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India's urbanisation is no solution to poverty

COLIN TODHUNTER says the neoliberal model is betraying the country's poor

In 2008 India's finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram claimed that his government's policies were "pro-growth and pro-equity."

What's more, that the type of development being pursued in India was more or less correct and adverse effects were mainly due to lax application of laws and public officials dragging their feet over changes.

The minister also envisaged 85 per cent of India's population eventually living in well-planned cities with proper access to services.

Based on today's population size alone, that would mean 600 million moving to cities.

While some argue that unconstitutional land takeovers, unsustainable resource usage and air and water pollution all taking place under the guise of "growth" are adding to the misery and disenfranchisement of the poor, the minister argued that the poor there had been poor since the world dawned and that setting up a steel plant or mining the minerals there would help their situation by providing employment and ultimately helping the area to develop.

After 22 years of neoliberalism, how much weight do the arguments set out above hold?

The poverty reduction rate is around the same as it was back in 1991 and even in pre-independence India (0.8 per cent), while the ratio between the top and bottom 10 per cents of the population has doubled during this period.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this has made India one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies.

It is easy to fall prey to the belief that wholesale urbanisation is inevitable and should therefore be pushed through by what Vandana Shiva criticises as being the biggest forced removal of people from their lands in history, involving the biggest illegal land-grab since Columbus according to a 2009 report commissioned by the Rural Development Ministry and chaired by then minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

Furthermore, if anyone understands history, urbanisation was not "natural."

It involved social engineering and deliberate policies and the unforeseen outcomes of conflicts and struggles between serfs, lords, peasants, landowners, the emerging bourgeoisie and the state.

Marx details how the stealing and enclosing of land contributed to this process.

The outcomes of these struggles resulted in different routes to modernity and levels of urbanisation.

There is now a struggle taking place in India too.

Those who are resisting are often referred to as left-wing extremists who are exploiting the poor.

How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows, massive profits justified on the basis of "investment risk" and unaccountable cartels which aim to maximise profit by beating down labour costs and grabbing resources at the cheapest possible costs.

That's the extremism that is regarded as anything but by the mainstream media. 

The mainstream assumption is that the coal must be mined, the steel produced and the rivers exploited in the name of "development."

Any number of wealthy corporations have been handed over the rights to this process via secretive memoranda of understanding.

The full military backing of the state is on hand to forcibly evict peoples from their land - all for their own good and all to fuel a wholly unsustainable model of development that strips the environment bare and ultimately negatively impacts the climate and ecology.

Due to the restructuring of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness, over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997. And the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed only leads to bad food, bad soil, bad or no water, bad health and falling yields.

There are already 93 million urban slum-dwellers in India. With economic growth slowing, how many more will there be if the 85 per cent figure of people living in cities is to be achieved?

Western agribusiness has been given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional Indian agriculture and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image.

This is who is really setting the agenda to depopulate the rural areas.

And, if it can't be done by making it economically non-viable to continue farming as a result of world trade policies, "free" trade agreements and "structurally adjusting" traditional agricultural practices and economies to ultimately ensure petro-chemical farming - and thus oil and the US dollar - remains king, allow the militia into the tribal areas to displace hundreds of thousands and carry out various human rights abuses.

If anyone perceives that this "natural progress" is not based on acquiescing to foreign corporations, they should take a look at the current corporate-driven, undemocratic free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India. 

It all adds up to profiteering transnational corporations trying to bypass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public's rights. 

Industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets are being sold off. And how is this all justified?

By reference to GDP growth. A single, narrow definition of development.

A notion of development hijacked by economists and their secular theology which masquerades as economic "science" and liberalism.

 

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