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Here is another free update mailing from ZNet. You can add or remove
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As usual there is a wealth of new material on ZNet ranging from
Ehrenreich on the French conflict and its meaning, to a couple of pieces
about parecon today and related strategy by Albert and Spannos, to Hass
on Israel/Palestine, to debates about Iraq, Chomsky on current trends,
and much more. We hope you will visit - daily.

For this mailing, however, we bring you an interview with Arundhati Roy
about the unfolding resistance to corporate globalism in India.


---


A Fury Building Up Across India 

Arundhati Roy and Shoma Chaudhuri 

In this interview, Arundhati Roy updates her essay on the Narmada issue,
The Greater Common Good, published in 1999 in Frontline. It was
conducted by Shoma Chaudhuri over a period of several days in person and
on email. 
Chaudhuri: The media has been playing the Supreme Court verdict as a
victory for all sides. How do you read it? What does this verdict really
mean? 

Roy: It may well be a victory for the Gujarat Government but it's by no
means a victory for the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Prime Minister has
washed his hands off an unequivocal report by members of his own
Cabinet. The Minister for Water Resources, Saifuddin Soz, had the rare
courage to put down on paper what he actually found - the fact that
rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh has been disastrous. It's true that on
a one-day visit, Ministers cannot possibly come away with an exhaustive
survey, but you don't need to spend more than a day in the Narmada
valley to see that there is a massive problem on the ground. There is a
huge disjuncture between the paperwork and the reality on the ground.
What will be submitted to the court - what has always been submitted to
the court - is more paperwork. 
Two years ago, when I went to Harsud which was being submerged by the
Narmada Sagar Dam, I also went to so-called New Harsud, which the
government claimed was a fully functioning new city. There was
absolutely nothing there - no houses, no water, no toilets, no sewage.
Just a few neon street lights and a huge expanse of land. But officials
produced photographs taken at night with star filters making it look
like Paris! 

At the last hearing on the 17th of April, the logical thing for the
Supreme Court to do would have been to say "Stop construction of the
dam. We know there's a problem, let's assess the problem before we go
ahead." Instead it did the opposite and the problem has been magnified.
Every metre the dam goes up, an additional 1500 families come under the
threat of submergence. This interim order is inconsistent with its own
October 2000 and March 2005 Narmada judgments as well as the Narmada
Water Dispute Tribunal Award, which state in no uncertain terms that
displaced people must be resettled six months before submergence. 

Chaudhuri: Water for Gujarat is obviously an urgent issue. How do we
reconcile these polarities? 

The urgency is a bit of a red herring. Gujarat has managed to irrigate
only 10 per cent of the land it could have irrigated and provide only a
fraction of the drinking water that it could have provided at the
current dam height. This is because the canals and delivery systems are
not in place. In other words, it has not been able to use the water at
even the current dam height. This is an old story with the Narmada Dams.
The Bargi dam completed in 1990, at huge cost to the public exchequer
and to tens of thousands of displaced people, today irrigates less land
than it submerged because canals haven't been built. In the case of the
Sardar Sarovar, in fact raising the dam height immediately is just
hubris. It has no practical urgency. The fair thing to do would be to
stop the construction of the dam and ask the Gujarat government to
construct the canals to use the water it already has. That will buy time
to do a decent job of rehabilitation. 

Chaudhuri: If we could go back to the beginning of your involvement, why
were you drawn to the Narmada issue? Why has this become such a powerful
symbol? 

Because I believe that it contains a microcosm of the universe. I think
it contains a profound argument about everything - power, powerlessness,
deceit, greed, politics, ethics, rights and entitlements. For example,
is it right to divert rivers and grow water-intensive crops like sugar
cane and wheat in a desert ecology? Look at the disaster the Indira
Gandhi canal is wreaking in Rajasthan. To me, understanding the Narmada
issue is the key to understanding how the world works. The beauty of the
argument is that it isn't human-centric. It's also about things that
most political ideologies leave out. Vital issues - rivers, estuaries,
earth, mountains, deserts, crops, forests, fish. And about human things
that most environmental ideologies leave out. It touches a raw nerve, so
you have people who know very little about it, people who admit that
they know very little and don't care to find out, coming out with
passionate opinions. 

