Sunday, July 02, 2006

Victims of Development..."For the Larger Good"

In some of the pages of Narmada Dammed, Dilip D'Souza's makes an observation, which so very cogently captures what I have often felt about our model of 'development' and 'progress', that it is worth sharing.

But first, let me quote him about the cost-benefit analysis of our socio-economic model of development:

  • "I suspect the reason is that many of us believe implicitly in a most appealing little equation. If the country is to 'progress' and 'develop', it goes, 'some people' will have to 'sacrifice'. 'Some people' must pay a price so that many others - many more others, we can presume - can 'benefit'."

    What goes along with this belief is an acceptance that a Prosperous India can only be built on the sacrifices/lives of some of its (apparently, dispencable) citizens... For the "larger good"!!

    (On the other hand, anyone questioning this implicit paradigm - this "trade-off" - of development, is discounted as "anti-development", "anti-India", "anti-nation-building", someone who wants to take India to stone-ages, "socialist", "JNU jhola-walla type" (take your pick), etc... )

    Though Dilip D'Souza's focus is specifically on Narmada Project and its dams, but the points are equally relevant for many other kinds of "developmental projects" which stipulate making a "sacrifice" a fait accompli for many of India's lesser citizens (for the larger good of a few), e.g.,

  • land-acquisition in tribal/rural areas for industrial development,
  • beautification of metropolitan cities requiring removal of slums,
  • building the super-highways (expressways) across the cities
  • agricultural produce becoming "non-competitive" due to India's getting "integrated" into global economy
  • mega-dams
    etc. etc...

    So what is the contradiction in logic?

    1. Somehow, all these grand plans to create benefit for the larger society never include a clause that ensures that the worst-affected by these plans will be the first beneficiaries of the benefits... This is perhaps because those who claim to represent the "larger society" (politicians, corporates, intelligentia) actually are not the ones who really are the "victims of development".

    2. Somehow, those who talk about the "need for some to sacrifice for the larger good" are not really those who actually sacrifice their lives/ homes/ livelihoods for the "development of the country"

    3. Somehow, those who are supposed to make this magnificant sacrifice for the sake of the country are the same set of people - and they do it time and again!!!...You lose your land because of an irrigation project/industrial development, and become a slum-dweller - and then you lose your slum because you are part of the urban squalor that needs to be removed, etc...

    4. Somehow, inspite of whatever the grand GDP says, we - i.e., all of us - have not really "developed" at the same pace... inspite (or because of) our concept of "development", e.g.,

    - though we have more number of millionnaires and billionnaires than ever before, we have also created as many people living in abject poverty (<$1) as was the population of India in 1947.

    - though we have more number of mega-malls in our cities, the average availability of grains is to the level of the 1943 Bengal famine

    - We have come a long way from being a country that used to survive on foreign food-aid. But, for a food-surplus country, we still have record of farmers' suicide @45/day (during 1998-03)

    ...the list can go on..

    Which raises a disturbing question:

    Is our concept of "Development" warped?... merely a kind of brand-without-a-product that appeals to (and suits the aspirations of) a certain segment of society, who have nothing to give or lose?


    shikha said...

    Madhukar...the fact that some people need to sacrifice for the larger being used time and again by the various governments across the globe!

    Whatever happened to those displaced?Also there is ample statics to prove that not neceessarily going the sp called"Capitalistic way" has helped in improving living eradicating poverty etc..It sure does one thing....WIDEN THE RICH THE POOR DIVIDE..the richer get richer and the poorer even more poorer!

    Besides...the environmental conditions in those areas have also considerably worsened...what are we as a human race gunning at....we better start asking ourselves the basic questions...which are far more important!

    gaddeswarup said...

    There are different issues here as you have pointed out. Even good intentioned people have different views of development. possibly any one of them will work well for a while if implemented properly and then degenerate (Ben Frankin said similar things long ago). But whatever one's views on development may be, I think that there is no justification to displace people against their will without showing alternative livelihood and security which is at least as good as that they leave behind. It is possible that governments promise this and these promises are generally not met. The sacrifice for general good should be voluntary and not forced without better alternatives.

    gaddeswarup said...

    There is a 'Narmada Update' in

    Ekta said...

    I was watching a person from Ethiopia talk on TV, of how even they are thriving on thermal power now.Sounds good but the interviewer had the good sense to draw parallel questions from the Narmada Andolan on relocation of people from plains for large dams.