[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Arundhati Roy's article in Outlook.
[Topics under debate]: GOOD GOVERNANCE
___Help make this manifesto better, or accept it, and propagate it!___
Something worth reading and pondering over:
Arundhati Roy's article in Outlook:
I stood on a hill and laughed out loud.
I had crossed the Narmada by boat from Jalsindhi and climbed the headland
on the opposite bank from where I could see, ranged across the crowns of
low, bald hills, the tribal hamlets of Sikka, Surung, Neemgavan and
Domkhedi. I could see their airy, fragile, homes. I could see their fields
and the forests behind them. I could see little children with littler
goats scuttling across the landscape like motorised peanuts. I knew I was
looking at a civilisation older than Hinduism, slated-sanctioned (by the
highest court in the land)-to be drowned this monsoon when the waters of
the Sardar Sarovar reservoir will rise to submerge it.
Why did I laugh?
Because I suddenly remembered the tender concern with which the Supreme
Court judges in Delhi (before vacating the legal stay on further
construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam) had enquired whether tribal
children in the resettlement colonies would have children's parks to play
in. The lawyers representing the government had hastened to assure them
that indeed they would, and, what's more, that there were seesaws and
slides and swings in every park. I looked up at the endless sky and down
at the river rushing past and for a brief, brief moment the absurdity of it
all reversed my rage and I laughed. I meant no disrespect.
Let me say at the outset that I'm not a city-basher. I've done my time in
a village. I've had first-hand experience of the isolation, the inequity
and the potential savagery of it. I'm not an anti-development junkie, nor
a proselytiser for the eternal upholding of custom and tradition. What I
am, however, is curious. Curiosity took me to the Narmada valley.
Instinct told me that this was the big one. The one in which the
battle-lines were clearly drawn, the warring armies massed along them.
The one in which it would be possible to wade through the congealed morass
of hope, anger, information, disinformation, political artifice,
engineering ambition, disingenuous socialism, radical activism,
bureaucratic subterfuge, misinformed emotionalism and
of course the pervasive, invariably dubious, politics of International
Instinct led me to set aside Joyce and Nabokov, to postpone reading Don
DeLillo's big book and substitute it with reports on drainage and
irrigation, with journals and books and documentary films about dams and
why they're built and what they do.
My first tentative questions revealed that few people know what is really
going on in the Narmada valley. Those who know, know a lot. Most know
nothing at all. And yet, almost everyone has a passionate opinion. Nobody's
neutral. I realised very quickly that I was straying into mined territory.
In India over the last 10 years the fight against the Sardar Sarovar Dam
has come to represent far more than the fight for one river. This has been
its strength as well as its weakness. Some years ago, it became a debate
that captured the popular imagination. That's what raised the stakes and
changed the complexion of the battle. From being a fight over the fate of
a river valley it began to raise doubts about an entire political system.
What is at issue now is the very nature of our democracy. Who owns this
land? Who owns its rivers? Its forests? Its fish? These are huge questions.
They are being taken hugely seriously by the State. They are being
answered in one voice by every institution at its command-the army, the
police, the bureaucracy,
the courts. And not just answered, but answered unambiguously, in bitter,
For the people of the valley, the fact that the stakes were raised to
this degree has meant that their most effective weapon-specific facts about
specific issues in this specific valley-has been blunted by the debate on
the big issues. The basic premise of the argument has been inflated until
it has burst into bits that have, over time, bobbed away. Occasionally a
disconnected piece of the puzzle floats by-an emotionally charged account
of the government's callous treatment of displaced people; an outburst at
how the Narmada Bachao Andolan (nba), 'a handful of activists', is holding
the nation to ransom; a legal correspondent reporting on the progress of
the nba's writ petition in the Supreme Court.