The battle in the Narmada Valley has raised radical questions about the
top-heavy model of development India has opted for. But it also raises
very specific questions about specific dams. And to my mind, though much
of the noise now is centered on the issue of displacement and
resettlement, the really vital questions that have not been answered are
the ones that question the benefits of dams. Huge irrigation schemes
that end up causing water logging, salinisation and eventual
desertification have historically been among the major reasons for the
collapse of societies, beginning with the Mesopotamian civilisation. I
recommend Jared Diamond's wonderful book Collapse to all those who wish
to take a slightly longer, and less panicked, view of 'development'.
India already has thousands of acres of waterlogged land. We've already
destroyed most of our rivers. We have unsustainable cropping patterns
and a huge crisis in our agricultural economy. Even vast parts of the
command area of our favourite dam - the Bhakra is water-logged and in
deep trouble. So the real issue is not how ordinary farmers in Gujarat
will benefit from the Sardar Sarovar, but how they will eventually
suffer because of it. 

Chaudhuri: That's controversial. Could you elaborate? 

I have written at length about it in my essay The Greater Common Good -
but let me just raise a few simple points here. The Sardar Sarovar was
built on the promise that it was going to take water to the
drought-prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. That's the emotive,
frenzied, political point that is made all the time. Because of the huge
propaganda machine around it, year after year this dam has soaked up
almost 95 per cent of Gujarat's irrigation budget at the expense of
other, more effective, more local schemes. Gujarat has among the largest
number of high dams of any state in India and continues to such an acute
water problem! If you look at the Gujarat Government's own plans for the
Sardar Sarovar, you'll see that Kutch and Saurashtra lie at the end of
the canal. Even if everything goes brilliantly, supernaturally, if the
big cities, big industry, golf courses, sugar mills and water parks do
not siphon water off before hand, if the river has as much water as the
project engineers says it has (which it doesn't), and if it can achieve
an irrigation efficiency of 60 per cent (when no dam in India has
achieved more than 40 per cent), even then, the project is designed to
irrigate only 2 per cent of the cultivable area of Kutch and 9 per cent
of Saurashtra. The loot of canal water has already begun. 

Recently, the real stakeholders were indiscreet enough to put their
photographs in the huge, full-page advertisements that appeared in all
the national dailies supporting the dam - religious leaders,
politicians, and big industrialists. Where were the farmers? The people
of Kutch and Saurashtra? A group of people in Kutch have filed a
petition in the Supreme Court complaining that the Gujarat Government
has reduced even that small allocation of water to Kutch and Saurashtra,
in contravention of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. The
tragedy is that if they would only use more local, effective, rainwater
harvesting schemes, for less than 10 per cent of the cost of the Sardar
Sarovar, every single village in Kutch and Saurashtra could have
drinking water. The Sardar Sarovar has never made sense, ecologically or
economically. 

But in politics there's nothing as effective as a potential dam which
promises paradise- it will soothe your sorrows, it will bring you
breakfast in bed. The Sardar Sarovar has been the subject of frenzied
political campaigning for every political party in Gujarat. And it's all
propaganda. Look at the recent spectacle we witnessed. Narendra Modi
claiming to speak on behalf of poor farmers and the corporate cartel,
sitting on a symbolic hunger-strike, a Gandhian satyagraha - and
simultaneously issuing threats of violence. Incredibly, he went
unchallenged by a single person in the UPA government. That's how deep
the mainstream political consensus is. 

Chaudhuri: I see your point about forcing a riverine ecology on a
desert, and the political lobbies at work. But what about electricity? 

Recently, a group of international engineers has challenged the claims
made by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam about power generation. So has
Himanshu Thakker, an engineer who has studied the Sardar Sarovar in some
detail. I would like to make three points. 

Having an installed capacity of 1450 megawatts means that the power
generating machinery that has been installed is capable of producing
1450 megawatts of power. What is actually produced depends on actual
water flows - which we know is much lower than the Sardar Sarovar
Project was designed for. 

