Trade treaty trauma on nature - River activist apprehends wto air strike in globalised world

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By SHIV CHARAN SINGH in Ranchi
  • Published 22.11.05
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Ranchi, Nov. 22: Imagine the following:

Scene I: A person is walking past an overcrowded road in a busy Indian city. With people dotting each nook and crannyand serpentine rows of vehicles profusely vomiting smoke all around, negotiating the way through becomes a bothersomejob. Feeling suffocated and worn-out, he looks around for a respite for some fresh air.

Scene II: The same person spots a garden on the other side of the road, reaches out to the counter across the road and books a ticket for Rs 5 to enter the green park for 20 minutes. Since the ticket is valid for only 20 minutes, he will have to come out of the park. So he breathes in greedily. He knows the ?air over the garden has been leased out to a particular company?.

Swati Khandekar of Chhattisgarh-based Nadi Ghaati Morcha says one could face such situations.

?Whether you are ready for such a rude shock or not, the world is unfortunately inching towards such ends, as seeds of such dreadful things are being sown everywhere. The day is not far when the air over your head will be sold to the multinational companies (MNCs). Then, to breathe in and out, you will have to cough up money or seek the company?s permission,? said Khandekar, who has been in the capital in connection with a protest rally organised by the Forum Against World Trade Organisation.

The anecdote that she has come up with is not altogether impossible, as Chhattisgarh has suffered almost the same.

Shivnath River, which runs across Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, has been ?leased out? by the Chhattisgarh government to an MNC, Radius Water Company, which prohibits people from using the river water, Khandekar said.

According to her, the company enjoys a virtual authority over the river water. ?While Radius Water Company is mainly into water business, manufacturing mineral water through its units on the river, it also sells water to industrial units falling under the Boray Industrial Area of Chhattisgarh. The state government leased out the river in 1998. Radius Water Company, since then, has become a virtual menace for the families living on the banks for centuries,? she said to The Telegraph.

?Is it not surprising that a natural entity like the Shivnath is leased out? If this can happen in India today, how can we say that the air over our head is ?secure? and will not be leased out tomorrow?? she asked.

Speaking of the company?s attitude, she said initially it had strictly prohibited people from taking water from the river for domestic use.

?This went on for quite some time and the people, particularly those who lived in the proximity of the industrial units set up by Radius Water Company, had to bear the brunt of company?s monitoring guards, who kept a vigil over people?s movement to the river for domestic purposes. They had no choice, as the company claimed that the river had been sold to it and all those who wanted to use river water will have to pay the price. The resentment, however, kept on brewing,? she said.

According to Khandekar, when the ?atrocities? of the company became unbearable for the people, they organised themselves against the government?s bid to lease out a natural gift of river to the people and the Nadi Ghaati Morcha jumped in to put its weight behind the people?s protest.

?After sustained struggle, the company bowed down and allowed the people to use the water. But it has left a deep scar on the psyche of the people, who shared a belonging with the nature, forests and rivers, and never imagined that such a thing could never happen,? she said.

Speaking of her experiences with the affected people, Khandekar said: ?We travelled from one village to another along the river to record the woes of the people and found out that they had a feeling of detachment after the river was virtually sold out to the MNC. Though a ?conditional access? to the river water is vouchsafed by the company, but the battle is not over, for once such a trend is set, more such things are set to crop up in future. The victims are the rural poor people, whose lifeline runs parallel to that of the rivers, forests and land.?

?Unless the people are aware and organised the problems created by the MNCs and unleashed in the name of globalisation and trade agreements could not be solved. That a handful of people, who are behind WTO, play with the fate of the whole world just to safeguard their trade interests is a loathsome proposition and it should be dealt with sustained protest strategy.

?People should come forward to speak out against the sinister designs of the vested interests, which have unleashed their apparently bloodless war in the form of WTO agreements being thrust on the developing countries,? she said.