Not just Development

A report in the Financial Express ( recently stated that foreign aided NGOs are actively stalling development in India. The reports states exactly what I feared would happen when the ‘development agenda’ is pushed on the people of India. Any critique, any resistance to the development plan laid by a handful of people in power and their nexus with the capitalists of the world will be considered anti-development and on a more sinister level anti-nationalist.


Before I proceed, this is not an anti-Modi write up. This branding of resistance to so called large scale ‘development projects’ that devour land and livelihood of millions of poor people is also not new. This ploy of demolishing resistance, putting oppressive laws in place to do so, using military might is a worldwide phenomenon that we have witnessed rapidly increasing in the past two centuries of neo-liberal ‘development’ imperialism. During the UPA term too protesters in Koodnakulam were shot at, beaten up and arrested.Many NGOs came under the scanner of the central government and IB visits to NGOs supporting the people were common. Similarly all anti-dam, anti-mining, anti-land grabbing protests in all parts of India have seen brutal use of state forces.


No matter how much they harp about development and growth, this is bad news for people. You may believe that nuclear power, coal plants, palm oil, dams and river linking projects will bring in prosperity. You will be foolish to fall for this rhetoric. For development as it is being pushed by the neo-liberal model (read the current ways of doing things) has caused more harm to the world and its people in the last decades than it has benefitted. Some of these damages are irreversible and this is what is wrong with it.


The development model that is being pursued in the last two centuries (ever since that thing called industrialization started) requires a consumption of huge amount of natural resources including energy (read fossil fuel), land, water and forests. The model is dependent on production, consumption, transportation and it produces a tremendous about of waste at every stage. It is also dependent on cheap labour and devaluing of human lives in turn.


Most of these resources lie on the face of mother earth which incidentally belongs to most of the world’s population which is poor. Therefore, driving this model of development logically means taking away land, water, forest and other resources from people. While the companies take over of more and more land with forests, rivers, lakes, coals, uranium, other minerals etc to feed their industries and business it forces more and more people to be exploited as cheap labour in the machinery of development. 


Despite all the campaigns that has blinded you with its economic growth glitter the truth is that more than 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than 1.25 dollar a day and more than 2.4 billion people live on less than 2 dollar.  This is World Bank’s own estimate the bank which is at the forefront of pushing the neo-liberal model of growth and development. As a result of this globalized economic model less than 20% rich people in the world earns 2/3d of the world’s income. The richest 3 person in the world owns more than what 48 poorest countries together own. One of Walmart’s owners earns in one second what a garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in one year. If we go into details of this poverty it gets more menacing – around 70% women, more than 28% of children in developing countries are under nourished etc etc. Who has this development of the last two centuries benefitted then? You do not have to read academic papers or follow complex statistical table.


Shut down that flat screen plazma in your marble floored living room and look around. Look away from your phone, your tab, your laptop screen, look out of the window of your air-conditioned car, and look around when you are walking from your car to the latest shopping mall / store, look in your own homes at people who are serving you – your domestic worker, your driver, your security guard. It is poor people all around. Where is the development? India too has been following the same development model since 1991. There are more people without land, more people who have insecure, informal jobs like daily labourers and factory workers today in India. Modi will not be able to do anything new following the same model of development.


Still not convinced? There is more. Plant as many trees as you can on World Environment Day, this system of industrial production of everything from food items to housing materials produces more waste than what you consume. The rate of production of urban waste is faster than rate of urbanization itself! What our Chief Minister of Assam said once is not incorrect – waste is a sign of development. Would you prefer to be buried in waste (we are already half buried) in pursuit of this development? Do also remember, a large part of this waste is toxic. It has already started taking a toll on the health of humanity with newer diseases and more occurrences of diseases like cancer. It has also started taking a toll of the health of the planet itself.


The other thing that this ‘development’ has done is to destroy our planet to an extent where if we do not stop RIGHT NOW, we will not sustain for more than a few decades. Believe me, this is not my paranoid dooms day prediction. This is NASA’s report. NASA says if human civilization continues in this path that it has been following, the plant has maximum about 15-20 years! We have already crossed 4 out of the nine planetary boundaries. You do not have to be a scientist to understand planetary boundaries. Simply put it means the earth with its water, land, air and living beings has a limit to which it can provide for humanity. These elements that are necessary for life on earth are being altered by indiscriminate human use and abuse.


Scientists have divided land, water, air and living things into 9 categories. Changing of these beyond a limit will bring catastrophic results for humanity. The 9 planetary boundaries are – Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss, Biogeochemical, Ocean Acidification, Land Use, Fresh Water, Ozone Depletion, Atmospheric Aerosols and Chemical Pollution.  With this development model of waste and destruction we have already managed to cross 4 boundaries of Climate Change, Biodiversity Loss, Biogeochemical and Ocean Acidification. It means we will never be able to get back what we lost. The earth will not cool down anymore. And if we continue to build more industries, transport more goods, consume more of everything and waste more than we consume, we will not even be able to stop at where we are now.


Having these basic understanding of the state of the world now, let me simplify what is wrong with the projects that the IB has identified in its reports. Why are people protesting?

Dams, nuclear power plant or special economic zones are all based on the same neo-liberal development model designed to continue with the same pattern of over production and over consumption. All these projects will require more land. Where will this land come from? From poor people who will be forced to give up their only bit of possession, the small plots of land. Have you ever heard of a large industry or corporations or military cantonments which occupy enormous tracts of land having to give it to the government for development project? Have you even heard middleclass housing colonies having to give up land? Moreover these projects will require more resources like energy, building materials, water for their construction. Where will these come from? More mining, more destruction of forest and water resources and more grabbing of land from the poor.What kind of development will these projects bring? To whom? Where will the poor from whom the land, forest, water will be taken go to? Or will they simply perish? Isn’t that the plan?


This plan to perish the majority of the world’s population is not done in isolation. It is a global nexus of capitalists along with the people who have the power to control people with law and military that is working towards gathering their own profit while selling you the dream the development. The plan is not to improve the condition of each and every human being. If it was, it would have shown results by now. Today more than ever there are more displaced people in this world. Majority of the world population do not have land, food, housing, sanitation, health care facility, secured employment…A handful from the nexus of the wealthy and powerful elites has all the resources, wealth, amenities. To continue to gather profit and enjoy their ill-gotten privileges, the elites do not want to see protests, criticism, resistance.


More and more democratically elected governments today sign trade agreements, business contracts and treaties with companies to allow capitalists to be able to snatch from the poor. To honour these agreements governments bring in law and policies that make it legal for companies to take by force and illegal for people to protest. It is really a sinister time for humanity. If you protest you will be called anti-development, anti-nationalist. It is not a Modi vs Manmohan issue. It is a question of challenging the neo-liberal agenda and the forces we are at loggerheads with are much more powerful. If the government of a country identifies its own people as anti-development I can why. What will be scarier is if common people start believing in it.


Note: This article is based on information gathered from a lot of sources – discussions within the civil society, in international forums, articulation by various academics, NGOs, scientists, videos, websites, journals, books etc. The good news is these discussions on unsustainability of this model of development are being acknowledged at various national, regional, international forums including the UN platform. What remains as work is to be able to pursue governments to change policies, laws and systems for a sustainable future. More on that later…



Banamallika Choudhury

Banamallika Choudhury

Banamallika Choudhury loves to travel and talk. Her mainstay passion is the North-East of India and the post-sub-neo discourses. Luckily her job with ActionAid India provides opportunities to practice all of these daily.