Sunday, April 16, 2006

Depoliticise Narmada, rehabilitate people

Development issues should never be political. Generally they are not in developed and advanced societies.

Good roads and transportation, adequate supply of potable water, uninterrupted power, ample opportunities to pursue education and career are basic rights. And, they should have no bearing on which party is in power.

But, India is an exception. Development issues are highly politicised. So much so all development is stalled. From the tarring of the road to building of dams, examples are a legion.

We still have not been able to resolve the Narmda dam controversy, even after at least 25 years. Though the project was first conceived by Pandit Nehru as part of development projects for nascent India, complex legal issues involving different states delayed the formal announcement till 1979.

Over 3,000 big and small dams are to built over a stretch of 1,200 km. The Sardar Sarovar dam is the biggest and dogged by controversy.

The supporters of the project say that the dam will supply water to 30 million people and irrigate crops to feed another 20 million. But the opponents say nearly 2 lakh people will be displaced and damage the ecology of the region. They also say that rehabilitation of such a huge number of people is practically impossible, and alternative methods of irrigation and water supply haven't been explored.

What is not disputed by both sides is that the dam will greatly benefit people in drought-prone areas. While issue of possible ecological damage can be left to debators, that of rehabilitation Project Affected People should be addressed clearly.

Many independent studies have shown that villagers and tribals who have been affected have been left to the mercy of the elements and rehabilitation packages are merely on paper. Many international donor agencies and partners like the World Bank pulled out the project citing environmental and high human costs in early 1990s.

Build the dam, but don't kill people in the process is what activists like Medha Patkar have been saying, and I fully agree with her on that count. Tomorrow the issue comes up before the Supreme Court.

Why is development at the cost of human lives, when development itself is meant to improves the conditions of the people. Why is the government not rehabilitating these people properly? Is it because they are poor?

How cheap on part of politicians of Gujarat to politicise the issue.

Just a quick recap:

* March 8: Narmada Control Authority gives go-ahead to increase the height to 121.92 meters from 110.64. The Supreme Court had refused raising of the dam height in 2003.

* March 12: Medha Patkar and 50 others sit in dharna in Delhi, since the Supreme Court had said that the dam height can be increased only after properly rehabilitating the affected people.

* March 27: Medha goes on fast unto death.

* April 5 night: Police swoop down on Medha and take her to All-India Institute of Medical Sciences. Two others Bhagvatibhai and Jamsingh are also in hospital. They continue fast in hospital.

* April 7: A three-member team led by Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz visits the valley.

* April 10: Team submits report to Prime Minister. Widely speculated that the team found rehabilitation inadequate and recommended stopping of work.

April 14: Reports that Soz has ordered stoppage of work.

* April 16: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi begins a 51-hour hunger strike against stoppage or work. PM assures all-party team from Gujarat that work has not been stopped.

* April 17: Supreme Court to hear petition on stoppage of work.


  1. Development activities are becoming a highly publicized histrionic outlet for the politicos.. Hardly do such people tend to think of development as a "development"... but rather they bring in all the political prejudice and flavors and make a complete mess of it... and then talk of removing poverty and rehabs in their next election manifesto...

    only if development and election get decoupled from their minds can a proper enforcement channel be created to overlook proper development and rehab activites... otherwise they just reduce to being another politico-election stunt...

  2. Medha has no business blackmailing everytime she wants to have something done. If the governments have not finished rehabilitation as per SC orders, Medha could have approached the court. And the governments would have been pulled up for contempt of court.
    As I have said in my blog, indefinite fasts (by anyone) have to be banned. It's wrong to force someone to do something by threatening to kill yourself, however right you may be.
    You accuse Gujarat politicians of looking for cheap publicity. What about Medha? And had she approached the court, she would not have got front page display and all the coverage. Naturally she opted for blackmail.

  3. ** Kishore,
    Precisely. A country like ours can't afford to policise development issues.

    ** Dinakaran,
    Going on hunger strike is definitely a sort of blackmail. I won't dispute that. But she resorted to it only after a few days of dharna yielded no result. The moment she went on fast officials began responding. If I'm not wrong project affected people did approach the court, and today's observation by the SC was on one of such petitions. The lack of rehabilitation is the key, and thankfully that is being addressed.

  4. Yes. My view is that if indefinite fasts - self-inflicted violence to force things - are treated with 'respect', we should also give the same treatement to suicide bombers. The only difference is that they also kill others in the process.
    Blackmail in any form must be discouraged. Let Medha block PM's or Narendra Modi's residence every day. But threatening to kill onself is disgusting.

  5. Dear Pradeep,
    I have another detailed post in my blog on the Ambedkar-Gandhi spat.


  6. I agree totally The current debate should not be on the dam but focus should be on rehabilitating the people it has displaced and he govt did fail so the NBA is justified on that count. unfortunately a certain section is so busy making personal attacks on Medha and Arundhati they are absolutely blind the real problem renderingso many poor citizens dispensable.