Every time people in high places talk about development it is taken for granted that this ‘development’ will benefit everyone. Those who protest are labelled ‘illiterate’. This is the case with the issue of mega-dams in Arunachal Pradesh. Local sentiment is brushed aside and more and more ‘development’ seems to mean absorption of local populations and natural resources into a consumerist society. No one is against development, but the breakneck speed at which the hydropower initiative is being pursued is like an invasion.
There are already 42 micro-mini hydroelectric projects that have been lying incomplete for years for want of funds. In 2008, the state government pleaded for the release of Rs 169.11 crore to complete these projects. The power generated by small projects is sufficient for the state. All that will be produced in the proposed mega-projects is for export. The revenue accrued from royalty is what is being touted as ‘development’, though there is no real dearth of central assistance funds for the state. To put the matter simply — the present mega dams being are unnecessary.
Anyone who has travelled in the region and experienced its environment — weather, soil, flood and landslides, its unpolluted landscape and natural beauty, will think twice about building big dams. Nature is unpredictable, and despite the best efforts an assessment of environmental impact will remain partly speculative. Today the Union environment ministry says it will hear such concerns but other issues of displacement should be submitted to the PMO or some other ministry. This is a devious tactic of negotiation and influence. In Arunachal, tribal groups are small, distinct, and occupy specific geographical locations.
Populations affected by the dam projects will not transplant to another piece of land. I think environmentalists have a term for this — the ‘predicament of the place faithful.’ Tribal life is tied up with a specific patch of forest, with that run of the river and with that sacred space that is called ancestral land. Any resettlement will lead to turmoil and displacement. Environment, identity, culture, public safety, human rights, economy, finance, and demographic changes are inseparable. In the words of affected villagers: ‘the land is our only property.’ We have survived for centuries without roads, lights, shops, hospitals. Now the power corporations come and say they will give us a road if the dam is built. Does this mean that if there are no dams there will be no roads? What kind of development is this?
The author is a noted poet based in Arunachal Pradesh