Though there's been a fair amount of writing on the subject, most of it
is for a 'special interest' readership. News reports tend to be about
isolated aspects of the project. Government documents are classified as
'Secret'. I think it's fair to say that public perception of the issue is
pretty crude and is divided, crudely, into two categories:
On the one hand, it is seen as a war between modern, rational,
progressive forces of 'Development' versus a sort of neo-Luddite impulse-an
irrational, emotional 'Anti-Development' resistance, fuelled by an
arcadian, pre-industrial dream. On the other, as a Nehru vs Gandhi contest.
This lifts the whole sorry business out of the bog of deceit, lies, false
promises and increasingly successful propaganda (which is what it's really
about) and confers on it a false legitimacy. It makes out that both sides
have the Greater Good of the Nation in mind-but merely disagree about the
means to achieve it.
Both interpretations put a tired spin on the dispute. Both stir up
emotions that cloud the particular facts of this particular story. Both are
indications of how urgently we need new heroes, new kinds of heroes, and
how we've overused our old ones (like we overbowl our bowlers).
The Nehru vs Gandhi argument pushes this very contemporary issue back
into an old bottle. Nehru and Gandhi were generous men. Their paradigms for
development are based on assumptions of inherent morality. Nehru's on the
paternal, protective morality of the Soviet-style Centralised State.
Gandhi's on the nurturing, maternal morality of romanticised Village
Republics. Both would work perfectly, if only we were better human beings.
If only we all wore khadi and suppressed our base urges-sex, shopping,
dodging spinning lessons and being unkind to the less fortunate. Fifty
years down the line, it's
safe to say that we haven't made the grade. We haven't even come close.
We need an updated insurance plan against our own basic natures.
It's possible that as a nation we've exhausted our quota of heroes for
this century, but while we wait for shiny new ones to come along, we have
to limit the damage. We have to support our small heroes. (Of these we
have many. Many.) We have to fight specific wars in specific ways. Who
knows, perhaps that's what the 21st century has in store for us. The
dismantling of the Big. Big bombs, big dams, big ideologies, big
contradictions, big countries, big wars, big heroes, big mistakes.
Perhaps it will be the Century of the Small. Perhaps right now, this very
minute, there's a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Could
it be? Could it possibly be? It sounds finger-licking good to me.
I was drawn to the valley because I sensed that the fight for the Narmada
had entered a newer, sadder phase. I went because writers are drawn to
stories the way vultures are drawn to kills. My motive was not
compassion. It was sheer greed. I was right. I found a story there.
And what a story it is.
"People say that the Sardar Sarovar Dam is an expensive project. But it's
bringing drinking water to millions. This is our life-line. Can you put a
price on this? Does the air we breathe have a price? We will live. We
will drink. We will bring glory to the state of Gujarat."-Urmilaben Patel,
wife of the Chief Minister of Gujarat, speaking at a public rally in
Delhi in 1993.
"We will request you to move from your houses after the dam comes up. If
you move it will be good. Otherwise we shall release the waters and drown
you all."-Morarji Desai, speaking at a public meeting in the submergence
zone of the Pong dam in 1961.
"Why didn't they just poison us? Then we wouldn't have to live in this
shit-hole and the government could have survived alone with its precious
dam all to itself."-Ram Bai, whose village was submerged when the Bargi
dam was built on the Narmada. She now lives in a slum in Jabalpur.
In the 50 years since Independence, after Nehru's famous "Dams are the
Temples of Modern India" speech (one he grew to regret in his own
lifetime), his footsoldiers threw themselves into the business of
building dams with unnatural fervour. Dam-building grew to be equated with
Nation-building. Their enthusiasm alone should have been reason enough to
make one suspicious. Not only did they build new dams and new irrigation
systems, they took control of small, traditional systems that village
communities had managed for thousands of years, and allowed them to
atrophy. To compensate the loss, the government built more and more dams.
Big ones, little ones, tall ones, short ones. The result of its exertions
is that India now boasts of being the world's third largest dam-builder.
