The Madhya Pradesh government appears to be very serious about promoting industry and investment in the State. So much so that it has promised a free hand to investors to exploit the grossly underdeveloped Bundelkhand region at the cost of people.

Recently accessed RTI documents from the Madhya Pradesh Trade and Investment Facilitation Corporation Ltd (MPTRIFAC) reveal that in various Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) signed during the Sagar Investors Meet in 2008, the government has promised several freebies to investors to set shop in various parts of Bundelkhand.

While Bundelkhand has traditionally been a region heavily dependant on farming, agricultural revival has not been a priority of the State government. The MoUs signed in the Sagar Investors Meet are mostly with Cement, Mining and Iron and Steel companies, a fact that could have potentially severe fallouts on the region’s environment.

The setting up of cement plants could prove disastrous for the region’s precarious ground water levels, contributing to the region’s already acute water insecurity. Historically, the region has been drought prone and has relied on traditional water conservation structures to make optimum utilization of water.

However, while access to electricity and clean drinking water remains a challenge for the people of Bundelkhand, the State government seems to have no problem in ensuring these and other conveniences for interested private investors.

According to the MoUs, the government has promised the investors continuous power from an independent feeder, permission to draw water from any perennial river, captive power duty exemption, entry tax exemption among other things.

“Electricity for those who can pay”

“Electricity is provided on a priority basis to only those who can pay for it so that the power companies can profit from it, so industry automatically becomes a priority sector in this regard,” says Praveen Garg, M.D., Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation.

“As for water, investors will show interest only if they are assured water supply. For this, water will be provided to them from rivers in the region. Efforts will be made to recharge water bodies and environmental concerns will be addressed,” he says.

While the State government claims that rapid industrialization is required in order to reverse the effects of drought and distress migration through large scale employment, experts don’t agree.

“Industries like cement and mining will prove disastrous for the environment of the region, especially forests and water bodies,” says Dr. Bharatendu Prakash, a Vikram Sarabhai fellow at the MP Council of Science and Technology and water conservationist working in the region.

“Look at the flow of the rivers Ken and Betwa even at this time. Just imagine what it will be like in peak summer months. Where will the water for industries come from? Instead of reviving the rivers and traditional water bodies of the region, the State government is playing with the fragile environment of Bundelkhand,” he says.

Reliable sources say that the government is possibly relying on the Ken-Betwa river linking project to ensure adequate water supply to industry. However, the project has proved a non-starter due to concerns over it voiced by Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

Community consultation

What is interesting is that while allowing investors to set shop, the Madhya Pradesh TRIFAC, in its official decision making guidelines, sees no place for consultations with the community concerned.

Mr. Garg, however, assured that the community will be consulted wherever required.

While Chief Ministeer Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been consistently asking the centre for more funds for the development of Bundelkhand, massive upper and lower level bureaucratic corruption in management of drought funds to the region has meant that drought-mitigation and other efforts have remained frozen on paper with hardly any relief to the people.

It now appears that in indiscriminate industrialization, the State government has found an easy way out of the Bundelkhand problem. Since official efforts have failed to mitigate the effects of drought and curb large scale distress migration and have neither created jobs nor community assets in the region, the Madhya Pradesh government seems ready to wash its hands off of Bundelkhand and leave the development of the region to private investors.

The MoUs, initially refused to be disclosed by the MPTRIFAC, were disclosed under the Right to Information Act after the intervention of the State Information Commission against a petition filed by Rolly Shivhare, a Bhopal based activist. This probably is the first occasion whereby information regarding MoUs signed by the State government has been disclosed under RTI.