JITENDRA SHAH'S RESPONSE TO GAIL OMVEDT'S
OPEN LETTER TO ARUNDHATI ROY

I am a sympathiser of the NBA but have known Gail, Waharu, Bharat and some other movements for a long time before I came to know about NBA. I respond to Gail, in the hope of putting things in perspective, to help readers as also Arundhati place Gail's major objections in right place. In the letter by Gail to Arundhati there is not a single argument in favor of BIG dams. Who is opposed to small dams, as for example Baliraja, a dam built by locals. Gail acknowledges that NBA will approve such dams, with sharing of water even for the landless etc. in one of the remarkable movements mentioned by Gail. The dam caters to two villages. Gail has to give better arguments in favor of big dams .

It is more important to know that today, it is more than anything else, a technological need that we oppose big dams. Not only because some poor people matter but because sustainability and ecology matter. Nature can tolerate small perturbances and no more. But not only that, it is far more productive, in terms of biological resources and conservation. Refer none else than Daniel Beard, Commissioner of USBR (an organisation that can claim to have built most big dams in the USA and owning 48% of water in western US) 1992-95, in his key note address in Austria at the International Conference on Irrigation and Drainage. He regrets having built dams. He advocates only underground dams and other eco-friendly water projects. Clearly opposes big dams.

Even Gail herself has mentioned work of Paranjape and Joy where alternatives are being talked about. Those alternatives clearly do not need big dams, certainly don't require any more than the current height. And they talk of much better availability of water all over Gujarat and not only for drinking water but for agriculture too. The condition for such alternatives to succeed is the democratic distribution system, not electronically empowered 'single authority' as stipulated by SSP. Till such democratic power is established, dams of any big size must be opposed. If some including Bharat Patankar don't vehemently oppose big dams, perhaps its only because they have not studied big dams. Koyna was a historical fait accompli for them. They are also in a situation where effort for educating the public against big dams or against sugar cane agriculture is forbiddingly difficult. Also they (not Bharat) are under the influence of the neoliberal view of technology which separates technology from social context. All the same , it remains a fact that Bharat Patankar also opposes the big dam that SSP is.

Why dosnt Gail take up the arguments one by one. Luckily Arundhati is lucid on the issues? Is the main issue that NBA is using adivasi? Is it for some ulterior motive? Is it that NBA is opposed to all canal irrigation. Is it that NBA does not want people to people contact across the dam? Is the form of struggle by NBA useless? Let us dwell on some of these .

Is it useless to fight on the judicial platform ? Is there education about the nature of the State in this struggle? Is it possible to raise an issue of Rs 44000 Crore, put a check on the project, involve people all across the globe and succeed in educating a significant mass of intelligensia ( knowledge workers may sound more proletarian) by adivasis alone? Or it is necessary to wait till the education of the adivasis is complete to handle the necessary communication and legal preparation ? I have been a sympathiser of many movements Gail talks positively about and went to the NBA almost as a representative of one such. But I had full access to any and all the adivasis and was quite impressed by their insight and understanding. There is hardly any rankings in the NBA and so talking about high rank and low rank has little meaning. There are lacunae as in any organisation having a long drawn struggle with fluctuating fortunes and flowing volunteers. A number of adivasis may have taken the option of rehabilitation, but are still with NBA quite strongly. A constant communication and consultation among adivasis and non-adivasis is/was open and visible. Waharu, a good friend of mine, may have his own complaints about Medha or NBA. But that need not be brought in to criticize the NBA movement because the scope and nature of the two movements the two are leading, are vastly different. Waharu works mainly in Shahada in the plains near Tapi river and less near Narmada valley. Now about what others and Waharu etc had done before Medha or NBA came ? Who is NBA or Medha to give or not give credit or certificates ? Let the existing movements speak. If a movement is confined to a small taluka or two and is involved in wage struggle and land issues etc, it cannot have the same visibility as another which extends and networks across a much larger and different terrain in terms of issues, organisations and geography. If NBA is unable to give credit to Waharu or any other similar effort, I can very well understand. The importance of a movement will be judged by history depending on whether it can regenerate and proliferate and network with other struggles and what education it may result in. That in turn will depend on whether the movement caters to historically important issues. As Arundhati has rightly judged, NBA is in very good ground on that count.

I wish that readers of the open letter can see the closedness of the attitude of Gail. If Gail can associate with Sharad Joshi, an open advocate of globalisation of the WTO type, Arundhati can feel fortunate not to be influenced by Gail.

Jitendra Shah