Powerful projects

  • 14/12/1998

POWER corrupts. The quest for more power projects corrupts the intellect. Union Power minister P R Kumaramangalam's tirade against environmental activists and non governmental organisations (NGOs) is therefore not surprising. While speaking to newspersons at the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) after launching the NHPc website, he threatened legal action against those who oppose and delay power projects.

Let us get our facts right. Those who oppose power projects are not lovers of darkness. They acknowledge the need for growth but stress upon sustainable growth. Opposition to dams and some of the thermal power projects in India has been based on well-founded apprehensions regarding largescale displacement, rampant deforestation and financial shortsightedness. No democratic nation can throw out millions of people and ignore their plight.

The construction of huge dams has been one of the main reasons for large scale forced migration in India. The government itself estimates that 15 million people have been displaced because of such projects. A draft of the national policy of rehabilitation, points out that 75 per cent of those displaced since 1951 were still "awaiting rehabilitation". Many of the displaced persons, even some of those displaced by the 40year-old Hirakud dam, are still fighting for compensation.Some of them have been displaced thrice.

The way in which the state governments bungled up the rehabilitation package meant for the Sardar Sarovar Project attracted international attention. Not only did the World Bank backtrack from the project citing environmental and social reasons, but the hue and cry on Narmada forced the Bank to study the impact of dams all over again. Going by this track record, we have yet to learn how to protect the environment. But instead of being open to options, the minister chose to be intolerant.

Reportedly Kumaramangalam threatened to take environmental activists to the international court and seek compensation for delaying power projects. On the contrary, international agreements, under which the government receives development funds stipulate active participation by NGOS. So it seems the honourable minister was wrong on more than one count.

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