When wealth is controlled by a few
People are born either in rich or poor homes. They have no means of deciding whether they shall be ushered into luxury or penury by the hand of nature at birth. Then, society chooses to call it the writ of destiny and passes on the blame to an unseen hand that decides this. Nobody ever finds a fault with destiny if he or she is born rich. Childhood throes of scarcity, want, hardship and public neglect are suffered in the worst form only by those born poor.
Land is mainly inherited, but sometimes also acquired through honest purchases. The size of inherited per capita land goes on decreasing as the population grows. Yet , there are those who understand very early in life that owning more land, whether by grabbing or by hiring through malicious allurements or by prevailing upon the powers that be can make them ride the crest of a fast financial trajectory. They are the people who own mines which hold the most valuable treasure of nature in the form of metals, non-metals, precious stones and fossil fuels which run the economy of a country.
If you suddenly discover a hidden treasure inside your land, you have to surrender it to the Government and cannot become its owners as such by virtue of the excavation and the ownership of the land. However, when you have a say in the corridors of power and also money to pay for the lease of a potentially mineral-rich land-tract you become a thief of the wealth which belongs to everyone and not to you alone. Crops grown on the earth belong to the grower. Sheep reared by you on your land belong to you and so do the trees on a legitimately owned piece of land.
However, public forests, on the other hand belong to us all. Yet, the forest wealth harvested as timber or harnessed as floral and medicinal produce by the lessees brings loads and loads of profits only to the people who procure a lease. This is a meteoric path to riches at the cost of the public which is the joint owner of public wealth.
It is true that mines have to be operated by someone who has money and can bear the costs of operations. Yet, taking away a monstrously large chunk of the profits without letting any subsidy on the finished products flow to the public, who are the joint owners of that wealth, is an act of day-light stealth in which the rich-man running the show and the governments are connivers.
Be it gold or diamond mines, coal mines, iron mines, copper mines, silver mines, zinc mines or petroleum wells, they only serve to fill the pockets of the people who are already over-provided by nature.
Now man-made rules and provisions have also been bent and twisted to benefit these people. The governments, if these are good governments, are meant to govern the human affairs of the country in manners which should do maximum good to the maximum number of people.
Herein comes the role of laws that should make sure that this natural wealth hidden in the womb of nature should not be cornered by a few simply to fill their own coffers, but to make these things available to all at rationally determined rates. Such rationality must be brought in through committees of experts in each field respectively. That shall give the citizen a feeling that his share in nature’s treasure has not been served to the rich man on a platter.
(The author is a retired Principal Government College, Hoshiarpur, Punjab)