Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Charge of the Narmada Brigade

The people from the Narmada valley are agitating once again. While the Sardar Sarovar dam affected people have already reached Indore after a gruelling three days journey through the heat and dust of Nimar those of the Mahehswar dam are preparing to sit in in Delhi from the 22nd of April onwards. The main bone of contention is of course rehabilitation with land for land. I met Khajan from Anjanwada village today after many years along with other people from the villages of Jalsindhi, Sugat, Jhandana, Akria, Kakrana and Bhitada. The Environmental sub group of the Narmada Control Authority had recently given permission for the the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be built to its full height of 139 meters despite catchment area treatment and compensatory afforestation not having been completed. There was also a possibility of the rehabilitation subgroup giving a go ahead despite rehabilitation also not having been completed. This has prompted the Narmada Bachao Andolan to launch its latest sit in in front of the Narmada Control Authority office in Indore. Similarly the Maheshwar dam too is nearing completion without many environmental and rehabilitation related conditions that were to have been fulfilled still pending. The State Government of Madhya Pradesh also has not complied with High Court orders to provide land for land to the oustees of the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar projects. So the Narmada Bachao Andolan is launching a sit in in Delhi against this to try and force the Ministry of Environment and Forests to withdraw the permission it had given to the building of the Maheshwar dam.
The reason why the state government is so adamant about not giving proper rehabilitation and also fulfilling the environmental conditions is that these will involve at least Rs 5000 crores in expenditure if not more. At a time when the state government is in a situation of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and is not being able to pay its staff their salaries on time, it is not surprising that it is not very keen to accede to the demands of the oustees, however, lawful they may be. Thus, the Narmada struggle has brought out as never before the contradiction that is inherent in centralised modern industrial development between social, economic and environmental sustainability and democracy. The principles of natural justice and of equity cannot be assured and neither can the environment be protected if modern industrial development is pursued. Even though the Supreme Court on the whole supported modern development it had to perforce uphold the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award regarding provision of land for land as rehabilitation to the oustees. This comes in conflict with the financial status of the Madhya Pradesh Government. Thus, there is an impasse wherein all the dams have been built to a greater or lesser extent but are far from complete and it looks as if they will never be completed given the adamant grit with which people like Khajan are fighting for their rights.
Khajan asked me whether there was any possibility of their demands being met. I told him that they were very remote given the weak financial status of the Madhya Pradesh Government. However, I told him that he must continue to agitate because that was the only way in which he could keep the government at bay. All very poor people and at the moment very much isolated as there are only about 100 households left on the Alirajpur side of the Narmada River, the rest having opted for resettlement in Gujarat. Yest these indomitable people are holding the state up in its tracks.
Eventually the protesters in Indore had to move to Bhopal and storm the Narmada Valley Development Authority Office. The Chairman of the NVDA came down to talk to the people but could not give any assurances. He only accepted their memorandum. The people then gave an ultimatum that their demands should be met within a fortnight failing which they will launch a more determined struggle. The protest in Delhi was more successful. The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order stopping construction of the Maheshwar Dam till all the resettlement and environmental conditions were fulfilled. Thus, the people got a favourable outcome in less than a week. The immediate response from the Madhya Pradesh Government was that the NBA was an anti-development organisation and the central government had gone along with it to hobble the development process in the state.

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