Damn Dams! The mega issue of a helpless Assam

Dams or no Dams!
Representative Image

By- Debabrata Gogoi

What could be the main difference between the developed and the under-developed world? Is it only in the field of economic growth or is it also in the matters of having a humane consideration? Why is it that the Third World populace is becoming more helpless and directionless despite all that is being done and done with? Why do we fail to see beyond certain limits every time? And aren’t these limits imposed by propaganda? It is consequently, fruitful for people living in the Third World to question everything they see, and it is equally profitable to not take any explanation on its face value. We have not been tricked time and again into believing and doing things we want nor do we understand completely. And we have in the process trained ourselves to follow rather than lead the path and as such those amongst us who have become leaders are seldom without vices and profanity.

Big dams are a dying breed. They are neither welcomed by the people nor by those scientists who are indifferent to political and career mileages. But the scientists hired by the Government fail to see the damages a huge dam on a river may cause, but then we do not agree with them, do we? If somebody is paid to not do his work decently he will, in all cases, comply without questioning. And any science based on lies and misinformation is liable to be refused by everybody. As such, no one agrees with the Government on this issue.

The informed citizens of Assam have by now become familiar with the pros and cons of the Lower Subansiri Project, built at costs of more than 6,000 Crore rupees. The cons range from the irreparable devastation of animal habitat to desolating entire communities of river-dependent peoples. From fisheries to fear of earthquakes, from homelessness to floods and from the destruction of agriculture to the alteration of the way of life – we must have heard it all. But here is a question – why does Assam have to be made expendable every now and then? During the Farakka Barrage negotiations with Bangladesh, India had even suggested that the Brahmaputra be connected to the Ganga in a place above the barrage, to supply enough water for the daily subsistence of the Calcutta port. Thankfully that suggestion never materialized. In the current scenario, the problem of supplying electricity to the more developed parts of India seems to have taken priority over the heartfelt complaints of Assamese people. We, therefore, have to see all of this in a better light if we are to grasp the totality of the path our leaders have chosen. This path leads to misery and segregation of the people and both will compliment each other – more so, with the passage of time. And this same path of turning a blind eye to the people will lead to the dangerous exploitation of Meghalaya when the time comes for Uranium mining. All we have to do is wait and watch.

But before we make a mountain out of a molehill let us consider one more point. What is the profit of this enterprise? In a very simple manner, we can say it will help the country grow. But for the government, more electricity simply means more avenues for revenue collection. To state bluntly it means more money to spend on part of the Government which should lead to more corruption as always and that would simply mean more riches for the rich ones. We already know who the rich ones are and we also know none of that tax money will ever reach the needy. After this dam is completed and the electricity starts to flow, these things the Assamese people may accomplish – some small industry, some electric hand-looms, some small manufacturing units, some related ancillary businesses, and maybe lesser power-cuts or load-shedding. While the bulk of the benefits will go to businessmen from outside the State or the migrant businessmen who already have amassed huge capital and resources and are ready to invest in all the various economic sectors. And what would people of Arunachal get? Lesser than these, apparently because the basic infrastructure of that state is not up to the level of Assam. But the Government of Arunachal Pradesh will no doubt be earning good money from the sale of electricity and hopefully, people may get access to better amenities in return.

Now let us have a look at another interesting phenomenon. The most dammed country in the world, the United States of America, has been seen contemplating taking down some of its dams, especially those considered now to be ‘bad dams’. Needless to say, they do not build big dams anymore. China has in the very recent lamented over the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, saying they had not paid sufficient attention to downstream impact and that problems have now begun to show. I think we should heed to these global perspectives. And in fact we should learn from Japan’s pledge to do away with nuclear power plants completely. This gesture shows how deeply the Government of Japan cares for its people. Also, we should compare Japan’s exit from the nuclear power domain with India’s recent and hyped entry into this domain. Isn’t it like buying an 8-bit video game when children worldwide are throwing away those for PS2s? Even Germany has quit the nuclear power-reactor game. This is the developed world’s reaction to anti-populism technologies and juxtaposes this with what is going on in Assam and you will have a firm idea why we are called the Third World.

Now that we know the Government will not halt the construction of the dam so, we should as such, do the best to prepare beforehand for the problems that is going affect Assam and do it sooner than later. First of all, we should make rehabilitation a proper, unique and non-corrupt issue. For example, we do not want rehabilitation of the kind that took place in Orissa after the tsunami. Next, we should involve forest department officials into taking cognizance of the flora and fauna issue and make them talk about it in the media. There would be no plausible deniability after that. Also push harder for the ‘National Disaster’ tag for Assam’s natural floods – which is more-or-less going to amplify within a few years of the dam becoming fully functional. Most importantly be guided by ingenuity in all respects while contemplating cleaning up the ill-effects of building a mega-dam over a tectonic mosaic. I must also point out here that Nehru himself admitted that the temper of the Subansiri is to be reckoned with (AIR broadcast by Nehru on September 9, 1950). Even if the Government takes no serious view of the fact that the 1950 shaker is in the Top 10 – ranked at 9th – largest in the whole world, we should. And with this little bit of statistics in mind, we should make this issue an international one – because we’d never know for sure when or where the next big earthquake would occur and nor would we ever know for sure how the Zangmu dam on the Brahmaputra will affect the floods of Assam in 2016.

I hope this big endeavor of the Government doesn’t go kaput all of a sudden, changing the color of the waters of the Brahmaputra into blood red. Perhaps the river was earlier called Luit (Sanskrit word for Blood) in foresight and in anticipation of some tragedy. And maybe, this is the irony of fate. Only time will tell.

I will leave you all with this paragraph by Lori Pottinger (Editor, World Rivers Review) narrating something very sad yet real. And hopefully, this should keep you thinking for a while!

“ Although it has now become very difficult to build destructive river projects in the US and many other highly dammed countries, our hydro industry and financial institutions continue to export this obsolete technology, much in the same way the chemical industry continued to export pesticides long after they had been banned in the country of origin. At dam conferences, the talk these days always centers around finding fresh markets to exploit and new ways to sell dams to a skeptical public. “

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