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LETTERS

Frontline Volume 16 - Issue 23, Nov. 06 - 19, 1999
India's National Magazine on indiaserver.com
from the publishers of THE HINDU



Table of Contents

LETTERS

Verdict '99

"Managing to lose" (November 5) analyses the reasons for the worst ever performance of the Congress(I) in Lok Sabha elections. Blaming it on Sonia Gandhi, the party's star campaigner, is too simplistic. A combination of factors put paid to the party's dream of returning to power. Organisational weakness still plagues the party. Although large crowds attended the election meetings addressed by Sonia Gandhi, the lack of follow-up action resulted in the party winning fewer seats than last time. Three Chief Ministers campaigned for the party in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but the majority of people in these States voted for the BJP. The Kargil factor and Sonia's inexperience in politics may have weighed with the voters, who chose to play it safe by preferring an experienced leader like Vajpayee.

D.B.N. Murthy
Bangalore

* * *

The results are seen as a major setback for the Congress(I), and Sonia Gandhi's "immature leadership" is blamed for it. The ground reality is totally different. The Congress(I) has come back to power in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Earlier, under Sonia's leadership, it wrested Rajasthan and Delhi from the BJP. The best course for the Congress(I) now is to work as a responsible Opposition in Parliament, reposing faith in Sonia.

Pawan Malhotra
Jammu

Reservations

This has reference to the article, "Standing up for a right" (November 5).

It is undeniable that the Supreme Court rulings (August and September 1999) and the office memorandums of the Department of Personnel and Training amount to social discrimination in a refined form to deprive the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of their constitutional right to reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. In the long term, such actions will perpetuate and reinforce social inequality which is at the root of political, economic and other inequities.

The higher judiciary and administration are manned by people from privileged castes and classes. These sections have always felt that it was because of reservations that their youth do not get jobs. They also feel that their hold over the higher echelons of the power structure is under threat. Hence the attempt to dilute the benefits of reservation and block the rise of the S.C.s and S.T.s in institutions of science, technology and medicine.

Over the years the entire issue of reservations has been raised and debated in public and in courts. It has been recognised that social groups that have suffered atrocities, indignities, injustices and exploitation over the centuries need the support of the government and society as a whole. Even today the problems of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are widespread among S.C.s and S.T.s. They continue to be exploited and discriminated against and deprived of even their political right to vote ("Targeting Dalit voters", October 8).

In this situation it is necessary for the S.C.s and S.T.s, as also non-governmental organisations, to come together and launch a campaign to protect the right to reservation.

It is the duty of the Ministry of Law and Justice to ensure that this constitutional right is not hijacked. The media should also highlight these problems.

Sanjai Kumar
Hazaribagh, Bihar

China

It is appropriate that Frontline covered the 50th anniversary of the formation of the People's Republic of China as a Cover Story ("People's China at 50," October 22).

The world is keenly watching the experiment conducted by Chinese society in its march towards egalitarianism. Some people say that the reforms undertaken by the country mark a clear break from its traditional path of socialism. But, as Prabhat Patnaik argues, the economic development that has taken place in China in the past 20 years has its foundation in the policies pursued prior to the reform period. I also share the opinion of Utsa Patnaik that during the transition to market socialism China has lost some of the gains it made in the first three decades after the Revolution. It is to be hoped that the Chinese leaders will take steps to counter this trend.

S. Vijayan
Baroda

* * *

In the past, China has struggled a lot but today it is emerging as the only power that is capable of challenging U.S. hegemony. China has realised that a strong economy is the foundation of a powerful nation.

India has two lessons to learn from China. First, China employs market economy but it is not controlled by the market. Secondly, it has adopted a prudent economic policy with regard to foreign investments and government expenditure.

For decades India has adopted a negative attitude towards China. It should take a pragmatic approach. China is not an expansionist dragon but a loving and friendly one. Thanks to some of the pronouncements of the Vajpayee government, the relations between India and China are at a new low. While hostilities and a proxy war continue on the western border of India, there is peace and tranquillity on the eastern side. If only Vajpayee had directed his bus towards Beijing instead of Lahore, India would have benefited a lot.

Pravin Chaubey
Raipur

Opinion polls

In 1995, it was Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan. In 1999, it is the Election Commission itself.

The judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upholding publication/telecast of opinion and exit poll results during the election process has dealt a major blow to the Election Commission, which has been working tirelessly to provide a 'level playing field' to political parties and thus achieve the goal of free and fair elections ("Polls and opinions," October 8). The Election Commission has rightly observed that the Indian electorate, being largely poor and uneducated, is likely to be influenced by these surveys. They also provide an opportunity to political parties to influence media organisations and have survey results that are in their favour published. The spirit behind the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression should not be misused.

The Election Commission does not have the power to enact laws, but as a watchdog it surely can exercise the option to bark if not bite. As suggested by the Chief Election Commissioner, such sensitive issues should be debated at the national level before they are legislated upon.

S. Balakrishnan
Jamshedpur

The nuclear question

The Indian voter, who would vote out a government when the price of onions rises and then vote against the newly elected government if he finds his water tap dry, cares little for the danger posed by nuclear weapons. He worries little about the prospect of his children and grandchildren being turned into ashes instantaneously or left alive with radiation-induced cancer.

