Sunday, February 28, 2016

Union Budget: Which way will it go this time?

As the union Fiance Minister prepares to place Budget 2016-17 in parliament today, I am re-posting my article written on 8th Feb that had shown how lakhs of crores worth money have been siphoned off from PSU banks by the super-rich of India and which is ultimately to be borne by common Indians. In this article, I have also given indication of what all real development works could have been supported in the country had this siphoning off not happened.

My broad wish list for the budget...

The budget, besides giving more opportunities for growth to common Indians, should have strict measures to impose 'retrospective taxes' on corporate giants who are planning to siphon off lakhs of crores by pressurizing the government on that; should tax the super rich and corporate houses more and eliminate tax regime for the common Indians because they are already facing a lot of burden via indirect taxes; should stop all sorts of 'Corporate Karza Maafi'; have a stringent mechanism to recover the 6 trillion worth Indian rupees that have been siphoned off from banks through frauds (my article has a small mention of that as well); and invest heavily on public health, education, irrigation and agriculture sectors.

The rural areas need special focus!


Phew! With this kind of money Ganga can be cleaned 10 times over!!

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Responding to a right to information query by the Indian Express, the Reserve Bank of India has said that in an 11-year period – from 2004 to 2015 – 29 state-owned banks have written off bad debts worth Rs.2.11 lakh crore.
Almost a half of the waiver, Rs.1.14 lakh crore, has been granted during the last three years between 2013 and 2015.
The figures are huge by any standards, exposing complete lack of transparency in Indian economy and the unhealthy situation it is in.
More shocking is the fact that none of this information has been put on public domain even though our Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other ministers have all along been reminding us about the robustness of our economy.
In the recently concluded World Economic Forum at Davos, Jaitley said that our economy is at the right hands with sound footing locally, and could certainly grow by 8-9 per cent in a friendlier global climate!
But as the RTI query revealed, India’s super rich have certainly been the major beneficiaries of these waivers.
Now, had the government been proactive and efficient, the bad debt that the public sector banks wrote off during 11 years could have funded numerous schemes for benefit of the common Indians, besides saving the banks from the disgrace, loss of reputation and economic doldrums.
Let’s try and give a few examples:
–India’s much ambitious Ganga river cleaning project could have been funded ten times over. Last year, the central government approved a budget outlay of Rs.20,000 crore for rejuvenation of the Ganga over a period of five years.
Going by this standard, all major Indian rivers would have been cleaned with the money waived.
–The food subsidy bill for the entire country could have been funded for nearly two years. India’s food subsidy bill, that is supposed to benefit the poor and hungry, stands at aboutRs.1.24 lakh crore.
–The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) can be funded more than six times based on the current annual allocation of a little less than Rs.35,000 crores.
It means six times more job guarantee opportunity and income for the rural poor. MNREGS has also been hailed for checking distressed migration, fighting drought and even helping Indian economy put a fight against global recession periods recently.
–The Indian Railways can continue to subsidize common Indian commuters’ fares and other social costs that make consumer goods reach at low rates helping in curbing price rise et al.
Currently, all such subsidies are said to be costing the Indian Railways a little less than Rs.25,000 crore a year. It means, with all the money that the banks waived off during 11 years could help railways continue with these
social support activities – that in fact is its duty – for the coming eight years and more.
The question is, “can we get back the looted money from our banks?” At stake is the FM’s capability, and India’s credibility!
Post Script: A few days ago, another RTI query by pointed to a fraud that involves siphoning off of Rs.6 trillion!
It had said, as per information received from the banks, 26,330 fraud cases (involving amount of Rs.1 lakh rupee or more) were reported from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2015 and total amount involved is Rs 57,69,661.88 lakh!
(Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert)

Innocent voiceless 17000 trees martyred and no noise!!

As if burning property worth 25000 crore was not enough, killing people was not enough, raping women on the highway was not enough: the Jat reservation struggle had to kill 17000 trees as well...

And instead of punishing the violent people, the government accedes to their demand! What s shame!!

Peaceful protesters get beaten up, but violent protesters win.  What is the government trying to signal?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coca-Cola's loss has to be groundwater's win! My latest article published in Big Wire...

