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Don’t damn the dam
Guest Column/P P SANGAL
Social activists from different walks of life, are opposing, tooth and nail, the construction of dams. `Narmada Bachao Andolan’ is a case in point and today it has become an extremely emotive movement. For long, Medha Patkar has been raising her voice against the construction of Narmada dam. Now, this war has been joined by Booker Prize celebrity Arundhati Roy. Recently, Mr V R Krishna Iyer too in his article entitled `Development for Whom? (Hindustan Times, July 28) has assailed the government for going ahead with its construction. I fully share their concern for the millions of tribal and other poor population that have been uprooted as a result of the construction of dams. And it is true the government has not even fulfilled its promise of ensuring their proper rehabilitation and providing gainful employment to them.
But the point to consider here is whether we should whip up an emotional frenzy against the construction of dams (which offer us so many advantages) or should we pressurise the government to rehabilitate these displaced people. If we think rationally, we would certainly be in favour of the second alternative. Let us take a dispassionate view of some of the issues generally raised against dams.
It has been said that dams have neither given us power, nor contributed to better irrigation facilities or flood control or drought proofing — the objectives for which they are built (refer to Mr Iyer’s article). This is really an exaggerated statement. It is another matter that these objectives might not have been fully achieved. But, then, it is the politicians, planners and administrators who should be blamed. This cannot be a case against dams.
Moreover, pleas have been advanced that social and cultural values of displaced persons undergo a change because their ancestral homes were located in a totally different environment. But, then it happens to everyone who moves to towns for economic betterment either on his own accord or constrained by circumstances. Most of us living in big towns and cities are from rural and other interior backwards parts of the country and our life style is vastly different from that of our ancestors but we have adjusted accordingly. Today, even the leaders of down-trodden and backward areas are demanding government should invest more and more money for economic development in their regions. Will this not bring about a change in their social and cultural ethos? If this has to happen in any case, then why raise a hue and cry against the construction of dams in the name of preserving social and cultural aspects of life?
Further, the anti-dam activists also argue that construction of dams leads to ecological imbalance. Forests, flora and fauna get adversely affected in the process. We may agree with this argument, but then this phenomena occurs with all developmental activities, whether it is industry, trade, agriculture and allied sectors. For example, industry/trade pollutes air, water, etc. Similarly, agriculture is polluting ground water, soil, etc., by the indiscriminate use of fertilisers and pesticides. There is no dearth of such examples. Can we stop all these activities? Certainly not. This is for the simple reason that solution lies not in stopping these programmes but in adopting measures for mitigating their adverse effects.
If it is so, then why are we against dams which, inter alia, provide us `energy’ for running factories/ establishments? These, in turn, give a fillip to the service sector and advancement of business and, as a result, huge employment opportunities are crated. The government is powerful enough to ensure that environmental refugees coming from villages submerged due to construction of dams, find employment in these factories/establishments. Thus, we should start agitation against the government for being insensitive to these `environmental refugees’ and not against the dams.
To conclude, if we do not stop our tirade against dams, our economy would greatly suffer. Undoubtedly, the `environmental refugees’ due to dam construction should be completely rehabilitated and other adverse impacts of its construction should be fully taken care of by the government. The government which is found wanting in its approach towards these problems should be defeated at the hustings on this single issue. It is here that environmentalists, social activists and NGOs are required to put all their energies and educate the voters on these issues. After all, Indian voter is a big, dynamic and upsetting force as our experience of past two decades tells us.