People’s struggles on Urban and Energy related issues


, by Intercultural Resources

People’s struggles on Urban and Energy related issues is a sequel to the People’s Struggles in India, first published in 2011. This series contains 15 articles that document wide ranging social movements in India on Urban and Energy related struggles. The articles in this series are based on struggles from different regional contexts and processes emerging from contestations of the developmental agenda of the state. Some of the movements are a result of the dissenting voices that reflect the negligence of the state in providing basic social and economic security.

A two-fold rapid urbanization is happening in India, in terms of the expansion of the existing cities as well as the emergence of new urban centres around the existing ones. This fast paced and unregulated urban growth largely driven by government policies and financial resources has posed serious challenges and raised multiple questions related to the sustainability of such development process, as well as the government’s apathy in confronting problems such as increasing unemployment among the urban youth, inability to regulate massive rural to urban migration, mushrooming of large number of slums etc. Concerns are also raised about issues related to livelihood, human health, food security, water supply, sanitation, solid waste management etc.

The neoliberal policies initiated in the 90s coupled with the withdrawal of the state from welfare schemes and introduction of privatization of essential services has led to substantive transformation in urban governance. New forms of public and private partnership are being explored in providing essential services to the citizens. The increasing role of private sector players has led to dissatisfaction and erosion on the quality of services being provided. This has produced an urban crisis distinguished by inadequate infrastructure, financial irregularities ever-increasing disparity in income groups, widening gap between the rich and the poor and sharp social divisions ensuing in multiple dissenting voices challenging the state, demanding for a cohesive, decisive and vigorous type of planning of the cities.

Urban social movements listed in this series are a result of urban inhabitants who are contesting these developments and are voicing their concerns through various forms of action against the policies of the state.

The thrust for development has fuelled an ever increasing demand for energy especially in the consumption of electricity. With consequential depletion of natural resources, destruction of environment and livelihood, especially the tribal communities living surrounding the natural resources such as coal, uranium etc., the government has taken the nuclear path to mitigate the ever-increasing energy requirements.

Nuclear power is the fourth-largest source of electricity in India after thermal, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. Over the last several decades, India has been showing extraordinary enthusiasm to install large number of nuclear power plants in an effort to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel and shift towards ‘cleaner’ forms of energy. By the year 2050, India proposes to transfer more than 25% of its energy production to nuclear power plants. This ambitious nuclear expansion plan has raised several questions related to the huge costs involved, the safety aspects and the ever-increasing fears about nuclear proliferation and nuclear threat not only to the people of India but to the entire South Asia. Large scale protests have been going on for a long time at almost all the new nuclear sites questioning the safety aspects of these projects.

This special issue on People’s Struggles in India we present a set of articles on social movements in urban contexts and energy related struggles. It brings together a set of fifteen articles by several authors that document and analyze the contestations arising from the implementation of the policies of the state and its agencies across the country. These articles all share a common concern for the need to restructure relationship between the state, citizens, capital and environment.

Short presentation of the articles

The Article on The Status of Street Vendors in Delhi by Sadafut Tauhid, narrates the struggles of the street vendors in Delhi and their strategies to counter the agencies of the state in protecting their right to life and livelihood. The article exposes the irony of the state policies and real-life struggles of the vendors and how they bear the brunt of police harassment and mistreatment.

The Monopolisation of Urban Resources: the case of the Hyderabad Golf Club by Vasundhara Jairath unearths the scams involved in building a Golf Course for “Public Purposes” in the city of Hyderabad in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It exposes the incredible amount of corruption and the misappropriation of resources, misuse of government policies and narrates the tale of how the Government of Andhra Pradesh wilfully misinterpreted the phrase ‘public purpose’ for the benefit of a private party: the HGA.

In the city of Ahmedabad located in the western part of India in the state of Gujarat, where in spite of constitutional provisions which prohibits manual scavenging, the practice is widespread and the task of eradicating it has not been easy. The Balmikis engaged in the most degrading practice of manual scavenging, have been fighting multi-layered battles for social and economic upliftment as well as recognition by society. The article The Untouchables: Dalit Workers’ Struggles, by PT George, specifically looks at some of the problems faced by the Dalit manhole and sanitation workers in the city of Ahmedabad, and how their struggles had coerced judicial intervention leading to policy changes that helped protect the rights of the manhole workers and uplift their social status.

