ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mounting Antagonism towards Big Dams

Mounting Antagonism towards Big Dams Nirmal Sengupta DID B D Dhawan ("Mounting Antagonism towards Big Dams', May 20) succeed in putting the issues relating to the controversy around big dams in a proper perspective? No, he did not. It is a very superficial summary of arguments, a very timid appeal to both sides to come to a dialogue. Such appeals may appease friends over tea-table but not work when vested interests are involved. The big dam controversy has attained this height because on the one side are those with tremendous financial and administrative back up, complete lack of accountability, lust for grandiose achievements, unparalleled arrogance and technocratic disregard for people. Faced with this strong and unrelenting opposition, the critics had no way but to increase their rank continually with the hope that eventually the rising popular protest would bring down the technocracy. The controversy is very old. It had begun in the fifties. Had the irrigation planners and technocrats paid any attention to these problems at that earlier stage, the critics would not have felt any necessity to appeal to the public. Indeed, they did not, nor did the popular media show much interest then in the criticisms. Dhawan may very well check that the media was far more interested in Nehru's "temples of modern India" than in Kapil Bhattacharya's critical writings, the first appeal against big dams that was made to a wider public. Except for the organ of the Communist Party of India which was leading the movement (yes, those were different times!), no other newspaper had thought it worthwhile to report the popular movements against the construction of the Maiihon dam. The senior engineers of Purnea district had quickly perceived the dangerous implications of the World Bank inspired additions to the objectives of the original Kosi project, a brainchild of the Congress Flood Advisory Committee. But these engineers had merely submitted a memorandum to the authorities, for they had no reason to doubt the seriousness of the commitment of patriotic leaders and famous scientists to national development. If that trust is lost today that is because of the misdeeds and misleading pronouncements of those in authority. If the critics have taken to wide scale popular protests it is because memoranda and appeals to good sense have not been attended to. If the popular media are now more eager to propagate the critical views that is not because of their being prejudiced and one-sided. Would not Dhawan consider this as the proper perspective of the debate instead of equating the two sides?

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