Sunday, February 01, 2004DOES THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM NEED AND IDEOLOGY:
I have come to attend the 4th WSF as an observer and in the capacity of a member of the NAPM (National Alliance) of People's Movement, India) My political organisation SJP (Samajwadi Jan Parishad), whose ideology can be called socialism as modified by Gandhism, is not very enthusiastic about the world conference. Neither does it reject the WSF as wholly irrelevant or reactionary. A practical reason for SJP not carrying out a strategy to take part in WSF is that participating effectively in this conference is financially in this conference is financially unaffordable for the SJP. I have decided to come and attend because I can afford to travel to the venue and spend a week here. the next the future world conference will be held in far away countries. Going there will be beyond my means. I did want to miss this one. My curiosity is positive.
A few groups in India with whom I have good relations are mobilizing a resistance (Mumbai Resistance, MR 2004) to the WSF. They have some serious allegations against the character and compositions of the WSF. I cannot subscribe to these allegations even though a few of them are not unfounded. A brochure published on behalf of Resistance goes to the extent of alleging that the protagonists of globalization have actually initiated the WSF process with a view to taming the anti-globalization wave. This statement is either absurd or irrelevant. What is important is not who started and with what intent, but how the process in being carried forward, and with what outcome. Recent events in the world have shown that inspite of the universal discontent against Globalization there is hardly any organized, continuous resistance to the imposition of anti-people economic policies that almost all the nations are experiencing. Outside Latin America. people's anger against economic imperialism is nowhere reflected in the nations' politics. In such a situation of inaction any organisation or institution which brings together, periodically, critics of globalization from all corners of the world is doing us good simply by providing opportunities of solidarity. Critics my be just critics, they may not even be antagonists. The motto "another world is possible" does not deter them so long as the contents of change are not deeply debated.
The question at this stage is not whether opportunistic elements have infiltrated into the WSF. We have to search out whether some healthy, genuinely radical trends are gradually making headway and an international force against globalization is taking concrete shape as a result of the solidarity and interactions over the past four years. Is there a real sense of arriving at a world-wide consensus on radical policies which will inspire people of various countries not only to resist globalization but also to articulate the outlines of new economic society based on the principles of equality ?
The NGO Factor
The overwhelming presence of the NGOs, liberally founded by donors of rich countries, is a major source of worry, I don't know if NGOs of other perceived by radical groups as the agents of western capitalism. This is an embarrassing subject because so many of our deal and esteemed friends are part of the NGOs. This is an embarrassing subject because so many of our dear and esteemed friends are part of the NGOs. Perhaps they have to be kept there to impart a progressive image to the organisations concerned. Sometimes it may so happen that one or two personalities associated with a NGO are incorruptible and beyond reproach, but the bulk of the activities and managers belong to the average run to NGO cadre. The NGOs, by the large, have to function within the development objective set by the World Bank. When Radical movements are going on in the society, the NGOs may associate with anti-establishment agitation in order to save their progressive credentials. This is remarkably illustrated in radical situation when movements are totally absent. If the USA is supporting a military rule and there is no political force there to resist it, the NGOs also tend to forget about democracy. Globalization with a human face, capitalist development accompanied by programmes of eradicating poverty -this is the ideology if NGOs in the developing countries. Needless to say, some of them can easily be covered into agents of the establishment against revolutionary and patriot movements at crucial times. Therefore it can be said with apologies to those elements in the NGOs who are genuinely radical, that the resentment against the disproportionate presence of NGOs in the WSF is not without valid reasons.
It is natural for groups starved of funds to be suspicious of NGO delegates who spend money on their travel, accommodation and activities in a manner similar to what government and corporate delegates do. It may be asked if it is bad to have more money ? This is a serious question. Some organisations, like mine, may be inefficient and incapable of collecting funds for meeting the minimum needs of functioning effectively. But even the best of the organisations in a poor country will find it hard to make both ends meet if it has to remain independent, radical and uncompromising. The deplorable aspect of the fund of eminent NGOs, is that all the funds come from outside. The local society does not contributes at all. When the personal lifestyles and organisational expenses do not reflect any of the constraints of poverty that pervades all around, that itself becomes a source of suspicion, a potential for future compromises.
