A change of stance

A change of stance  international human rights watchdog group, Amnesty International, on September 23 warned that the increasing globalisation of capital is leading to "development being pursued at the expense of human rights' and cited a number of examples from India to underline its point.

Amnesty's statement was put out on Tuesday to coincide with the World Bank (wb)-International Monetary Fund annual meeting in Hong Kong. It highlighted protests by Indian villagers, that can be seen both as a struggle for their livelihood, as well as campaigns to preserve their local environment in the face of the country's rush to industrialisation. The organisation said the restructuring of the global economy meant the role of the state is undergoing a fundamental transformation, in which "rights of people are frequently given less weightage in public policy as compared to interests of capital.'

"Sustainable development cannot be measured solely in terms of economic indicators,' said Amnesty, taking a seemingly new role in its 36-year-long history of campaigns. Earlier, Amnesty focused largely on securing the release of those imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs. But only last July, the organisation took a strong stance over alleged human rights violations against locals in the setting up of the Enron power plant in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

"Many affected by the projects have been from vulnerable groups, from the Dalit (disadvantaged section of the society due to caste hierarchies) or adivasi (tribal) communities,' said Amnesty, pointing to problems of displacement. Projects mentioned by the organisation that have led to violent responses against protests include a wb -funded National Thermal Power Corporation (ntpc) project in the Singrauli region of Uttar Pradesh and the East Parej Opencast Coal Project by Coal India Ltd in Bihar, also funded by the wb .

It also mentioned the arrest of 21 adivasis during peaceful protests against the construction of a luxury hotel on the site of the wb -funded eco-development project in Rajiv Gandhi National Park (generally known as the Nagarhole National Park) in the southern state of Karnataka. Some of those arrested included babies and children, Amnesty said, quoting reports.

The organisation also drew attention to the forcible eviction of members of the Maldhari adivasi community from the area of the Gir national park and sanctuary in Gujarat (part of the India-eco-development project of the wb) last year. During the eviction, a pregnant woman was beaten up by forest officials resulting in a miscarriage. "This pattern highlights the degree to which the central and state authorities in India are prepared to deploy state force to curtail freedom of association, expression, and assembly in the interests of development projects,' commented Amnesty.

In July 1996, Amnesty released its report Protests Suppressed in the Name of Development , which cited suppression of local protests against a joint venture by three us -based transnational corporations in India, involved with the Enron power project.

Amnesty said it "recognises' the rights of the state to safeguard employees and property of infrastructural development projects and industry, but argued that the rights of those protesting peacefully "should also not be compromised'. It also cited the killing by police of about 15 tribals between 1978 and 1982 during protests against the Subarnarekha multi-purpose dam project in Bihar, again funded by the wb .

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