National Seminar on Globalisation, Liberalisation and India's Environment: Emerging Trends and Debates

vieuxcmaq, Mercredi, Novembre 22, 2000 - 12:00

women`s University (

Globalisation and liberalisation are being heavily promoted by international institutions such as the World Bank and by many liberal economists as the route to economic development, especially for 'developing' countries. But these policies, which include freer international trade, increased foreign investment, deregulation, and structural adjustment, have come in for sharp criticism from a broad spectrum of non-governmental organisations and social movements, as displayed so vividly in Seattle.

Post-Graduate Department of Sociology
S.N.D.T. Women's University
Churchgate Campus,
Mumbai 400 020

February 15-16, 2001

Globalisation and liberalisation are being heavily promoted by international institutions such as the World Bank and by many liberal economists as the route to economic development, especially for 'developing' countries. But these policies, which include freer international trade, increased foreign investment, deregulation, and structural adjustment, have come in for sharp criticism from a broad spectrum of non-governmental organisations and social movements, as displayed so vividly in Seattle. While opposition to globalisation has been voiced by diverse social movements, some of the most prominent critics have been environmentalists, such that the debate on globalisation has come to be closely linked with environmental issues -- a conjuncture that has thrown up new questions, issues, and research agendas. In India, liberalisation and globalisation have been among the most significant and contested developments of the last decade. The apparent inevitability of globalisation and of a more market- oriented, open economy has added a new dimension to the debate on environment and development. Many activists and intellectuals argue that globalisation, in addition to aggravating poverty and inequality, can only accelerate the process of environmental degradation in the country, posing a threat to the livelihoods of the majority of the people and to the long-term development and ecological integrity of the country.

According to them, liberalisation policies have promoted privatisation and commercial exploitation of the country's natural resources, investment in polluting industries by foreign capital, growth of export-oriented agriculture at the expense of sustainable food production, and loosening of environmental protection regulations. Activists have also highlighted issues such as the adverse impact of the new IPR regime on biodiversity and agriculture, and the ecological destruction caused by export oriented industries as well as by World Bank funded projects. This pattern of development, they claim, will only benefit a privileged few and the corporate sector (multinational and national), while doing immense harm to India's ecological base and to the poor by restructuring the distribution and utilisation of natural resources. On the other hand, support for the new economic policy has come from unexpected quarters, and several activists and intellectuals argue that liberalisation, because of the accompanying technological changes and economic growth, will in the long run provide better livelihoods for people as well as greater environmental protection.

The purpose of the seminar is to examine closely some of the issues that have arisen about environmental change in India in the context of globalisation. It will provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of recent research, advocacy work and other initiatives by academics, activists, journalists and others on a wide range of topics, with the aim of generating constructive debate. Some of the broad themes that could be addressed at this seminar include:

1) Agriculture, rural livelihoods and food security. How have the GATT and WTO agreements and recent changes in economic policy affected Indian agriculture, food security, the livelihoods of farmers and agricultural workers, and the rural environment (soil, water)? What has been the impact on rural ecological systems of the import of agricultural products, increasing multinational participation in the agricultural sector and the promotion of agribusiness, and the shift to export-oriented agriculture in some regions? MNCs have increased their penetration into the market for agricultural inputs, especially the seed market, stimulating sharp controversies over the patenting of seeds and the introduction of genetically modified seeds. Why have some farmers' organisations led the battle against MNCs on issues such as biotechnology and IPRs, while others have welcomed liberalisation in the agricultural sector? Relaxation of land ceilings and dereservation of agricultural land in some states are other aspects of the liberalisation process that have implications for food security and the rural environment.

2) Threats to biodiversity. A number of processes linked to globalisation have been identified as being potentially detrimental to India's biodiversity: the TRIPs agreement under GATT and WTO rules that mandate the recognition of intellectual property rights in life forms; patenting of seeds and other genetic material; biotechnology and the development of genetically modified seeds and food products; the introduction of new technology, seeds and export-oriented crops in agriculture; and the entry of MNCs into the food sector. What are the specific linkages between these developments and biodiversity loss in different regions? What may be the impact of the recently formulated Biodiversity Bill 2000?

3) Privatisation of common property and public resources. A trend towards privatisation of common property resources such as water has been observed in several regions; to what extent is this linked to liberalisation, and what are the ecological implications? Similarly, environmentalists claim that forest land is being privatised and commercialised in the name of 'eco-development' programmes (many sponsored by the World Bank). What has been the impact of liberalisation on the utilisation of public goods and the access of the poor to basic resources such as water, land and forests?

4) Promotion of export-oriented production. Activists argue that the promotion of export-oriented production under the new economic policy often focuses on activities such as shrimp farming and deep-sea fishing which are not only ecologically harmful but also destroy the resource base of local people, without providing compensation. What have been the ecological and social consequences of such 100 per cent export oriented activities, especially in the coastal zone? Is the emphasis on exports in tune with the earlier mantra of 'sustainable development'?

5) Liberalised trade, increased FDI and pollution. Liberalisation of trade, increased foreign investment, and the spatial reorganisation of industry are frequently cited as causes of increasing levels of pollution in industrialising countries. It is argued that globalisation allows industrialised nations to adhere to stricter environmental standards in their own countries while making profits from the third world (Bhopal being the prime and now symbolic example). For instance, liberalised trade has facilitated the export of toxic wastes from industrialised countries to the less developed world, often under the guise of recycling. On balance, what has been the impact on air and water pollution of the increased flow of FDI into India and of freer trade? To what extent does the push to implement liberalisation policies and to conform to WTO agreements take precedence over the enforcement of environmental laws in India? Or are stricter environmental standards being enforced to conform to ISO norms and the like?

6) Privatisation of infrastructure development projects. The opening of power generation and infrastructure projects such as road construction to private foreign investment is a controversial issue, with an environmental angle that has been highlighted by people's resistance movements such the one against the Enron project. What is the government's record on the environmental regulation of such projects given over to the private sector? Is there a contradiction between environmental laws and policies and the drive to attract foreign investment and to develop infrastructure facilities? The liberalisation of land acquisition rules to facilitate investment in infrastructure projects and new industries is a related issue with implications for the livelihoods of local people and for the environment.

7) Urban environment. The spatial reorganisation of manufacturing by MNCs through outsourcing and subcontracting has fuelled the typical pattern found in developing countries of rapid and unplanned urbanisation and expansion in the informal sector economy, resulting in extremely adverse environmental and health conditions in the cities. Deindustrialisation and the growth of unregulated 'tiny sector' manufacturing have also occurred in Indian cities, but can this process be linked directly with liberalisation? Are there other connections that can be made between globalisation and the deterioration in urban environments? For example, recent efforts to ease Mumbai's traffic congestion and to make the city more attractive to foreign and domestic capital by building numerous flyovers and improving roads is a solution that caters primarily to private vehicles, creating more road traffic and therefore more air pollution. Similarly, the rapid development of commercial property without corresponding infrastructure, slum demolition drives without rehabilitation of slum dwellers, the complete neglect of slum redevelopment and public transport projects, and the emphasis on 'beautification' rather than basic needs such as water, reflect not just bad planning but a particular vision of Mumbai as a 'global city'.

We invite papers and presentations on any of the above themes or other related topics, and we also invite suggestions for additional themes. Abstracts should be received by December 15, 2000, and papers by January 31, 2001.

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