According to the Central Water Commission, we have 3,600 dams that qualify
as Big Dams, 3,300 of them built after Independence. Some 1,000 more are
under construction. Yet one-fifth of our population-200 million
people-doesn't have safe drinking water and two-thirds-600 million-lack
Big Dams started well, but have ended badly. There was a time when
everybody loved them, everybody had them-the Communists, Capitalists,
Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. There was a time when Big Dams
moved men to poetry. Not any longer. All over the world there is a movement
growing against Big Dams. In the First World they're being
de-commissioned, blown up. The fact that they do more harm than good is no
longer just conjecture. Big Dams are obsolete. They're uncool. They're
undemocratic. They're a government's way of accumulating authority
(deciding who will get
how much water and who will grow what where). They're a guaranteed way of
taking a farmer's wisdom away from him. They're a brazen means of taking
water, land and irrigation away from the poor and gifting it to the rich.
Their reservoirs displace huge populations of people leaving them homeless
and destitute. Ecologically, they're in the doghouse. They lay the earth
to waste. They cause floods, water-logging, salinity, they spread disease.
There is mounting evidence that links Big Dams to earthquakes.
Big Dams haven't really lived up to their role as the monuments of Modern
Civilisation, emblems of Man's ascendancy over Nature. Monuments are
supposed to be timeless, but dams have an all too finite lifetime. They
last only as long as it takes Nature to fill them with silt. It's common
knowledge now that Big Dams do the opposite of what their Publicity
People say they do-the Local Pain for National Gain myth has been blown
For all these reasons, the dam-building industry in the First World is in
trouble and out of work. So it's exported to the Third World in the name of
Development Aid, along with their other waste like old weapons,
superannuated aircraft carriers and banned pesticides.
On the one hand the Indian Government, every Indian Government, rails
self-righteously against the First World, and on the other, actually pays
to receive their gift-wrapped garbage. Aid is just another praetorian
business enterprise. Like Colonialism was. It has destroyed most of Africa.
Bangladesh is reeling from its ministrations. We know all this, in
numbing detail. Yet in India our leaders welcome it with slavish smiles
(and make nuclear bombs to shore up their flagging self-esteem).
Over the last 50 years India has spent Rs 80,000 crore on the irrigation
sector alone. Yet there are more drought-prone areas and more flood-prone
areas today than there were in 1947. Despite the disturbing evidence of
irrigation disasters, dam-induced floods and rapid disenchantment with the
Green Revolution (declining yields, degraded land), the government has
not commissioned a post-project evaluation of a single one of its 3,600
dams to gauge whether or not it has achieved what it set out to achieve,
whether or not the (always phenomenal) costs were justified, or even what
the costs actually were.
The Government of India has detailed figures for how many million tonnes
of foodgrain or edible oils the country produces and how much more we
produce now than we did in 1947. It can tell you how much bauxite is mined
in a year or what the total surface area of the National Highways adds up
to. It's possible to access minute-to-minute information about the stock
exchange or the value of the rupee in the world market. We know how many
cricket matches we've lost on a Friday in Sharjah. It's not hard to find
out how many graduates India produced, or how many men had vasectomies in
year. But the Government of India does not have a figure for the number
of people that have been displaced by dams or sacrificed in other ways at
the altars of 'National Progress.' Isn't this astounding? How can you
measure Progress if you don't know what it costs and who paid for it? How
can the 'market' put a price on things-food, clothes, electricity,
running water-when it doesn't take into account the real cost of production?
