"Violence does not cure any problem"

Human rights activist Binayak Sen said here on Monday that there was no question of his being a Naxal sympathiser. “Neither am I a Naxal sympathiser nor [an] opposer of Naxals,” Dr. Sen told journalists at the Press Club.

“I believe that violence, either of the state or the non-state actors, does not cure any problem,” he said. Launching a scathing attack on Salwa Judum, he said that it had become a “Frankenstein's monster which can no longer be controlled. The writ of the government no longer works with them.”

He said that contrary to the Chhattisgarh government's claim in the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum had ceased to exist, it still continued its operations.

He said that after seeing the widespread displacement of villagers in 2005-06, human rights activists published their findings in a report ‘When a state makes war against its own people.' “It [Salwa Judum] is not a people's programme. It is a programme funded by the government, planned and executed by it,” Dr. Sen said.

Dr. Sen talked mainly about three issues: hunger problem in India, problem of displacement and land acquisition, and sedition.

Dr. Sen said the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other human rights organisations planned a public campaign to get the sedition law repealed. Talking about the experience in Chhattisgarh, he said, “The sedition law is being used to suppress the voice of people who are protesting against the programme of forcible displacement.”

“The sedition law is not befitting free people in a free polity,” he said, adding that the aim of the PUCL's public campaign is to gather one million signatures against the law and present them to the government in the winter session.

Opposing the land acquisition Bill, which is slated to be introduced in Parliament in the monsoon session, he said, “This is the first time that we are regarding it as legitimate — to take from the poor and give to the rich.”

“Public purpose, which underlines land acquisition, is jettisoned [in the land acquisition policy]. We have a situation in which the government is acting as a guarantor to the process of expropriation of access of common property resources across the country and handing over those resources to private interests. This is leading to inequity,” Dr. Sen said.

Asked about the situation in Jaitapur, he said the issue there was not only about land acquisition. “There are more complex issues about Jaitapur. The people there do not want a nuclear power plant, they do not want to give their land for the project.”

“After Fukushima, I think, anyone who wants to put up a nuclear power plant anywhere today, in my humble opinion, should have their heads examined,” he said.

Responding to being appointed as a steering committee member of the Planning Commission, he said, “I am grateful to the commission for appointing me.” He refused to comment on the objections raised by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh.

Asked about the Bharatiya Janata Party's opposition to his appointment, he said it was a wrong assumption. “It is a misconception. Ram Jethmalani had come to the Bilaspur High Court to fight my case.”

Talking about the high levels of malnutrition in the country, he said the dimensions of the problem of hunger in India had not been understood. “Large sections of the Indian population are in a chronic state of famine today. This is a shocking revelation which has major implications on the health of our nation.”

He said the Body Mass Index (BMI), which signifies the nutritional status, was low in many communities. “A BMI below 18.5 is indicative of chronic under-nutrition. According to the data published by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau of the National Institute of Nutrition, the BMI of 37 per cent of India's total adult population is below 18.5,” Dr. Sen said.

He said the index was below 18.5 for 50 per cent of the adult population in Scheduled Tribes and for 60 per cent of the adult population in Scheduled Castes. “According to the Sachar committee report, large sections of the minority community have a BMI below 18.5,” Dr. Sen said.

Pointing to an equally grim picture in child nutrition, he said 47 per cent of the children aged below five were underweight. “They are malnourished under considerations of weight for age. One-third of our newborns are malnourished at birth.” He noted that malnourishment at birth contributed significantly to problems during adult life.

“The World Health Organisation says that if more than 40 per cent of any community has a BMI below 18.5, then that community should be considered a community in famine. If we apply this to the data published by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau, then large sections of our population are in a chronic state of malnutrition,” he said.

He said that such large sections of malnourished population were surviving because of access to common property resources. “And now they are being removed by the governments in power from accessing common property resources,” he said, expressing concern.

He also opposed conditional cash transfer which has been proposed instead of the Public Distribution System. “I am not an expert economist, but taking the cue from economists like Jean Dreze and Amit Bhaduri, whose judgment I trust, I oppose cash transfers,” he said.

He said that through the Right to Food Movement, they were raising the demand for universalised PDS, instead of targeted PDS. “There has to be equity in food supply. Hunger has never been associated with the availability of food grains. It is related to failure of entitlements. We have enough food.”