It is another thing that NGOs cannot be wished away. But their limitations must be kept in mind while coexisting with them. The NGOs may constitute the majority of the delegates to the WSF. But is there also an assertive minority consisting of the genuinely radical elements ? No doubt they are there, but are they visible, as distinct from the NGO crowd ? Discussion on environmental damage, gender inequality and racial prejudice are commendable exercises, and must find a place in the radical ideology. But the WSF will be credited with a special role only if it devises a strategy for fighting against the economic globalization of poor countries, which means fighting against the WTO, World Bank and IMF-against world capitalism in short. Is this question central to the deliberation and activities of the WSF ? Most of the critics of globalization who attend similar conferences are hesitant to clarify if they really oppose the WTO, and if they have a programme to end capitalism and its global integration. The euphoria around Cancun exposed that the concessions are granted to the weaker nations. In this context. the slogan, "Another world is possible" doe not hold much uttered first, If you go on repeating the slogan without concretizing the change that is visualized, it loses the original ethos. It may not mean anything after some time.
Failure of the Non-NGO groups
The failure of the WSF is the failure to initiate a credible process of formulating a strategy for opposing the world economic system. By not some economic goals should have been laid down and popularized. It has not even been established whether economic equality is a valid idea as part of the goal of drastically reducing the disparities between nations, regions and classes. If disparities are to be done away with, what happens to prosperity ? For prosperity without any limit means basically the centralizing wealth and production. Modern technology specializes in centralizing wealth and its production. So ending inequality will necessitate a radical change in the use of technologies. The leftists of the twentieth century, the socialists and communists could not resolve this dilemma. So they met a dead end.
The WSF will have to being where twentieth century socialism stopped. It not only stopped, it collapsed under the weight of unanswered questions and unresolved contradictions. It could not reconcile the pursuit of modern prosperity will the goal the economic equality. The lure of prosperity and modern technology is so great that successful socialists everywhere have bowed to the market and postponed the ideas of equality.
Organizing struggles is one part of resisting globalization, but the other part is ideological. If a party or coalition of parties is able to gain popular support and comes to power in a developing country on the promise of fighting globalization, how does it put this into practice ? What should a patriotic, anti-imperialist government do in respect of foreign capital and foreign loans ? If the goal is to achieve modern prosperity, the country may need more loans and more foreign capital. Then its dependence on foreign powers and centres of world capitalism will increase. Will the WSF advices such a government not to go in for modern prosperity.
Take the example of my own state, Orissa. It is a very poor and backward state, but it has rich bauxite deposits. Aluminum multinationals are ready to come and make Orissa a source of great wealth. Globalization has promoted the government of Orrisa to invite the multinationals. But the tribal inhabitants have resisted, and managed to prevent this mining in a number of cases. If they yield they will be wiped out. They will never get back a satisfying community if they agree to be displaced. Will the deliberations in the and government on this issue, but may not be more about displacement and less about mining itself. What has mining done to the people everywhere ? What has mining done to poor and backward regions like Orissa ? And what has it done for the powerful nations? A fundamental questioning of the basic assumptions about mining will raise new ideological questions. One of these is whether mining should be stopped altogether in regions like Orissa, at least for the present period. Critics of globalization may not like to debate on this. Every leftist inheriting the 20th Century mind-set will say, "Mining is inevitable". This statement breaks the barrier between rightists and leftists. It is the modern mind, addicted to the idea of great prosperity and centralized wealth, which unites them. Even MR 2004 which is opposing the WSF may be different on this question.
Why should mining be inevitable ? How much of the annual production of Aluminum goes to boost the war industry and the luxurious living of the rich ? If war and luxurious are not inevitable, why should mining be inevitable ? Can we not reduce mining to its one hundredth part? It mining is reduced to a bare minimum it will be qualitatively a very different thing. It may lose the cruelty and glamour associated with modern mining.