Coca-Cola’s loss has to be groundwater’s win!

On February 10, the San Francisco-based India Resource Center (IRC) sent out a press release saying how multi-national Coca-Cola has stopped operation at its ‘disputed bottling plant’ at Kala Dera in Jaipur of Rajasthan.
It claimed that the deteriorated groundwater conditions forced the plant to close, something the plant never accepts despite most of its plant facing such problems.
Not much to one’s surprise, even before the press release of the IRC could hit the Indian media, a Coca-Cola version of news came up in some news portals.
It was reported that Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the bottling arm of Coca-Cola India, had suspended manufacturing at three locations – Kala Dera, Vishakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Brynihat (Meghalaya) – in India citing the absence of “long-term economic viability.”
The Hindu carried a PTI story that quoted a company source saying:“…the decision to close down a plant is a business decision taken on the basis of its long-term economic viability and market demands of the products being manufactured at that particular plant. ”
One cannot really make out what the company means in saying this. However, the ground realities pose a picture where one would believe the local voices.
The plant at Kala Dera has been the target of a sustained community-led campaign since 2003 accusing the company of exacerbating water shortages in the area as a result of indiscriminate mining of groundwater for its operations.
In 1998, the area’s groundwater was declared as overexploited – the worst category of groundwater in India, yet Coca-Cola built a new bottling plant in 2000.
Warnings Ignored
Coca-Cola company had got sufficient warnings about the depleting ground water scenario but it continued to operate the plant further depleting it to a dangerous level, according to the community.
Forced by a student-led campaign at the University of Michigan, the company in 2008 paid for an assessment of some of its bottling plants in India, including the one at Kala Dera.
“The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which conducted the study, recommended that Coca-Cola shut down its plant in Kala Dera because the plant’s operations in this area would continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” said the IRC release.
The IRC further informs: “In 2014, Dr. Aneel Karnani from the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business found Coca-Cola’s corporate social responsibility claims around its bottling plant in Kala Dera in India to be lacking merit, and concluded that the company’s extractions of groundwater in the water-stressed area lead to the “tragedy of the commons.”
People who have been opposing the plant in Kala Dera are celebrating the victory. Now it is to be seen whether the company is being punished for drying up the groundwater aquifers of the area.
Government authorities must see to it that the company not only recharges the groundwater but also compensates all the loss created due to this to the local people and farmers. It can shut its business, but certainly cannot escape its larger responsibilities.
Coke full of controversies
In fact, Coca-Cola has been facing local opposition and shutdowns throughout India owing to depletion of water resources, pollution of the local environment and such other reasons.
Troubles for Coca-Cola plants first started a decade and a half ago when people of Plachimada in Kerala won a long battle against the plant that was accused of sucking up all water in the area and spreading pollution.
That plant, the single largest of the company in India, remains shut since 2004. Last year, the Tamil Nadu government cancelled land allocated to its Rs.500 crore investment plan at Perunduri.
The company had already got the land for constructions but could not manage to proceed because it failed to get approvals on the count of the agreement to procure water, clearances for laying a water line and an effluent transfer line, and permission for levelling land.
There was stiff local opposition alleging the company would destroy the groundwater resources of the area.
In 2014, it’s 25 million USD full built plant was shut down in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh. This plant too faced years of protest against excessive extraction of water and pollution of groundwater as well as soil contamination.
The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board had confirmed that the effluents released by the plant contained pollutants beyond permissible limits.
Ordering closure of the plant, the board had asked the company to take suitable measures to recharge the depleting groundwater level by twice the amount they have extracted and to produce permission certificates needed for groundwater use.
The company had also been slapped a fine of Rs.1,26 lakh for having built the plant illegally on a village council land. The same year, a proposed plant in Charba of Uttarakhand was called off due to community opposition.
(Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When humans depend on guns to buy peace!

It is said India spends somewhere between 200-300 million USD per year and Pakistan about 50-60 million USD per year to guard the world's highest and most difficult Siachen glacier, where no one stays and where it is almost difficult to do anything. And both the countries are spending this since 1984.

