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Development and people

For many Indians, the word ?development? sends a shudder down their spines. What should have been a term eliciting optimism and giving flesh to progress has become a cuss word.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2006 02:30 IST
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For many Indians, the word ‘development’ sends a shudder down their spines. What should have been a term eliciting optimism and giving flesh to progress has become a cuss word. One prime reason for things coming to such a pass is that governments have allowed development to become synonymous with misery for many. One key element of many a developmental project involves mass displacement. This involves necessary social disruption that requires compensation and rehabilitation of the displaced. On paper, all public developmental projects have rehabilitation measures built into them. But the reality is that while successive governments have tom-tommed their socialist credentials, the second part of the development-rehabilitation exercise is either forgotten or is forcibly jettisoned. That is the reason why people like Medha Patkar are forced to go on a hunger strike so that the injustice meted out to the displaced in the name of development is addressed and corrected.

And it isn’t just the Narmada Control Authority that is making the mistake of giving development a terrible name. Even when displacement involves demolition drives of jhuggis and slums — whether in Delhi, Mumbai or other cities — there is no sign of the authorities seriously considering the provision of alternative plots for those who resided in these illegal tenements. One can argue that the displacement caused by developmental projects are quite unlike those resulting from slum demolitions — and that it is not really the government’s duty to provide settlement for those who lived in illegal structures to begin with. If that is the case, then the Indian State should stop pretending to be concerned about the welfare of the people and state outright that it would rather follow a Chinese developmental model where “eggs have to be broken to make an omelette”.

It’s ironic that the ‘capitalist’ nations that our socialistic — and communist — leaders regularly invoke to showcase the ‘evils’ of development are least bothered about providing a real safety net to those who need it. But the biggest tragedy is that what has become a matter of choice — ‘it’s either development or social security’ — is the result of a governmental malaise. All that is required is to see development and rehabilitation as one necessary process.

First Published: Apr 01, 2006 02:30 IST