The 20th century radicals did not bother about this aspect because they tended to believe that you can use modern technology anywhere you like and produce great wealth and then distributed that wealth by using state power. This illusion has been belied, but no proper debate has yet taken place. We know now that we cannot acquire the technology unless the multinationals are willing to give it. They do not give it cheaply, so when we start using the technology, the mining process itself gives rise to so many inequalities.
In non-technical language, globalization means integrating the developing economies with the world's most powerful economies. This process benefits the powerful economies in a total manner, and it is they who take all the initiatives. Others either okay the proposal or seek concessions and moderation. Whenever the superpowers concede in a small way, it is considered a big achievement for the poor country. Is the WSF, or some significant part of it, going to take a stand NOT to integrate poor countries' economies with the most powerful economies ? If it does, it will have to give a call to the developing countries to quit the WTO. A debate on this is not yet on the agenda of the WSF.
An ideology for the WSF will be evolved if statements of policy are laid down in response to the following propositions :
1. We should advocate a policy of quitting the W.T.O.
2. Patriotic governments of developing nations should adopt a policy to stop asking for loans from the World Bank / IMF.
3. The whole world needs a civilization change, marked by the reduction of economic disparities between nations and classes. Towards this, the WSF should strengthen and sharpen the concepts of (1) small and appropriate technology and (2) self-reliant communities which will produce all basic necessities of life in their own respective regions.
4. There should be no global trade in articles of daily necessity that can be produced in every region. Even trade within the nation should adopt the economic philosophy of self-reliance of the communities.
5. Trades and markets desist from multiplying human wants and commercializing the basic elements of nature like air and water.
6. Mining must be drastically reduced so as to bring about a qualitative change in its impact on people and business.
And so on. The WSF should provides an atmosphere for the launching of a strategy of ideas and actions that will define a break with the old order the concepts that shaped it, " Another World" must mean another civilization. The same appeal is extended to Mumbai Resistance 2004 (Mr-4). We are not convinced that Mr-4 is armed with a vision that will replace the present global economy. Centralization of wealth production and the desire for limitless prosperity was the economic aim that inspired both America and the Soviet Union in the20th century. America has now risen to the status of a global empire, and the Soviet Union has collapsed. The peoples of the world, especially those of the third world, need a new philosophy of sustainable living and sustainable production. Without this basic component, socialism cannot be revived in the 21st century. So both MR 2004 and the radicals inside WSF are facing the same challenge.
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Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 by OneWorld.net
Water-Guzzling Coke Plant Triggers Protests in Indian Town
NEW DELHI - In view of an impending water crisis, environmental activists will hold a protest rally in north India next month to enlist support for ousting beverage multinationals like Coca Cola, accused of polluting and exploiting scarce groundwater.
A protest rally will be held in the north Indian city of Varanasi next month to highlight the role of Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) such as Coca-Cola in the looming water crisis, the organizers say. The protest is led by two local organizations, the Lok Samity and the Samajwadi Janparishad, members of the National Alliance of Peoples' Movements, an umbrella body of environmental and other social groups.
The activists are protesting against a Coca-Cola plant located in Mehdiganj, some 20 kilometers from Varanasi. They claim that the plant draws electricity from two diesel power generators, one of which consumes 360 liters of diesel per hour. Two tube-wells draw thousands of liters of underground water.
"The consumption of underground water by the company has led to a lowering of the underground water level from 15 to 40 feet," says Aflatoon, state general secretary of the Samajwadi Janparishad.
The activists, who claim the factory disgorges toxic industrial waste into neighboring fields and mango orchards, continue to urge the government to revoke the plant's industrial license.
"Many expelled workers of the plant who are with the movement, say the pollutant, Caustic Soda -- used for washing bottles, is causing the environmental damage," says Aflatoon.
According to Aflatoon, people living in villages around the plant often break out in rashes on drinking the water. Worse, the water has damaged wheat and paddy fields and the chick-pea crop in the region, he alleges.
