ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Worrisome Business of a National Investment Board

While the National Investment Board is supposed to speed up economic growth, it raises questions about the environment, livelihoods of marginalised people, existing legislations for wildlife and forest conservation and interrelations between the centre and the states since forestland comes under both central and state laws. Disguised as an opposition to red tape this is a sinister agenda to circumvent India's democratic process to favour short-sighted economic gains.

The proposed constitution of the National Investment Board (NIB) has raked up controversies on multiple fronts. The NIB is envisaged as a sure-shot way to deal with the red tape in environmental clearances that supposedly chokes the much-needed growth of the Indian economy. By circumventing the entire process, India’s Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have launched an apparent blitzkrieg against environmental regulations that pose impediments to clearing big businesses and infrastructure projects. Coming out strongly against the “delay” caused by the ministries like those in charge of environment and forests to clearing developmental projects, Chidam­baram minced no words in essentially declaring that if the ministries did not provide a quick and clean go-ahead to these vital economic investments, the NIB would expedite the clearance process, regardless of dissent from any other government body. The implicit understanding: Big projects should be cleared. And if the ministries do not clear them, then the NIB will.

Minister of Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan has challenged this proposal, and with good reason (Singh 2012). In an excellently argued letter to the prime minister (India Today 2012), she cogently outlined why the NIB runs contrary to existing laws and judicial precedents, and infringes upon the domains of other ministries. Minister for tribal affairs and panchayati raj, Kishore Chandra Deo although more circumspect, expressed concern that the NIB would violate the Forest Rights Act (2006), further marginalising scheduled tribes (STs) and forest dwellers. The dissent from these ministries is welcome, commendable, and in keeping with the spirit of Indian democracy, that has been lauded time and again (Guha 2007). But at the same time, the dissent from these ministries should come as no surprise – so ad hoc and arbitrary is the proposal for the NIB.

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