Sunday, March 27, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Public good, private concerns
Author(s): RANJAN K PANDA
Issue: Mar 31, 2011
Odisha is becoming a testing ground for ADB’s aggressive water sector reforms
As water gets scarce, the lendings in the sector by international financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are being looked into more critically. Most critics believe that with small investments, the banks have been able to dictate water policies in developing countries. These institutions have successfully infused the idea of privatising water resources in the name of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
Simply put, IWRM means considering multiple views on how water should be managed. These relate to situations such as planning river basin, new capital facilities, controlling reservoir releases, regulating floodplains and developing new laws and regulations. On the face of it, there does not seem to be much wrong about such water management. But for ADB, such management is integral to its plan to privatise water.
Time is, therefore, ripe to look into how ADB approaches our water future. The analysis is also pertinent because the National Water Policy is up for a review. Odisha, from where I hail, is fast becoming a laboratory for ADB’s policy to privatise water.
In late 2010 in a review, ADB’s Independent Evaluation Department vetted Water for All—the bank’s water policy since 2001—as consistent with the bank’s corporate strategy. It found the policy in consonance with the “international consensus” on IWRM. The review found that in the past 10 years ADB put more effort into becoming a creator of water knowledge than in enabling access to it. It also found that the policy is geared towards influencing decisions in countries that borrow from ADB.
In India, the review pointed out, water reforms have been most successful in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Tariff collection and cost recovery were deemed major indicators of this success. The review also cited China as a success story. It noted that success has not yet been possible everywhere and to the desired extent.
The review also admitted that the current approach of considering IWRM in large basins is complex and difficult, and noted that the problem stemmed from a disconnect between policy development and operations. It suggested that policies must percolate deeper to smaller units of governance, making it evident that ADB will become aggressive in promoting IWRM.
The evaluation found sustainability as one of the weakest areas of ADB lending in water projects. Only 44 per cent of completed projects were rated likely or most likely sustainable. Cost recovery was among several factors making a project unsustainable.
The aggressive intent of ADB manifested in Odisha recently, where a draft Technical Assistance Report, prepared by its consultants has been put in the limited public domain of the Internet. The report advocates pricing water resources to the extent of cost recovery. It also calls for private sector participation.
The ADB has suggested the government of Odisha exert more pressure on farmers by recovering complete cost of irrigation. This could prove disastrous in a state where the number of farmer suicides is increasing due to crop failure and lack of ensured irrigation.
The report mentions that the per capita water availability in the state has reduced from 3,359 cubic metre in 2001 to 3,300 cubic metre. This is not supported by any reference. According to the non-profit, Water Initiative Odisha, the state’s per capita water availability is down to 3,000 cubic metre at the least. In fact, with water guzzling and industries increasing manifold after 2001, it would not be surprising if Odisha’s water levels are even below 3,000 cubic metre.
The report’s projection of water availability in the year 2050 at 2,200 cubic metre is flawed as well. According to IPCC’s projections, global water availability will reduce by 40 per cent by 2025. The UN projects that “by the year 2025 the demand for freshwater is expected to rise to 56 per cent above what currently available water can deliver”.
Extrapolating these projections to Odisha shows that the state would have 2,000 cubic metre of water in 2025—and much less in 2050. One can say the extrapolation from global projections might not work for any state in India. But with Odisha planning to generate about 60,000 MW of electricity from coal-fired power stations in seven to eight years, and with water-guzzling industries proliferating in the state, fears about the state water’s availability plummeting below levels projected in the report seem real.
The report talks about establishing a water regulatory authority and using it to recover from farmers the costs of all water supplied to them. The functioning of such an authority in Maharashtra is already under severe criticism from farmers and civil society groups. The authority has got a severe rap for being influenced by corporate and rich water users.
Pressured by civil society critique, the ADB did admit constraints in collecting accurate data. The state government too, it seems, has made press statements that it is planning to extend the date of seeking opinion on the Technical Assistance Report. But the aggression to push through the plan has not gone down. In fact, when plan was up for public comments, the government went ahead with publishing a resolution for constitution of a river basin organisation that will take up IWRM.
ADB is now reviewing its accountability mechanism to make it more transparent and accountable to countries it lends, and to project affected people. But accountability does not figure in Odisha’s IWRM plan. What is more surprising is that a base paper by an ADB water resource expert, that set the tone for this plan, points that earlier IWRM plans in the state failed because they were rather imposed from the top.