Second, in a multi-purpose dam like the Sardar Sarovar, for the most
part you can either use the water for irrigation - or for power
generation. In fact, as more and more water is used for irrigation,
calculations show that the electricity from the riverbed powerhouse will
be virtually zero. So to claim its benefits on both fronts
simultaneously is dishonest. 
Third, in power distribution, India has amongst the highest transmission
and distribution losses in the world. Across the country, avoidable
losses add up to more power than is generated by dozens of big dams. So
before we go building more big dams and destroying communities, forests,
rivers and ecosystems, maybe we could do something about how much
electricity and water we waste and misuse. It would make a serious,
radical difference. Minimising waste would be revolutionary. 

Chaudhuri: The NBA has been protesting for several years. Why do you
think the protest reached such white heat this time? 

Obviously because of the profile and commitment of Medha Patkar and the
reputation of the NBA and the fact that the indefinite fast took place
in Delhi. But I think it's also because displacement is becoming an
urgent issue for millions - both in cities and in villages. The
situation is out of control. Every single development project - whether
it's an IT Park in Bangalore or a steel plant in Kalinganagar or the
Pollavaram dam - the first move is to take land from the poor. People
are being displaced at gunpoint. Cities like Delhi and Bombay are become
cities of bulldozers and police. The spectre of the shooting of adivasis
in Kalinganagar in January - some of whose bodies were returned by the
police mutilated, with their arms and breasts chopped off - all this
hung over the protest at Jantar Mantar. There is a fury building up
across the country. 

The whole argument against big dams has been submerged by the rising
waters of the reservoir and narrowed down to the issue of
rehabilitation. But even this vital, though narrow issue of
rehabilitation which should be pretty straightforward, contains a
universe of its own - of deceit, lies and utter callousness. To pay lip
service to rehabilitation is easy - even Narendra Modi does that. The
real issue, as the Soz report points out, is that there is a world of
difference between what's on paper and what's on the ground. 

Chaudhuri: Could you draw a thumbnail sketch of what you mean by that?
Talk about the issue of displacement and rehabilitation. 

One of the major tricks that is played on the poor and on the public
understanding of what's going on in these `development' projects is that
large numbers of the displaced do not even count as officially 'Project
Affected'. Very few of the tribals whose land was acquired for the steel
factory in Kalinganagar counted as 'Project Affected'. Most were called
'encroachers', uprooted and told to buzz off. Those who did qualify were
given Rs 35,000 for land that was sold for Rs 3.5 lakh and whose market
value was even higher. So you take from the poor, subsidise the rich,
and then call it the Free Market. 

In the case of the Sardar Sarovar, the tens of thousands who will be
displaced by canal construction in Gujarat are not counted as Project
Affected. Those displaced by the sprawling Kevadia colony at the dam
site and the compensatory 'afforestation' project don't count. Thousands
of fisherfolk who lose their livelihood downstream of the dam don't
count. Only those who are displaced by the reservoir count - and even
there there's a problem. In Madhya Pradesh the poorest of the poor, the
landless, mostly Dalits and Adivasis who depend on the river for their
livelihood - those who depend on seasonal cultivation on the riverbed,
fisher-folk, sand-miner - are not counted as Project Affected. The whole
discourse of land for land leaves these people out. 

There's another problem: when communities are uprooted and given illegal
cash compensation, the cash is given only to the men. Many have no idea
how to deal with cash, and drink it away or go on spending sprees.
Automatically the women are disempowered. Just because it is being made
to appear as though it's all inevitable, as though there's no solution,
should we forget that there ever was a problem? Should we leave the
poorest and most vulnerable out of the 'cost benefit' analysis - and
allow the myth of big dams to go on and on unchallenged? 

As for those who are lucky enough to be counted as Project Affected, we
know now they are being displaced without rehabilitation in utter
violation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award and the Supreme
Court's own verdicts, all of which specify that displaced families must
be given land for land. The Madhya Pradesh government is trying to force
people to accept what it calls SRP - Special Rehabilitation Package -
which is cash compensation. That's illegal. The technique is to show
hundreds of families the same plot of uncultivable land, and when they
refuse to take it, force cash compensation on them. 

