A recent issue of Spectator carried a commentary on how these days the western world "seems not just unhappy, but intoxicated with anger". India, it seems, is also suffering from the same malaise. A good way to gauge the extent of this anger would be to take a map of the country and put dots on areas that are witnessing people's struggle. Be assured that the map will be covered with spots indicating a million mutinies against a variety of issues, ranging from foreign direct investment in retail, GMOs, land acquisition and nuclear plants to mention a few.
In the last few weeks, we have had two major protests. While the jalsatyagraha forced the Madhya Pradesh government to bring down the water level of the Omkareshwar dam, the year-long struggle against the Kudankulam nuclear power project (KKNPP) is raging in Tamil Nadu. There are reports of pitched battles between the protesters and the police, who have been more than vindictive to say the least. We saw similar clashes in Uttar Pradesh against land acquisition and in Orissa and Chhattisgarh against the mining policies. The reason why people are raising their voices is because governments, be it the Centre or states, are trying to push policies down the throats of people without taking into account their views on them. There is no doubt that India needs nuclear power. But then to build something right in the middle of villages is absurd. Would the same politicians who are supporting the KKNPP allow such a plant to be built in their neighbourhood? Or for that matter would anyone give up his land without adequate compensation because a private party wants to build a condominium? In many cases, the government itself flouts the laid-down procedures and often does not allow State-funded organisations to function independently. As far as KKNPP is concerned, there are many unanswered questions that the State needs to answer: why was no public hearing (a legal requirement) conducted in the area for seeking consent of the people? Why were the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report, the Site Evaluation Study, and the Safety Analysis Report not shared with the public? It was only after a long struggle that the people could finally obtain the EIA report, only to find that it was outdated and full of inaccuracies. Neither did the government conduct any safety or evacuation drill in the area even though the project site is earthquake and tsunami prone. Moreover, the Atomic Research Board of India (AERB) continues to be subordinate to the government unlike in the US, Canada or France. It has no rule-making powers and has never fulfilled the mandate to prepare a nuclear and radiation safety policy. By undermining its own organisations, the State cannot expect to get people's support on projects.
To develop, India will have to take some hard decisions. But much of the pain can be reduced only if the voice and concerns of its citizens are heard and taken into account before rolling out such projects on the ground. This may turn out to be a time-consuming process, but it is always better to be late than sorry. Otherwise, people will continue have apocalyptic visions of any of these mega development projects.