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Contours of Ecological Democracy

by L. Antonysamy
Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, India

L. Antonysamy is chairperson of CEDA Trust, Founder of the Tamil Nadu Environment Council (TNEC) and State Chief Convener of the Social Action Movement (SAM) Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry. This speech was delivered, August 31, 2002, at the People's Earth Summit, World Sustainability Hearing a parallel event to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.


Democracy both locally and internationally is at stake. Democratically elected governments are forced to listen and obey not to their voters, the people, but to the so-called Masters and Protectors of the World, vis-à-vis the Most Developed Countries, IMF, World Bank, WTO and other such Institutions, the Multi National and the Trans National Corporations, that is the “Big Three”. It is said that the economy of 200 such Corporations is bigger than that of around 180 Countries put together. This simply explains the status and the context of the world today. These are the actors solely responsible for the environmental catastrophe that is facing the developing countries and the world today. In this context, the democratic countries are not able to exercise their responsibility against bio-piracy; the deterioration of bio-diversity; promotion of mono-culture in agriculture and forest; desertification; pollution of air, water and land resources, appropriation of coastal resources, which are the primary livelihood resources of the have-nots. The appropriation of these resources is for fulfilling the greed of the haves. Thanks to the Globalisation. Globalisation has very well created its cloning “Governmentisation”. “Governmentisation” is by the “BIG THREE”, for the “BIG THREE” and of the “BIG THREE”.

I hope that WSSD will not become a means for Globalisation forces cloning UNO (United Nations Organization) into UNOisation, that is, by the “BIG THREE”, for the “BIG THREE” and of the “BIG THREE” and thus taking away even the last resort to control the Octopus Globalisation.


The Governments are not for their people but for these vested interests. Governmentisation is for creating a conducive environment for the flourishing of Corporatisation, which is for super profit from anywhere and everywhere at any cost without any concern for the people and their only livelihood resource, the Earth.

In India, for the last five months, the Tribals and the Dalits in Kerala have been fighting against the plant of Coca Cola for appropriating the ground water resources and polluting the livelihood resources and thereby affecting the Tribals, Dalits, small and marginal farmers nearby the plant. From this plant, every day, 85 lorry/truck loads of beverage products, each load containing 550-600 cases and each case containing 24 bottles with 300 ml capacity, leave the factory premises. In its 17-hectare land, more than 65 bore-wells were sunk to extract the ground water for the production of Coke and Maza. Bottle washing involves the using of chemicals and the effluents are released without treatment contaminating the ground water creating a water crisis for the Tribals, Dalits and the farmers. As the livelihood resources are affected the employment is also affected pushing them further to the vicinity of the poverty situation. Now, we could imagine the role of Government whether it would be on the side of the people or giving protection to Coca Cola. The police are giving protection to Coca Cola, and the people waging struggle, especially women and children, are behind the bars. That is today’s democracy. This is only one sample. There are hundreds of ongoing struggles in India and all over the world against industrial pollution mostly affecting the poorest of the poor marginalizing them further and further.

In the name of conserving the environment, protecting the wild life and various development projects, such as Reserve Forests, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Dams, Hydro Electrical Projects and so on, the tribals are uprooted from their own homeland by displacement. Even the existing tribal communities in the forests are at constant threat by Plantations, Tourism industry and so on. In spite of the existence of the Forest Department meant for the protection of the forests, the forest cover is depleting but their rule over the tribals is getting firm rooted keeping the tribals under constant insecurity and threat.

If we take the coastal areas, the fisher people, the small and marginal farmers and the landless Dalit agricultural labourers have been severely affected by the shrimp industries. The affected people in the States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Orissa and other places have been waging struggles against the shrimp industries and even people were killed in the struggle, but still the shrimp industries are accumulating their profit. Even after the verdict of the Supreme Court ordering the closure of the industries, they are thriving. The shrimp industries have devastated the livelihood resources of the fisher people, the landless dalits and the farmers.

Rivers are major livelihood resources for the communities. For example, in Tamil Nadu, apart from being affected by the pollution by the industries, the rivers are facing another problem of sand mining by powerful contract companies. Even though only one metre depth of sand is legally allowed in the prescribed riverbed areas to be taken by the contractors, in reality the sand is taken more than 10-20 metres in depth. Due to such extensive sand mining by the river sand mafia and its corrupt tactics, the adjoining wells used both for irrigation and drinking have become dry as the ground water keeps on going down, the river beds go far below down the receive-link canals, which are connected to the traditional tanks and ponds. The coconut trees and other tree varieties, which fetch income to the people, die because of the non-availability of the water. The farmers and the landless labourers, especially women and children, are very much affected by this and the people are forced to migrate from their communities in search of employment. The people, who are fighting against the sand mafia, are very much affected, harassed, assaulted, arrested, false cases filed, and made to live in an insecure environment but again, the business goes unaffected. There is no security to the life of the people, who oppose the gross violations of the law by the sand mafia.