So, in about 34 years India and Pakistan together must have spent between 8500 and 12,240 million USD just to guard a glacial border.

And, that is not it. A news site claims, The Siachen Glacier has engulfed over 8,000 Indian and Pakistani soldiers between April 1984 and April 2012. All soldiers who are deployed in this glacier face acute problems both during and post deployment.

Imagine if we had a better, peace loving world, which respected humanity more than war; what would have happened with this huge amount of money spent by two poor countries of the world!!

Monday, February 8, 2016

My views in OTV documentary on Hirakud Boat Tragedy!

Last night (8th February 2016) between 10.30 and 11.00 pm, the OTV, one of Odisha's leading television channels, carried my views in its Special Report on the Hirakud Boat Tragedy that took 31 lives two years ago and shook the entire state.  The documentary showcases how nothing changed after the initial hue and cry.  Even an inquiry report by the Revenue Divisional Commissioner (RDC) gathers dust.

The Special Report will have repeat telecasts today (9th Feb 2016) at the following times:

11.30 am - 12.00 noon
3.30 to 4.00 pm

Time permitting please watch.


Ranjan Panda
Mahanadi River Waterkeeper (Member, Global Waterkeeper Alliance)

Mob: +91-94370-50103

Watch my views in OTV tonite about the forgotten Hirakud boat tragedy!

Tonite (8th February 2016) at 10.30 - 11.00 pm, please watch my views in the OTV special report on forgotten boat tragedy of Hirakud dam, that shook the entire state two years ago but nothing happened therefore to end such crises. An inquiry report of the RDC gathers dust!


Ranjan Panda
Mahanadi River Waterkeeper
(Member, Global Waterkeeper Alliance)
Mob: +91-94370-50103

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Climate Resilience: A must for cities! My article published in Urban Update January 2016!

You can also read this at The page to look for is: urbanupdatemag


Ranjan Panda

Convenor, Combat Climate Change Network

Mob: +91-9437050103

Friday, February 5, 2016

An Open Letter to PM and CM: Promote realistic development, not poster wars!

An Open Letter to Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Odisha

Dear PM of India and CM of Odisha,

How about making Paradeep a place for positive platform, for promoting an alternative politics and alternative energy; instead of engaging in a poster war?

Dear Sirs,

At the outset I congratulate you both and the people of India for achieving a new milestone in the form of an Oil Refinery at Paradeep.  I am sure tomorrow’s function will bring hopes to many in the country and also prosperity to the Oil Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) IOCL.  More public sector involvement in nation building is actually better for the country.  Congratulations to IOCL as well!

As both of you prepare to dedicate the Refinery to the nation, I write this letter raising some concerns and giving away some suggestions for your consideration.  Hope you will take positive note of the issues raised and lead your respective party members and government organisations under you to change the type of political activism and developmental agenda respectively.

The small yet significant port city of Paradeep is now witness to a huge poster war between BJP and BJD.  Ever since the date of 'dedication to nation' of the Oil Refinery has been declared, IOCL started a very proactive propaganda drive throughout the state.  The function has been named 'Urja Utsav' (Energy Festival).  Perhaps with purpose of inviting people in large numbers, IOCL planted many big size banners, in Paradeep and throughout the state, that carried pictures of the PM and the Oil Minister.  The IOCL also sent out vehicles – in Paradeep - with such posters pasted all around with big television advertisements like the ones we see during election campaigns.  Such TV advertisements came with the PM’s speeches.  Such 'prachar raths' (propaganda cars) were then seized by the Jagatsinghpur police on complaint of violation of the SC ruling that does not allow any govt. or public sector undertakings/organisations to put photographs of anyone except the PM, President and CJI.

After the Jagatsinghpur police action, when perhaps IOCL realized its mistakes, it struck down the posters of the Oil Minister.  However, perhaps that only happened in Paradeep.  In many other places of Odisha, the posters are still there hanging high in retail fuel outlets.  In Paradeep, the posters have now been modified a bit and have come up with BJP being the host organization.  In the new posters, that has exactly the same publicity materials that used to be in the previous IOCL posters – still seen in other places of Odisha, there are now three photographs – the PM, BJP National President and the Oil Minister.

