Finally, the cat is out of the bag. After bluffing the country with a “fiscal stimulus” bait but announcing only liquidity infusion for credit and promising release of due payments to businesses and individuals, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of the Rs 20 trillion-worth COVID-19 package – as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his televised address to the nation on May 12th – had nothing remotely connected with a package but only the decisions of the government to unleash a renewed juggernaut of liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation. It revealed that the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) envisioned by Modi is nothing more than a haven for global monopoly-finance capital-owned giant corporations and their Indian crony-comprador lackeys. The entire focus of the finance minister was on selling off Indian people’s resources and assets to big capital in lieu of donations flowing to Modi’s coffers.
Sitharaman’s fourth tranche focused on structural adjustment programmes, which have been long demanded by the global monopoly-finance capital-owned corporations and their Indian crony-comprador lackeys, the very powers who installed Modi on the throne in 2014 and 2019 for this purpose. There was no mention of any stimulus for the poor. The big fat lie of Rs 20 trillion-worth stimulus package announced by Modi ended with the first and the second tranches, where Sitharaman promised liquidity infusion and returning the receivables of the small enterprises and the common people. There is no stimulus. There is no conscious effort to generate demand in the economy, which has been deteriorating since 2016-17, and now under a standstill mode, thanks to the lockdown announced on March 24th to purportedly check the spread of COVID-19.
On March 16th, Sitharaman’s fourth tranche announcements were centred on the liberalisation of the mining sector, corporatisation of the defence sector, privatisation of the airports and the power distribution companies (discoms) in the union territories.
Coal mining liberalisation
The monopoly of the state in the mining of coal will be ended. Private firms will be allowed to mine coal in new blocks and also to work on a revenue-sharing model with the government to explore more coal. Coal beds will be auctioned by the government to the private entities, and both Indian and foreign corporations can take part in the bid. There may be incentives if coal is transformed into coal gas.
There will be a Rs 500 billion-worth capital investment in improving the evacuation infrastructure. Sitharaman boasted that India has the world’s third-largest coal reserve and if the coal mining is expanded, then it will add more value to the “self-reliant India” mission of the Modi regime. It’s, of course, understood that the foreign capital will play a crucial role in extracting coal from India.
Why this idea is a disastrous one? Firstly, coal is one of the major environmental hazards and more coal consumption will definitely increase carbon emission by India, which will severely affect the environment. Secondly, the coal reserve in India is not of high quality in most of the cases and, therefore, it’s not preferred by Indian industry as such coal emits more smoke, causing environmental damage and increasing cost of operations. Thirdly, when coal is extracted, it’s done in a planned manner, followed by sand-filling to ensure there is no landslide in an area due to the vacuum created; the private entities won’t show interest in spending money for such causes and, thereby, they will jeopardise people’s lives by leaving them vulnerable to landslides. Fourthly, private entities, especially global corporations won’t think twice before destroying the pristine forests of India, especially in eastern and central India, it will be an environmental catastrophe. Fifthly, coal mining is a hazardous profession, where workers need a lot of healthcare, but the private entities will exploit the workers more and thereby reduce their lifespan significantly. Finally, unchecked mining of coal will severely impact agriculture, water resources, animal livestock and people’s health in a locality, which will wreak havoc.
Then why coal mining is given so much priority and why such a hazardous sector is opened up to the private sector? The reason is simple. From Gautam Adani’s Adani Enterprises to Anil Aggarwal’s Vedanta group, Modi is always backed and funded by the big mining giants. Such companies are notorious for the damage they do to the environment, people’s livelihoods and the society at large. With total liberalisation of the coal mining sector, the Modi regime is paying back the mining lobby for their undaunted support. Profiteering by these mining giants is the sole goal of this coal sector reforms undertaken by the Modi regime.
Mineral mining liberalisation
Sitharaman announced that there will be a mechanism to build seamless coordination for exploration-mining-production in the mineral sector. There will be sectoral reform in mineral mining for growth. Needless to say, the fruit of such “growth” will be feeding the ilk of Adani and Vedanta. Sitharaman also announced that there will be a joint auction of necessary mineral elements like coal and bauxite (for aluminium production).
Also, there will be no more any distinction of captive and non-captive mines, which means, a mineral mining license holder can transfer the mining lease to another party – foreign or local – when they lose interest in mining. This will allow extensive exploitation of the mineral-rich pristine forest cover areas of India’s tribal belt by the big corporations.
To ensure that corporates don’t pay much for looting and plundering the resources that belong to the tribal people, the government has announced rationalisation of stamp duty. A mineral index will be made by the government as well and its bureaucrats will hard-sell the minerals of India.
