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Trade, Corporate Market And Indigenous People

By Goldy M. George

19 January, 2010

The Copenhagen drama is over. Nothing came out of it. It was predicted the same by many expert and many intellectuals, activists, professional experts kept a distance from this proscenium. But what is that concerns the ordinary people of this nation? How does market and market values related with people at large and particularly the Dalits, Adivasis and the exploited sections of Indian society? What is the correlation between trade, corporates, market and indigenous communities of this land who still have the noble quality of surviving on a minimum basis?

1. A Competition of Unequals

In March 2009, European Parliament came up with a resolution on EU-India Free Trade Agreement, where one of the major concerns raised was the inability of India to contain with the problems of Dalits and Adivasis. The reason identified was the lack of administrative and political will of the government, which underlines the existence of an unjust socio-political divide. Apparently this stratifies the inability of Dalits and Adivasis to coup up with the situation under free trade formula particularly in the context of unjust caste system.

In October 2008, the Director General of WTO, Pascal Lamy said, “All of the models suggest that the gains to developing countries will be larger the more they open their markets to trade.” Citing specific cases, he said, “since opening their economies, Asian giants like China and India have together lifted more than 440 million people out of poverty, an economic success.” While trade has been an engine of aggregate economic growth, Lamy did not consider the unmitigated displacement of traditional sectors and the uneven development that has led to an alarming rise in income inequality both socially and geographically within each country.

Industrialization has today proved to be the worst form of development with unchecked exploitation, particularly with WTO taking the centre stage of all sorts of trade related agreements and transactions. Trade is no longer buying and selling of goods and services but it encompasses issues like Intellectual Property Rights, exploitation of resources, maintenance of supremacy, mobilizing capital, controlling share market etc. Prophets of free trade argue that it maximizes economic output but what has been witnessed is a competition of unequals – diametrically opposite to these claims.

2. Corporates Trading Indigenity

The symbiotic relationship between the forest-based communities and the forest Eco-system is an eternal truth. Their life cannot be segregated into watertight compartments such as social, economic, political, religious, cultural, administrative, intellectual, spiritual, etc. Undoubtedly Adivasis, live in close relationship with the forest and have the greater dependency on it. There are many Dalit artisan and craftsman communities like Kurava in Kerala, Mala communities in Andhra Pradesh, Basod in Madhya Pradesh dependent on the forests. However their customary rights were either curtailed or ignored by every ruler – both Colonial and National.

Undeniably the past policies led to unchecked forest destruction, affecting people’s lifestyle and stuck at the very survival. People’s control over Natural Resources was further reduced with the direct intervention of World Bank in funding forest projects. Biodiversity, bionetwork genealogy, natural knowledge, medicinal herbs etc. are treasure of wealth in forests. With land, forest and water in the open market, life and culture turns corporatized, slowly legitimizing an unquestionable political and social control over people.

State has turned out to be an implementation tool of the corporatehood. For instance private participation in mining sector is widely open in Chhattisgarh. The State’s Mineral Policy has created conducive business environment to attract private investment with simplified procedures. The state is interested to provide resources and manpower such as tailor-made programs in geology, geophysics, geochemistry, mineral beneficiation, mining engineering, land procurement, financial support, recommend for mining operations in forests area, etc. For the people, their dependency on land and forest is not just as a productive asset but as a symbol of their self-determination, co-existence, community feeling and dignity.

3. Displaced & Dislocated

Mining projects, power plants, dams, defense projects, wildlife management, botanical gardens, bio-experiments, eco-tourism, etc has displaced large population across the country. For example in Chhattisgarh alone almost 17 lakh acres demarcated for wildlife conservation consisting of 250 villages with an approximate population of 50000 had already been cleared off. 10 major dams acquired 257032.585 acres of land affecting 238 villages and their rehabilitation has not yet been done. 30 medium projects impacted 123 villages with an acquisition of 32745.13 acres. These statistics are of 2000, which has gone several multiple by now.

Sarguja, Raigarh and Bilaspur districts are the coal zones. It is estimated that more than 72000 acres was leased to SECL for coal mining, dislocating hundreds of villages. Nearly 20000 acres have been occupied for mining steel in Bailadeela and Dalli Rajhara area of Bastar and Durg districts with some of the rare quality of steel. In Raipur, Durg and Bilaspur, there are 10 big cement plants and its auxiliary units. Huge diamond deposits in Devbhog (Raipur) and Bastar are also in the eyes of the MNCs. In all for cement industry 2990 acres, 14530 acres for rice mills, 7665 acres for steel industry, for ferry alloys 940 acres and 285 acres for re-rolling mills were already acquired till 1998. Apart from these 18652.377 acres of land has been given for mining.

Within the last 2 years, Chhattisgarh has signed 61 MoUs with Independent Power Producer (IPP) to generate 50000 MW of electricity with an investment of nearly Rs.250000 crores. National Thermal Power Corporation signed an agreement last July to set up a 4000 MW plant needing 30000 hectares. 16 power projects are to be established in Janjgir-Champa district alone with an approximate estimation of 80000 acres of land for unit establishment, ancillary divisions and blocks, overburden dumping, fly-ash, staff quarter, road, and other infrastructure.

Between 2005 and 2007 Jindal alone had applied for the prospecting licence (PL) and mining licence (ML) for 6110.95 sq km and another 1559.172 hectare (3852.66 acres) in Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Rajnandgoan, Bilaspur, Janjgir-Champa, Raigarh, Jashpur and Surguja districts. This gives a glimpse of displacement or possible dislocation. A survey by a Delhi based NGO revealed that over 1.5 Jharkhandi Adivasi girls/women are domestic workers in Delhi. Over half of them are found to be from displaced group. Non-recognition of land rights implies land alienation which further leads to depeasantisation.

4. Seeking Market or Alternatives?

Under the impact of corporate market the lifestyle, culture and ethos of indigenous people change forcefully. Land is turned into a commodity with concentration on corporate capital. People’s rights are systematically and strategically bypassed, excluded or isolated, while a new army of easily disposable domestic refugees emerge. The historic omission and betrayal continues multifold. It is a conflict between surplus and survival, subsistent economy and market economy, between community life and competition.

Devastating development based on industrialism and wasteful growth is the root cause of this. Developing countries must be allowed the policy flexibility and political space to create national development strategies to increase incomes and secure livelihoods. Policies should create employment and raise productivity, especially in the agricultural and informal sector along with progressive taxation system, land reform and equitable access to education, health, credit and technology.

Hence a reorienting of economies from production for export to production for the local market is required. De-emphasize growth and maximize equity in order to radically reduce environmental disequilibrium. Global policymakers need to understand not only the economics of aggregate growth, but the socio-economic impact of globalized flows on the distribution of income aligning welfare of human beings. One needs to come out of the socio-political inferiority and impotence, which prevents them from identifying the de-humanizing situations, and restricts them to magical explanations and limits the activities to passive acceptance and resignation.

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