The Sardar Sarovar rehabilitation policy was cynically used to create
middle-class consensus and make the NBA sound unreasonable. And now that
the dam is more or less built, we have public figures like B.G. Verghese
who campaigned for the dam and tom-tommed the promise of rehabilitation
now openly saying land for land is not possible but that construction
should still continue. A columnist went so far as to say that rejecting
cash compensation amounted to high treason! We are currently being
promised that the Saradar Sarovar R&R policy will be used by the
River-Linking scheme - more disastrous than hundreds of Sardar Sarovars
- in which lakhs, perhaps millions of people will be displaced. It's an
excellent plan to have a noble-sounding policy on paper. It confuses the
opposition. 

Chaudhuri: The NBA and you are often seen to be intrinsically
anti-development. As people who are opposed to the forces sweeping
across the globe. How do you react to that? 

With acute boredom. Of course we're opposed to the forces sweeping
across the world! Of course we're opposed to this kind of development!
We spend our waking hours pointing out that it's not development, it's
destruction. Its not democratic, it's not equitable, it's not
sustainable. We're anti-destruction. That's what we keep repeating in
everything we say and do. Whether we're effective in our opposition,
whether we're doomed, whether we'll win or lose is a different matter. 

Chaudhuri: Given the relentlessness of the onslaught of globalisation,
would you say your views paint you into a small corner? 

I'd say our views paint us out of the small corner - the small, rich,
glittering, influential corner. The corner with 'the voice'. The corner
that owns the guns and bombs and money and the media. I'd say our views
cast us onto a vast, choppy, dark dangerous ocean where most of the
world's people float precariously. And from having drifted there a
while, I'd say the mood is turning ugly. Go to Kalinganagar, Raygada,
Chhattisgarh - you'll see there's something akin to civil war brewing
there. The adivasis of Kalinganagar have blocked the main highway to
Paradip Port since January. 

There are districts in Chattisgarh which the Maoists control and the
administration can't reach. I'm not saying that there will be a
beautiful political revolution when the poor take over the State, I'm
saying we could, as a society be convulsed with all kinds of violence.
Criminal, lumpen, political, mercenary - the kind that has broken across
so much of Africa. So it really is in the enlightened self-interest of
those jitter-bugging in the glittering corner to sit up and pay heed. 
Chaudhuri: Another strong criticism of you and the NBA is that you
oppose a particular worldview, but present no alternative vision. Is
there an alternative vision? Is it important to have one? 

There is an alternative vision. But it isn't some grand Stalinist scheme
that can be articulated in three sentences - no more than the 'model' of
this existing world can be described in three sentences. You asked this
question about an alternative very sweetly. It is usually asked in a
sneering, combative way. Let me explain the way I look at it. The world
we live in right now is an enormous accretion of an almost infinite
number of decisions that have been made: economic decisions, ecological
decisions, social, political, pedagogical, ideological. For each of
those decisions that was made, there was an alternative. For every high
dam that is being built there is an alternative. Maybe no dam, maybe a
less high dam. For every corporate contract that is signed there is an
alternative. There is an alternative to the Indo-US nuclear deal, there
is an alternative to the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural
Research, there is an alternative to GM foods. There is an alternative
to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. There is an alternative to the
draconian Land Acquisition Act. The fundamental issue is that `a country
is not a corporation,' as Paul Krugman says. It cannot be run like one.
All policy cannot be guided by commercial interests and motivated by
profit. Citizens are not employees to be hired and fired, governments
are not employers. Newspapers and TV Channels are not supposed to be
boardroom bulletins. Corporations like Monsanto and Walmart are not
supposed to shape India's policies. But signing over resources like
forests and rivers and minerals to giant corporations in the name of
'efficiency' and GDP growth, only increases the efficiency of terrible
exploitation of the majority and the indecent accumulation of wealth by
a minority - leading to the yawning divide between the rich and the poor
and the kind of social conflict we're seeing. 

