On January 13, 2008, this blog reported the announcement that Tata Motors of India had developed an automobile that would sell for one lakh (100,000 rupees, or approximately $2,300). This week construction of a $350 million production plant for the Nano in the state of West Bengal was briefly halted by vehement protests from farmers and local political leaders complaining about forcible seizures of land for the plant. During the course of the protests, Tata Motors threatened to move the location of the production plant to another part of India. The state governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, brokered a meeting between officials of the Communist Party of India, which supports the plant, and representatives of the opposition Trinamool Congress party, which opposes it. The Associated Press reports that today it was announced that the protests will be called off after the state government agreed to provide greater compensation to those who lost their land. The opposition is declaring the compensation agreement to be “a big win for us.”
Protests over seizures of land for economic development also are becoming increasingly common in China. When I discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London in my Environmental Law class in Beijing, my Chinese students were highly critical of the decision because it upheld the U.S. government’s right to seize land for purposes of economic development. A major reason for their opposition is that this practice is quite common in China, but the compensation provided by the Chinese government when land is seized is viewed as grossly inadequate. Yet few protests in China succeed because the government does not have well developed protections for property rights. This is one reason why China has been able to develop large infrastructure projects more quickly than India. While it is too soon to tell, the settlement of the Tata protests may signal that when the stakes are high enough, Indian political leaders can afford to grease the wheels of development.
Controversy continues in the United States over the safety of a chemical - bisphenol-A - that is widely used to harden plastics. In April of this year Canadian health authorities concluded that the chemical may pose some risks to infants because of test data associating it with toxic effects in animals. The data had been obtained through targeted testing pursuant to the government’s new chemical control law that is similar to the European Union’s REACH program. These programs require extensive testing before new chemicals can be marketed and they establish tiered testing procedures to assess the safety of chemicals already on the market.
In April 2008 the Canadian Health Minister announced plans to ban the sale of products containing bisphenol-A in baby bottles. At the same time retailers such as Walmart agreed not to sell food containers, bottles and pacifiers containing the chemical and Nalgene, a manufacturer of water bottles, agreed to discontinue use of the chemical. The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association, continues to insist that the chemical can be safely used in such products. Their position recently received support from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which reported that human exposures from use in consumers products were too low to be dangerous. However, this week researchers at Yale released a study linking the chemical to neurological problems and mood disorders in monkeys. Lyndsey Layton, Chemical in Plastic Is Connected to Health Problems in Monkeys, New York Times, Sept. 4, 2008, p. A2. The responses of the Canadian and U.S. governments to the test data seem to reflect a more precautionary approach in Canada than in the United States.