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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Boot is on the other foot

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Friday, December 22, 2000


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Boot is on the other foot

Sir, - This is with reference to the article ``The right to differ'' by Padmabhushan P.V. Indiresan (The Hindu, Dec. 12). Prof. Indiresan is an old friend and a person whom I hold in high regard. However, may I say with respect that the above-mentioned article is unpersuasive, to say the least? A detailed response cannot be undertaken in this letter. I shall confine myself to making two points.

The first is that the article does no justice to the issues and complexities involved in the large dam controversy. A strong case can indeed be made for large dams; but an equally strong case can be made against them. The article shows no awareness of this. There is a vast literature on the subject. May I venture to suggest to my friend with the deepest respect that before he writes again on the subject he should familiarise himself with some of it?

The minimum reading is the following: (a) Patrick McCully's Silenced Rivers, which is the strongest statement of the case against dams that I have come across; (b) the report entitled `Large Dams: India's Experience' which a team of five (of which I was one) prepared for the World Commission on Dams in June 2000 (not an anti-dam report but a balanced one, though the balance that is struck may differ from the Establishment's notion of balance); and (c) the WCD's own Report, recently released in London (again, contrary to some comments, a solid, positive, and in my view definitive contribution to the subject).

If a careful reading of all this material with an open mind leaves Indiresan's present views totally unchanged, he is of course entitled to reiterate them strongly.

My second comment is with reference to `right to differ' and `intolerance'. May I say respectfully to Prof. Indiresan: ``Turn the searchlight inwards''? Certainly, some of the protesters adopt extreme positions and some scream their heads off, but having been a close observer of and even a participant in this controversy for some years, I have to say that there is much greater intolerance on the part of the engineers and the Establishment. I have personally experienced some of that anger, hostility and intolerance.

I do not wish to elaborate on this but would merely say that it seems to me supremely ironic that Prof. Indiresan should address a homily on tolerance to those who are arguing against dams: the boot is on the other leg. May I add with respect and regret that the article itself shows more than traces of intolerance towards a point of view that the author does not share?

Ramaswamy R. Iyer,

New Delhi

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