ADB and the state government have not taken lessons from the past and ongoing conflicts around distribution of water resources in the state. In fact, the state is currently in news for bitter water fights, the latest phase of which started with the Hirakud conflict (see ‘Ground Swell’, Down To Earth, Dec 16-31, 2007). The recent and most talked about conflict relates to diversion of water from Mahanadi for POSCO.
Civil society organisations have been demanding the government assess the exact availability of water resources in the state before sanctioning more water-guzzling industries. It’s a justified demand in a state where a meagre 20 per cent of agriculture gets irrigation water, but more than 70 per cent people depend on agriculture. As veteran water expert Ramaswamy Iyer put it, “In place of the current slogan of IWRM, government and lending institutions should concentrate on responsible and just use of water resources.”
The author is convenor of Water Initiatives Odisha and freelance journalist
Monday, March 14, 2011
|Time to rethink nuclear energy?|
The crisis in four nuclear power plants in Japan following the recent earthquake and tsunami is cause to rethink India’s strategy of boosting nuclear energy capacity and setting up the world’s largest nuclear power plant at Jaitapur, says Ranjan K Panda
On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake in the history of Japan brought the country to its knees. Measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, the quake that ravaged Japan’s northeastern shores is said to be the strongest ever recorded in the country; scientists say it is the fifth largest earthquake in the world since 1900. Eight thousand times stronger than the one that devastated Christchurch in New Zealand last month. On March 13, the Japanese Meteorological Agency upgraded the quake’s magnitude to 9.
Minutes later, the earthquake unleashed a tsunami with waves seven metres high sweeping inland over fields and towns. At least 1,000 people are feared dead and thousands injured. A frightening Friday that people in Japan will find hard to forget. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called it “the worst crisis in the 65 years since the War”.
Planners in India must view this disaster as a lesson to assess the way we are growing.
The most important lesson is about the safety of nuclear power plants in times of disaster. Japan declared a state of emergency for five nuclear reactors at two power plants after they lost their cooling ability in the aftermath of the earthquake. As reports came in, the Japanese prime minister ordered the evacuation of thousands of people living within six miles of the plants owing to the release of radioactive stream. Pressure levels inside the plants are reported to be building up and people are bracing for a second explosion. Late on March 13, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Japan had added a third nuclear plant to the list of those in danger as radiation had been detected outside the plant which is around 60 miles from Sendai, a city of 1 million people. Soon after that, Kyodo news reported that a plant about 75 miles north of Tokyo was experiencing cooling problems. These latest developments have forced the evacuation of over 200,000 people.
India, which is gearing up for rapid economic growth, has been trying out a combination of all possible energy sources. The country’s current installed capacity of power generation is 150,000 MW -- the fifth highest in the world. But, maintaining the 8-9% growth rate that the Indian government envisages requires capacity to grow to at least 400,000 MW by 2020, and 950,000 MW by 2030. At present, agriculture still plays a dominant role with most Indians living in villages and consuming much less energy than their urban counterparts. And yet we are struggling to manage our energy needs -- supply is around 12% less than demand; distribution losses range between 35-45%; and only around 45% of the rural population receive power supply.
Thermal power is presently the dominant power supply sector in India (75%), followed by hydropower at 21%. Nuclear energy accounts for only around 3.5%. However, in our efforts to sustain growth and with very little emphasis on green energy sources, nuclear power is set to gain importance. By giving environmental clearance to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant -- the world’s largest -- the government has already signalled this.
Nuclear power accounts for almost one-third of Japan’s total power production today. The reactor shut-down post-tsunami, has cut total production by 18%. India would do well to take note.
According to International Atomic Energy Agency estimates, around 20% of nuclear reactors around the world operate in areas of significant seismic activity. The Jaitapur plant is in a seismically active zone too. Japan and other advanced countries are equipped with superior early warning and coping mechanisms. Not so India. The Latur quake, in 1993, that had a magnitude of 6.3, killed over 8,000 people.
Going by the trend of unsustainable urbanisation that has become a characteristic not only of India but of almost every country in the world, the future appears dark. This growing urbanisation will be fuelled by further migration induced by climate change and factors arising out of the resource-exploitative and polluting development process. In an interview with a magazine in 2008, Home Minister P Chidambaram said: “My vision of a poverty-free India is an India where a vast majority, something like 85%, will eventually live in cities.” That sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Just praying for the victims of the earthquake in Japan is not going to help. Learning lessons from it and rethinking our development strategy will be a more fitting tribute to the people.