There are other negative fallouts. As Aflatoon points out, "Polluted water stagnating in the fields has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, causing Malaria." He goes so far as to allege that, "A village dog died after drinking the water."
According to Aflatoon, the destruction caused by the pollution from the factory has forced local farmers to organize themselves and demand ' Cola Bhagao, Gaon Bachao '(Oust Coca Cola, Save the Village).
Petitions have been sent to local officials as well as the President of India demanding the ouster of the MNC, which was earlier asked to leave the country by the Indian federal government in 1977.
Coca Cola withdrew from India after the Indian Government demanded it reveal the formula of the popular drink. It made a comeback in 1993 after New Delhi initiated a process of economic reforms. The American MNC is today one of the biggest foreign investors in India.
Last month too, environment activists held a protest march in Varanasi, following which the local administration ordered an inquiry into allegations of water pollution caused by the bottling plant.
The Varanasi protest comes in the wake of a similar movement in Kerala in south India last year. Last summer, villagers in the Palakaad district of Kerala demanded the closure of the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a local unit of the MNC.
The villagers held that the MNC had dug up borewells for its water requirements, causing wells and ponds in the area to dry up. After a two-month-long protest, the local administration revoked the license of the Coca-Cola factory in the state.
Currently, the lowering of ground-level tables is causing severe water crises in different parts of the country. India's capital, Delhi, tops the list of water scarce cities, followed by Mumbai in the west and Bangalore and Hyderabad in south India.
The situation, experts warn, is likely to worsen in the coming years. According to Indian government figures, areas with access to water supply in Delhi will plummet from 81.5 percent to 26 per cent in the next 20 years.
? Copyright 2003 OneWorld.net
Coke in Varanasi: Facing Local Ire
India Resource Center
July 10, 2003
Protest Against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj Photo: Anon
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has directed its Regional Officer in Uttar Pradesh to enquire and take action on a report by Aflatoon, State General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, detailing the pollution caused by Bharat Coca Cola Bottling North East Private Limited - an Indian arm of Coca Cola - in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh, 20 km from the holy city of Varanasi. This significant development on 26th June, 2003, is an outcome of sustained protests against Coca Cola.
On the 10th of May, 2003 about 100 people held a demonstration at the plant gate. Nearly 200 police personnel were deputed by the district authorities to 'protect' the plant along with 50 gun toting private security guards. While this agitation was suppressed by beating up the demonstrators to disperse them, local inhabitants are geared for a long struggle against the cola giant.
Village level meetings and training of youth for non-violent direct action are underway. Sajha Sanskriti Manch -- a platform comprising the Samajwadi Jan Parishad and several other peoples organizations, women's groups and human rights organizations in Varanasi -- has submitted a memorandum to the District Magistrate, demanding cancellation of the industrial license of the bottling plant. About 300 activists of the Manch demonstrated again on July 4th at the district headquarters to demand cancellation of the license of the Coke bottling plant. Despite the rain, the activists, who had come on bicycles from surrounding rural areas, went ahead with the protest action.
Pressure has been building up since early May when a local court found the company guilty of evading payment of land revenue worth Rs 1,50,7500 [US$ 31,406]. An equal amount of penalty -- under Section 47 A of Indian Stamps Act -- has also been imposed on the company. The case, filed in April 2001 by the Uttar Pradesh Government, was the outcome of lobbying by local residents. The verdict takes note of the fact that the company has illegally occupied a portion of Common Property Resources of the village. To add insult to injury, the company enjoys subsidized rates for electricity since this illegally occupied land is agricultural land.
Coca Cola, which left India in 1977 when it was asked to reduce foreign equity, came back to India about two decades later when it took over the Parle soft drinks plant of Kejriwal Beverages Pvt. Ltd. which was bottling Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot. The plant, built in 1995 on almost seven acres of agricultural land in Mehdiganj was taken over by Bharat Coca Cola Bottling North East Private Limited in February 1999.
