Infrastructure is complicated business. I believe people need it to change their lives for the better. But then, it has to be designed to deliver these benefits. For example, roads have to be developed in ways that locals benefit from them, not wheeze from the diesel fumes of trucks that whiz by. Think, in this context, of the issue of compensation for Delhi-Agra Highway project.
Let’s leave aside their core concern about being displaced. Think instead of the commons that will be altered. Included in these is the environment. It is well known that when highways are built, people living along them are impacted by vehicular fumes, including cancer causing benzene, noise and loss of space. Who compensates them for this loss of environmental quality?
Take another example — biodiversity. Just before the uproar began, I went for a drive along the proposed path. I was stunned by the number of birds we no longer see with ease in Delhi, like the Black Winged Kite. They can’t continue to flourish once the green spaces they live in are gone.
In other cases, entire stretches of trees are cut down — all it needs is a babu’s permission. Should we simply allow developers to displace this? Should there be a compensation mechanism for this? These are hard issues to think, but the infrastructure rush should compel us to think of the commons every time we think of damages for infrastructure.
Sometimes it seems that we don’t value our natural resources enough. But this once, I found someone worse, Tanzania. Their government is planning to construct a commercial highway through the beautiful Serengeti National Park.
The world at large is aghast, because it will destroy one of the world’s greatest wildlife reserves, something that cannot be replaced.
Seeing Serengeti is the treat of a lifetime. It’s hard to say if the highway will be build or not, the battle lines are drawn. But watch this space.