The article on the Attempts at Union Busting by a Giant Automobile Corporation: the Struggle of Maruti Suzuki Workers, by Rakhi Sehgal recounts the workers struggles in Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL), India’s biggest automobile company, where privatization and disinvestment led to the erosion of workers’ rights. This article discloses the prolonged struggle of Maruti workers and how the company has systematically smashed unions and colluded with the government in crushing the workers’ rights and their movement.

Continuing on the industrial workers struggles, another article depicts the heartbreaking stories of the struggles of the Agate workers in the city of Khambat or Cambey (in the western Indian state of Gujarat). This article, The Silent Killer: Agate Workers in Khambat Fight against Silicosis by PT George, focuses on how thousands of agate workers are falling pretty to the deadly silicosis disease - one of the oldest occupational diseases that humanity has known. The story exposes apathy of the state in providing adequate support to the hapless victims of silicosis.

A significant number of migrant workers in the capital city of Delhi depend on cycle rickshaw pulling as a quick way of earning some income to support their families back in their villages. Many of these migrant workers who are from the neighboring states of Delhi migrate to cities due to lack of employment opportunities in the village. The article Pedaling for Bread: Rickshaw Pullers of Delhi Struggle for a Living by PT George, unravels some of the issues and challenges the rickshaw pullers confront on a day-to-day basis while doing an unglamorous job to sustain themselves.

During the last five decades, the construction sector in India has witnessed a big boom, especially in big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore. The growth of employment in this sector has been impressive and is considered to be one of the most important industries for national development in Asia. But, a critical look at the construction sector brings into the picture certain key issues related to work conditions, recruitment patterns, migration, and cycles of exploitation. The article Informal Labour and Dynamics of the Construction Sector in India by Praveen Verma, exposes the myths of regularization of "irregularity" but through different means as well as the presence of huge amount the bonded labour that exist in big sites, often part of the public sector, which is seemingly more legal, regulated and standardized.

The post economic reforms era of the 90s has witnessed an increased influence of neoliberal policies in various areas in India. The most recent public utility service to come under the ambit of privatisation has been water distribution system. An increased emphasis has been put on privatization of water distribution in different cities and towns across the country. The people’s resistance led to widespread struggles between the enforcement agencies of the state and the people, often leading to excessive violence by the police and the military to suppress the dissenting voices. This article seeps into the privatisation efforts of the state, policy changes and people’s struggles to end the privatisation of water distribution system in Greater Mumbai . The article narrates the victory of people’s movements and their effort in liquidating the tactics of the state. The article digs into the approaches of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the collective struggles of two people’s movements - Mumbai Pani and Pani Haaq Abhiyan - in thwarting all attempts of the state to privatise Mumbai’s water distribution system.

India’s Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry is often showcased as an example of what a country can achieve with free markets. The article Organising Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Employees in India by Tarun Kanti Bose, demystifies how India’s call centres make use of the country’s comparative advantages, especially its cheap, English-speaking labour. The story on the BPO sector attempts to expose several commonly understood claims made by the BPO industry and reveals the exploitation and uncertainty that lies beneath the shining surface of this industry.

The city of Delhi which had a rich history of water management now faces severe water scarcity. With a dead river that used to be the major drinking water source, and a corrupt water governance that makes water inaccessible to less privileged citizens, a majority of the city’s 18 million residents have to queue up for water supplied by the government or private tankers, as piped supplies are either defunct or unavailable. Water Movements in Delhi by Tarini Manchanda focuses on peoples’ movements around water in New Delhi, the capital city of India.

India recent nationwide blackout is considered to be the biggest power failure to date in India. In the days that followed, there was an intense debate about the state of power reforms in India, with predictable calls for increasing reforms. Around 12 years prior to this the biggest strike by power sector workers in India over power reforms in India took shape. The Historic Strike by Electricity Workers in Uttar Pradesh, India by Rakhi Sehgal is the story of a saga of power reforms that began in the early 90s and of power sectors workers’ protests against privatization. In spite of privatization in power generation and distribution, the situation has not improved much. The U.P. Electricity workers strike is a legendary battle resisting privatization and the corporate grab of public assets in the name of competition and improved governance.