According to a detailed study of 54 Large Dams done by the Indian
Institute of Public Administration, the average number of people displaced
by a Large Dam is 44,182. Admittedly, 54 dams out of 3,300 is not a big
enough sample. But since it's all we have, let's try and do some rough
arithmetic. A first draft. To err on the side of caution, let's halve the
number of people. Or, let's err on the side of abundant caution and take an
average of just 10,000 people per Large Dam. It's an improbably low
figure, I know, but... never mind. Whip out your calculators. 3,300 x 10,000
33 million. That's what it works out to. 33 million people. Displaced by
big dams alone in the last 50 years. What about those that have been
displaced by the thousands of other Development Projects? At a private
lecture, N.C. Saxena, Secretary to the Planning Commission, said he thought
the number was in the region of 50 million (of which 40 million were
displaced by dams). We daren't say so, because it isn't official. It isn't
official because we daren't say so. You have to murmur it for fear of
being accused of hyperbole. You have to whisper it to yourself, because it
really does sound unbelievable. It can't
be, I've been telling myself. I must have got the zeroes muddled. It
can't be true. I barely have the courage to say it aloud. To run the risk
of sounding like a '60s hippie dropping acid ("It's the System, man!"),
or a paranoid schizophrenic with a persecution complex. But it is the
System, man. What else can it be?
50 million people.
Go on, Government, quibble. Bargain. Beat it down. Say something.
I feel like someone who's just stumbled on a mass grave.
Fifty million is more than the population of Gujarat. Almost three times
the population of Australia. More than three times the number of refugees
that Partition created in India. Ten times the number of Palestinian
refugees. The Western world today is convulsed over the future of one
million people who have fled from Kosovo.
A huge percentage of the displaced are tribal people (57.6 per cent in
the case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam). Include Dalits and the figure becomes
obscene. According to the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes
it's about 60 per cent. If you consider that tribal people account for only
eight per cent, and Dalits 15 per cent, of India's population, it opens
up a whole other dimension to the story. The ethnic 'otherness' of their
victims takes some of the pressure off the Nation Builders. It's like
having an expense account. Someone else pays the bills. People from another
country. Another world. India's poorest people are subsidising the
life-styles of her richest.
Did I hear someone say something about the world's biggest democracy?
What has happened to all these millions of people? Where are they now?
How do they earn a living? Nobody really knows. (Last month's papers had an
account of how tribal people displaced from the Nagarjunasagar Dam
Project are selling their babies to foreign adoption agencies. The
government intervened and put the babies in two public hospitals where
six babies died of neglect.) When it comes to Rehabilitation, the
government's priorities are clear. India does not have a National
Rehabilitation Policy. According to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894
(amended in 1984), the government is not
legally bound to provide a displaced person anything but a cash
compensation. Imagine that. A cash compensation, to be paid by an Indian
government official to an illiterate tribal man (the women get nothing)
in a land where even the postman demands a tip for a delivery! Most tribal
people have no formal title to their land and therefore cannot claim
compensation anyway. Most tribal people, or let's say most small farmers,
have as much use for money as a Supreme Court judge has for a bag of
The millions of displaced people don't exist anymore. When history is
written they won't be in it. Not even as statistics. Some of them have
subsequently been displaced three and four times-a dam, an artillery proof
range, another dam, a uranium mine, a power project. Once they start
rolling there's no resting place. The great majority is eventually
absorbed into slums on the periphery of our great cities, where it
coalesces into an immense pool of cheap construction labour (that builds
more projects that displace more people). True, they're not being
annihilated or taken to gas chambers, but I can warrant that the quality
of their accommodation is worse than in any concentration camp of the Third
Reich. They're not captive, but they redefine the meaning of liberty.
And still the nightmare doesn't end. They continue to be uprooted even
from their hellish hovels by government bulldozers that fan out on clean-up
missions whenever elections are comfortingly far away and the urban rich
get twitchy about hygiene. In cities like Delhi, they run the risk of being
shot by the police for shitting in public places-like three slum-dwellers
were, not more than two years ago.
In the French Canadian wars of the 1770s, Lord Amherst exterminated most
of Canada's Native Indians by offering them blankets infested with the
small-pox virus. Two centuries on, we of the Real India have found less
obvious ways of achieving similar ends.
