DECCAN HERALD Saturday, December 2, 2000

CONFRONTATION OVER NARMADA PROJECT

Need for positive involvement

By S N Chary

What we, the citizens, need is a dispassionate look at our projects and programmes. We do not need the protagonists and antagonists. We do not want that one group should push ahead with the activity regardless and another group opposing it so that the activity is stopped altogether. The politics of this tug-of-war between the ''start`` wallahs and the ''stop`` wallahs is killing this count. The industry, business and even government has been suffering from this mindless tussle, this brand of ''labour unionism`` which believes in scuttling productivity and productive activities altogether. The effects of this mindlessness are for all of us to see. Our country has to go miles to become globally competitive.

To come back to the problems of the Narmada and other river dam projects: there is much deforestation. Valuable lung space is lost. Invaluable bio-diversity is lost. Loss of trees, bushes and grass removes all holds on the soil erosion and the reservoirs get silted quickly enough. But, this is a technical problem. Yes, agreed that bio-diversity is very difficult to replicate. But, soil erosion and silting of the reservoirs is a problem that can certainly have technical solutions. Forests are felled but they can also be built up within a reasonable time period so as to prevent the side effects. This is not an insurmountable problem. And certainly does not require a drastic ''solution`` of stopping the project altogether.

There have been problems of water management  proper water sharing, proper management of water table, proper planning of agriculture  what to grow, when, where, how, how much. Proper distribution of the scarce water resource, its pricing and revenue collection and reinvestment in the maintenance and further development are also a part of this water management. But, does this management problem have the only solution of halting the project? Why should every problem, every currently unfavourable or even negative aspect of a project in the public domain invite the demand for the closure, the killing of the project? A difference of opinion should not lead to one party shutting up the other. That is not the way to resolve any differences. That is a wrong use of the democratic rights. That is a dog kills another dog kind of a mentality. The public interest litigations in our country have spread this perverse version of dealing with any and every assignment/project by asking for a ''stay`` order  a halt, complete halt. This certainly cannot be said to be a mature reaction to any action that is not in agreement with one`s ideas and perception. Halting, closing, shutting up is, to say the least, not at all the solution. It is, and it has been, in our country`s post-independence history a disaster, a reason for our unsatisfactory growth, a cause for our backwardness. Industries are afraid to invest; businesses are afraid of their employees; governments are afraid of ''activists`` asking for the stoppage of this and that project and/or programme.

Since we are speaking about the activists, let us be clear that this is misguided leadership on the part of the activists. A good leader should ask ¶What can I contribute? How can I make the project/programme reap its benefits minus its ill effects to the extent possible?" A halt is easy to ask for. It is easier to collect unhappy souls  souls affected negatively by the Narmada or whatever project and make them raise a flag of revolt. One should say: ¶This aspect is not right. It gives this and this problem. Therefore, that aspect needs to be corrected. It needs to be modified/replaced by this alternative action." This kind of thinking can only come if you start from a place in your mind that ¶just as I am okay, you are also okay". The government, the judiciary, the polity is okay. There is nothing seriously wrong there. All it needs is explaining, educating, informing and convincing. Leaders should convince and enroll the planners, the implementers, the government into their thinking; of course, you cannot enroll the other person unless you too are enrolled into their view. Mutuality of understanding is essential. Confrontation will get us nowhere.

If a particular dam reservoir project has a problem, what should be the alternative? One should suggest. If we need more electricity on a large scale, we need more projects  hydel being a relatively economic source of energy. If hydel project is a problem, can we have more of thermal projects? Are they not polluting and environment-damaging, people-displacing and posing health hazards?

Can we have nuclear energy, instead? It has its own 'Chernobyl` type of disasters to cite against. Can we substitute with solar energy? But, it needs a new technology  hitherto not developed, neither in the developed countries and certainly not in India. There are considerable losses in our power generation, transmission and distribution. These need to be plugged. But, that is not the final solution to our energy needs. Surely, the activists are not saying that we should be content being what we are or we were, at the state of development where everything is just natural, skimmed of most technology. The right thing, therefore, is to sit together and find ways and means of going ahead with pleasure for all and minimizing pain for all.

A protest, however Gandhian it may appear, is a protest, as long as its agenda is ''stop``, ''halt``, ''demolish``. This is a distorted way of looking at what the Mahatma preached. He was always for transforming minds, an extended family sentiment, a community feeling, a consensus. Satyagraha was not a pressure tactic; it was about convincing the other person/s about the ''satya,`` the truth. It was 'agraha` - a fervent appeal/request - not a fight.

He did not call even the then British rulers bad names; he explained rationally and morally what was wrong, and convinced them to his point of view. Great leaders are great enrollers, not fighters in a boxing area trying to knock one another out.

The important point is that one should suggest alternative action, be in positively contributing action and not just point accusing fingers. The activists should not just carry the flags of protests, but should carry the responsibility for finding a better solution to the problems. It is easy to be not involved in such constructive action and present a morally ethically superior posture. It is easy to seize the moral high ground and keep arguing. One may call it the ''ethical superiority of the uninvolved``. We need ethics, but more urgently and importantly we need positive involvement in the reconstruction of our country.

(Concluded)


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