(Ranjan K Panda is a writer, researcher and environmentalist. He is a recipient of the NDTV Green Hero award)
Infochange News & Features, March 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
12 March 2011 Last updated at 09:21 GMT
Huge blast at Japan nuclear power plant
A massive explosion has struck a Japanese nuclear power plant after Friday's devastating earthquake.
A huge pall of smoke was seen coming from the plant at Fukushima and several workers were injured.
Japanese officials fear a meltdown at one of the plant's reactors after radioactive material was detected outside it.
A huge relief operation is under way after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 600.
Hundreds more people are missing and it is feared about 1,300 may have died.
The offshore earthquake triggered a tsunami which wreaked havoc on Japan's north-east coast, sweeping far inland and devastating a number of towns and villages.
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared a state of emergency at the Fukushima 1 and 2 power plants as engineers try to confirm whether a reactor at one of the stations has gone into meltdown.
It is an automatic procedure after nuclear reactors shut down in the event of an earthquake, allowing officials to take rapid action.
Television pictures showed a massive blast at one of the buildings of the Fukushima 1 plant, about 250km (160 miles) north-east of Tokyo.
A huge cloud of smoke billows out and large bits of debris are flung far from the building.
Japan's NHK TV showed before and after pictures of the plant. They appeared to show that the outer structure of one of four buildings at the plant had collapsed after the explosion.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant's operator, said several workers had been injured.
Cooling systems inside several reactors at both the Fukushima plants stopped working after Friday's earthquake cut the power supply.
Japan's nuclear agency said on Saturday that radioactive caesium and iodine had been detected near the number one reactor of the Fukushima 1 plant.
The agency said this may indicate that containers of uranium fuel inside the reactor may have begun melting.
Air has been released from several of the reactors at both plants in an effort to relieve the huge amount of pressure building up inside.
Mr Kan said the amount of radiation released was "tiny".
Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate the area near the plants. BBC correspondent Nick Ravenscroft said police stopped him 60km from the Fukushima 1 plant.
Analysts say a meltdown would not necessarily lead to a major disaster because light-water reactors would not explode even if they overheated.
The 8.9-magnitude tremor struck in the afternoon local time on Friday off the coast of Honshu island at a depth of about 24km, 400km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo.
It was nearly 8,000 times stronger than last month's quake in New Zealand that devastated the city of Christchurch, scientists said.
Some of the same search and rescue teams from around the world that helped in that disaster are now on their way to Japan.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) has been demanding a white paper on water availability in the state for long. While the state is yet to pay a heed to this and still going ahead with rapid and blind water guzzling industrialization, the industries have now shown their concerns on the lack of proper information. Please see the following news published in the New Indian Express with regard to that.
Hope, going by the history of listening to industries, the state will come up with a white paper. However, the way the industries want it is going to be dangerous for the state and the water resources. As you can see from the news, they want water without cost or at throw away prices; they dont want any procedural hassles; and now they are also eying surface water bodies and reservoirs.
What is also interesting to note is the Industry Secretary's address which confirms many of WIO's apprehensions that we have been raising for long with regard to the state's way of dealing with industrial water requirement. As you can note, Mr. T. Ramachandru has left it to the industries to assess their requirements and use (including over use). This tells the sorry state of water governance in the state where the onus of regulation is left to the culprit!! WIO has been demanding the state to make these issues clear as we have been pointing out that the state has only been dolling out 'allocation figures' in public domain, that too old statistics. What we really need is the real extraction: present and future. Or else, the state, as we had warned, is surely going to be a severely water stressed one in a decade.
In fact, no further MoUs with water guzzling industries should be signed and all MoUs that are already signed should be kept on hold till a white paper on the exact status of water and future demands by all sectors is released and debated in public and among all sections of society.
We at WIO will keep pressuring the government to release such a white paper for benefit of the common people and ecology of the state.
Thanks and regards,
Water Initiatives Odisha: Fighting water woes, combating climate change... more than two decades now!
Industries demand white paper on water availability
Express News Service
Bhubaneswar, March 8
The industries today called upon the State Government to come out with a white paper on availability of water for industrial purpose even as the latter called for surrender of excess allocation by the former to enable provisioning to new enterprises. There are huge discrepancies in water allocation for industries at present. While some have been allocated more than required, others are struggling to cover their minimum needs. The problem is compounded with the steep increase in water charges by the Government, the industries rued.