The keystone of the alternative world would be that nothing can justify
the violation of the fundamental rights of citizens. That comes first.
The growth rate comes second. Otherwise democracy has no meaning. You
cannot resort to algebra: You cannot say I'm taking away the livelihood
of 200,000 to enhance the livelihood of 2 million. Imagine what would
happen if the government were to take the wealth of 200,000 of India's
richest people and redistribute it amongst 2 million of India's poorest?
We would hear a lot about socialist appropriation and the death of
democracy. Why should taking from the rich be called appropriation and
taking from the poor be called development? This kind of development, as
I've been saying again and again - is really pushing India to the edge
of civil war - spearheaded by the Maoists who now control huge swathes
of land in India which they have declared 'liberated'. 

Chaudhuri: There is a huge consolidation of these Maoist groups. Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh says that they've become India's biggest
internal security threat. What's your view on this? 

I am sure the Maoists view the PM's statement as a compliment. In a
recent article in the Indian Express. Ajit Doval a former Director of
the Intelligence Bureau argued that doctrinally Maoists must be treated
as terrorists. Poverty is being conflated with terrorism. The Indian
Government has learned nothing. It has tried the military solution in
Kashmir, in Manipur, in Nagaland. It has got nowhere. Now it's ready to
turn its army on its own people, like a maddened tiger eating its own
limbs. Though here in the big cities we call ourselves a democracy, in
the countryside, all kinds of illiberal ordinances have been passed,
thousands have been imprisoned, civil liberties are a distant dream.
Villages are being evacuated and turned into police camps. The
Chattisgarh government is fueling the situation by arming poor villagers
to fight the Maoists. I don't know why they can't seem to understand
that there can be no military solution to poverty. Or maybe I'm being
stupid - maybe they're trying to eliminate the poor, not poverty. 

On top of everything else that has happened over the years, now
multinational companies have turned their greedy eyes on the wealth of
natural resources in these states. Mountains, rivers and forests are
being plundered - it's like the gold rush. And presiding over it are our
own economic hit-men in the country's top jobs. These men are staunch
disciples of the Washington Consensus. They have no imagination outside
of it. They're at the helm of a no-holds-barred looting spree. 

Who would have thought ten years ago that Kathmandu would be under
siege? Who knows, ten years down the line, it might be Delhi that's
under siege. Things are certainly moving in that direction. Something
has to give. We cannot go on living this lie. And now that we've seen
how contemptuously the government has treated a non-violent movement
like the NBA, which of us can in good faith tell people how to fight
their battles? Because whatever their strategies, they're up against the
same behemoth. 

Chaudhuri: Kanu Sanyal, one of the founders of the Naxalbari uprising,
has distanced himself from much of the movement today saying that it has
become extortionist, without ideology, predatory on the very poor it
seeks to protect? 
I'm sure Mahatma Gandhi would say the same of the Congress Party today.
Every armed struggle will have its share of thugs and extortionists,
along for the ride only for personal gain. That cadre exists in the
North East, among the militants in Kashmir, and I'm sure among the
Maoists too. It also exists in the armed forces - every occupying army
has its share of looters and rapists. But the Maoists phenomenon has
arisen because people have had the doors of the liberal, democratic
institutions slammed in their faces. To dismiss them all as
extortionists and free-loaders is not just deeply apolitical, it's
extremely unjust. 

After all, the so-called non-violent world that claims to disagree with
the current government policies and has broken out in a rash of NGOs
peddling everything from peace to birth control also has its share of
freeloaders and racketeers. The highly paid 'development jet set' who
earns its living off poverty and conflict and misery. Many of them are
as counterproductive to the cause of justice as the free-loaders and
extortionists on the edge of armed struggles. 
The real problem, as we've seen, is that whether a struggle is violent
or not, the government's reaction is instinctively repressive. The
military solution has not worked in Kashmir or Manipur or Nagaland. It
will not work in mainland India. It may not be that the masses will rise
in disciplined revolutionary fervour. It may be that we will become a
society convulsed with violence, political, criminal, and mercenary. But
the fact remains that the problem is social injustice, the solution is
social justice. Not bullets, not bulldozers, not prisons. 


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