Dams have seen the strongest environmental protests in India. But these protests have failed to stop dams where rehabilitation has been the key issue. This shows that the government still believes that someone has to pay the price of development. And electoral democracy does not always favour the displaced.
A humane rehabilitation policy that would be acceptable to all parties concerned still remains elusive. The country's water managers are yet to revise their water supply and hydropower strategies. As a result, agitations have not only managed to slow down state-sponsored progress on dam construction and investment, they have not been able to influence the country's future water development policy and programmes.
The government is also yet to learn how to develop conflict resolution mechanisms. The conservation strategy to deal with this crisis is state-dominated and anti-people. It does not give people any role in the management of their habitat and resources. For example, the concept of ecodevelopment, which is being promoted by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, and is adopted by the Government of India, does not take into account the human aspect in its entirety. The underlying principle being once again to separate people from their immediate natural environment in order to save it, rather than making them participate in its management. Experiences with the proposed Rajaji National Park and Gir Lion Sanctuary show that rehabilitation of the ousted forest communities has not worked. While some rejected the resettlement plan outright, others either ended up being landless labourers or migrated to urban areas.
However, given the inefficiency of the governance system, India's democracy is asserting itself. The Supreme Court has stepped in to give Indian
citizens the right to lodge complaints against the despoilers of the environment. This shows the inefficiency of our executive. But is it a healthy trend for the judiciary to perform the functions of the executive? To bring about any significant change, it would be crucial for the judges to simultaneously address the poor state of environmental governance.
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