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Indian capitalism: Supreme Court directs Tata Company to return agricultural land to people

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On September 02, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a much awaited judgment on the Singur land acquisition case. Calling the then Left led state government’s acquisition of 900 acres of land for Tata’s Nano plant a “colorable exercise of power and a fraud on the people”, the judges have ordered that all the land be returned to the owners within 12 weeks.

Here is a comprehensive timeline of events beginning from Ratan Tata’s announcement of the small car project in May 2006 followed by protests and resistance by farmers who alleged forcible acquisition in December of the same year when Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee went on an indefinite hunger strike in support of their struggle.

It has been a decade since images of the violence in Singur, and later Nandigram, haunted us but for many of those affected, most of them small farmers and agricultural workers, the verdict is a victory.

The judgment has been scathing in its vindication of the CPM led Left government pointing to lapses in several procedures that ought to have been undertaken as per the Land Acquisition Act.

Judgment

This report in quotes the relevant part of the judgment – State government is required to apply mind to the report of the collector and take the final decision on the objections filed by the landowners and other interested persons. Then and then only, a declaration can be made under Section 6(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A. Act).

In this case there seems to be no application of mind either at the stage of issuance of the notification under Section 4 of the L.A. Act, or the report of collector under Section 5-A (2) of the L.A. Act or the issuance of the final notification under Section 6 of the L.A. Act. While Section 4 of the Act required a notice to be published in the gazette that land is to be acquired, Section 5-A (2) allows those interested in the land to give objections in writing to the collector and requires the government to take note of the same.

Quoting from the petitions of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and others who opposed the land acquisition, this report in the First Post says elaborates on the contentions of the farmers and those who lost their lands – Acquisition of the Singur land for public purpose and then handing it over to Tata Motors for its Nano project was illegal and in breach of land acquisition law. The association had told the court that there was a separate procedure under the land acquisition law for acquiring land for a project of a private company, and that the land acquired by the government for public purposes could be given to a private company only for constructing dwelling units of the workers employed with it and no other purpose.

However, this report by Krishnadas Rajagopal points out that the two judges differed on whether the land acquired could qualify as public purpose. While Justice Gowda felt that the acquisition “For and at the instance of the company was sought to be disguised as acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ in order to circumvent compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Land Acquisition Act’, Justice Mishra differed.

Small car industry would have “ultimately benefited” the people and the very purpose of industrialization. The factory would have opened up job opportunities in the State and attracted investment. Regarding procedural issues too, the bench was divided. While Justice Gowda said that individual notices ought to have been issued, Justice Mishra felt that a common gazette notification sufficed.

Despite these differences, the judgment has sent out a strong message about (communist scheme) development at the cost of the poor – In this day and age of fast paced development, it is completely understandable for the state government to want to acquire lands to set up industrial units.

What, however, cannot be lost sight of is the fact that when the brunt of this ‘development’ is borne by the weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural laborers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government.

Rise of Mamata Banerjee

For too long the Congress party that had lost power to communists decades ago tried to wrestle it back but failed. Now a former Congress leader and central minister Mamata Banerjee with her own Congress faction called Trinamool Party has come p to power replacing a formidable Left dispensation as Bengalese rejected Communist opportunism and betrayal. In a way, the foolish communist leaders in the state promoted him imminent arrival of Mamata Banerjee as a historic phenomenon. .

Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s ascent to power in the state, after ousting the Left, had much to do with the struggle in Singur. Banerjee relentlessly protested the “communist” acquisition of the land while firmly asserting that her party was not anti-industry and the 400 acres of land belonging to the ‘unwilling farmers’ should be returned to them. Her “Save Farmland” movement was supported by various environmental activists and intellectuals.

The ruling Trinamool Congress is celebrating and understandably so, because the court has also ruled that the farmers who have received compensation need not return it as they have been deprived of their livelihood for the last decade. In fact, soon after the TMC came to power, Singur Land and Rehabilitation Bill was enacted.

A case testing the constitutional validity of this law, while still pending before the Supreme Court is likely to become “fructuous” given the present judgment. The Tatas, who shifted shop to Gujarat in 2008, cited this reason to remain mute on the subject.

Deception and lose of brains

There is a possibility that Tata Motors could sue the state government for breach of contract. The company issued a statement to that effect. “Political parties may change but the government is a continuity. The company willingly gambled and took lease of the illegal land in good faith. But it now is clear that they were given a bad land title. The company may seek compensation on that ground that the company had valued its loss at Rs.1400 crores (their petition to the Calcutta High Court in 2011).

