DECCAN HERALD Sunday, December 17, 2000

Malady of the developing nations

The ecological movement is a new form of imperialism, particularly for developing
countries. How can the developed world that consumes 20 times more energy per
capita than India, expect India to retard its energy needs in order
to implement the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change?

T HE antidam lobby led by much famed Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which has been agitating against the Sardar Sarovar suffered a setback when Supreme Court, recently, gave a decision favouring large dams.

The much depressed NBA activists later got a shot in the arm for their dam campaign relating to Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) when the World Commission on Dams (WCD) assailed the viability of large dams on all accounts nomic, social and environmental.

The NBA campaign had earlier boost when its leader Medha Patkar was joined by the tionally renowned author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati The celebrated author of "The God of Small Things" even ed her Rs 15 lakh award money to the NBA which has been ful in drawing the attention of the media, government and the courts the plight of tated people affected by SSP.

"Not a single big dam in India has delivered what it had ised. Not the power, not the irriga tion, not the flood control, not the droughtproofing. Instead, big dams have converted huge tracts of agricultural land into waterlogged salt wastelands, submerged dreds of thousands of hectares of prime forest, and pushed the try into deeper debts...They have 40 million people, most of them tribal and dalit, from their and rivers, from lands and homes where they and their have lived for thousands of years. They have lost thing. Everything," says Arundhati.

These developments have led to a debate again on the viability of large dams whose important tributions to the development of irrigated agriculture, improved food productivity, pollutionless hydro power and enhanced tic and industrial water supply have been recognised by the India Country Study (ICS) of the WCD.

The ICS study vindicates the NBA stand that stupendous cost of large dam projects affect people and ate inequities.

The study promotes "other alternative methods" in place of large dams when it says: "If we hunalso took (as we must) at the costs and bene counfits of other alternative methods for achieving the objectives set for large dams, then some of the alternatives might turn out to be better options than large dams." This is the sermon everybeing given by pseudoenviron mentalists in the Western tries while opposing the economic viability of large dams.

It's worth notable that antidam concampaigns have been active only in developing countries on the text of environmental tion, while such agitations never domestook place in the developed tries. The two lobbies are tively representing antidevelop ment and prodevelopment das. Antidevelopment ecologists are being described as creenvironmentalist who normally fail to make an objective ment of merits and demerits of l a r g e dams. If merits exceed the demerits, then the large dam projects should be allowed to come up in the interest preof development. Environmental agitations are fine to the extent that they should not hinder devel opment process that a developing respeccountry like India needs badly. The environmental issues which are agennot attracting enough attention of ecologists are forest depletion, pseudoriver water pollution caused by domestic and industrial discharge, assessand air pollution caused by indus try and motor vehicles. The ball is simply put in the councourt of authorities without crying much on real environmental issues. However, some appreciative efforts taken are air pollution control in Delhi affecting people's lives and in Agra degradawhere the sheen of Taj Mahal, the love symbol, was getting eroded.

counSuch efforts have drawn the atten tion of the Supreme Court.

Some people feel that there seems to be a conspiracy by Western lobbies which want to keep the developing countries at slow pace of development so that they remain dependent on the developed world. Some of the envi ronment groups in developing countries are financially support ed by their counterparts in the developed countries. Deepak Lal, who is the James Coleman Profes sor of International Development Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, USA, sees ecological movement as a new form of imperialism, particularly for developing countries. In his recent paper, Prof Lal points out that the primary task of this new imperialism is to prevent the eco nomic development which alone offers the world's poor any chance of escaping their age old poverty.

He wonders how the developed world that consumes 20 times more energy per capita than India, can expect India to slow down or even retard its energy needs in order to implement the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.

Prof Lal criticises western environmental groups such as Greenpeace for advocating ban on DDT in developing countries where malarial mosquitoes contin ue to affect an estimated 500 lion people annually when the western world itself had used it much more widely to fight the dis eases some decades ago. He ridicules fearmongering about biotechnology and says that India should take a leaf out of the Chinese position which has made that country to adopt the new agri cultural technology in a more big way. He went to the extent of ing India to reconsider ing from a range of international environmental agreements and conventions including the Basal Convention on Hazardous Waste, the Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention, Kyoto Protocol on ecoClimate Change and the Biosafety Convention, as many of the cations of these agreements are not clearly understood and would impose a very heavy burden on the poor. India should stand up against the latest attempt to resurrect the new form of western colonisation donat ecological imperialism, says Prof Lal.successThe Supreme Court, which allowed height of the dam to be raised up to 90 metres and even unrehabilither as per government's plans, says large dams cause conversion of waste land into agricultural promland and making the area greener.

Large dams can also become instruments in improving the environment, as has been the case in the Western Rajasthan, which was transformed into a green area by the Indira Gandhi Canal, which draws water from the Bhakhra Nangal Dam. This project not only allows the farmers to grow crops in deserts but also checks the spread of Thar desert in adjoining areas of Punjab and Haryana. For example, Periyar Dam Reservoir has become an elephant sanctuary with thick green forest all round while at the same time it solved the famine problem that used to haunt the district of Madurai in Tamil Nadu before its construction.

Similarly, the Krishnarajasagar Dam which turned Mandya trict, once covered with shrub milforests and home to wild beasts, into a prosperous place with green paddy and sugarcane fields.

The apex court said so far a number of river valley projects have been undertaken in all parts of India. The petitioner (NBA) has not been able to point out a single instance where the construction of a dam has, on the whole, had an adverse environmental impact. On the contrary, the environment has improved. It should not be forgot ten that poverty is regarded as one of the causes of degradation of environment. With improved irriProject, gation system the people will prosthe askper.

withdrawThe construction of the Bhakra Dam is a shining example for all to see how the backward area of erstanti while undivided Punjab has now become the granary of India with improved environment than what was there before the completion of the BhakraNangal project, the impliSupreme Court pointed out.

However, the Supreme Court congot cedes that displaced people will undergo some hardships but efforts should be directed to wards their settlement, not toward delayRoy.

ing the project. It said water is the basic need for survival of human beings and is part of the right of life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution furand can be served only by providtowards ing a source of water where there is none. Water in the rivers of India has great potential to change the miserable condition of the arid, droughtprone and borders areas of India, it said.

One of the points raised by NBA stands vindicated by the Supreme Court judgement which says "..Further raising of the height (of the dam) will be only 'pari passu' with the implemen tation of the relief and rehabilitauprooted tion and on the clearance by the Relief and Rehabilitation Subforests group. The R&R Subgroup will give clearance of further construcancestors tion after consulting the three Grievances Redressal Authorities.

However, the NBA has filed a review petition to continue to high light the lacunae, it sees, in the judgement.

Well, the fight between anti dam and prodam activists is like disly to continue, but the Supreme Court judgement will prove to be a landmark in the interest of devel opment. The delay in SSP, whose foundation stone was laid by Pandit Nehru, due to NBA agita tion has cost the nation dearly in terms of cost and subsequential benefits.

O P Verma

in New Delhi

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