06/18/2007, 00.00
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Economic boom should not be on the backs of the poorest of the poor

by Nirmala Carvalho
In an interview with AsiaNews the executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Development explains how India’s economic boom is often taking place on the backs of the poor, who often lose the little they have to the benefit of big corporations. The Church fights for their rights. Gandhi’s example is remembered.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Stripped of their dignity and deprived of their land, the poorest segments of the Indian population are getting nothing out of the country’s booming economy. Sometimes they are even forced to pay for it with their lives.

Fr Nithiya Sagayam, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Development of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India spoke to AsiaNews about problems in places like West Bengal and other states where land expropriations in favour of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are turning farmers into landless paupers.

“The government’s greediness easily victimises Dalits, tribal people, slum dwellers and people who life in remote villages,” he said.

In order to stimulate economic development the authorities have set up SEZs, where companies can enjoy tax holidays if they invest. They do so by forcibly expropriating land without adequate financial compensation to their owners and turning it over to companies at favourable prices to build factories or for residential developments. Such actions deprive the poorest of the poor not only of their land but “also of their dignity and sense of self-worth as human beings.”

“Expelling these people from the land where they thought they would live out their lives and move them to other places” not adapted to their needs, “without providing them any suitable alternative” can only “mean alienating them from their cultural reality, which means destroying them completely,” Fr Nithiya. The net result in some case has been “farmers killing themselves as many of  us saw in person.”

“Having taken away people’s precious land, the government then sells it to private companies to fill their coffers. Whether it is in Nandigram, or more recently in Asansol and Singur in West Bengal or in Madhya Pradesh, there is the same tragedy whenever people are forced out.”

“India has rejected the claim that it has indigenous populations,” Fr Nithiya pointed out, “But tribal communities know that it is not true. They know that they have the right to live on their land. At the Nairobi World Social Forum the Indian Church has protested against forced acquisition of tribal lands,”.

“In the age of globalisation it is easy for governments to betray the poorest of the poor. It is easier for governments and the wider society to turn hostile against the poor. This is a great tragedy for the whole of society. It is sad to see the government, which should work for the majority of the people, try to get rid of the poor” and spend money “on weapons” or “allow multinational corporations maintain their hold over the country.”

“Public authorities—the government, political parties, local power groups—continue to exploit the population instead of worrying about people’s welfare.”

“Officially in India more than 260 million people live below the poverty line [less than a dollar US a day], but they are much more.”

“In spite of the country’s rapidly growing economy, nothing trickles down to the poor. This type of economic growth can only increase frustration among the people.”

“Instead, the Father of the nation, the Mahatma Gandhi, spoke of Sarvodaya, meaning 'universal uplift' or 'progress of all'. For Gandhi the welfare of the people means first and foremost working for the welfare of the poorest of the poor.”

“The Indian Church is very worried that the government may not be seriously interested in equality and justice for the poor. For its part, the Indian Church shall always be on the side of the poor and the marginalised, defending their rights against violations, seeking justice which will bring peace. Without justice and welfare for the poorest of the poor and the marginalised the country’s economic growth can only occur at a high cost in terms of human lives among the poorest segments of the population.”

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