Shri Shekhar Gupta’s Drought Proofing India (Indian Express, 15 August 2009 http://www.indianexpress.com/news/droughtproofing-india/502292/) betrays an ignorance of the ground realities in Punjab and Haryana and the reasons behind the “success” of its agriculture. Gupta attributes the drought-proofing of these states to the big dams built in the 1950s and 1960s when the reality is quiet different. Our study of the Bhakra Nangal project and agriculture in the two states (Unravelling Bhakra, Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, 2005) clearly showed that a huge part of the agricultural production of the two states, 43% in Punjab and 34% in Haryana, was due to the mining of groundwater – that is, unsustainably drawing out more water than is being recharged. This, and several other agricultural practices that resulted in a burst in the agricultural production are the very factors that have now pushed the agriculture of the two states in a serious crisis.
Gupta also makes explicit what he thinks of people who raise questions about such large dams when he says that the dams in the Indus basin like Bhakra were built “when the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements in the history of mankind had not yet arrived on the scene.” But his ignorance of studies which document the reality of such projects raises the question of who really is retrograde and has a closed mind. Further, Gupta may not know it, but due to the very absence of such movements, the oustees of Bhakra and Pong dams are still crying for their proper rehabilitation more than 50 years after being displaced.
However, even if we disregard Gupta's lack of knowledge about irrigation, agriculture and water, what is appalling is his take on the situation in Gujarat. His article talks about how the Patels of Gujarat sold the idea of Narmada to the people of Gujarat and that “The dam got built because the Gujaratis won’t brook any obstruction to it.” It is difficult to believe that Gupta is unaware of what this “not brooking any obstruction” involved. It was the foretaste of the same intolerance and state supported violence that was later to manifest itself in full force in the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) office and activists were repeatedly attacked, meetings routinely disrupted and organizers of meetings threatened. Many of the attacks were in the presence of the police who stood by silently and watched. The attackers were mostly local and sometimes even state level politicians, and hooligans. They were never brought to book, even though in many cases they were photographed or videoed in action. The use of violence and intimidation to suppress the rights of the people of the Narmada valley, to suppress their freedom of speech and to suppress the right of the people of Gujarat to know all the aspects of the project was the hallmark of the “brooking no obstruction”. The most publicized of the cases in later years was that of Aamir Khan, whose film Faana was not allowed to be released in Gujarat by mobs threatening violence just because he articulated the right of the affected people to a proper rehabilitation.
It is difficult to believe that Shri Shekhar Gupta does not know the real nature of how the dam was pushed ahead in Gujarat. If he doesn't, this is of serious concern as he is a senior journalist of high standing. If he does know of this reality, then his implied praise of the Gujaratis not brooking any obstruction is even more a cause of worry.
17 August 2009