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Dam(n)ed in Kashmir

by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, 22 February 2009

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Kashmir Times, February 22, 2009

Dam(n)ed Symbols of False Pride

A naked man exhibiting his pride by wearing a colorful turban is as absurd as projecting the big dams of the country as a measure of progress of the country when the crude reality of the enormous casualty of these big projects is something that everyone would conveniently like to ignore. In the recent past we have heard gory stories pouring in from Narmada valley, of displacements, death and destruction that these symbols of India’s progress, development and technology have wrecked on the poor and already deprived people of the region. Closer home, tragedy and destruction following the sinking of part of Batote-Doda highway, has enriched public knowledge with the revelation that much of this is due to the prestigious Baglihar power project that has been the major focus of government’s development and economic agenda for over a decade. The question is that if power projects, which are politically projected to generate electricity and the country’s capacity to tap natural resources cause so much destruction, displacement and tragedies, how are these indexes of the progress of the nation. Do the people adversely affected by such big projects not count?

The trouble is that connecting nation’s progress and prestige to the big dams has been the attitude at the higher echelons of power since the time of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. And perspectives have been shaped, rather manipulated ever since, with even the media shying away from projecting the other side of the story. The Hirakud dam over the river Mahanadi, at the time of its inauguration in 1957 even called it the ‘temple of modern India’. How many people know that the first such signs of modernity that India has been boasting about since decades wrecked havoc on the people residing in the respective venues of these mega projects? At the time of its construction the project involved submergence of 240 villages with fertile agricultural land of about 40000 hectares. A large number of people suffered heavily since they had to be evacuated from their hearths and homes without payment of compensation in time.more than 4000 families are yet to receive their compensation package and due to faulty and inefficient recording of personal details they have lost all hopes and exhausted all efforts in receiving their compensation amount after a lapse of 50 years, according to Prof. RN Mishra and Dr. Anjana Maitra. Till date, many of the displaced have not even been paid any compensation or rehabilitated with dignity. And all these years, all we have done is celebrated the existence of this prestigious money spinning projects that have monstrously impacted a section of society. Similar is the plight of the displaced due to Bhakra Nangal dam, even fifty years on.

So it is not without reason when the likes of Medha Patekar are up in arms against the policy of damming the rivers without the consent of the local people who are eventually affected because the elite sections of the society have to be pleased with better supply of power. True the country is in dire need of more and more power generation but the very logic of big dams as a viable source of power has been debated and thrown to smithereens in the developed countries, where creative ways arre being used to harness power. Yet, we cling on to the old and outdated twisted logic of dams being the saviours and hall marks of progress. And, that is essentially the mindset of the urban Indian elite whose voice becomes the only audible voice in the corridors of power. The economic growth and development, likely to benefit this section of the society, is deemed to be the sole truth. In this greed for more and faster, everybody forgets those who bear the brunt of it and those who are essentially excluded. For the political and bureaucratic powers in charge, such development projects also become significant because they come with handsome kickbacks and commissions. In pursuit of such ends, the likes of Medha Patekar are easily branded anti-development, even anti-national and the voices of the feeble sufferers almost blacked out or dwarfed. As is the present Doda case.

Several villages in Doda have begun to sink and all that the authorities have to say is that these people were already warned about their vulnerability and asked to move out. But there is absolute silence about whether or not any area was earmarked for their rehabilitation and compensation paid. The two districts of Doda and Kisthtwar today face the vulnerability of being cut off for long, and it is either the Baglihar dam or other unscientifically carried out development works including gypsum mining to be blamed; and there isn’t much help pouring in. The voices within are too feeble to be heard. The audible ones couldn’t care less. How many of us are even bothered? As long as we are getting our power supply, erratic or as per schedule, and live on the false notion that development projects like dams alone would bail the entire nation out of deprivation, we will never really raise a voice. How long will it take us to realise that unscientific exploitation of resources and haphazard development projects are what cause deprivation, not end it? And thus, we may be doomed to this unending cycle of being witness to such miseries that we can either choose to ignore or be in absolute denial of. All because, we don’t care enough to raise our voice.