Do we pay our ecological lagaan?
You have seen the film.You have cheered for my team. We won the match and saved our village from paying the cruel and crippling lagaan (tax) to the British for three continuous years. Have things changed much since then? Are the poor and weak still paying lagaans or taxes to the rich and powerful? Have you thought about who owes whom today? GT makes a case for a modern day ecological lagaan that we all must begin to pay to save our planet.
It is a hot, hot summer day. It is over 12 hours that you had food and you are very hungry, but it is your kid sister that you are more worried about. Despite the damp heat, you finally manage to fall asleep. Knock! Knock! The British officer cometh. ÔTOOMNAYAPNA LAGAAN DIYA NAHIN (You havenÕt paid your taxes)Õ, He shouts.
You know very well what lagaan or tax means Ñ slave the year long at the dry, unyeilding fields and give away precious grain without keeping enough for yourself. You get up with a start, sweating. Thank god, it was a dream! No British officer in sight, just your mother who is calculating how much income tax she has to pay, mumbling all the while about the pain she takes throughout the year to earn money just to give away huge sums at the end of the year to the government.
ÔItÕs our water but I have to pay for using itÕ, she says, looking at the water bill. Through your window, you see the dark smoke spiralling out of the factory chimney across the river. ÔMom, does the factory pay for poisoning our air?Õ you yell. Your mother just glares back.
Throughout history, lagaan or tax has always been taken from every person who earns, uses, buys or owns property and services. Names vary Ñ land tax, forest tax, income tax, property tax, sales tax, road tax. Have you ever wondered who takes tax, and why is it taken? Just like your parents need to earn money to feed, clothe and provide shelter to you and themselves, so does a government need money to manage the country.
In fact no lagaan,would mean no governments! The history of human civilization has been the history of evolving systems of lagaan by the rich from the poor, the landlord from the peasants, the colonialists from the natives, the ruling class from the working class, governments from citizens. A history of conflict over resources, especially natural resources.
The earthÕs land and water and its living resources was all that our ancestors had to survive on. Hungry? Just clamber up a fruit tree, or collect delicious berries and nuts from wild plants. What about honey from a beehive? Yummy! Or if you were a crack shot you could hunt animals in the jungle for their meat. Catch fish? If you were smart enough and knew how, you could grow crops and eat them.
You could possibly also keep cattle and drink their milk and eat their meat. ÔHow nice!Õ you might exclaim. A few amongst our ancients, the more clever, shrewd and stronger ones, had other ideas. You scrap your knees when you climb trees, bees sting you when you collect honey, and ploughing a field in this heat? No way! Why bother with all this running around to survive. Just force the majority to pay a land tax or lagaan.
In return we will provide you ÔprotectionÕ, they proclaimed. Thus the ruling class and their controlling armies were born. At the same time, this ecological heritage of forests, rivers, and the fruits and animals in them, still the basis of all the wealth in the
In exchange they provided protection and patronage. Just like our modern day governments. Today much of the world has ÔprogressedÕ to an industrialised one, colonised nations are free and independent. But the lagaans remain. The weak and the powerful sides remain. Unlike in Amir KhanÕs film however, we cannot settle the matter through a cricket match in real life!
1605 AD), India was one of the most urbanised countries with a network of 3,200 big cities, towns and urban hamlets. The lagaan gathered created a lot of wealth. A lot of goods were manufactured and traded between these urban centres. Per capita output of the Indian peasant was higher in the 1700 AD than in 1900 AD!
The hunting preserves
The Mauryan kings and later the Mughals maintained forested areas as hunting preserves for the nobility. Hunting for local population was either prohibited or restricted to small animals. In the shikargah or hunting ground, local residents could hunt quail, partridge and hare but not other larger animals. At all times they were allowed to gather leaves and twigs for fuel and medicinal herbs from the forest. On occasions, a peshkash or gift like elephants were received as tribute in lieu of cash revenue.
Besides hunting animals in these forests the nobility demarcated areas of the forests where wild elphants could be captured for use in armies. Elephant forests and hunting preserves brought in a new form of territorial control over living resources Ñ control by the state.
The village commons
The poorest people in the villages depended on the village common lands. The various jungle fruits and roots helped to keep them alive in the critical period before the crops were harvested. Uncultivated land offered extra space for grazing, which meant more animals for ploughing and dairy products.
Lagaan can also act as a restraint. Restraint over the urge to gobble up resources. This restraint is also provided by belief and fear of god. Thus god-fearing people attributed sacredness to individual trees, ponds or mountain peaks to protect their environment from over-exploitation. Rivers were considered mothers, certain animals like bear and antelope as brothers and some trees were seen as inhabited by demons.