Engaging in a discussion wtih industry representatives during the CII organised session on 'Industrialisation in Odisha - Issues and challenges', Industry Secretary T Ramachandru said that all units already allocated water should reassess their requirement and surrender the excess. This could be utilised in addressing the needs of others, He emphasised on conservation of water and putting in place storage mechanisms for utilisation during scarcity periods. Land will be made available to industries for water storage purpose, he said.
members of the industry, however, voiced objections to the hike in water charges and demanded a re-look. When the Government is spending any money on infrastructure for making water available at the doorstep, charging high rates is not fair, the members deemed.
They also called for revamping existing water bodies in different pockets and converting them into reservoirs to hold water that could be supplied to industries. Anshupa lake was a case in point, some said. The industries also called for regulating the arbitrary fixation of prices of iron ore and minerals by the private mines owners and OMC. The restrictive prices have affected the industries to such an extent that most are on the verge of closure, sponge iron manufacturers said. Transportation has also been raised as a major area of concern with industries calling on the Government to regulate the transport fare too. The Government on its part sought suggestions from the CII and other bodies to address the pressing problems.
Among others IPICOL CMD C. J. Venugopal, Transport Secretary Gagan Dhal, Energy Secretary PK Jena, CII Orissa outgoing Chairman RK Jena and newly elected Chairman BL Bagra were present.
Source: The New Indian Express, Bhubaneswar Edition, 9th March 2011
Ranjan K Panda
Ranjan K Panda
R-3/A-4, J. M. Colony, Budharaja
Monday, March 7, 2011
A friend sent me the following link http://epaper.
timesofindia.com/Repository/ ml.asp?Ref= VE9JQS8yMDExLzAzLzA3I0FkMDA1MD c=&Mode=G&Locale=english-skin- custom, an Advertisement in Times of India in which the Vedanta group has invited proposals from NGOs for Sustainable Development.
The Ad quotes Anil Agarwal, Chairman, Vedanta Group saying, "Over the years we have developed the 'Vedanta Way'. focusing on nurturing people, health and safety, environmental stewardship and empowering communities. Sustainability for us is finding longer term innovative solutions".
I could not but laugh at those tall words of the Green Criminal. A company that believes in killing the people and environment for its short term benefits; which wants to exploit all the mineral resources in short term to make the affected people poor forever has invited proposal for 'Sustainable Development'. Hypocrisy of the millennium!!
Of course, this is a very good opportunity for some NGOs to cash in on the desperation with which Vedanta group has been forced to doll out this 50 crore fund value project. And I am sure some 'yes boss gullible type' NGOs would already have jumped into the competition. Lage raho!!
The Ad further informs that an Eminent Panel will select the projects. We should not be surprised to see, in this panel, some of the so called intellectuals, politicians and civil society representatives, who are members in the group that supports the proposed hoax called 'World Class University' by Vedanta group that I shared yesterday.
It would be interesting to keep watching this.
Thanks and regards,
Corporate socialism's 2G orgy
|The Union budget writes off Rs.240 crore in corporate income tax every single day on average — the same amount leaves India each day in illicit fund flows to foreign banks.|
In six years from 2005-06, the Government of India wrote off corporate income tax worth Rs.3,74,937 crore — more than twice the 2G fraud — in successive Union budgets. The figure has grown every single year for which data are available. Corporate income tax written off in 2005-06 was Rs.34,618 crore. In the current budget, it is Rs.88,263 crore — an increase of 155 per cent. That is, the nation presently writes off over Rs.240 crore a day on average in corporate income tax. Oddly, that is also the daily average of illicit fund flows from India to foreign banks, according to a report of the Washington-based think tank, Global Financial Integrity.
The Rs.88,263 crore covers only corporate income tax write-offs. The figure does not include revenue foregone from higher exemption limits for wider sections of the public. Nor higher exemptions for senior citizens or (as in past budgets) for women. Just income tax for the big boys of the corporate world.
Pranab Mukherjee's latest budget, while writing off this gigantic sum for corporates, slashes thousands of crores from agriculture. As R. Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) points out, the revenue expenditure on that sector “is to fall in absolute terms by Rs.5,568 crore. Within agriculture, the largest fall is to be in crop husbandry, with an absolute cut of Rs.4,477 crore.” Which probably signals the death of extension services, amongst other things, in the sector. In fact, “within economic services, the largest cuts are to be in Agriculture and Allied Services.”