Now that the Vajpayee Government is relatively stable, it can afford to unwind itself of its aggressively populist posture on the nuclear issue. The first step is to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India's decision on signing the treaty should be linked only with that of Pakistan, for which that country is agreeable. It will be unwise to think that all nuclear weapon powers are our potential enemies and that we should have arms to deter all of them. No one can dispute that our technical capability is above that of Pakistan and by stopping tests at this stage we shall be able to maintain our superiority. Pakistan may be more backward than India, but if India begins testing for the purpose of achieving weapons sophistication, Pakistan will do the same. This will result in a disastrous nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.

N. Kunju
Delhi

Minorities and the BJP

The students of Vidyajyoti Jesuit College of Theology, New Delhi, have written that the killing of Fr. Arul Doss and Sheikh Rehman took place in Orissa "on the eve of the general elections" ("Letters," October 22). I am not a supporter of the BJP, nor do I sympathise with fundamentalists, whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians. But is it not ironical that a party branded as the Saffron Brigade and a Hindu party would mastermind such a heinous crime on the eve of the elections? While all political parties try to improve their image prior to elections, how could a national party like the BJP have committed such a mistake?

If at all there is any political support given to the killers of Fr. Arul Doss and Sheikh Rehman, it is by the so- called secular forces. This is done with the intention of arousing the religious sentiments of people, for obvious reasons.

Mukesh Mohan Sinha
Patna

Water policy

It is a great misfortune of our country that when one part of it is submerged in floods another is in the grip of drought ("The Kosi untamed", September 25).

In a country where 75 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for livelihood, provision of water should get priority. Owing to the absence of a proper water policy, we are not able to take advantage of the 4,000 trillion litres of rain water the country is estimated to get every year. Priority should be give to the transfer of water from water-surplus areas to other parts of the country.

Alok Sharma
Gwalior

An appeal

For nearly 50 years, I have shed tears for the young, bright persons who became vegetables after suffering brain injury in accidents involving two-wheelers. Young widows with children evoke our sympathy, but it is more distressful to see young women struggling to support brain-damaged husbands and young children. Similar is the plight of elderly parents who are left with a son or a daughter who has suffered brain injury in a two-wheeler accident.

I invite the members of the public to visit with me the hospital wards in Tamil Nadu to see parents and young wives weeping for their sons and husbands. This will convince them not to worry about minor inconveniences caused by the wearing of helmets. People avoid wearing helmets on the ground that their hair style would be disturbed. But only if there is a head can there be hair or a hairstyle. If hair really falls off owing to the use of helmets, most of the bike-riders in the West, Japan and South-East Asia and even New Delhi would be bald by now.

Some people say that it is difficult to wear helmets in hot weather. This is true but people in Delhi, West Asia and many places in South-East Asia, which are hotter than Chennai, for instance, wear helmets for safety. The headache that a helmet causes is temporary and certainly less intense than the pain resulting from fractures of the skull or brain injury.

Nobody denies that carrying a helmet and keeping it safe are inconveniences. But if you had shed one thousandth of the tears I have shed for my patients and their wives and parents, you will immediately demand that wearing crash helmets be made compulsory for two-wheeler riders.

Dr. B. Ramamurthi
Neurosurgeon
Chennai


Correction: In the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the BJP won 56 seats and the Shiv Sena 69 seats. The seats position with regard to these two parties got interchanged erroneously in the table accompanying "Fractured mandate in Maharashtra" (November 5).

RESPONSE

Of development and deprivation

The emotional outburst of H.M. Desarda in the debate "Of Development and deprivation" (Frontline, October 8) makes interesting reading. One can hardly disagree with him when he says that the dominant ideology of the past 50 years has been: "growth, unlimited". He specifically points out to the pursuit of growth in terms of mega irrigation and power projects and perhaps industries. Unfortunately, what he has forgotten to point is that we have also vigorously pursued growth in another field: India's population has increased from 350 million at the time of Independence to a billion now. It is strange that those who crusade against the so-called unsustainable development of natural resources have nothing to say about the unsustainable growth of population, which has proved to be the biggest cause of pollution and over-exploitation of scarce resources. All the problems these well-meaning activists have been highlighting and also anticipating stem from the population explosion and the resultant additional demand for basic necessities.

If it is "erroneous to equate waters and energy with mega-projects", it is equally erroneous to equate them with "age-old" and "time-tested sources of energy and methods of tapping them". The age-old practices - the burning of fuel-wood, agricultural refuse and cow-dung cakes, and the use of biogas, wind mills and so on - were evolved by the rural people for their local needs. With the increase in the population and the division of families, local sources were no longer adequate to meet their needs. The result was migration and concentration of population in urban centres, requiring concentration of water and energy needs. One fails to understand how these "age-old" practices would be able to run trains, buses or planes, operate tractors, produce fertilizers or supply pure tap water. Perhaps we must revert to the age-old practices of travelling in bullock-carts, using animal-driven ploughs, vegetable-oil lamps, cow-dung manures and manually drawn well water. It would be interesting to know how Desarda hopes to meet the present-day energy and water needs of both rural and urban population through age-old methods. Large-scale urbanisation has become a reality which one cannot wish away.