The basket weaving community of the kaikadis (Maharashta) did not use the palmyra palm as a raw material because it violated the jatidharma or the social duty enjoyed by the group Ñ a social lagaan. Forest dwelling communities had many patches reserved as sacred groves, each with a guardian deity.
No one hunted in certain sacred hills, which still exist. It was believed that the gods did not favour the killing of any bird or animal on the sacred hill. A kind of sacred lagaan , which you didnÕt pay in cash or kind as individuals, but believed in as a community as an unwritten code of conduct.
In other words, ‘tax waste, not work,’ ‘tax bads, not goods,’ ‘pay for what you take, not what you make'
Green economists want a tax shift — an ecological lagaan or
A Friends of the Earth (FOE) booklet on ecological tax says ‘As economists have long known, we use less of what is taxed and more of what is not.
This general principle makes setting tax policy an issue of one basic question — What do we want more of, and what do we want less of? That's a question we can all answer. We want more well-paying jobs, less government waste, more environmental protection. We want less pollution.’
According to the FOE, presently the world's taxation systems promote waste, not work. How is that? Out of the world's $7.5 trillion (Rs 352.5 trillion) tax pie, 93% comes from work and investment related taxes while only 3% is collected from environment damaging activities.
A mere 4% of global tax revenues is captured from natural resource use and access fees. In other words, people are being taxed for their work excessively while very little is charged for spoiling agricultural land with chemicals, sending polluting fumes into the atmosphere or cutting down forests. Who pays for their use (or abuse)?
Polluter Pays Principle:
The costs of Pollution should be paid by the Polluter, not the Taxpaying Public
If you want to have a teakwood dining table (and destroy forests) or drive your car (and pollute the atmosphere), then you (the polluter) must pay for it in taxes. Polluters will either pay for their own clean-ups, or, better still, decide not to generate as much pollution in the first place. Right now, if a business is polluting a river, for instance, and escaping its cost, the responsibility to clean up the polluted river falls on the shoulders of the taxpayers. By contrast, the "polluter pays principle" holds that a polluter should bear the clean-up costs for its actions.The river Yamuna is not a free dustbin for the city of Delhi. Why should not the citizens of Delhi pay a tax for polluting the river?
The cricket matchis not over, yet
We may have mastered the art of playing cricket today, even beat the English at their own game. But there is another kind of game that is still being played between Rich and the Poor of the world. A match, played in much the same circumstances that Bhuvan’s team faced with the British officers.
That match is the ‘Grand Game of Global Development’. It is being played out between THE RICHIE RICH TEAM consisting of the rich industrialised nations versus THE POOR PEOPLE TEAM of the developing and the least developed countries. The trophy? The planet earth and its resources. We are living in very different times than that of the period shown in the film Lagaan.
No more colonial oppression, no more naked use of force and might. Most nations of the world are free and democratic. No more cruel lagaans. At least that is what we are given to believe. The industrialised countries may have given up imperialism, but they still need the world’s resources to sustain their lifestyles.
The countries of the world are locked in a battle of control over the planet’s resources. Today, powerful countries and corporations still want control over the use of those resources. Just like the colonialists.
According to a new international democratic order, nations of the world are expected to sit together to discuss ways to share the global pie of natural resources. In other words they engage in global environmental negotiations — on biodiversity, climate change, trade, environment, toxic wastes, oceans, forests, endangered species. The international community has given the United Nations (UN) the right to oversee this kind of global governance. All countries of the world send their ‘teams’ or delegations to play their part in this grand game of development.
Taxes to cut environmental costs (currently imposed on society) to be borne by polluters, heavy taxes on working people to be reduced, both at the same time.
By imposing ‘ecological lagaans’ on the bad guys who pollute and shifting tax burdens away from toiling labour and other taxes, a well-designed ecological tax reform will accomplish these two goals simultaneously. Is Mr. Yashwant Sinha listening?
‘Ecological lagaans’ have already been put into practice:
Only, in this game the rules have been set by the Richie Rich Team. They control the sponsors and the match fixers too. Organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are global institutions created by the Richies which decide where, how and under what conditions will money (sponsorship) be provided.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) decides the rules that nations of the world have to follow while trading. Obviously, these are tilted heavily in their favour. The Richie Rich Team members sometimes even bully the poor umpire (the UN) into allowing them to do what they want.
So what can the Poor People Team do? They too will have to learn the rules of this strange new game just like Bhuvan’s team did. If need be, they will have to change the rules of the game too.
The Planet Earth’s common natural heritage — its land, air and water — is not anyone’s private property. Mr George Bush? Are you listening?
Ecological lagaan makes a clear distinction between private wealth and common wealth. Common wealth or common property is that which is provided by nature — like air, oceans, forests, land.
