‘You are not really mining for your needs'

K. V. Kurmanath | Updated on March 09, 2018


We have around 830 million people earning Rs 20 a day and also the largest number of millionaires in the world.

Ms Arundhati Roy took Indian literature by storm in 1997, winning the Booker Prize for her novel God of Small Things. Thereafter, in addition to her literary pursuit, she has taken serious interest in socio-economic and political problems.

A strong critic of the existing development model, Ms Roy opposes ruthless pursuit for ores. Penguin has just published Broken Republic, a compilation of her three articles – Walking with Comrades, Trickledown Revolution and Mr Chidambaram's War. In an interview to Business Line, Ms Roy speaks on issues such as mining, corruption and agriculture.

You have expressed strong reservations on large-scale mining. But don't you think we need metals as we progress?

We need to address this question at several levels. What do you mean by needs and what do you mean by progress? You are mining not because you need metals. The Government is selling its ores to private companies for a very small royalty.

So even in its own terms it is an absurd thing to do. It (royalty) is not determined without honestly considering the real costs, forget about social and environmental costs, while selling of wealth worth $4 trillion.

You are not really mining for your needs, you are producing it for a market, to be traded on futures markets.

What could be the impact of the focus on mining on society?

The issue of displacement started sometime ago but has accelerated now.

Among millions of people displaced are tribals and Dalits who are paying disproportionate price. What started as displacement of Adivasis and Dalits has also begun to include farmers now.

When the Naxalite movement started what was their demand? Land to the tiller. Land to the landless. Today, the fact is even marginal farmers are being displaced. It is an amazing journey. The actual landless, who are mainly Dalits and Adivasis, are left out of even radical discourse. They don't count for compensation.

Corruption has become a big issue for discussion after Anna Hazare's campaign for Jan Lokpal Bill. How do you view this movement?

When the Lokpal agitation started, you had a government battered by scandals which actually exposed the nexus between the Government, corporates and the media. Media and journalists were disgraced. Everything was laid bare. Then this agitation started and you might have thought that it was time for anti-corruption agitation.

Because you have a situation where the Government is withdrawing from its traditional duties, the corporate is taking over water, telecom, mining, transport and electricity and NGOs are doing education and health, and the media funded by corporates is obviously doing the campaign.

Now I would imagine that if you wanted a genuine Lokpal Bill, these people who have taken on functions of a Government should be included in it. But they are the ones who are doing the campaign, saying that the Government is corrupt and letting themselves off the hook.

No one is talking anymore on corporate corruption and about NGOs and the media. They have a platform, or they made themselves a platform, saying that the Government is corrupt and it is time for second round of reforms. I find this very dangerous.

What is the root cause of corruption?

What is corruption? Is it just an accounting imagination where corruption is some financial irregularity? It is a moral issue.

If hawkers are banned in Delhi or any other city, a woman wants to sell something and she pays bribe to a police man or municipal guy. Is that a crime? Surely, it is illegal. But if you consider what is legal, 90 per cent of what people are doing today are illegal.

Are you going to address the inequality that creates this value system? Or you are going to set up a whole lot of complaint booths?

And at the top, you are letting everyone off the hook.

Indian agriculture is facing a serious crisis. Thousands of farmers in Andhra Pradesh have announced crop holiday this kharif. What is ailing this sector?

There is this view that agriculture contributes very little to GDP. The Government asks the farmers to give up (land) and move to cities and let the corporates take over to make agriculture efficient.

One should see how agriculture has been marketised over the years with major irrigation schemes and increase in input costs.

Monoculture and huge irrigation projects too have an impact. Ground water is disappearing and irrigated areas are becoming saline. You turned everything upside down.

And your solution is more big projects, more irrigation, more pesticides and more fertilisers and more salinity .

Mr Jairam Ramesh says Maoists need to be tackled at block level. If you don't do it, opposition to Poscos, Vedantas could assume Naxalite overtones, he argues. What is your view?

If your larger agenda is actually to corporatise agriculture, to privatise water and electricity, mining and everything, that agenda is going to impoverish large sections of people. So whatever tricks you are going to play, they are not going to work. People are turning to Maoism because they have lost faith in the system, because assault on them is harsh. In other places they turn to other movements.

Economists argue that Sensex is doing well and the country's GDP is growing healthily despite global slowdown. Your views?

How many people have Sensex-related investments in this country? Only a fraction. Economists have a narrow view of things. They don't know about history, culture and environment. This number crunching will give you a distorted idea of everything.

We are in such a situation where 830 million people are earning Rs 20 a day but we have world's largest number of millionaires. You have more poor people than all the poor in entire Africa.

There are seven people in a room who are starving, two just managing and one of them is a millionaire. And when I say, seven people are starving, they are saying I'm negative.

Published on September 14, 2011

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