Monday 23 July 2007
Its the 34th day of the indefinite hunger strike led by Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Lepcha. Their health is deteriorating by the hour. Their kidneys are showing signs of failing shortly and everybody seems to be sceptical of their demands being fulfilled. One look at them and my heart did melt.
Thank you for your conviction. My respect for your courage knows no bounds and limit.
While Sikkim around us still plays blame games, politics, threatens, ridicules, looks the other way, thinks realism over idealism, we simple people can only hope and pray for divine intervention and the people for once to think from their hearts rather than their minds ....just once.........
Meanwhile, the Government has categorically stated that it is willing to review other demands of ACT but the projects will be implemented at any cost. It has also stated that it is not responsible for any loss of lives in the indefinite hunger strike. All such acts will be blamed on the so called Opposition parties and that they shall have to bear responsibility!
The indefinite hunger strike still continues.
In the wake of the recent happenings in our state, I would like to hereby share my paper with all the readers. I hope this proves to be an interesting piece.
DAMS AND DEVELOPMENT:
the view that dams and development bring nothing but death, displacement and discontentment in the life of tribals. Development, if understood simply, means growth and advancement. In terms of planned development, it depends on the balance of power between different actors- namely the state and the society.
Two schools of thought on participation were social planning and social action. The former where participation is used to facilitate development efforts initiated by outside agencies and the latter where participation is a moral obligation leading to empowerment of the participants (Doorman 1995). Most of the time, the success of national development plans depends on the degree of state control, therefore, the very notion of participation implies a contradiction since all state participative development is based on a compromise between the state’s goals and the citizens aspirations (Robertson 1984). Pressure groups like Green Peace and Friends of the Earth have been playing an active part in questioning international environmental politics.
However, this anti-development activism has been tempered by the notion of ‘sustainable development’. Until the mid 70s, dams were seen to be one of the key propellers of development. The protagonists stated that dams with the contribution of water and power resources led to the growth of civilization. It has gone through much criticism, during recent times, with the antagonists arguing that it also involved massive uprooting and displacement of people and nature at large.
Dams are useful for flood control, navigation, cheap energy, agricultural development, domestic and industrial water supply and power generation resulting in higher productivity. At the same time, there is considerable soil erosion, loss of agricultural land, forest, wildlife and fixed assets like houses, roads etc.
I would like to discuss some of the cases to be able to get a clear cut picture of the entire argument.India has been a country where dams have been omni present since decades ago.
There are hundreds of large, medium and small dams everywhere; some even at a construction or planning stage. Balgovind (1991) takes the case of Hirakud damn in Orissa and mentions that from the point of view of economic calculation and for flood control in the economically developed and politically conscious eastern Orissa, the construction of the Hirakud dam was a historical necessity.
With regard to the construction of dams, there can be four perspectives from four sections of the population: the government and the bureaucracy, scientists and environmentalists, the people in the catchment area and, finally, the people in the command area. He argues that the bureaucracy supports the construction of dams to achieve economic and political ends. The scientists agree to such projects from their technical viewpoint while environmentalists always oppose it.
The people also initially agree to the plan as they anticipate prosperity and employment. Perhaps the worst effect of large dams would be the social and cultural upheaval. Hirakud dam in Orissa has 18.34% tribals among the displacements and even though they were a minority, they remain the most marginalised among them. They were compelled to shift to villages close to the forest area, given their strong dependence on forest products, and could not afford to buy cultivable land in old established villages where the costs were rising due to growing demand. Further, the tribals had distinct cultural traits which were disliked by the village caste groups. Sometimes they were prohibited from drawing water from the well, taking bath in village ponds, herding cattle in a few patches and kept out of group decision making. Outsees were paid very less compensation for their land, houses and trees. Since they were not used to handling big money, most of the compensation amount went into conspicuous consumption, litigation, medication and pilgrimages and hardly anyone used it for productive purposes. Due to poor planning, the government has been able to rehabilitate only 10.86% of the total affected people. The Hirakud dam project ruptured tribal life with virtually nobody getting any white collar jobs despite much talk about the upliftment of the Schedule tribes. The tribals have not been able to reconstruct their past economic and social status which seems to be lost forever now.
