Sonali Kudva, Pulitzer Student Fellow
I was not very familiar with the problems faced by the rural population in India, let alone those specific to the Nira-Deoghar project. My friend Prachi Patwardhan is a social worker, who now works as a professor for Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth. She was kind enough to accompany me and serve as interpreter when I needed her to be. What she most contributed though, was a different perspective to the entire issue. While I continued to view it with a detached (if somewhat skeptical) eye, she was more apt to see things from the perspective of the people that were affected.
As we spoke to more and more people, she continued to see the very real problems that pertained to them. However, this didn't make her side with those that purported to be on their side either.
I let her write her own view of the issue. It follows below:
Nira-Deoghar, a symptom of the water crisis
In a subject that concerns the lives of so many people, it is somehow impossible to arrive at the conclusion and a decision that makes everyone happy. But as Sonali and I have continued to meet people regarding this issue, more facets are revealed and exist when we talk of 'development' or 'progress'. These are not always taken into consideration as crucial in the scheme of things while looking at the broader picture. The Neera-Deoghar power-project (Dam) is one such reality.
India's financial development is linked with increased industrialization, for which the generation of power is crucial (hydro-electric?). A developed agrarian economy such as ours cannot remain at the mercy of a temperamental monsoon season and the generation of alternative irrigational sources is pertinent and crucial. Distribution and use of the precious resource of water is set to become the new talking point of our developing economy. On the one hand, we have to feed our burgeoning population and on the other, increasing industrial development needs its own share of its precious resource. This is what I believe, lies at the crux of the Nira-Deoghar water project (dam) issue.
The construction of such a large water project drastically alters the entire economic structure of an area. This is an issue that bears close inspection and requires a great deal of thought. Who can and should be considered a stakeholder is another aspect that is worth mulling over. Usually such projects are the responsibility of the Indian government (both state and central), who then frame policies, whereby the extent of involvement (partnership) of others is decided. These others can be-
- the neighbouring state-governments, and /or
- corporate houses interested in diversifying their operations and /or
- trans-national companies (as in Dabhol Power Project and ENRON) and /or
- political parties and /or
- individuals; to mention a few.
Most often, the local population dwelling in these areas is not considered as important enough to take opinions of, which is ironic, considering they are the ones whose lives are changed in the redistribution of this precious natural resource. In the larger picture it is the people's needs and concerns that require addressing. There should also be some mainstreaming in the agenda of the planning process on a priority basis. Further building on that, I believe, progressive planning, involving people's participation should be carried out.
In India, the state of Maharashtra, since the later part of 19th century, has been witness to the planning and implementation of several major power projects, for the purposes of:
- irrigation and domestic consumption
- generating electric power
(The prioritization of these is bound to change from time to time and as per the project and other factors.)
When these projects are being implemented, what has time and again been witnessed, is the eviction of people whose sole source of livelihood has been that land. Promises of compensation (monetary), rehabilitation and re-structuring of the alternate area have been given by the government. There have been many testimonies whereby, the compensations either have not been given or the amount differs from what was stated; land owners that were promised land equivalent in quality to their own didn't receive any at all, while those who were entitled to none received some through a corruption in the bureaucratic systems.
The Nira-Deoghar project, is an example of a classic case of haphazardness. The state government undertook the project, in the mid-'90s and realized midway that they would not have the necessary funds to complete such a vast undertaking. As a result of this, close to 9 years down the line, tenders were invited from private parties to complete this project. Once again, actual stakeholders in the project, those whose lives will be touched by this project have not been asked as to their opinions on what they want. The arena has more entrants, but none who look out for the victims.
There are groups and individuals who claim that their efforts are to mobilize those affected, make them aware of their rights and who protest on these persons' behalf. These may or may not have political agendas, but their efforts have resulted in pending legislation, which has delayed the project and placed several lives on hold.
The picture remains bleak for the people involved; they live with the threat of eviction, forced migration, none or low compensations, non-cultivable lands given out as part of the rehabilitation plan; and to top it all - privatization of the water-resource itself, a fact that will make the water less theirs than ever before. An endeavour then, to bring water to them is actually distancing them from their fundamental right over the water itself.
I was unable to come up with a solution to their problems. I see the need for more water projects and having witnessed that the maintenance and upkeep of several older water projects have fallen by the wayside with the government in charge, it would appear that privatization may have its benefits. But at the heart of the matter, I do feel that it is those people whose lives are directly touched by these water projects who have to be considered and who have to be given a voice.