I was astonished to read in today's newspaper that the infamous Tata group has been hailed as the world's third most transparent and accountable corporation by Britain's One World Trust in their Global Accountability Report!
The assessment is supposed to be "a measure of the extent to which organisations have the policies and systems in place to enhance consistent and coherent accountability to the people they affect."
Victims of police firing, Kalinganagar.
In January 2006, 13 people (including a woman and a boy) were killed in police firing in Kalinganagar, Orissa, when indigenous communities protested against the setting up of a Tata steel plant and demanded rehabilitation of the evictees.
Tapasi Malik's charred body.
And later in 2006, the Tatas were in a hush-hush deal with the CPI(M) in West Bengal to obtain land to set up a car plant in the fertile agricultural zone of Singur. Almost exactly a year ago, Tapasi Malik, a young girl participating in the anti-acquisition movement, was brutally raped, murdered and burnt by the local powers that be, with a view to terrorising the agitationists into submission. (Read Dr Mrinal Bose's story on Singur here, and Sandip Bandopadhyay's article on Singur and Nandigram here.)
Here's my letter to the One World Trust (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dear Madam or Sir
I am writing from Calcutta, India, after reading about the Tata group in India being named the world's third most accountable and transparent company in the One World Trust's Global Accountability Report.
I am dismayed to read this. In the last year and a half, people in Calcutta, in the state of West Bengal in India, and also elsewhere in India, have been extremely concerned about the secret deal made between the Tatas and the West Bengal state govt, for land in Singur to set up a car manufacturing plant in an extremely fertile agricultural belt. Both the company and the govt have shrouded the whole matter in secrecy. But given the fact that a large number of farmers and farm workers would be displaced, the matter is one of acute public concern. In December 2006, Tapasi Malik, a young girl participating in the anti-acquisition movement, was brutally raped, murdered and burnt by the local powers that be, with a view to terrorising the agitationists into submission.
Though the Tata group had tended to be regarded with a modicum of respect in India for its socially concerned policies, it is evident now that with the intensification of globalisation the company has decided to discard such principles and hunt with the hounds.
The state govt with which the Tatas made this deal - is one which is notorious in India today for its failure of governance, with the state ranking among the lowest in India in human development indicators. It is the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) that is running the state, rather than the govt. It is a parallel state within the state, unconstrained by laws and constitutional strictures. Every aspect of life in the state is controlled by the party. As witnessed through 2007 in Nandigram, another site of proposed land acquisition, the party rules by its murderous might. Yet the Tata group, for its commercial interests, has chosen to make a secret deal with this party, giving short shrift to the interests of people. The party then uses its proximity to the Tatas to boast about its success in attracting investments to the state.
The car plant being built in Singur is to manufacture the very low-cost car being developed by the Tatas. However, much more than cheap cars, what India needs now is a drastic overhauling of transport policy to address paralysing congestion, frightening pollution and escalating accidents. The Tatas have chosen to entirely disregard such concerns.
But in January 2006, well before the Singur land acquisition, 13 people (including 3 women and a boy) were killed in police firing in Kalinganagar in the neighbouring state of Orissa, when indigenous communities protested against the setting up of a Tata steel plant and demanded rehabilitation of the evictees. In its alacrity to make secret deals with pliant govts, all concern for the well-being of the country's people, and especially the poor and vulnerable sections, has been thrown to the wind. Amnesty International had conducted an investigation into this incident and concluded that the land acquisition was shrouded in secrecy, without the slightest transparency or public accountability.
Incidentally, the Global Accountability Report comes close on the heels of the news of the Tata vehicles being rated the worst in South Africa.
In the light of the above, one is compelled to dismiss the Global Accountability Report as something not worth paying any attention to, or even, more cynically, see it as a means to help the Tatas shore up their rapidly eroding credibility with a little bit of cosmetic make-up. However, the govts who make secret deals with the Tatas would undoubtedly be very pleased to read about the "distinction" granted to their friends, the Tatas.
Calcutta / INDIA