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 legilsation 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: email@example.com Web: toxicswatch.blogpsot.com