
since 2008 emerged as a 68 page Bill in violation of the letter and
spirit of UN's Convention on Biological Diversity and Cartegena
Protocol on Bio-Safety and India's The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
The Bill appears to be making BRAI exempt from the provisions of Right
to Information Act.

In these abnormal times wherein attempts are underway to turn citizens
into subjects sans guaranteed constitutional rights and their
relationship with natural resources, these developments merit
attention in the year ahead.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb:
9818089660, E-mail: krishna1715@gmail.com Web:
toxicswatch.blogpsot.com