DECCAN HERALD Friday, December 1, 2000

CONFRONTATION OVER NARMADA PROJECT

Are all others wrong?

By S N CHARY

THE Narmada project, for several years, has attracted a wrong kind of attention. A project conceived on a very large scale has been the recipient of fits of start and stop like no other project has earlier been. There have been endless protests, agitations and law suits almost from the time the dams and reservoirs of the project started getting built up. Now has come the Supreme Court decision rejecting the ''Stop Narmada Project`` petitions and giving the project implementation a green signal. The case has not stopped at this point either, after the highest court of this country has given its verdict. People who had earlier taken the case to the Supreme Court are now questioning the verdict itself and so are indulging in other ''moral`` protests such as fasts or ''hunger protests`` which we citizens have witnessed, experienced and borne with in plentiful measure on many other issues and in many other spheres of economic and other than economic activities in our country.

The contention of the Narmada project ''activists``, now is that the Supreme Court has not understood the issues like the activists have understood them. This is to put it very mildly. Some of them think that the court of this nation is not capable of grasping the issues. Why so? Because, the judiciary consists of persons who only know the law but do not and cannot grasp the ''social`` issues  the human drama, the human suffering the way the activists alone are endowed with an ability to understand. ''They know the law; what do they know of the environment? What do they know of the people, who bear the grief due to project?`` The unsaid is that the activists alone are able to empathise with the lot of the people affected due to the project; the court, the highest court, is but composed of cold-blooded persons who lack in the faculty to vibe in personal/human warmth.

So, the judicial system of his land is filled with persons only reading the law book verbatim and knowing nothing much beyond the books of law. Secondly, the persons sitting atop this system have so narrowly specialised that they have almost lost the empathetic faculty for isses involving social and human dimensions. The third and progressively aggressive ''argument``/allegation is that ''the law is an ass``  haven`t you heard that from your school days? The law, lawyers, judges, the judicial system is brainless in addition to being heartless. You must have also heard umpteen times that ''law is (also) blind``.

So, the law, and the judicial system is after all ''handicapped`` with defects ranging from physical, mental and that of the heart. If the activists are to be believed, one of the three important pillars supporting the governing of this country is terribly defective. It has no brains, no heart and is blind. This is a terrible judgement on law itself, a finality with no go, no way for our salvation. A depressing judgement on our country`s functioning indeed.

But, if the law is such a disabled ''fellow`` why did you go to him in the first place? When the activists took the case to the courts, did they not think otherwise? Until the judgment given by the Supreme Court went against them did they not assume and believe in the capability of the judicial system? Isn`t this a case of crying foul whenever the outcome doesn`t suit you?

Of course, now the argument against the legal system is even more acidic. The judiciary, like the administration, is a part of the ''system``. ¶Politicians and businessmen in central Gujarat alone will benefit from the million dollar contracts being awarded. This system is alive and well in the corridors of the Supreme Court of India."

So, it is a feeble government, corrupt administration and equally feeble, handicapped and ''involved`` judiciary. The point is that these activists seem to see evil in every thing: law-making, administration, policy-making, judiciary and in business. They appear to be seeing devils everywhere, except in themselves. The only people and the only cause justified is themselves and their own. How can one be so self-righteous and intolerant of others?

Is this to say that everything is right with the Narmada project? No, there may not be everything right with every project. Sure, there are many flaws in the Narmada project. For one, the major problem with most of our dam and reservoir projects  proper rehabilitation of people affected by the project  is important. In several of such projects the compensatory land is inadequate, of low quality and far from the displaced persons` original habitat. The compensation has also come delayed. All affected persons, directly affected and indirectly affected, have not received compensation. There have been problems in the logic of compensation, there have been bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies  just as experienced in all other walks of life; and, yes, there have been some amount of corrupt practices  again just as in many other activities in our country. What is so different about this project that it should be completely stalled and the project made null and void?

Does it deserve such a drastic treatment as to bring the shutters down on it? Is the solution to every problem of a project  every action and its natural effects (good and bad)  the abandoning of the project itself? How is this kind of a ''resolution`` logical? Does this logic look equally at both the benefits and the costs of the project? Just as the protagonists of closure claim that the Supreme Court has not seen?

(To be concluded)

The writer is Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore


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