The Narmada Valley Project (NVP) is the single largest river valley project in India. It involves the construction of thirty major dams, of which the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is one of the bigger dams, intended to harness the Narmada for irrigation, drinking water and power generation. With a network of canals, it would irrigate 1.8 million hectares of drought prone Gujarat, supply drinking water to forty million people and generate 1450 megawatts of energy. However, the damming of this river would also lead to submergence of approximately 37,000 hectares of land. Of the 245 villages to be submerged by the reservoirs of the dam, 37,000 in Gujarat and Maharashtra are almost all hill adivasis while, in Madhya Pradesh, roughly one third were scheduled tribes. Baviskar in her book ‘In the Belly of the River’ (2006) talks about how the Narmada was a beautiful sight earlier and now after the dam construction portrayed a totally different picture.
The water was now stagnant and muddy with dead livestock floating on it and crocodiles haunting the dirty water. Old joys of drinking, washing and bathing was a distant dream now with the thick mud in the river from the silt deposited from upstream. The Bhilala adivasis of Anjanvara totally depend on forests and the river; nature played an important part in their culture and politics.
The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was set up in 1969 and, according to it, Anjanvara had the right to choose whether to stay in MP or resettle in Gujarat. The MP government did not want this right to be exercised as there were other dams in the making and if given rehabilitation it would set an example for the future displacements. They wanted Gujarat to take care of these problems. However, the people did not want to go to Gujarat as they had already seen the resettlement sites there having all sorts of problems- starting from waterlogged fields, no livestock and fragmented families to hostile neighbours etc. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Movement to Save Narmada) started somewhere in 1978 but died quickly. A second attempt was organized by Medha Patkar, a social activist, around 1985. Given the large scale of the NVP, the movement concentrated its efforts on collective action against the two largest dams- SSP and Narmada Sagar. They opposed the displacement of poor communities and the plundering of their natural resources by destructive development which served the interests of elite customers and foreign capital. In its fight against the project, the Andolan has successfully invoked the issue of social justice, by persuasively arguing that the dam will generate benefits for an already privileged few, while further impoverishing those who are already disadvantaged. It shows the authoritarian nature of the government and how they violate the rights of the people in the valley to participate in making decisions which critically impinge upon their lives.
Therefore, the challenge to development has come in the form of political movements of ecologically, economically and culturally marginalized people. One must also keep in mind that this whole upheaval has brought some positive changes in the condition of the displacements as well. For example, earlier there wasn’t too much emphasis on education but nowadays formal education is very important. There is this hope that somewhere down the line the youth would eventually get government jobs. Another positive change has been in the form of active political participation from the youth which was almost non-existent earlier. Apart from these, one sees unity between the plain-caste Hindu farmers and the adivasis, as well as active interest from the international world.
The Indravati hydro-project in Koraput, Orissa is yet another example where the 5,000 evicted families are still waiting for rehabilitation. R. K. Barik mentions in his article that the Dandakaranya Development Authority (DDA), which was established in 12th September 1958 to resettle displaced people from East Pakistan to Dandakaranya and promotion of the interests of the area’s tribal population, had from the beginning itself shown partial treatment. No research was done on the maximization of millet, even though the officials were aware that the tribes depended more on millet than rice or wheat. Moreover, no markets were created for sale of the former.
Deforestation is one of the main concerns for the tribals in Orissa. The paper mills in the districts have led to the depletion of forests and the liberal attitude of the government has encouraged many foreign companies to take interest in the area. The arrival of settlers in a tribal area gradually gives rise to conflict. Since caste society has the tendency to go on adding to the existing amount of land, the settlers in Koraput were not content with the five acres of land distributed by the DDA and started grabbing the land of the tribals in exchange for liquor and consumption loans. Though the law prohibited transfer of tribal land to non-tribals, the officials and lawyers helped the settlers in the acquisition.
Over the years, the settlers progressed- their children were better educated and acquired government jobs, some became doctors and engineers whereas one could rarely find a clerk from the tribal community. The so called architects of development should take socio-cultural factors into consideration while planning rehabilitation of refugees in tribal areas. Most displacements have, by and large, ignored women. Tribal women enjoy a relatively higher status as compared to their counterparts in the caste order. The former controlled the family economy; this meant that her status depended on abundant resources. This was because tribals practice shifting agriculture as opposed to settled agriculture and men and women both share the burden of work in the field with the women taking charge of production and work. W. Fernandes’s article speaks of how tribal women are affected by development projects. During re-settlement, land was allotted in the name of the individuals considered head of families; therefore the power got transferred from the man to his son with the woman ceasing to be the main decision maker in the family. The few jobs that were available were mostly given to men so women were reduced to being just housewives. Once this happened then the women looked into different ways of coping with this tension.