Even Kapil Sibal cannot defend the revenue losses as notional. For the simple reason that each budget sums up these numbers clearly in tables within a section called ‘Statement of Revenue Foregone.' If we add to this corporate karza maafi, revenue foregone in customs and excise duty — also very largely benefiting the corporate world and better off sections of society — the amounts are stunning. What, for instance, are some of the major items on which revenue is foregone in customs duty? Try diamonds and gold. Not quite aam aadmi or aurat items. This accounts for the largest chunk of all customs revenue foregone in the current budget. That is, for Rs.48,798 crore. Or well over half of what it takes to run a universal PDS system each year. In three years preceding this one, the customs write-off on gold, diamonds and jewellery totalled Rs.95,675 crore.
Of course, this being India, every plunder of public money for private profit is a pro-poor measure. You can hear the argument already: the huge bonanza for the gold and diamond crowd was only to save the jobs of poor workers in the midst of a global economic crisis. Touching. Only it didn't save a single job in Surat or elsewhere. Many Oriya workers in that industry returned home jobless to Ganjam from Surat as the sector tanked. A few other workers took their own lives in desperation. Also, the indulgence for industry predates the 2008 crisis.
Industry in Maharashtra gained massively from the Centre's Corporate Socialism. Yet, in three years before the 2008 crisis, workers in the State lost their jobs at an average of 1,800 a day.
Returning to the budget: There's also the head of ‘machinery' with its own huge customs duty concessions. That includes surely, the crores of rupees of sophisticated medical equipment imported by large corporate hospitals with almost no duty levied on it. The claim of providing 30 per cent of their beds free of charge to the poor — something that has never once happened — is an excuse to dole out these ‘benefits' (amongst others) to that multi-billion rupee industry. Total revenue foregone on customs duty in the present budget: Rs.1,74,418 crore. (Which does not include export credit-related numbers).
With excise, of course, comes the standard claim that revenues foregone on excise duty translate into lower prices for consumers. There is no evidence provided at all that this has actually happened. Not in the budget, not elsewhere. (Sounds more like the argument now making the rounds in some Tamil Nadu villages that nothing was looted in the 2G scam — that's the money translating into cheaper calls for the public). What is clearly visible is that the write-offs on excise directly benefit industry and business. Any indirect ‘passing on' to consumers is a speculative claim, not proven. Revenue foregone on account of excise duty in this budget: Rs.1,98,291 crore. Clearly more than the highest estimate of the 2G scam losses. (The preceding year: Rs.1,69,121 crore).
Also fascinating is that the same classes benefit in multiple ways from all three write-offs. But how much does revenue foregone under corporate income tax, excise and customs duty add up to across the years? We have baldly stated budget figures for six years starting 2005-06, when the total was Rs.2,29,108 crore. To the current budget where it is more than double that sum at Rs.4,60,972 crore. Add up the figures since 2005-06 and the grand total is Rs.21,25,023 crore. Or close to half a trillion U.S. dollars. That is not merely 12 times the 2G scam losses. It is equal to or bigger than the Rs.21 lakh crore sum that Global Financial Integrity tells us has been siphoned out of this country and illegally stashed away in foreign banks since 1948 ($ 462 billion). Only, this loot has happened in six years starting 2005-06. The current budget figure for these three heads is 101 per cent higher than it was in 2005-06 (see Table).
Unlike the illicit fund flows, this plunder has a fig leaf of legality. Unlike those flows, it is not the sum of many individual crimes. It is government policy. It is in the Union budget. And it is the largest conceivable transfer of wealth and resources to the wealthy and the corporate world that the media never look at. Oddly, the budget itself recognises how regressive this trend is. Last year's budget noted: “The amount of revenue foregone continues to increase year after year. As a percentage of aggregate tax collection, revenue foregone remains high and shows an increasing trend as far as corporate income tax is considered for the financial year 2008-09. In case of indirect taxes, the trend shows a significant increase for the financial years 2009-10 due to a reduction in customs and excise duties. Therefore, to reverse this trend, an expansion in the tax base is called for.”
Rewind a year further. The 2009-10 budget says the same thing in almost identical words. Only the last line is different: “Therefore it is necessary to reverse this trend to sustain the high tax buoyancy.” In the current budget, the paragraph is absent.
This is the government that has no money for a universal PDS or even an enhanced one. That cuts anyway meagre food subsidies from the largest hungry population in the planet. That, at a time of rising prices and a great food crisis. In a period when its own economic survey shows us that the daily average net per capita availability of foodgrain for the five year period 2005-09 is actually lower than it was in 1955-59 — half-a-century ago.