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Harnessing the Rivers


Enakshi Ganguly Thukral

UNRAVELLING BHAKRA: ASSESSING THE TEMPLE OF RESURGENT INDIA
By Sripad Dharmadhikary
Manthan Adyayan Kendra, Badwani, 2005, pp. 271, price not stated.

DAMS AND DEVELOPMENT: TRANSNATIONAL STRUGGLES FOR WATER AND POWER
By Sanjeev Khagram
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 270, Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 9 September 2005

Dams have been constructed by humans to control and harness rivers for time immemorial. Even as the West began to have doubts about the wisdom of big dams as developmental initiatives, India along with the rest of the developing world continued to build its dams. Even today there are several dams being constructed—the Narmada Valley projects dams, the Tehri dam, the massive Pin Parvati project, the Napka Jhakri project, the Polavaram dam, Suvernarekha Multipurpose Project—to name only few. Mountains are being drilled into, trees and forests cut and destroyed, and people displaced.   There are three kinds of people when it comes to large dams—those that believe that dams are absolutely necessary and therefore whatever “developmental” costs one has to pay for it—social or environmental- is well worth it. The second are those who have taken the time and made the effort to understand the consequences of constructing big dams and are therefore not in their favour—they are often referred to by the first group as the anti-dam people (often also meant to read anti-development). The third and the largest group consist of those who do not care where their water and electricity comes from, or the social cost paid to bring food to their doorstep—as long as they can get it. Since dams have been posed as the source, they support dams, worried that in case dams do not get constructed they will not get their supplies. They have no ideological or political position on this issue. These are also people who are mostly poorly informed, but often greatly opinionated. Development at any cost, synonymous with economic growth, is their motto. Clearly, the debate or struggle for and against big dams is not just about whether dams are good thing or not. It is a reflection of the struggles about visions of models of development.   Beginning in the 1970s, there has been growing opposition to dams across the world. The 1980s till the mid-nineties was the period which witnessed vociferous public debates about big dams in India. There were public protests and campaigns, books and articles were published and media took an active interest. Since then these voices, although not silent, have become somewhat muted. The numbers involved in making the noise too seem to have reduced. It is not as if there are no longer people who feel that there is something wrong ...


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