The millions of displaced people in India are nothing but refugees of an
unacknowledged war. And we, like the citizens of White America and French
Canada and Hitler's Germany, are condoning it by looking away. Why? Because
we're told that it's being done for the sake of the Greater Common Good.
That it's being done in the name of Progress, in the name of National
Interest (which, of course, is paramount). Therefore gladly,
unquestioningly, almost gratefully, we believe what we're told. We
believe that it benefits us to believe.
Allow me to shake your faith. Put your hand in mine and let me lead you
through the maze. Do this, because it's important that you understand. If
you find reason to disagree, by all means take the other side. But please
don't ignore it, don't look away.
It isn't an easy tale to tell. It's full of numbers and explanations.
Numbers used to make my eyes glaze over. Not any more. Not since I began to
follow the direction in which they point.
Trust me. There's a story here.
It's true that India has progressed. It's true that in 1947, when
Colonialism formally ended, India was food deficit. In 1950 we produced 51
million tonnes of food grain. Today we produce close to 200 million
It's true that in 1995 the state granaries were overflowing with 30
million tonnes of unsold grain. It's also true that at the same time, 40
per cent of India's population-more than 350 million people-were living
below the poverty line. That's more than the country's population in 1947.
Indians are too poor to buy the food their country produces. Indians are
being forced to grow the kinds of food they can't afford to eat themselves.
Look at what happened in Kalahandi district in western Orissa, best known
for its starvation deaths. In the drought of 1996, people died of
starvation (16 according to the state, over a 100 according to the
press). Yet that same year rice production in Kalahandi was higher than the
national average! Rice was exported from Kalahandi to the Centre.
Certainly India has progressed but most of its people haven't.
Our leaders say that we must have nuclear missiles to protect us from the
threat of China and Pakistan. But who will protect us from ourselves?
What kind of country is this? Who owns it? Who runs it? What's going on?
It's time to spill a few State Secrets. To puncture the myth about the
inefficient, bumbling, corrupt, but ultimately genial, essentially
democratic, Indian State. Carelessness cannot account for 50 million
disappeared people. Nor can Karma. Let's not delude ourselves. There is
method here, precise, relentless and one hundred per cent man-made.
The Indian State is not a State that has failed. It is a State that has
succeeded impressively in what it set out to do. It has been ruthlessly
efficient in the way it has appropriated India's resources-its land, its
water, its forests, its fish, its meat, its eggs, its air-and redistributed
it to a favoured few (in return, no doubt, for a few favours). It is
superbly accomplished in the art of protecting its cadres of paid-up elite.
Consummate in its methods of pulverising those who inconvenience its
intentions. But its finest feat of all is the way it achieves all this and
emerges smelling nice. The way it manages to keep its secrets, to contain
information that vitally concerns the daily lives of one billion people, in
government files, accessible only to the keepers of
the flame-ministers, bureaucrats, state engineers, defence strategists.
Of course we make it easy for them, we, its beneficiaries. We take care not
to dig too deep. We don't really want to know the grisly details.
Thanks to us, Independence came (and went), elections come and go, but
there has been no shuffling of the deck. On the contrary, the old order has
been consecrated, the rift fortified. We, the Rulers, won't pause to look
up from our heaving table. We don't seem to know that the resources we're
feasting on are finite and rapidly depleting. There's cash in the bank, but
soon there'll be nothing left to buy with it. The food's running out in the
kitchen. And the servants haven't eaten yet. Actually, the servants
stopped eating a long time ago.
India lives in her villages, we're told, in every other sanctimonious
public speech. That's bullshit. It's just another fig leaf from the
government's bulging wardrobe. India doesn't live in her villages. India
dies in her villages. India gets kicked around in her villages. India lives
in her cities. India's villages live only to serve her cities. Her
villagers are her citizens' vassals and for that reason must be controlled
and kept alive, but only just.