India Inc however has been more cautious in their reactions. The Singur verdict will not impact the potential of the State in attracting investment. This is, of course, the official statement. Privately, a prominent industrialist pointed out that the Tata Nano episode already served a major blow to the investment potential and there is nothing more to lose.

The relocation took place at a time when Bengal was in the spotlight of investors in India and abroad, seeking investments in the state with lucrative promises to willing investors. . . It also pressed the pause button on Bengal’s dream to emerge as an auto hub. The same article also asserts that the biggest loser, politically, is the CPM. CPI (M)’s vote and seat share is declining at an alarming rate since the 2009 general election.

Efforts to revive the industrialization agenda in the 2016 Assembly election failed miserably. What’s more, post-election they are losing elected representatives to Trinamool.

The CPI(M)’s reaction to the verdict is simple as it is not opposed to the decision of returning land to farmers but had contested her (Mamata’s) 2011 move on some technical loopholes. “Today’s verdict has not answered questions on the legality of the Singur legislation her government had brought, which is what we were opposed to.”

The BJP which lost its chances once for all in the state with Mamata’s arrival, was quick to point out the Left’s double speak. Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP leader in the state, has been quoted saying – The Left opposed our central government’s land acquisition Bill. It said land should be acquired only for public purpose, but in Singur its government had acquired it for a private purpose to promote Tata Company. So, the Left must explain”.

JD United leader Shyam Rajak said that the judgment sends a strong message to the Centre which has been enacting anti people policies. “We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court. This was a fight for the rights of the poor. This decision will ensure that the farmers retain their livelihood. I hope the verdict will send out a positive signal. There are lots of cases – be it Narmada Andolan, or be it about Tehri dam issue which has been fighting for the cause of the poor. The SC should also review these cases as well”.

Not only the left parties but also the Congress and BJP that get plenty of lose findings form corporate lords are worried that their multinational corporate beneficiaries are not happy.

Honoring concerns of common folk

Ever since independence in 1947, Indian rulers, Congress, BJP, others have been relentlessly pampering corporate lords and rich classes to get bribes from them. This has badly affected the fortunes of common people, Muslims suffering the worst. .

Left government West Bengal just took people for granted and launched grand capitalist agenda by looting the agricultural lands for the purposes of increasing surplus values of corporate lords against basics communist pimples. That cost very dearly for the communist parties in the state as they lost the general polls, both parliament and state assembly- to a new Trinamool party of dynamic Mamata Banerjee.

People of India, through the people of Singur have won a great battle against illegal transaction over farmers’ lands and subsequent forceful occupation and exposed communist movement in the country as a false and pretentious one to exploit the weak sections of the nation in their favor.

Supreme Court order, a huge though belated victory and vindication for the courageous peasants of Singur against corporate land grab, should serve as final warning to leftist parties in India to pursue only people’s concerns and not to help promote capitalist agenda primarily because left parties are supposed to be anti-capitalism and fight for the common people and their genuine requirements. They should if required read Marx who wrote in volumes about surplus values.

Nano judgment against government’s immoral dead with capitalists is yet another feather in the Apex Court’s jurisprudence and will go a long in strengthening the power of common people in Indian political arrangement.

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Economy

Business disorder between Europe and U.S.

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The European Union remains cautious in the economic battle with the White House. U.S. President Donald Trump continues to pursue his protectionist policies in international trade system. This has led to raising concerns and serious discontent among the United States’ European partners.

Disputes between the United States and other countries around the world are continuing on trade and economic issues. The fact is that U.S. President Donald Trump intends to exacerbate tensions until the presidential elections of 2020. Many international experts and analysts believe that a major part of the economic approach to the world of Trump has an electoral and political goal.

Many international analysts now talk about the conflicts between the United States and Europe over imposing sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs as a transatlantic “trade war”.

Conflicts that may extend in the near future and affect the widespread relations between Washington and Europe.

On the other hand, the authorities of Germany, Britain and France have not taken a proper approach to the policies of the President of the United States.Though politicians such as Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May seek to manage the situation and prevent the exacerbation of tensions with Washington, but people, business owners and European opposition parties are so angry at Trump and the U.S. government that the European troika’s authorities aren’t capable to control or even hide it.

One of the most important reasons for the continuation of Trump’s economic policies in the world is the passivity of European leaders against the White House. Under such circumstances, Europe has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. if Trump imposes steel and aluminum tariffs on European exports.

