We cannot turn the clock back

  • 30/07/1992

I HAVE not seen the Morse report. So I cannot comment on its specifics. But I have some general observations to make on the Narmada project and other issues of this kind.

I believe that rehabilitation and resettlement must precede the launching of a project and not follow it. Secondly, a detailed examination of environmental consequences must be the starting point of the evaluation of any such project.

In the case of the Narmada project, there is a need to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable interests. There is a huge demand for water in Gujarat and no government can turn away from the issue. At the same time, it is imperative to ensure that the water needs of some people do not cause environmental and human misery to others.

Rehabilitation must be addressed on a priority basis. Environmental aspects require technical and empirical examination. They arose largely after Independence when we undertook some massive projects of irrigation, power generation, steel and coal mining. Our priority was the projects. There was very little, if any, attention given to the long-term ecological, or even human, problems. For instance, since Independence, the expansion of the mining industry has been phenomenal, but it has brought immense devastation. The accent was only on economic growth rather than on economic development combined with sustainability.

The Rajasthan canal was born out of the Indus Water Treaty. From this treaty emerged the need to use the Indus water that became available to India and, hence, the Rajasthan canal. The ecological, geographical, and human consequences of bringing so much water to the Indian desert were not examined properly. But can we now turn the clock back? Can we stop the work that has been started? We cannot and, hence, there is a need to reconcile the conflicting interests.

---Jaswant Singh is a BJP MP.

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