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The Hindu on : The right to differ

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, December 19, 2000

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The right to differ

Sir, - This is with reference to the article ``The right to differ'' by P. V. Indiresan (The Hindu, Dec. 12). By his contention, anti-dam activists are intolerant of dissent and do not take the responsibility to provide solutions for problems. The amount of truth that is there in this statement is open to debate. But, the work of the activists is not so small as that. Environmental and social problems of this magnitude are cropping up only after Science and Technology staked claim to be the be- all and end-all for the so-called development of mankind. True, S&T has contributed to mankind in a very large way. But, it is also being realised that S&T without ethics is dangerous, whatever be the results that accrue out of it. Thus, ethics is the backbone of all of humanity.

He states, ``That the rehabilitation of persons displaced by the Narmada Dam is unsatisfactory is a fact... the same dam confers many benefits on hundreds of times more people'' and then ``Demanding that dams be scrapped because rehabilitation is bad is like throwing out the baby along with the bathwater.'' This is as if to say that displacing the tribals is all right since they are not part of the mainstream. This is not as simple as treating encroachers - the tribals are people of the land. They have a right to live their own lives. If we can help them with it fine, otherwise stay out. The Human Development Report is for those who are part of the mainstream or who willingly opt for it - it certainly cannot be for those who are thrown out of their homes with nowhere to go. The author draws a comparison with the Red Indians. The fact about Red Indians is that the conquerors have been kind to them neither when they were living their own lives, nor when they attempted to become part of the ``mainstream''. Whether they would have been better off without reservations is a question.

According to him, the activists must fight to decommission the big dams if they are to stand by their principles. But this question does not arise because the damage has already been done and merely decommissioning the dams cannot reverse the process.

He questions, ``Can we safely assume that rain-water harvesting and other `eco-friendly' techniques will make up this loss?'' and later on ``They can point out what is wrong but cannot do what is right.'' He seems to have answered his own doubts. The activists have suggested the right and safe way to go about - the eco- friendly way. Of course, these methods will make up the loss. For one thing, all of the rivers in the peninsula are rain-fed. Secondly, there would accrue more opportunities and responsibilities to the people if the government and the scientists/engineers work on smaller projects closer home. Ends cannot always justify the means - if there are alternative means that are proven to be more environment friendly, why not consider them? Why is it that the engineers are against them? Who is intolerant here?

On the question of the number of people displaced, he fails to note that beyond a certain height, dams cause severe irreversible ecological imbalances.

Taken that the construction on the dam is inevitable, is it not the way to ensure that rehabilitation of tribals is well taken care of along with the construction activities?

Yamuna Harshavardhana,


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