If we believe that all humans have an equal right to the earth’s resources, then undertaxation (or giving less value to) of land and natural resources is a form of theft from the common heritage.
Governments charge much less than they could for the extraction and use of resources. (See ‘ecological lagaan’ opposite). In fact this is precisely what is happening, with large national economies along with powerful multinational corporations gobbling up the world’s resources for the benefit of a few.
Some facts. The gap between the world's rich and poor has continued to widen with the richest 20% now having 85% of the world's income. This 20% which lives in the richest countries have generated almost 75% of the total carbon dioxide emissions, a primary cause of global warming.
This 20% of the world's population is consuming 80% of all resources consumed annually, many of which are non-renewable. Developed countries and big multinationals get their raw material and labour from poor developing countries where both are available cheap, create finished products and then sell them at high prices.
Someone, somewhere is not paying their ecological lagaan…
A few examples of common property rip-offs:
How a privileged minority take the wealth of the world by unleashing debt monsters on the poor
When you borrow from a bank you pay an interest Ñ more than what you borrowed. And if you cannot repay the loan in a short time, the interest keeps adding and finally, you might end up paying more than double of what you borrowed. In the 1970s and 1980s, many poor countries in Africa and Latin America were given loans indiscriminately by Ôloan sharksÕ like the World Bank and governments of rich countries, and got caught in the debt trap. How? Three things occurred which sent the debt of poor Third World (developing countries) spiraling:
Countries not able to make their debt payments take further loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with stiff conditions, known as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). SAPs require governments to privatise industries, devalue the currency and cut spending on health, education and jobs. Cuts to health and social services fall most heavily upon women and female children. To repay this debt, rainforests are being destroyed, fish stocks are being exhausted, and land is being stripped for mines to increase exports.
SO WHO OWES WHOM?
‘The technologies and the way of life of the industrialised societies have had irreversible impacts on the biosphere and have provoked the impoverishment or disappearance of a great number of people, cultures and ethnic groups, thus seriously threatening the continuation of life on the planet. These industrialised societies owe an Ecological Debt to the biosphere and the peoples of the South (developing countries). Besides there is a debt to the biosphere, and therefore a debt to the peoples that have used the biosphere sustainably’.
International Campaign for the Recognition and Payment of the Ecological Debt — ACCION ECOLOGICA, Quito, Ecuador
"People who are drinking cocoa or coffee are drinking their blood,"
The Chocolate Slaves
Salia Kante, Director, Save the Children Fund, Mali
Many of Malian children are kidnapped and sold into slavery. In all, at least 15,000 children are thought to be over in the neighbouring Ivory Coast, producing cocoa which then goes towards making almost half of the world's chocolate.
Condensed from The Independent, 16.04.2001 The Etireno sailed from the port of Cotounou in Benin (Nigeria's western neighbour) in mid-April reportedly with a cargo of sickly children 'sold' by their povertystricken families to slave traffickers. Parents hand their children over in the belief they will be placed in wellpaid work and educated in richer Gabon.
The parents receive as little as £8 (Rs 500). The traffickers sell the children for up to £180 (Rs 12, 600) each to work as domestic servants or on cocoa plantations. The 'chocolate slaves' of the Ivory Coast come from the region's poorest countries - Mali, Benin, Togo and the Central African Republic. Campaigners report that children are forced to work 12 hours a day and are sometimes physically and sexually abused.
Fifteen Jubilee 2000 Kids representing 40 groups from schools and churches in Britain are saying to leaders of rich countries,
"Drop the Debt!"
Outside Number 10 Downing Street, the British Prime Ministers Office, the children laid down bags of cash which they had saved by fasting from chocolate.
(Source of information on this page: www.jubilee-kids.org)
The poorest countries in the world now owe more than $2.1 (Rs 98.7) trillion to their richer neighbours — that is $2,100,000,000,000 (or Rs 98,700,000,000,000)
Jubilee 2000 is an international movement which called for cancellation of this unpayable debt of the world's poorest countries by the year 2000. The movement draws its inspiration from the book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures, which describes a Year of Jubilee every fifty years. In the Jubilee year, social inequalities are rectified: slaves are freed, land is returned to original owners, and debts are canceled.
Presently, Third World countries are being pressured to increase exports to repay their debts. But the more they export, the less these countries receive. For example, between 1980 and 1995, the volume of exports from Latin America increased by 245 per cent. Between 1985 and 1996, 2,706 million tons of basic resources, mostly non-renewable, were extracted to make products for export. The amount of resources transformed, destroyed or moved in order to produce these exports has not been calculated. Nor the number of people affected or displaced.