This impression we have of an overstretched State, struggling to cope
with the sheer weight and scale of its problems, is a dangerous one. The
fact is that it's creating the problem. It's a giant poverty-producing
machine, masterful in its methods of pitting the poor against the very
poor, of flinging crumbs to the wretched, so that they dissipate their
energies fighting each other, while peace (and advertising) reigns in the
Until this process is recognised for what it is, until it is addressed
and attacked, elections-however fiercely they're contested-will continue to
be mock battles that serve only to further entrench unspeakable inequity.
Democracy (our version of it) will continue to be the benevolent mask
behind which a pestilence flourishes unchallenged. On a scale that will
make old wars and past misfortunes look like controlled laboratory
experiments. Already 50 million people have been fed into the Development
Mill and have emerged as air-conditioners and popcorn and rayon
suits-subsidised airconditioners and popcorn and rayon suits (if we must
have these nice things, and they are nice, at least we should be made to
pay for them).
There's a hole in the flag that needs mending.
It's a sad thing to have to say, but as long as we have faith-we have no
hope. To hope, we have to break the faith. We have to fight specific wars
in specific ways and we have to fight to win.
Listen then, to the story of the Narmada Valley. Understand it. And, if
you wish, enlist. Who knows, it may lead to magic.
The Narmada wells up on the plateau of Amarkantak in the Shahdol district
of Madhya Pradesh, then winds its way through 1,300 kilometres of beautiful
broad-leaved forest and perhaps the most fertile agricultural land in
India. Twenty five million people live in the river valley, linked to the
ecosystem and to each other by an ancient, intricate web of
interdependence (and, no doubt, exploitation). Though the Narmada has been
targeted for "water resource development" for more than 50 years now, the
reason it has, until recently, evaded being captured and dismembered is
because it flows through three
states-Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. (Ninety per cent of the
river flows through Madhya Pradesh; it merely skirts the northern border of
Maharashtra, then flows through Gujarat for about 180 km before emptying
into the Arabian sea at Bharuch).
As early as 1946, plans had been afoot to dam the river at Gora in
Gujarat. In 1961, Nehru laid the foundation stone for a 49.8 metre high
dam-the midget progenitor of the Sardar Sarovar. Around the same time,
the Survey of India drew up new, modernised topographical maps of the river
basin. The dam planners in Gujarat studied the new maps and decided that
it would be more profitable to build a much bigger dam. But this meant
hammering out an agreement first with neighbouring states.
The three states bickered and balked but failed to agree on a
water-sharing formula. Eventually, in 1969, the Central Government set up
the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal. It took the Tribunal 10 years to
announce its Award. The people whose lives were going to be devastated were
neither informed nor consulted nor heard.
To apportion shares in the waters, the first, most basic thing the
Tribunal had to do, was to find out how much water there was in the river.
Usually this can only be estimated accurately if there is at least 40
years of recorded data on the volume of actual flow in the river. Since
this was not available, they decided to extrapolate from rainfall data.
They arrived at a figure of 27.22 maf (million acre feet). This figure is
the statistical bedrock of the Narmada Valley Projects. We are still
living with its legacy. It more or less determines the overall design of
the Projects-the height, location and number of dams. By inference, it
determines the cost of the Projects, how much area will be submerged, how
many people will be displaced and what the benefits will be. In 1992
actual observed flow data for the Narmada which was now available for 44
years (1948-1992) showed that the yield from the river was only 22.69
maf-18 per cent less! The Central Water Commission admits that there is
less water in the Narmada than had previously been assumed. The
Government of India says: It may be noted that clause II (of the Decision
of the Tribunal) relating to determination of dependable flow as 28 maf is
In other words, the Narmada is legally bound by human decree to produce
as much water as the Government of India commands it to produce.
Its proponents boast that the Narmada Valley Project is the most
ambitious river valley project ever conceived in human history. They plan
to build 3,200 dams that will reconstitute the Narmada and her 41
tributaries into a series of step reservoirs-an immense staircase of
amenable water. Of these, 30 will be major dams, 135 medium and the rest
small. Two of the major dams will be multi-purpose mega dams. The Sardar
Sarovar in Gujarat and the Narmada Sagar in Madhya Pradesh will, between
them, hold more water than any other reservoir on the Indian subcontinent.
