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The Hindu on : Sweeping, uncharitable

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, January 21, 2000

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Sweeping, uncharitable

Sir, - In his article, ``Dams and drinking water'' (The Hindu, Dec. 1, 1999), Prof. P. V. Indiresan asks us, ``Who has spread greater happiness in our country - Visveswariah or Baba Amte?'' This is like asking who has done more for you - your father or mother?

The article contains somewhat opinionated and irrational questions: ``Which is more important - providing food and drinking water to a crore people or preventing the displacement of 10,000 tribals? Who is more moral - an engineer who brings water to a parched village or the activist who stops him from doing so? Who has a larger popular support - the one who brings hope to millions or the one who wants to preserve the impoverished culture of a few thousand people?''

Are such matters amenable to ``black and white'' conclusions? Sweeping and generalised statements are also made: ``While all rivers in Europe (including small streams) are perennial, in India even large rivers are seasonal!'' Highly respected personalities like Ms. Medha Patkar and Prof. Amulya Reddy, who have a record of social service and engineering achievement respectively, are uncharitably charged with making irresponsible statements and putting forth unfounded propositions, which they do not substantiate. The author appears unaware of the various scientific alternatives these people have projected in respect of dams for development.

Also, in the so-called ``basic facts'', supposedly provided to dispel misinformation about the technology of dams, there are many scientific errors, generalisations and half-truths. The engineer is glorified as someone who would be hauled over the coals if he or she fails to deliver or makes just one slip. There are innumerable examples all over the country of engineers getting away with murder. Of course, the author does condescend to admit that engineers do make mistakes!

Prof. Indiresan refers contemptuously to social activists and asks why they do not contest elections to show that the people are with them. Is it the Professor's thesis that the many undesirables who get elected do so on the basis of their merits and social concerns? If the proof of sincerity in social concern is standing for election, why does not the Professor himself, who writes so forcefully and judiciously on social matters and shows considerable concern in this direction, get elected?

It is sad a person of his eminence thought fit to make such sweeping and uncharacteristic remarks to add confusion to the existing situation on a sensitive subject, which is getting only now the serious attention it deserves. Contemporary practice in matters of environmental conservation and associated factors is the precautionary principle, according to which, even if scientific knowledge is not conclusive, it is better to adopt a precautionary or ``no regrets'' approach. Hence, the disquiet shown by the so-called ``environmental activists'' in respect of the impact of large dams is neither irrational nor anti- development.

By the way, while it is irrelevant to talk of Visveswariah and Baba Amte in the same breath, it may not be out of place to mention that Sir MV dealt with material problems impersonally and dispassionately. On the other hand, Baba Amte is a humanitarian who has dedicated himself to personal service to the dispossessed and the despised such as nightsoil workers and leprosy patients. If a choice has to be made between the two, a humble citizen may be pardoned for preferring the latter. Baba Amte is way ahead of Sir MV in personal and compassionate physical service to fellow men.

Air Cmdre (retd). G. Radhakrishnan,


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