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Formula 1 Schizophrenia

By Sarandha

27 October, 2013

What do you call a country that acquires farm land to build a Formula 1 track for a sport that pollutes, furthering global warming; and also acquires farm land to build nuclear power plants, dams etc., claiming that ‘clean energy’ is an urgent necessity in the era of climate change? Forget climate change for a moment; what do you call a country that forcefully acquires land and livelihoods from poor farmers for opulence like Formula 1 racing? Schizophrenic.

Some say that it generates employment. This is far from the truth. All the staff during the race is flown from Europe – the chefs, waiters, sweepers, even the food is pure white. If at all the displaced farmers are given employment, then as construction workers, sweepers etc. So you turn a skilled farmer, an owner of her own land, into a daily-wage labourer. Besides, how many of them can be absorbed by this enterprise, and for how long?

Some others say that farmers are paid for their land, so how is it a problem? It is a problem because you cannot buy a livelihood. You may be able to buy land, but how do you buy a family’s livelihood? Their displacement? The fragmentation of their community? The loss of their culture? The forceful overhauling of their life? A person’s right to choice and self-determination? For those of you who do not understand sociological factors or think that they are of little value, let me not waste time convincing you that that they are in fact the back bone of any society. Let me just stick to the hard facts of livelihood and displacement. Can a paltry monetary compensation for land ever equal the lifelong earnings that land would yield? Often the farmers are not even legally entitled to it and if at all they are, they don’t get it. If they get it, it simply isn't a fair compensation.

Given that millions of Indians live under a dollar a day, how do we justify the existence of such a sport in our country? Some people bought tickets or got free passes worth 2.5 lac rupees. Clearly there is a lot of money being pumped in to this sport from all quarters of the country, including the government. Often the government runs out of money and so cannot improve its Public Distribution System for food rations, cannot increase the pension for the poor by five rupees, cannot increase the wage in the Employment Guarantee Scheme, cannot build or maintain schools and hospitals, because apparently it is just too heavy on the government’s pocket. Formula 1 racing however, is not. Step out of the track’s premises and you are accosted by homelessness, hunger and unemployment.

It is baffling that year after year treaties are signed, COPs are deliberated, prices of oil are exaggerated, peak oil is mulled over, while here we are blowing up all this peak oil and warming up the climate for entertainment, with government support. The corporations involved probably bought the right to pollute via carbon credits, because they have so much money that they can even buy the right to pollute, while just outside the tracks a family does not have money to buy bread.

Oil and gas, whether peaking or not, are a finite resource. Prices are being hiked up almost on a monthly basis, preventing equitable access. It is now a luxury of the rich. There is much that suffers in the lives of the poor because they cannot access cheap energy for their daily necessities, agriculture, for growing food for the country. How do we reconcile that with its wasteful consumption in this fashion? The Sundarbans can keep drowning and Maldives can keep requesting countries to sell it land, but the violence on our people and ecosystems will continue unabated.

Let’s not forget in another bout of amnesia (a disease we urban elite are severely afflicted by as, if it wasn't for this we wouldn't be so schizophrenic) that India is displacing millions of people every day to build clean energy alternatives. These ‘clean energy solutions’ constitute big dams (that eat up forests, villages and fertile land and in no way produce clean or green energy), nuclear power plants (that cause radiation, contaminating their surroundings, diseasing and displacing many) and other such ‘solutions’. The price for ‘clean energy’ that Indians are paying is of gargantuan proportions. Evidently, one would think that it must be extremely important for countries to come up with energy alternatives to oil and gas, to be able to undertake such violent and hazardous displacement activities. But hold on. Is it? If India can afford to pollute the environment, add to global warming and waste fuel via racing, then clearly there is no pollution and there is no shortage of fuels and all this climate change and peak oil is just hogwash! Then why are we undertaking these environmentally harmful and politically undemocratic energy solutions with such urgency and determination?

The formula 1 experience may be thrilling, the technology of the game may be fascinating. The context within which all of it is unfolding however, is not. A sport is no longer a game when it begins to play with the lives of those on whom it thrives. Losing sight of the larger picture is no longer forgetfulness; it is a dangerous kind of amnesia. This contradiction is no longer a mere incongruity; it is schizophrenia.

Sarandha is the author of In Search of Yamuna: Reflections on a River Lost (Vitasta, 2011). After working with the Centre for Science and Environment, she is currently a research scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Email: saarandha@gmail.com


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