Sitharaman’s fourth tranche announcements declared liberalisation and privatisation in the defence sector. She said that the government will ban the import of certain weaponry after consulting with the defence experts and manufacture them in India. Although she talks about the “Make in India” scheme, it’s evident that with no local expertise or infrastructure, especially in technology, there will be involvement of foreign capital and technology in such manufacturing.
There was also a declaration that no spare units for defence will be imported if they can be indigenised. Though it’s not clear how under a licensed usage right, the government can moot the idea of local production of spares without considering the objection from global weapon giants.
The Ordnance Factory Board, which manages several ordnance and defence factories, will be corporatised. Sitharaman claimed that corporatisation and privatisation aren’t the same and the move, according to her, is taken to just make the board efficient and visionary. She, however, said that the ordnance board-led factories will be listed in the stock market. It, according to her, will make the people the real owner of these crucial defence-related companies.
At any point in time, the common people don’t flock the stock market. It’s a clear move to privatise the Ordnance Factory Board and allow the management to work as per the business objectives of the new “owners” and not the defence requirements of the country. FDI levels are also raised from 49% to 74% in the sector.
Airspace, airports, civil aviation
The government will use the airspace in an optimum way to reduce commuting times of civil aircraft. Sitharaman claimed it will reduce fuel consumption and thereby save the import bills.
Six airports of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) will be auctioned. The AAI and the corporate houses, especially those owned by the Adani group, will manage the airports on a PPP basis. No underlying reason was provided by Sitharaman regarding the privatisation of airports and she didn’t provide any data to validate her point that the privatisation of airports will optimise their functioning.
Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities will be developed in India for both civil and military aircraft to save time and money. According to Sitharaman, aviation companies spend a lot of money on MRO at foreign locations. If the same is done in India, it will save their time and money, while generating jobs in India. The offshore private MRO for the Rafale Jet by Anil Ambani is a classic example of what Sitharaman has in her mind. The formation of MROs will eventually need more foreign capital investment and technological collaboration, making India merely a hub for offshore operations due to cheap labour resources.
Discom privatisation in all union territories was an important part of Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of announcements. The discoms will be privatised as Sitharaman considers them ineffective and she believes privatisation will make them very efficient.
The states will be requested to follow the footsteps of the Union in making similar provisions of discom privatisation. This will mean greater electricity bills for the common people and more profiteering by the corporate houses.
Social infrastructure development
Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of announcements also mentioned that social infrastructure development, especially the building of hospitals. There will be a 30% viable GAP funding for social infrastructure projects like hospital construction. Rs 81 billion has been assigned for this and this will happen under a PPP model.
Space and atomic energy
The government claimed that it will liberalise the space and atomic energy sectors. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will help private corporations and startups. Sitharaman also announced that the geospatial data available with the government will be sold to the private sector.
As per Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of announcements, the government will now end monopoly in atomic power and research. Corporate houses will be allowed to participate in PPP models for the production of medical isotopes.
Also, a PPP model will be built for developing food preservation using atomic power.
If all these announcements are seen in continuation with the first three tranches of the so-called Rs 20 trillion-worth “fiscal stimulus” package for COVID-19 relief, then we will realise that it’s the one that majorly emphasises on Modi’s vision of selling India to big corporate houses. Rather than allocating any money for the common people, rather than opening up public sector hiring to provide relief to the displaced and distressed workers, the government is trying to make them slaves of notorious global corporations.
Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of announcements shows that the government’s idea is to utilise the opportunity of panic and distress created by the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out its obnoxious agenda. One must remember that Dr Rajiv Kumar, vice president of the NITI Aayog, had declared on Modi’s victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election that the government will bring “big bang reforms” during the first 100 days. Though the first 100 days and more were spent on rolling out the Hindutva fascist juggernaut, it’s only after the Union Budget 2020-21, the Modi regime plunged to carry out its much-cherished “reform agenda”.
These so-called reform measures will not only establish corporate fiefdom and tyranny in India, but it will also eventually evict millions of tribal people, destroy hectares of pristine forests, hills, dry and toxify rivers, and push a large part of the country towards a bigger crisis. Sitharaman’s fourth tranche of announcements unleashed the violent corporate aggression against the poor of India, which was anticipated for a long time. States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal have already experienced the mining corporations’ war against the tribal people to evict them from their water, forests and land, which they have been resisting. With a new impetus, these corporates will intensify their violent aggression against the poor tribal and destroy India’s oxygen source. This is a war against the people announced by the Indian government on behalf of big mining corporations and other global corporate houses. India’s loss of sovereignty is a crucial parameter for Modi’s “self-reliant India”.