Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Narmada Dammed

I recently read The Narmada Dammed: An Inquiry into the Politics of Development by Dilip D'Souza. This is his second book and it was published three years ago. Since I read Branded by Law, Dilip D'Souza's first book, sometime early this year, I was looking forward to reading his book on the Narmada too. Branded by Law was an eye opener; in fact I had almost not heard of the so called 'criminal tribes' before reading that book.

The Narmada Dammed is also a great work. It's not just that the author has thought a lot about the issues at hand. His thoughts as well as his scepticism took him to various villages on the banks of the Narmada, and one strength of the book comes from his experiences in these villages. Dilip has also carefully gone through a large chunk of manuscripts and publications (including the October 2000 Supreme Court judgement), and does a splendid job in dissecting the official data and the logic there, systematically pointing out the contradictions and the factual errors.

All of us may have our own viewpoints about huge dams. Some of us may equate the dams with progress, some of us would think that the dams bring in more destruction than good. But that's not the main point of The Narmada Dammed. The thrust of the book is to build a critique of the Sardar Sarovar Project based only on the failed resettlement and rehabilitation measures. Why the underprivileged need to constantly sacrifice their land and livelihood for the 'greater public good' which may materialise at some future point? Why the authorities never show the enthusiasm that they have for building the dams when it comes to rehabilitation of the oustees? The book indeed diligently scrutinizes what has been 'achieved' with respect to resettlement and rehabilitation vis a vis the promises. Whether one is for the dam or against it, one should take a serious look at how the authorities went about R & R.

The book also mentions alternate (and compromise) models for the Narmada project. Also instances of achievements of those who concentrated on small scale projects. (Here's a relevant excerpt from the book). And here's a slightly detailed review by Sucheta Dalal.

Closely following an author who is dissecting official manuscripts paragraph by paragraph can turn out to be boring. But it is not so in this work, thanks to the superb quality of writing.


At 2:17 PM, Blogger mp said...

Here's another book that may be of interest.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Pablo Ares said...


I read the book some time ago and fully agree with your review.


At 7:36 PM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

You're kind, Anand. You caught just the spirit of the book. What I wanted to say was that the best case against the dam projects is not made by critics like the NBA, but by the dam-builders themselves, because of their shoddy plans and implementation. I'm glad you saw that.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Sunil said...

I read a section of the book a while ago, and think you've summed it up very well.

Dam or no dam, perhaps the biggest issue is why there is no concern for proper resettlement of the (massive number of) people displaced. Why are they dispensable? As citizens of the country, don't they have the same rights as every one else?

Dilip's done an excellent job highlighting those points.

I thought of Dilips book just two weeks ago, while watching a documentary about Jadughoda (where there are uranium mines, and where safety regulations have been flouted at unimaginable levels, and the poor tribals there are completely "dispensable").

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks for the link, Manoj. Interestingly, I got to know about that book via an e-mail today from Pradeep (to whom you had fwded it!)

Pablo -- Thanks.

Thanks Dilip. So when is your next book coming?!

Sunil -- Are you going to post your thoughts on Jadugoda? I was googling for more info on that, and noticed this blog post (among other write-ups).

At 2:21 PM, Blogger said...

That was interesting - Dilip combines passion with intellect to great effect. And resettlement was an issue I always wondered about - when mass projects take an inexorable course, is it always a good idea to take an ideological approach and fight to the defeat? Considering the number of organisations involved, at least a few should have made resettelement issues a priority - no one really did- the World Bank could and would have provided the funds for a proper resettlement package, given the right kind of pressure - but often the plight of those of the soil gets overlooked - or is that too taboo a point of view among the NGO support base?

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Anand, next book? One of these decades...

Gypsy, maybe this deserves another blog post, let's see. But a brief response: first of all, some organizations did make resettlement a priority (notably Arch Vahini, which is a firm opponent of the NBA). The NBA itself has always spoken very loudly about R&R.

Second, it is because of the noise made about R&R in previous projects that the R&R package for the NArmada projects was actually an excellent one (in comparison to the past), and the state governments made them even better. The quarrel is hardly with the existence of these packages, it is with the implementation. It's not enough to simply point to a package on paper, it is important to actually use it. In this, the governments have demonstrably failed, sometimes on their own admission.

Third, while yes, the dam is being built, I think there's a great victory the NBA won in this whole fight that is easily overlooked. Never again will there be projects attempted in which questions about R&R and about development will not be raised, or be suppressed. This very debate we are having is one that would not have happened 25 years ago. That is the NBA's triumph.

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Pablo Ares said...


it seems that the R&R for other dams in the Narmada river are also non-existent or badly implemented. Frontline has a series of articles about that in the latest issue:
Left in the lurch, Distorting the rules and Countdown for Tehri

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Sunil said...

The Jadugoda story is a little too depressing for me to write least yet.

But do watch the documentary (The buddha weeps in jadugoda).


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