In the meantime, BJD also started planting its own posters with the CM’s photographs.  Situation has come to such a pass that, people of the state witness a poster war between BJP and BJD on the streets of Paradeep and Bhubaneswar.  No one knows who pays for all these poster wars, but the message is clear that two political parties are trying to establish their claims over the establishment of the Oil Refinery of IOCL at Paradeep. In reality, the Refinery has been done with tax payers' money and local peoples' sacrifice and contribution. 

If the Refinery benefits the common people, they will definitely give credit to the governments. And if the people feel the 'dedication to nation' ceremony is so important, people will definitely attend the function on their own.  We hear that both BJP and BJD are driving lakhs of people from across the state to show their strength before their leaders.  Is it really necessary? 

Indian politics, to my opinion, really needs to change from such mindsets to a new era altogether.  The people need more progressive ideas and alternative politics.  In this regard, keeping in mind the landmark day for Paradeep, may I request you to please look into the following suggestions?

1. If the IOCL has so much money for such a massive propaganda for this event, they should have invested in their CSR initiatives with investment in mangrove protection, wind energy and solar energy promotion, irrigation assurance to farmers, etc.

2. Many IOCL retail outlets have poor facilities for customers such as sheds, drinking water and good toilets.  They could have prioritized to invest in improving all these.

3. If the political parties can save on the fuel and pollution from the vehicles that would drive lakhs of party workers to Paradeep, that can be invested in better works like supporting the farmers in distress, so on and so forth.  I am sure that would fetch more votes than showing strength before party leaders.

4. Each street light pillar in Paradeep now has posters of BJP or BJD or both.  It would have been so beautiful had they invested the same amount of rupees in giving solar street lights.  

We really expect a modern era of politics from both of you, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Chief Minister, to promote realistic and alternative politics that promotes people centric development, including alternative energy, and limited expenses on propaganda. 

Hope these words reach you and reasons prevail!

Thanking you,

Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha


Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two and half decades now.

Unmasking Development: Why the locals oppose mining?

(A mobile pic: Ranjan K Panda)

An interesting scene was visible today, in front of the Collector's office in Odisha's Sambalpur district.  Hundreds of tribal villagers from two Gram Panchayats of Rengali Block, who have been protecting a natural forest of 73 acres since several decades, were staging a protest against the district administration's conspiracy to destroy that forest.  By side of this demonstration there was another group of protesters, ex-employees of the Bhusan Power and Steel Ltd. company located in the same Block, who were staging a protest against the Chairman and Managing Director of the said company.  This image unmasks the real face of development.  See how.

Rengali block is one of the heavily industrialised areas of the state. Several mining and industrial houses have been allowed to loot the mineral resources, forest resources, water and the local people in the name of development here.  One of the strongest arguments given for this loot by the industries and the government authorities is that these factories and mines create jobs and employment for the local people among others.  

The tribals oppose these industries because they not only fail to keep all their promises, but also destroy their life and livelihood sustaining resources forever. The Bhusan company has done exactly that.  It has chopped off thousands of hectares of forests, displaced lakhs of people, polluted the local area, killed several water bodies and destroyed the nearby streams/rivulets/rivers.  It also heavily pollutes the Hirakud reservoir.  All this in the name of employment generation and development.

However, the ex-employees of Bhusan company say they have been thrown away for no reason, citing funny explanations.  Many locals have actually been provided with wage labour jobs under private contractors and not by the Company itself.  And these jobs are completely at the mercy of private contractors who not only pay less but don't provide any job security or other facilities whatsoever.  The forests at least provided them food and woods when needed.  Now they have neither the forests nor the jobs! 

The tribals protesting to protect the Chirgun Dungri forests are at the first stage of war against development.  A private mining contractor is illegally mining quartz from their forests by getting a no objection certificate from the local Sarpanch in fallacious ways, they allege.  They have been complaining against this to the forest department and District Collector.  No one listens.  

They know mining kills forests and destroys their livelihood forever but the mining companies ultimately profit, along with them the politicians and bureaucrats get some benefits.  They are now preparing for their second stage of war, which begins with today's demonstration in front of the Sambalpur District Collector. 

