There is no merit in the Morse committee's philosophy which can be summed up as 'do nothing till you've done everything'
AT THE outset, I would like to mention that I have not been able to read the Morse report. My opinions are based on the summaries of the report that have been published in the newspapers.
I find the report disappointing in the sense of not "being well done". Going by the summary of the report, the Narmada project can never be done. I don't know on what basis this conclusion is drawn, maybe based on a detailed study of the hydrology of the project. Dams are designed to provide for a carry over from a good year to a lean year.
The other great problem is that the RIR has objected to what it calls the incremental approach of the government of India and the World Bank, implying that various studies and policy issues will be settled during the process of construction which is still going to take quite some years. I see no merit in the RIR philosophy which can be crudely summed up as "do nothing till you've done everything", because the essence of the problem is that time is not on our side.
On the rehabilitation issue, my own view is that a land-for-land policy is unwise as an absolute condition, whereas it could legitimately be one option amongst several such as employment and income-generating schemes. However, the Narmada Tribunal's land-for-land award, together with the improvement made by Gujarat in particular, are generous in relation to the earlier rehabilitation norms.
The tribal population certainly deserves every consideration and assistance. But there can be no touch-me-not policy. The condition of most of the tribal population in this region is distressing and their quality of life will distinctly improve under the rehabilitation package.
The RIR appears to have dwelt exclusively on possible and hypothetical negative impacts to the exclusion of the positive impacts of the project. The effort must be to minimise or illuminate all negative impacts and to maximise and equitably distribute gains from the project. This approach appears singularly lacking in summaries of the RIR report.
Twenty years ago, the Aswan High Dam in Egypt was seen as a disaster. Twenty years later, the "disaster" has not materialised, whereas the benefits have been clearly enormous. There may be a lesson here.
--- B G Verghese is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and an eminent journalist.
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