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With Malice Towards One And All : Khushwant Singh 
 

Saying no to Medha
Khushwant Singh

So much clamour and dust has been raised by the organisers of the Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Baba Amte and their supporters that people have become confused about the real issues at stake. Though I have never met Medha, I respect her for her commitment to her cause. For Baba Amte and Arundhati, both of whom I have met briefly, I have affection and admiration.

However, I am convinced they are on the wrong track as far as the Narmada project is concerned.Every project, be it the widening of a road, laying a rail-track, an overbridge, building a new city or damming a river cannot be carried out without displacing people. Only care has to be taken that displaced persons are adequately compensated and rehabilitated. Without these measures, there would have been no New Delhi or Chandigarh.

Closer to the point are the Bhakra mega-dam and the hydro-electric plant at Nangal. Habitations were submerged by the Gobind Sagar; habitants were given land and compensation to settle elsewhere. Canals which cut across Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan brought Bhakra water to these thirsty regions. Punjab and Haryana became the most prosperous agricultural states in the country; Ganganagar district of Rajasthan was turned from a desert waste to the most productive in India. Famines which periodically wrought havoc before Independence became a memory of the past. India began to produce surplus rice, wheat and sugar.

The single most important factor behind this spectacular achievement was dams and irrigation canals. Today, not a single village of Punjab or Haryana is without electricity. This is largely because of the hydro-electric energy generated by such dams.

The case of Narmada is no different. It is the fifth of our largest rivers. It takes its birth in the tribal hills of Madhya Pradesh, marks the boundary between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and enters the sea on the Gulf of Cambay. Despite its enormous potential for irrigation and generating electricity, nothing was done and the water went to waste.

After extensive surveys, plans were drawn up and Pandit Nehru laid the foundation stone of what is known as the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. In 1978, the tribunal fixed the height of the dam at 90 metres. In 1987, the project was finally approved and work on the dam started. Thousands of crores have been spent on it and for acquiring land to rehabilitate displaced persons and to provide them living facilities, including schools and clinics.

It was only in 1994 that the Narmada Bachao Andolan questioned the merits and demerits of the project and took the matter to court. Last week, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the height of the dam would not be above 90 metres. So what is all this fuss about?

People who would like to know more about harnessing of Narmada waters and benefits that will accrue from it would do well to read the judgment of Justice B.N. Kirpal. He goes into great detail on the issues involved. He concedes displaced people will undergo some hardships, and our energies should be directed towards their settlement, not towards delaying the completion of the project.

The best way of saving the Narmada is to let it serve people living along its banks rather than let it run to waste itself in the sea. As the legal cliche goes, it is a landmark judgment.

Encroachment in the name of God

Next to politicians, it is men of religion who regard themselves above the law of the land. Politicians and the rich are occasionally brought to book (thanks to men like Jagmohan and Khairnar). But no one dares to take on men who encroach on public land in the name of God.

We already have hundreds of thousands of temples, mosques, gurdwaras, but more keep coming up because state Governments continue to grant them land at throwaway prices. They also grab land, erect places of worship and gather a few idlers to perform religious rituals in them.

Two such ‘temples’ have come up in recent times on the Delhi-Noida bridge — one at the Nizamuddin end, the other right in the middle on the divider between the dual highway. A more glaring instance of collusion between temple builders and Government departments comes from New Friends Colony, an abode of the upper middle class.

Many years ago, Chhabra, the retired Secretary of the New Delhi Municipality, got land allotted in the heart of this residential colony to build Mata Ka Mandir. It is a huge edifice of white marble. Over the years, it has come to be used for post-death ceremonies like chautha/uthala for which fees are charged. Most afternoons, the road in front of the temple is clogged with cars.

Now without consulting residents of the neighbourhood, the Delhi Development Authority has sanctioned another piece of land adjoining the temple for the construction of a dharamsala for house priests and pilgrims, a diagnostic centre, dispensary and research laboratory. Residents are up in arms and have approached Urban Development Minister Jagmohan to stop further degradation of their locality.

Meanwhile, religious bigots have taken to defying other laws with impunity. Mosques which had not been used for namaz for centuries and declared protected monuments by the Archaeological Department are encroached upon to offer prayers. There is no dearth of masjids in the vicinity, but they insist on periodically assembling in these ancient, unused relics to prove some point only known to them.

Not to be outdone, Hindu fanatics insist on performing yagnas in the Quwat-ul-Islam mosque built on the ruins of Hindu and Jain temples over 1,500 years ago. They must know it will rouse communal passions which will lead to violence. This is the only contribution religious zealots make to their motherland.

More on loving one’s voice

Mani Shankar Aiyar suggested ‘aural masturbation’ as the term to signify the habit of listening to one’s own voice. Taking the cue from him, I suggested ‘aurophilia’ as more appropriate. Dr S.K. Dhingra makes the following observation:

“The word auricle (external ear) gives us some combinations, e.g. auriscope. But ‘Oto-’ (of or relating to the ears) is used for all parts of the ear. Both these words convey the structure (anatomical meaning) and not the function (physiology of hearing).

“It therefore occurred to me that we could have a second word which could be more definitive — and I thought of a specific autosonic philia which would be ‘Swa Shravya Ragita’. This means a condition characterised by the liking for one’s own voice. Sravya means a sound (or that which can be heard, as in ultrasonic usage of sound speed). Auto is used in ‘auto-immunity’ and other words signifying self or of self.”

Suggestions on the subject keep pouring in. The latest one appears to be more appropriate than many others. It comes from Dr V.R. Chitguppi of Hubli. He writes: “In medical terminology ‘voice’ is described by ‘phono-’, eg. aphonia (no voice); dysphonia (difficulty in producing voice). Therefore the word you are in search of is ‘phonophilia’ — “loving one’s (own) voice.”

Master of Arts

The conductor was checking tickets in a train compartment. A large number of passengers were railway staff. When he asked for their tickets, they replied one after the other, “Railway pass”.

When the conductor approached a passenger sitting next to them, he replied, “M.A. pass”.

(Contributed by P. Sarkar, New Delhi)


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