In the Northeastern state of Nagaland, for the past three decades, the Lotha Naga community has been waging a struggle against the powerful public sector company, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) to restore their rights over the community resources. This story, Community Rights over Resources: The Lotha Nagas’struggle against ONGC by Susana Baria, unearths how the mighty and powerful ONGC has been violating the Naga’s right to control and manage their natural resources as well as drill out the complicity of both the Government of Nagaland and the Government of India in violating the traditional collective rights of the tribals. The struggle succeeds to expose ONGC’s attempts to morally and financially corrupt individuals within the community in order to manoeuvre around the community’s assertion of their right over oil resources, which stood as a hindrance to the company’s designs.

The article, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant: Nucleus of Disaster by Tarun Kanti Bose, reports that since August 2011, India has been witnessing widespread protests against the commissioning of the first of two 1,000 megawatt (MW) power plants as part of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). While protests against the project have been occurring in Kudankulam ever since the proposal was mooted in 1988, the impending commissioning of the reactors has rightly triggered a wave of concern in Tamil Nadu and throughout India, especially in light of the devastating and uncontrollable nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. The People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), spearheading the movement, has put forward a comprehensive criticism of the project on environmental, safety, economic and human grounds, but the mainstream media and policymakers continue to see it as merely a public relations (PR) problem.

India’s capital city of Delhi, with its population of more than 17 million, will soon come under the shadow of nuclear danger. The Government of India and its nuclear power arm – the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) – in cooperation with the Haryana State Government, is pushing to establish a huge nuclear power plant in Fatehabad district in the state of Haryana, about 160 kilometers from Delhi. The article, Nuclear Shadow Over Delhi: The struggle against the proposed Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Plant by Soumya Dutta writes a narrative account of the protest movement going at plant site. The proposed township for the plant will be built on land acquired from Badopal village (population 20,000), on the main road to Fatehabad town (population over 60,000) which is in violation of AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) siting norms. This project poses grave risks to hundreds of thousands of people in case of any major radioactive leakage. Although at the beginning, some of the villagers welcomed the project, thinking that their land prices would go up, later they have been strongly resisting the project by holding a continuous sit-in protest in front of the mini-secretariat at Fatehabad town from August 17, 2010 onwards.

The Indian Government is planning to build the world’s largest nuclear power plant in Jaitapur in the western state of Maharashtra. The site is a biodiversity hotspot that is known to have high seismic activity. Tarun Kanti Bose in his article, Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant: Another Catastrophe in the Offing, writes on the devastating impacts of the proposed power plant. The plan is an untested, expensive and dangerous gamble with health and land, which is being vehemently opposed. The first potential victim of this is the extraordinary ecosystem in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra, a biodiversity hotspot. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) is planning to install six 1,650-megawatt reactors in this region, at the port of Jaitapur in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. The Indian government has ignored protests and forcibly acquired 2,300 acres using the Land Acquisition Act. This Act has increasingly been used to benefit private companies and advance projects that put local populations at risk. As rapid construction proceeds in Jaitapur, mountains will be flattened, trees uprooted, harbours razed, and a flourishing farming, horticultural and fisheries economy destroyed, jeopardising 40,000 people’s survival.

The articles in the second series of "Peoples’ Struggles in India" series attempts to draw the critical attention of the readers on the contentions that arises from the developmental agenda state and the ensuing peoples’ struggles contesting the outlook of the state and its agencies. These social movements included in this series, uncover the ongoing struggles as well as their achievements. These articles are written by people from various walks of life, deeply engaged with social movements and grassroots struggles, researching and writing on these issues.

As such, the authors bring in their own experiences and the unusual depth of knowledge, strategy and their desire to analyze these issues from that basis. Besides, many of the struggles showcased here have been posited within the context of global political economy and the contemporary neoliberal regime. For the global political and economic powers countries like India and several others in the south and south east Asia, Latin America have become hunting grounds, targeting cheap labour, raw materials and other natural resources to be easily exploited using the loopholes that exist in the international political and economic agreements. This series continues to mirror the reflection of the multiplicity and diversity of the contemporary struggles in India as well as provide a robust ground to challenge the neoliberal policies of the state and the concomitant destruction of life, nature and resources.