After Trump made his first announcement on the tariffs, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker threatened to put tariffs on American goods in response to Trump’s decision. That could decrease demand for those products inside EU borders and consequently lead to U.S. workers losing their jobs. But practically, European countries did not do anything about this.

Although some European citizens thought that the Chancellor of Germany would have a more determined approach than other European politicians, this was also a mistake!The German Chancellor stated that European Union member states must give the EU trade commissioner a clear mandate for negotiations with the United States over a long-term exemption from U.S. metal tariffs. Markel added: “Of course, we think it’s important that there are exemptions not only for a limited period of time … So far, we have had a very united stance, namely that we view these tariff demands as unjustified and that we want a long-term exemption.”

The fact is that Merkel’s implicit threat, which she didn’t address directly and explicitly because of her conservative policy towards the United States, is the same as the “European countermeasures” against the United States.

For months now, there have been months of anti-European measures taken by the White House and customs duties on European aluminum and steel. However, European countries have preferred to keep Silent instead of confronting Washington!
Indeed, the prolonged U.S.-EU talks on steel and aluminum tariffs is going to increase the dissatisfaction and anger among the European public opinion. It will also affect the performance of American companies in Europe.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Economy

Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund can provide Influence and Income to all

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In the face of growing wealth inequality worldwide, more and more people are discussing alternatives to the current laissez-faire capitalism status quo.  Tamara Belinfanti, Sergio Gramitto and the late Lynn Stout offer up their own solution in Citizen Capitalism: How a universal fund can provide influence and income to all.

Our authors have devised up a concept they call the Universal Fund.  It’s like a sovereign wealth fund, but is privately created and funded via private ordering. That means that the Universal Fund is to be created from donations of stocks by companies and philanthropists.  The government would hence be uninvolved; the Universal Fund is not a socialist venture.  Rather, it is in part modeled on the structure of NGOs like the Sierra Club and the Red Cross. The Fund would provide an annual dividend to every citizen, with no maximum income cap.  Though it may seem absurd to send welfare payments to the wealthy, it’s politically savvy framing.  A free public college bill was passed in ultraconservative Tennessee thanks to having no maximum income cap; conservative detractors weren’t able to use the “class warfare” and “welfare queen” arguments. It should be noted that charitable tax deductions, estate tax reductions and lowered tax brackets would act as a de facto government incentive for the wealthy to donate to the Universal Fund.

The goals of the Universal Fund would be to decrease wealth inequality, encourage long-term investment and increase civic engagement in corporate culture.  On the last point, the authors remind us that, “The top 10% [of wealthiest Americans] hold more than 90% of all shares.”  Even in regards to the other 10% of shares owned, most of them are passively owned.  Most small-time investors don’t have time to vote in the annual general meetings of every company in which they are invested in.  Thus, boardroom votes are dominated by two shareholder proxy advisory firms and individual investors who own a substantial percentage of shares, as well as fund portfolio & hedge fund managers.

These Wall Street elites naturally tend to vote based upon their elitist interests.  Thus, they usually make decisions that are insane in terms of employee welfare, long-term corporate growth, executive pay and the environment. For example, `the authors remind us of the recent case of Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who acquired Turing Pharmaceuticals and then raised AIDS medication prices from $13.50 to $750. This is the embodiment of the Reagan-era Golden Rule of maximizing shareholder value.  Not only is this Gordon Gekko truism objectively crazy, it’s actually legally unfounded.  Contrary to what you hear on CNBC or Fox Business, there’s no legal requirement that companies only focus on maximizing shareholder value.  The book relates the following quote from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito comments in the recent case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby:“Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so.”

CITIZEN CAPITALISM points to the ongoing successes of the sovereign wealth funds of Norway and Alaska, an ultraliberal and an ultraconservative society, respectively.  The Alaskan fund generally provides each citizen with a dividend payment of a few thousand dollars each year, via the state’s oil revenues.  The Government Pension Fund Norway is a more pertinent example, since it’s funded through a $1T stock portfolio.  Norway is not only able to fund its citizens’ pensions through the Fund, but also exert a moral influence on the market.  The Fund boycotts various egregious companies, like cigarette manufacturers, and will sell its shares in a company that gets exposed for abusive practices, like say employing child labor.  Our authors likewise want the Universal Fund to use a carrot-and-stick approach in regards to corporate ethics.

