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The Hindu on : Dams and bombs

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, August 21, 1999

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Opinion | Previous

Dams and bombs

Sir, - In her two-part article, ``Dams and bombs'' (TheHindu, Aug. 4 and 5), Ms. Gail Omvedt bases her defence of the commitment to the building of dams at the end of the 20th century on the fact that ``dams are hardly new to India'' and have been from the Vedic period until now part of traditional society.

One might as well argue that people have always used weapons and, therefore, nuclear bombs represent no more than a technological upgradation of the bow and arrow.

Her argument, of course, wholly overlooks the radically new dimension of scale and power that science has introduced in the modern era. Additionally, and yet once again, supporters of the NBA are inaccurately denigrated as ``anti-development'' and ``anti-science,'' with Ms. Omvedt lumping them together with the ``post-modernists.''

Ms. Omvedt's points regarding the restructuring and decentralisation of dam projects, based on her long-time and close familiarity with the issue, are important and deserve to be considered seriously, whether or not one ultimately accepts her proposed solutions. Yet from her side, she does not give a fair or accurate representation of the NBA. Thus, she writes that the NBA ``has been affected by the eco-romanticism circles, the rejection of industrial society, the feeling that commercialisation and the market economy are the enemy and that a better life can be built on a subsistence-oriented agricultural economy.'' This statement is misleading on numerous accounts. First of all, there is a long history of viable socio-political movements that indeed do regard the market economy as the enemy, yet that can hardly be considered to endorse ``the rejection of industrial society,'' including especially the Left-inspired movements.

The options for the potential oustees in the Narmada valley at the present juncture are not, as Ms. Omvedt implies, between economic development, driven by industrialisation, and stagnation in a subsistence economy. (Ms. Omvedt ignores the plight of numerous non-farmers who will also be harmed, such as fisherfolk and shepherds.)

The real alternatives - at the present crossroads, though not indefinitely - are either a very difficult life of subsistence on their own land, or one of displacement without proper or decent rehabilitation, with attendant economic deprivation and loss of human dignity.

The statement that is most unfortunate is Ms. Omvedt's concluding sentence: ``The NBA has become the voice of eco-romanticists of the world, not that of the adivasis, Dalits and Bahujan farmers of the valley.'' Does she really believe it is justifiable to thus disregard those tens of thousands of highly vocal and ardent supporters of the NBA from among these very communities in the Narmada valley?

Brendan LaRocque,

New Delhi

Section  : Opinion
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