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The Narmada Dammed

Dilip D?Souza makes a significant addition to the to the steadily growing Narmada literature.

books Updated: Feb 05, 2003 13:13 IST

Dilip D’Souza
Penguin Books
New Delhi, 2002
Pages: 212
Price: Rs 250 (Paperback)

How often is a book written as a reaction to a sentence passed by the court? Not often, especially when the court in question is the Supreme Court, the mightiest in the land. And the case is one where opinions are polarized, even among those who are ignorant of the finer points of the case or those who do not bother whether dams are built or not.

A software professional turned writer, D’Souza makes a significant addition to the to the steadily growing Narmada literature. Apart from their compassion for the oustees (Project Affected Persons or PAPs, as statistics would put it), the Narmada writers seem to share another common trait - the ability to put forward their case with passion and clarity.

While D’Souza’s sympathies lie with those uprooted, his is not an uncritical view. He has his own ideas about where the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) could and according to him, should have concentrated.

But what he chooses to focus on is the way the issue has been handled, right from its inception. He highlights the general confusion regarding the project, from its stated aims to the way the project has been handled to date. He unearths large-scale obfuscation of facts, the seemingly deliberate doublespeak that seems to have been indulged in by the proponents of the dams, the way vote banks have held precedence over common sense in the planning and implementation of the project and most significantly the vast gap between those baying for the water and those getting ousted for trying to achieve that end.

He cites numerous official documents to substantiate his opinion that the project has been flawed from its very conception. He showcases the significant lapses or departures that have continued throughout the four odd decades that the project has been in place. He shows how instead of adequate examination of the details involved, the pro-dam lobby has instead tended to simplify issues to the extent of distorting them (eg the sheer volume of water available in the river, the bedrock of all plans, seems to be much lower than initially estimated, and on whose basis all construction is happening) and laments the ‘us versus them’ attitude that exists today in all Narmada matters.

The role of the World Bank is discussed at length, as is the role of other agencies, committees, reports eg the Morse Report, the Daud Report, the numerous government papers, tribunal reports, innovative suggestions like those of Paranjape and Joy and the court decisions in the disputes. Considerable space is devoted to what constitutes ‘progress’ and the differing perspectives on the matter.

What is most remarkable is the people (as opposed to the PAPs) that one meets while reading the book. People like Khatri Vasave of Domkhedi, an old woman who is to be uprooted to make way for water, electricity etc. for others while her village remains in darkness. Or Parvat Varma of Pathrad, who was forced to transform himself from a melon grower to a diver who got sand from the river bed when the Bargi Dam was built. And who will again be forced to change his profession when the Maheshwar dam is completed as both the sand and his home will disappear.

One meets people whose stoic courage in the face of impending doom leaves one shaken. Despite various claims, only a minuscule few have received any compensation, hardly anyone has got land, and there is no retraining for the uprooted. Uprooted, illiterate for the most part, they are already the nowhere people. Dam builders want their lands, but not them. Like those uprooted from previous projects, they too look destined for oblivion and slow death in the metropolis slums that are often their last refuge.

For those unacquainted with the Narmada issue, this is perhaps the right book to pick up. It will not only inform objectively, but also challenge you too look at the way ‘progress’ is currently fashioned. And whom it benefits.

First Published: Oct 03, 2002 15:00 IST