The thesis of CITIZEN CAPITALISM is, as the title suggests, rooted in optimism for capitalism.  Though they write about the success of socialist program in Alaska specifically, a conservative state in the US, the authors are convinced that a sovereign wealth fund bill could never be passed in Congress.  Recent polls and election results, however, show that Americans are starting to overwhelmingly favor ambitious government-program proposals like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.  As I wrote before, the Universal Fund would mostly be feasible due to tax incentives; these government incentives would likely need to be greatly expanded in order to encourage enough stock donations to build the Fund to a substantial size.  Even America’s greatest philanthropists still stockpile billions of dollars in their offshore bank accounts.  Thus, one shouldn’t expect the Universal Fund or other private UBI schemes to become a replacement for state management of wealth inequality through programs like public school funding and marginal taxation.  Nonetheless, CITIZEN CAPITALISM is a stimulating little primer for rethinking the relationship between Wall St and Main St, managing the looming crises of a rapidly aging workforce and automation, plus the balancing of private and public sectors in regards to solving societal problems.

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Working for a brighter future

Cyril Ramaphosa

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Authors: Cyril Ramaphosa and Stefan Löfven*

We stand at a crossroads as seismic shifts take place in the world of work.

Technological advances are changing the nature of many jobs, and leading to the need for new skills. The urgently required greening of economies to meet the challenge of climate change should bring further employment possibilities. Expanding youth populations in some parts of the world, ageing populations in others, may affect labour markets and social security systems.

On one path, countless opportunities lie ahead, not only to create jobs but also to improve the quality of our working lives. This requires that we reinvigorate the social contract that gives all partners a fair stake in the global economy.

On the other path, if we fail to prepare adequately for the coming challenges, we could be heading into a world that widens inequalities and leads to greater uncertainty.

The issues are complex. As co-chairs of the Global Commission on the Future of Work  we, and our fellow members of the Commission – leading figures from business and labour, think tanks, government and non-governmental organizations – have been examining the choices we need to make if we are to meet the challenges resulting from these transformations in the world of work and achieve social justice.

We call for a new, human-centred approach that allows everyone to thrive in a carbon neutral, digital age and affords them dignity, security, and equal opportunity. It must also meet the changing needs and challenges facing businesses and secure sustainable economic growth.

The opportunities are there to improve working lives, expand choice, close the gender gap and reverse the damage that has been wreaked by global inequality.

But it will need committed action on the part of governments and social partners to turn those opportunities into reality.

So how do we achieve this? Three areas of increased investment are needed:

First, we have to invest more in people’s capabilities: This means establishing an effective lifelong learning system that enables people to skill, reskill and upskill – a system that spans early childhood and basic education through to adult learning. It also means investing in the institutions that will support people as they go through transitions in their working lives – from school leavers to older workers. Making gender equality a reality and providing social protection from birth to old age are also critical. These social investments will not only increase productivity. They will also allow for a more inclusive growth, where informal workers and business can both benefit from and contribute to a sound formal economy.

Second, we must invest more in the institutions of work – including the establishment and implementation of a Universal Labour Guarantee. This will ensure that all workers enjoy fundamental rights, an “adequate living wage”, limits on their hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces. Linked to this, people need to have more control over their working time – while meeting the needs of enterprises – so that they can fulfill the full range of their responsibilities and develop their capabilities.

Collective representation through social dialogue between workers and employers needs to be actively promoted. Workers in the informal economy have often improved their working conditions by organizing. Unions need to expand membership to informal workers, whether they work in the rural economy, on the city streets of an emerging economy or on a digital platform. This is a critical step towards formalization and a tool for inclusion.

We’re also calling for governance systems for digital labour platforms that will require these platforms and their clients to respect certain minimum standards.

Finally, we need to invest more in decent and sustainable work. This includes incentives to promote investments in key areas, such as the care economy, the green economy, and the rural economy, as well as high-quality physical and digital infrastructure. We must also reshape private sector incentive structures to encourage a long-term, human-centred approach to business. That includes fair tax policies and improved corporate accounting standards. We need to explore new measures of country progress to track important aspects of economic and social advancement.

Beyond these critical investments, there is a further opportunity: to place discussions about the future of work at the heart of the economic and social debates taking place at the high table of international policy-making. This could revitalize the multilateral system at a time when many are questioning its legitimacy and effectiveness.

Yet none of this will happen by itself. If change is the opportunity, we must seize the moment to renew the social contract and create a brighter future by delivering economic security, equal opportunity and social justice – and ultimately reinforce the fabric of our societies.

Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, co-chairs of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work

ILO

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