Whichever way you look at it, the Narmada Valley Development Project is
Big. It will alter the ecology of the entire river basin of one of India's
biggest rivers. For better or for worse, it will affect the lives of 25
million people who live in the valley. Yet, even before the Ministry of
Environment cleared the project, the World Bank offered to finance the
lynchpin of the project-the Sardar Sarovar dam (whose reservoir displaces
people in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, but whose benefits go to
Gujarat). The Bank was ready with its cheque-book before any costs were
computed, before any studies had
been done, before anybody had any idea of what the human cost or the
environmental impact of the dam would be!
The $450-million loan for the Sardar Sarovar Projects was sanctioned and
in place in 1985. The Ministry of Environment clearance for the project
came only in 1987! Talk about enthusiasm. It fairly borders on
evangelism. Can anybody care so much?
Why were they so keen?
Between 1947 and 1994 the Bank received 6,000 applications for loans from
around the world. They didn't turn down a single one. Not a single one.
Terms like 'Moving money' and 'Meeting loan targets' suddenly begin to make
Today, India is in a situation where it pays back more money to the Bank
in interest and repayment instalments than it receives from it. We are
forced to incur new debts in order to be able to repay our old ones.
According to the World Bank Annual Report, last year (1998), after the
arithmetic, India paid the Bank $478 million more than it received. Over
the last five years ('93 to '98) India paid the Bank $1.475 billion more
than it received. The relationship between us is exactly like the
relationship between a landless labourer steeped in debt and the local
Bania-it is an affectionate relationship, the poor
man loves his Bania because he's always there when he's needed. It's not
for nothing that we call the world a Global Village. The only difference
between the landless labourer and the Government of India is that one uses
the money to survive. The other just funnels it into the private coffers of
its officers and agents, pushing the country into an economic bondage
that it may never overcome.
The International Dam Industry is worth $20 billion a year. If you follow
the trails of big dams the world over, wherever you go-China, Japan,
Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Guatemala-you'll rub up against the same
story, encounter the same actors: the Iron Triangle (dam-jargon for the
nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and dam construction companies),
the racketeers who call themselves International Environmental Consultants
(who are usually directly employed by or subsidiaries of dam-builders),
and, more often than not, the friendly, neighbourhood World Bank. You'll
grow to recognise the same inflated rhetoric, the same noble 'Peoples'
Dam' slogans, the same swift, brutal repression that follows the first sign
of civil insubordination. (Of late, especially after its experience in
the Narmada Valley, the Bank is more cautious about choosing the countries
in which it finances projects that involve mass displacement. At present,
China is their Most Favoured client. It's the great irony of our
times-American citizens protest the massacre in Tiananmen square, but the
Bank will use their money to fund the Three Gorges Dam in China which is
going to displace 1.3 million people.)
It's a skilful circus and the acrobats know each other well. Occasionally
they'll swap parts-a bureaucrat will join the Bank, a Banker will surface
as a Project Consultant. At the end of play, a huge percentage of what's
called 'Development Aid' is re-channelled back to the countries it came
from, masquerading as equipment cost or consultants' fees or salaries to
the agencies' own staff. Often 'Aid' is openly 'tied'. (As in the case of
the Japanese loan for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, tied to a contract for
purchasing turbines from Sumitomo Corporation.) Sometimes the connections
are more sleazy. In 1993 Britain financed the Pergau Dam in Malaysia with
a subsidised loan of #234 million, despite an Overseas Development
Administration report that
said that the dam would be a 'bad buy' for Malaysia. It later emerged
that the loan was offered.
All rights reserved. Copyright ) 1999
This is the National Debate on System Reform. email@example.com
Rules, Procedures, Archives: http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/