Thursday, April 13, 2006

Narmada project: the points at issue

An article in The Hindu discussing the important questions raised by the NBA struggle.
(1) Are big dams in general good or bad?
(2) More specifically, is the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) a good project?
(3) Is the SSP, as currently under implementation, in conformity with the prescribed conditions on the environmental and rehabilitation aspects?
(4) If there is a failure on the rehabilitation front, is there a case for suspending construction work until that failure has been rectified, as demanded by the NBA? In particular, is the form of protest, including fasting by three persons, right, or does it amount to coercion?
(5) In a parliamentary democracy like ours, is there room for people's movements like the NBA? Are not the people's interests taken care of by their elected representatives in Parliament and the State Legislatures?

People in the bureaucracy are reported to have asked with real or feigned indignation: "Can we give a veto power over governmental decision-making to an individual?" That falls strangely on one's ears. What veto power? The juggernaut is rolling heedless of protests. The Chief Minister of Gujarat is reported to have said that nothing must be allowed to stop the project. What power have the people been able to exercise? One can in fact turn that around and ask — as some have done — the opposite question: "Are peaceful protests ineffective? Will the state respond only to violence?" ...
Unfortunately, it is the absence of response to letters, memoranda, resolutions, and even personal pleas at meetings, that drive people to such confrontational methods. If there had been early and constructive responses to Medha Patkar's pleas she could have avoided recourse to such an extreme step.
The NBA's petition to the Supreme Court led to a hiatus in the project from 1994 to 2000, and the NBA is often blamed for this six-year delay. However, when it filed its petition in 1994, did NBA ask the Supreme Court to take six years to deliver judgment?
As for `ideology,' it is curious that those who equate `development' with big dams and other big projects, huge shopping malls filled with the world's merchandise, and roads bursting with automobiles, are not described as ideologues, but those who argue that such ideas of development have brought the world to the brink of disaster and that we must pull back from the brink before it is too late, are castigated as ideologues.

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