I got a chance to address to the demonstrating tribals and I told that the demonstrators under the tent besides are fighting the burning example of the real outcome of Development.  Some of them must have protested against the land acquisition by Bhusan company at the first instance for sure, as the first stage of protest.  Then while some would have continued with the protest, some would have agreed to the promises.  Some would have then received jobs participating thereby in the Development Process.  

Now, the ones who have lost jobs are again at war with Development.  They burn the effigies of Bhusan company owners in front of Sambalpur's Collector office with a demand to return back to the Development process as because they have nothing to fall back upon, anymore.  Their lands are gone, forests vanished and ability to live with local resources is perhaps also lost.

However, the tribals protesting against mining in a lush green forests are, in my opinion, talking about the real Development: that is sustainable, that does not displace, that does not pollute and that does not cause global warning.  

Good that both the demonstartions were going on side by side.  At least the people with conscience would realize the real face of Development.  For those, who are sold out to interest of the greedy capital, nothing proves an eye opener!

I wish the Chirgun Dungri Jungle Suraksha Mancha all success!!

 - Ranjan Panda

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bhubaneswar Smart City at whose cost? An WIO Update...

Who will meet Smart City’s Real Cost?
An Occasional Update from Water Initiatives Odisha(WIO) 
3rd February, 2016

Inline image 1
(Image Courtesy: FB page of Bhubaneswar Smart City)

Dear Friends/Co-sailors,

While we at Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) congratulate the state of Odisha for having topped the list in the Smart City competition, we have some concerns to raise as well.  

In a letter written to the Odisha Chief Minister, we have asked him to act on the following concerns as soon as possible. 

While we at Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) congratulate the state of Odisha for having topped the list in the Smart City competition, we have some concerns to raise as well.  This email is to apprise you about such concerns requesting you to take the necessary steps.

As per the highlighted plans that we come across from media reports and statements of officials from the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation(BMC), the pilot Smart City called “Bhubaneswar Town Centre District(BTCD)” will be built in an area of 985 acres with a population of 46000 people.  To provide so called smart and efficient facilities to this city, an amount of more than 4500 crores will be spent, 3500 crores of which will be a loan from the World Bank. 

This means about one million Indian Rupees will be invested per head in this area, 78 per cent of which would be a loan.  In other words, if each citizen of the Smart City has to pay back for these smart services she/he receives, she/he has to pay back 7,80,000 rupees with interest to the World Bank.  We don't think this is a smart idea!

"Has the state government got any revenue generation plan from the Smart City area to be able to repay the loans or all this burden will be transferred to common citizens?” is a natural question that arises which the government needs to answer. The government must make public the Revenue Plans for the Smart City area and assure the common citizens of the state that they don’t have to subsidize for the smart services to a small fraction of the capital city.  

In a state that is still not able to provide the promised 35 per cent irrigation to all its farmers and where farmer suicide cases have been increasing, how wise it is to spend so much of money (majority of which is loan) that is almost 12.5 per cent more than the entire yearly budget of the Water Resources Department of the state?

The Smart City scheme is a central government’s initiative and we understand the state entered into a competition to get into the list.  However, we don’t understand why so much of loan has to be borrowed to develop good infrastructure for just a miniscule size of population and area in the state.  

Further, most of our urban areas of the state are lacking basic minimum facilities.  Such expensive infrastructure model for a very small section of population in the state will increase further discrimination and discontent in the state.

Highlights of this Update:

  • One Million Rupee to be invested for each person residing in Bhubaneswar Town Centre District(BTCD)
  • 78 per cent of this per head investment will be a loan from the World Bank
  • The investment to provide better facilities to only 46000 urban people will be more than the entire yearly budget of the Water Resources Department of the state
  • WIO asks the Govt. of Odisha to make public the revenue plans of Smart City investments

We look forward to your comments, suggestions and support on this issue.

Thanks and regards,

Ranjan Panda
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha

Tweet @ranjanpanda
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Skype: ranjan.climatecrusader

Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two and half decades now.