Opinion

Ethically unacceptable

A. Srinivas | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 12, 2012

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PROS AND CONS: DO WE NEED A NATIONAL INVESTMENT BOARD?



Once you have seen one redwood, you have seen them all.

Ronald Reagan

The former US President’s contempt for the environment was legendary, but one would have imagined governments to have turned wiser since then. But Finance Minister P. Chidambaram betrays no such awareness. His proposal to set up a National Investment Board (NIB) for fast-tracking clearances of projects above Rs 1,000 crore, and ensuring that such nuisances as environment clearances do not hold them up is, as Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan puts it in her letter to the Prime Minister, “unconstitutional”.

Shorn of procedural quibble, the NIB will breathe down the necks of the ministries concerned to clear projects at the earliest, in the process preventing them from exercising due diligence — an issue that has been flagged by both Jayanthi Natarajan and Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo. Such an approach to promoting industrial activity is unethical, if not illegal.

The NIB is an unethical idea because it privileges the rights of large industry over project-affected people (PAP). Hence, the latter may not get their chance to express their views at a public hearing, as pointed out by Jayanthi Natarajan, only so that industry can obtain clearances quickly — and have the project sanctioned on its terms.

Obstacles to growth

The NIB mindset is one that views not just environmental obligations, but compensation to PAP and providing legally-mandated rights to workers, as obstacles to “growth”. The neglect of these obligations is violative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. The mining excesses in Goa and Karnataka have shown what unregulated business activity can lead to. Yet, ‘light-touch’ (read zero) regulation seems to be the abiding theology.

The attempt at overriding the Ministries concerned raises not just issues of accountability to Parliament, as pointed out by Jayanthi Natarajan, but also smacks of regulatory capture. That NIB could be conceived after Coalgate, Karnataka and Goa confirms that the government is unwilling to improve on the existing, woefully imperfect checks and balances. In fact, it is inclined to dismantle even what exists — such seems to be the pressure from the ‘policy paralysis’ brigade. If industry wants to set up large projects, it must be prepared to foot a higher bill for social and environmental factors.

Ironically, the NIB debate coincides with the ongoing UN biodiversity meet in Hyderabad. A country that is dead against sustainable development at home will take over from Japan as the global boss of biodiversity conservation.

Also read: >Necessary for growth

Published on October 12, 2012
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