Published: Friday 15 July 1994

It's not over yet

With reference to our watershed development project in the article Villagers unite to conserve resources (February 15, 1994), we feel it is an overstatement to call Gawandwadi a "self sufficient" village. By constructing an earthen dam, the villagers have merely created a water source. They are yet to ensure equitable distribution of the stored water and optimise its use to increase food production. There is still a long way to go.

The programme for resource conservation has a dual focus: the equitable distribution of resources to create livelihood opportunities (distributing water to stabilise the second crop, for example) and technological innovations to promote the use of local resources and skills, at the same time minimising external inputs for the creation and distribution of resources.

The first phase of the programme envisages production and the distribution/exchange of resources in the form of non-market activities. In the second phase, marketable surpluses would be created through technology and skill upgradation to generate incomes. However, the emphasis would be on non-perishable biomass based products sold with or without value-added processing.


Up with dams

The Indian press has wrongly portrayed the likes of Sunderlal Bahugana, Baba Amte and Medha Patkar as highly qualified ecologists (April 15, 1994). These so-called "environmentalists" make such baseless claims as dams being ecological disasters, but they fail to prove this scientifically.

Large dams have many advantages. Water, that would otherwise go waste, brings prosperity in its wake since it is utilised by millions of people living in drought-prone areas. Hydro-electricity is free from pollution and comparatively very cheap.

As for displacement, the few hundred tribals displaced from the dam site may be resettled at nearby sites where better employment opportunities in industries and agriculture may be forthcoming. Improved irrigation facilities may allow tribals and other weaker sections to agricultural production. Hence dams bring prosperity, not devastation to tribal people, if properly managed.


Do something about slums

"Housing for slum dwellers," has become a pathetic cliche. Despite years of national "effort" at planning and development, slums are mushrooming in metropolises and medium and small towns. The issue is of such significance that professionals, scientists, members of executive bodies and the lay public should come together on a common platform to ask: in the name of progress, why are there "ghettos of development" in a country where thousands of acres lie wasted and barren? What will the scenario be if the entire country is industrialised and "educated"?

Alternatives do exist: 25 years ago, Vadodara city authorities notified certain areas of land for public housing; other cities, too, can solve their own problems. It is possible to freeze landuse of vacant plots or acquire areas where there are dilapidated buildings, for instance, which could then be used for the rehabilitation of slumdwellers. This is possible when all citizens, not merely groups with vested interests, become aware of the planning process; and it requires the creation of a public forum.

Under some townplanning acts, land holdings can be reconstituted within city limits by, for example, declaring and preparing townplanning schemes. In Vadodara, land acquisition was so rationalised as to ease the loss of the small landholders. Why is it not possible to reconstitute holdings at the regional level, in those areas where people are displaced, or lands acquired by paying cash compensation and perhaps a promise of a job in the future only to lead to the creation of "ghettos of development' in the countryside? What is the value of cash compensation in the face of spiralling inflation? On the contrary, the local population in areas affected by development projects are treated as second class citizens.


Whose water, World Bank?

The World Bank-aided Rs 17-crore water project, called the Narmada Bara Vibhag Water Supply Scheme, was set up with the express intention of providing drinking water to the water- scarce villages of Bharuch district.

However, a mere 6 months after the project was commissioned last year, the project authorities have started selling water to the industrial sector, including such companies as the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation and the Gujarat Alkali and Chemicals Ltd.

The affected villagers have protested against the irregular and inadequate water supply to their villages. With more industries coming up in this area, however, the crisis is likely to escalate.


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