For example, in the NALCO resettlement colony, many women were found to be drunk in response to the cultural, social and economic trauma of displacement and of loneliness during the day. In some cases, the husbands would follow the value systems of another society and get a younger bride. In earlier circumstances, the woman would have walked out of the house and got remarried but now due to subsistence issues she had to accept her subordinate status. Further, all tribals hold their property as a collective whole thereby calling it common property resources (CPR), however the project authority provided compensation only for land and homestead plots and not for the former since land laws in India considered them as state property. Another unattended area was in the field of hygiene.
Very few projects took into account the different needs of the women when it came to toilet and hygiene issues. Cultural contact also ensured that the tribal family adopted upper caste customs where women’s subordination is basic. Thus, we see that policy makers take her subordinate role for granted even in the few rehabilitation schemes that exist.
The World Commission on Dams (WCD) in April 1997 had two main objectives:
• To review the development effectiveness of large dams and assess alternatives for water resources and energy development, and
• To develop internationally acceptable criteria, guidelines and standards where appropriate for the planning, design, appraisal, construction, operation, monitoring and decommissioning of dams.
The main focus being the human cost of large dams (Reddy N. D. 2000-01). The benefits of large dams have come at a certain cost to several sections of the population and environment. Most of the time, costs have been deliberately underestimated and the benefits have been exaggerated to get project clearance. The WCD identified two kinds of displacement: • Physical displacement: involuntary movement, mostly involving coercion and force• Livelihood displacement: displacement of people from gaining access to a series of natural resources and environmental inputs
Reddy takes the example of China where the official figure of displacements appears to be 10.2 million. However, he says that, the Yangtze basin alone accounts for about 10 million displaced people. Most of the times, the officials don’t include those located downstream, those without land or legal titles, indigenous people etc in the list of displacements. Neither are these people allowed to participate in project planning or resettlement. Where resettlement has taken place, socio-economic development has been totally ignored. With the growing awareness, countries have now become more careful in charting out their development projects. China has come out with the Reservoir Resettlement Act which looks into the rights of the affected people. Similarly Columbia, Japan, Brazil, Norway and France have also reported improvements.
In our own country, we see that the diminishing role of the state, the heavy dependence on judiciary and people’s assumption that the state is responsible lead to a somewhat slow but growing reaction.
To conclude, I would like to state that dams although charted out to bring about development also lead to displacement, death and various other problems. The state should have a more centralized planning scheme wherein those affected by such projects should be taken care of; in terms of both short term and long term growth. On our part, instead of waiting for the administrative machinery to spring into action, mass mobilization is also very important for a positive change to be indeed possible.
Nancy Choden Lhasungpa
Delhi School of Economics 2005-07
Rath, Gobinda Chandra (ed). Tribal Development in India: The Contemporary Debate, Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006• Baviskar, Amita, In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Second edition, Second Impression with ‘Postscript’, 2006• Reddy, D Narasimha, ‘Dams and Development’, in Alternative economic survey, 2000-01, entitled ‘Second Generation Reform: Delusion of Development’, Rainbow Publishers, Delhi• Baboo, Balgovind, ‘Big Dams and the Tribals: The case of the Hirakud dam outsees in Orissa’. Social Action, Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, 1991• Abram, Simone and Waldren Jacqueline (1998): Anthropological perspective on local development: Knowledge and Sentiments in Conflict.
Petition to support the hunger strike by the people of Dzongu, Sikkim
Dzongu is a reserved area in North Sikkim for the Lepchas, the indigenous people of Sikkim. The government has decided to build six hydel dams in the area under the 1200MW Teesta III project, one of which lies within one kilometre of the Khangchendzonga National Park.
The proposed dams will have devastating effects in the region which is a bio-diversity hotspot with many species of rare flora and fauna. The lives of the Lepcha communities are intricately woven into ecology around them. Inspite of the opposition by the people of Dzongu at the Public Hearings, the government is pushing ahead with their plans. Fearing the destruction of their communities and way of life, members of Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) launched an indefinite hunger strike to make their voices heard which started on 20th June, 2007.
Please sign the petition to support the hunger strikers from Dzongu