Statements such as "Plans and projects involving thousands of millions of rupees have not helped the toiling millions. On the contrary, the so-called development projects have affected them adversely and accentuated their daily suffering" are too sweeping to be believed. The fact is that through planned effort the country increased foodgrain production from 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 203 million tonnes in 1998-99. Otherwise millions would have starved, as was the case at the time of Independence when sustenance was provided by imported wheat.

Figures relating to the displacement of people by large dams are also blown out of proportion. It has now been proved by Surjit Bhalla and many others that the total number of people displaced by large dams in India could be only 5 to 8 million and not 40 million as estimated by Arundhati Roy. It is nobody's case that these 5 to 8 million people should not be given the best rehabilitation package and should not be placed in conditions much better than those in which they lived earlier. But to say that there should be no displacement at all is to deny survival to some potential beneficiaries of the project, who live in conditions much worse than those of people facing displacement.

Even China, opposed to the western model of development, has 21,600 of the world's 40,000 large dams. It is at present building one of the world's largest dam projects, the Three Gorges Dam, to produce 18,200 MW of power (India's total existing hydroelectric capacity does not add up to this), which involves the displacement of some two million people.

It is surprising that such a hue and cry is being raised about mega-hydropower projects as if hydropower is India's main energy source. In fact, even 20 per cent of the country's total hydropower potential of 85,000 MW has not been tapped because of resistance to submergence caused by reservoirs. The opponents of large dams prefer the use of coal (one has only to see the plight of coal miners, who live in worse conditions than dam-affected people) and also imported oil which involves the spending of thousands of crores of rupees in foreign exchange. The fact that hydropower is renewable, clean, cheap and eminently suitable for peaking does not appear to appeal to them.

Desarda makes yet another sweeping statement when he says that Indian as well as global experiences amply proves that mega-projects for irrigation and power generation are antithetical to the interests of the common people. He, however, does not cite examples. Dams such as Bhakra, Nagarjunasagar, Hirakud, Hoover, Tennessee Valley, Aswan, Itapu, Ataturk and hundreds of others prove this wrong. These dams have boosted the economy of the countries in which they are situated.

After visiting the High Aswan Dam (HAD) in 1990, J. Cotillon, the then Secretary-General of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), said: "My first surprise was to learn that HAD had saved Egypt from famine in 1972-73 and between 1979 and 1987, when there were nine consecutive years of drought, and that the main objective of the dam was fulfilled in the early years of service..."

In the concluding part of his report, Cotillon says: "Back in Paris, I met a journalist writing an article on the misdeeds of the world's large dams. I mentioned the famine averted by Aswan, Nothing more. She was so amazed that she changed the title of her article to "Large Dams: A necessary evil:They feed the Third World and give it electricity"."

The main objection to Sardar Sarovar is that it affects some 40,000 families in the reservoir area. The exact number of people who will be affected is 1,27,446 of whom only 63,223 are tribal people. In 82 of the 193 villages that will be affected in Madhya Pradesh, less than 10 per cent of their land will be submerged.

In another 32 villages, only 11 to 25 per cent of the land will be submerged. In 21 villages, only the dwellings will be affected, and that too only temporarily, owing to the reservoir backwater effect during floods. In another nine villages, only government wasteland will get submerged. Only in 18 villages will more than 5 per cent of the land get submerged. In the three States, only 11,279 hectares of cultivable land will go under the reservoir. The area of forest land (which is degraded land) that will be submerged is only about 13,385 ha.

All the affected families (even an adult son is considered as constituting a separate family) need not necessarily be displaced. In fact, of the 33,014 affected families in Madhya Pradesh, 18,890 have opted to stay on as they will only be temporarily affected by flood backwaters. They only need to shift to nearby higher ground temporarily when such floods occur. Thus the displacement issue is blown out of portion by critics. They, like Desarda, make a vague claim that a vast number of villages will be submerged if the height of the dam is raised even by 5 metres. The Grievance Redressal Committee headed by a former Chief Justice of a high court has already certified that those who run the risk of being affected if the dam height is raised by 5 m have been shifted. Many people fail to appreciate the fact that during high floods, many overbank areas get inundated even if there is no dam. Was the city of Bharuch flooded this September by the backwaters of a dam? Any flooding on the Narmada's banks should not be attributed to the Sardar Sarovar project. When the critics cannot find fault with the Sardar Sarovar project, they conveniently use the phrase "Narmada Valley" and assemble people affected by other dams.

The State has tried to provide amenities to the displaced people to an extent that is not available to the majority of its rural population. Gujarat has enough land to rehabilitate all the affected people who want to settle in the State.

The author is welcome to ensure that these people get the most reasonable treatment in Gujarat so that they can forget their miserable past. But I request him not obstruct the Sardar Sarovar Project, because if it is stalled some 20 million people of Gujarat's semi-arid and desert areas will be doomed, without water.

M.U. Purohit
Consulting Engineer
Sardar Sarovar Project


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