The plant does not draw electricity from the Power Grid Corporation, but functions on power generated by two massive diesel generators. One of the generators consumes 360 liters of diesel per hour. Two tube wells run 24 hours to draw hundreds of thousands of liters of ground water. Every hour, a truck carrying 550 crates of bottled soft drinks leaves the factory premises. The plant has about 60 permanent employees and almost 400 contracted labor. The salary of the general manager of the plant is Rs 120,000 per month (approximately US$ 2400) whereas a worker gets Rs. 66 (about US $ 1.3 per day). Many of the workers are weavers who were rendered jobless when power-looms gradually replaced handlooms for weaving the famous Benarasi sarees. Local residents say that young people of the village were promised permanent jobs, but these promises were not kept.
The plant was disposing its effluent into the nearby canal which emptied into the River Ganga. Since the past few months however, the hazardous nature of the waste became apparent when due to construction of a super highway, the pipes to the canal were dislodged and the factory began to dispose toxic industrial waste into the neighboring fields and mango groves. Coca Cola officials claim that the plant is fitted with eco filters but residents allege that the waste is hazardous in nature. Solid chemical waste is also being dumped in nearby fields. The total area submerged by the factory waste is about 20 acres. Grass in the submerged area, as well as crops of wheat, paddy and chickpeas have been destroyed. Some huge trees, including neem trees, have also dried up. Additionally, the polluted water causes rashes on human skin, say local residents. Polluted water stagnating in the fields has become a breeding ground for malaria spreading mosquitoes.
Heavy consumption of groundwater by the company has lead to lowering of the groundwater level from 15 to 40 feet. Drinking water was earlier supplied through a pipeline from neighboring Bhikharipur on the other side of the highway. This was disrupted due to construction of the Golden Quadrangle the World Bank funded super-highway linking the metropolitan cities. Villagers are now totally dependent on hand pumps for their daily needs, and are thus directly impacted by the water scarcity.
The villagers ire is fueled by their assessment that some political leaders have been instrumental in helping the company's illegal work by pressurizing local administrators. Local people allege that they received large sums of money from the company for such favors. The public relations exercises of the Coca Cola Company has further incensed local residents. For instance, the company once sent its bus to bring the neighborhood school children for a visit to the plant with an offer of serving them free Coke, but the school authorities refused. The local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) distributed pencils and erasers in Fanta cans to schoolchildren. Three tricycles for physically handicapped have been distributed by the local M.L.A. These tri cycles carry Coca Cola iceboxes fitted on them.
Efforts to organize the contract workers have so far met with oppressive measures. Five workers were imprisoned on false criminal charges filed by the company. Destruction caused by the pollution from the factory has galvanized local farmers to organize themselves and declare 'Coca Cola Bhagao, Gaon Bachao' (Save the Village, Chase Away Coke). They have sent petitions to all concerned authorities from the local District Magistrate to the President of India. Organizations like Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Lok Samiti and Sajha Sanskriti Manch have sustained the pressure, forcing Coke to respond. The company has now started construction of a kilometer-long pipeline to dispose waste. With the CPCB also inquiring into the matter, it looks like Coke may have to make more drastic changes than mere public relations exercises.
Aflatoon is the State General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Indian court blow for Coca-Cola
BBC correspondent in Trivandrum, Kerala
Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola has been ordered to stop extracting ground water at a plant in southern India.
The High Court of the state of Kerala gave the firm one month to close its bore wells at the plant in Plachimada.
A village governing council had complained about overuse of water and had filed a writ challenging bottling operations.
However, the court also ruled that the council had no authority to close down the bottling plant.
Kerala High Court Justice K Balakrishnan Nair granted Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Limited one month to close down its wells and find an alternative source of water.
But the judge also directed the village council to renew the licence of the plant and restrained it from interfering with the functioning of the factory.
The council's writ had challenged an order by the state government that permitted the functioning of the bottling plant in the area.
The court observed that ground water was a national resource that belonged to the entire society.
It also pointed out that the Supreme Court had stated in earlier orders that underground water belonged to the public and the state should act as a trustee for its protection.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by aflatoon4
at 6:05 PM
Updated: Friday, 13 August 2004 5:12 PM