The Green Revolution not only broke the intrinsic biodiversity relationship between nature and the farmers, but also made them dependent on the Green Revolution actors for ever and made them become ever indebted. Now the Monsantoes-Gadgils, McDonalds, Coca Colas are actively involved in annihilating the local initiatives, local economy, local cultures and the entire farming communities.

These testimonies clearly prove that the Governmentisation process is very active and is very fast in bringing the public services sector, infrastructure sectors, into the Corporate domain and making changes in the laws, which enhance the Corporatisation in the country and thus clearly open the door for the free entry of the Transnational Corporations thereby betraying communities.

This is the situation in most of the developing countries of the world. The governmentisation process makes democracy the homeland of Globalisation. This has to be prevented and democracy should really be given life to make it become meaningful to the people very much affected by Globalisation. This means that Globalisation and Governmentisation have to be countered by ecological democracy, which I term as “Peoplearthisation” both at the local level and at the global level.


“Peoplearthisation” is a value-driven process focusing on living in harmony with people and living in harmony with nature both at the local level and at the global level. “Peoplearthisation” is placing the people and earth at the centre of sustainable development. “Peoplearthisation” is just and equitable in terms of gender, socio-cultural, economic, political and ecological spheres, peaceful, mutual, consensus, not dominating and colonising one over the other, not discriminating in terms of Caste and Race, placing the grass roots at the centre, transparent, accountable. “Peoplearthisation” is a sustainable and equitable decision-making process by the people with a human rights and natural rights perspective.

Responsibilities at the Local Level

The Civil Society Organisations, especially the NGOs, have a major responsibility in accelerating the functioning of the People’s Organisations, Community Based Organisations, and People’s Movements at the local level and national level to get involved in the process of “Peoplearthisation”. “Peoplearthisation” is not something new to be invented but something to be rediscovered and reaffirmed. It was oppressed and covered by Colonisation and Globalisation. “Peoplearthisation” is still working at the grass roots in many communities all over the world. It is the responsibility of the NGOs to bring it to the forefront as a viable and sustainable alternative to globalisation.

At the national level, the NGOs with the Coalitions of People’s Organisations should make the National Governments become pro-people by adopting various strategies of people’s mobilization, creating public opinion, campaigns, advocacy, struggles and so on. At no cost, Governmentisation should be allowed to rule the people. Pressure on the national governments should be ongoing and should be a continuous process to make them pass legislations and amend the existing legislations relevant to the International Treaties, Conventions etc. ensuring sustainable development and create appropriate mechanisms with provisions for people’s participation in terms of planning, implementing and monitoring.

The Governments at the National level should be pressurized for devolution of powers to the local governance institutions and they should be made to play a coordination role rather than dictating and controlling the local governance institutions.

Even though NGOs are involved in organizing and mobilizing the people at the grass roots they have to concentrate in facilitating Coalitions of various People’s Organisations, Community Based Organisations, People’s Movements both at the local level and at the National level. This process is not so easy and is very much challenging, as people have been infected with the dangerous viruses of egoism, consumerism, competitivism, privatism, individualism, profitism and what not by the Colonisation, Privatisation, Corporatisation and Globalisation. The NGOs and the Coalition of People’s Organisations and Movements should ensure that they are in conjunction with the value system of “Peoplearthisation”. Only then they will be able to counter Globalisation, otherwise they will be co-opted by the forces of Globalisation.

Responsibilities at the Global Level

At the Global level, it is again the Civil Society Organisations especially NGOs who have a major responsibility in facilitating and effective functioning of Coalitions of People’s Movements in making the International Organisations and Institutions work in favour of the “Peoplearthisation”.

The Civil Society should more and more concentrate on bringing the Corporate world within the “Peoplearthisation” process and make it more and more accountable to the people.

Among the various UN organisations/agencies, CSO should be given prime importance and other Institutions should work in coordination with CSO without compromising the rights of the people.

The UNO is being made less and less important by the Globalisation forces and converting it to be their mouthpiece. While the Civil Society Organisations should strongly condemn this and raise their voices in favour of the effective functioning of the UNO and its various other Institutions, it is becoming increasingly necessary for the Civil Society Organisations to think of creating United Peoples Organisation (UPO) as the Organisation of the Civil Society over the world. It is envisaged not as a parallel body to UNO but as a supporting force of the UNO. The UNO will become stronger and stronger only with the support of the people. Because, in the Globalisation context, UNO may be made defunct or it will be existing without powers and resources. The Civil Society should not remain a mere spectator to this and make it become more and more effective with the support of the people across the globe. The creation of United Peoples Organisation (UPO) will make the civil society organisations to be not only active at the time of various UN Summits, but keep it active through out to focus on the issues of the people affecting their sustainable development and would remain a platform to mutually share the grass root ecological experiences of the communities across the world and the experiences of the “Peoplearthisation”.

  • To see our full series of interviews and articles from the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 26 - September 4, 2002 - click here.

Published in In Motion Magazine, September 26, 2002