Mahim Pratap Singh

MoUs disclosed under Right to Information Act

Government promised investors continuous power

BHOPAL: The Madhya Pradesh Government has promised a free hand to investors to exploit the grossly under-developed Bundelkhand region.

RTI documents accessed recently from the Madhya Pradesh Trade and Investment Facilitation Corporation (MPTRIFAC) under the Right to Information Act reveal that in various memorandums of understanding (MoUs) signed during the Sagar Investors' Meet in 2008, the Government had promised several freebies to investors to set up shops in various parts of Bundelkhand. The MoUs 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.

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 during the meet were mostly connected with cement, mining and iron and steel companies, a fact that could potentially have a severe fall-out on the region's environment.

The setting up of cement plants could prove disastrous for the region's precarious groundwater level. Historically the region has been drought-prone and relied on traditional water conservation techniques to make optimum utilisation 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 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 only to 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, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation.

“As for water, the investors will show interest only if they are assured of 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 industrialisation 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 the Government is possibly relying on the Ken-Betwa river linking project to ensure adequate water supply to the industry. However, the project has remained a non-starter due to concerns over it voiced by Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Community consultation

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

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

While Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been consistently asking the Centre for more funds for the development of Bundelkhand, due to corruption at the bureaucratic level drought-mitigation and other efforts have remained frozen on paper with hardly any relief to the people. It now appears that with indiscriminate industrialisation, the State Government has found an easy way out of the Bundelkhand problem. The MoUs 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.