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Monday, April 17, 2006

Between Dam and Development

The Narmada Bacho Andolan (Save Narmada) has been on for a very long time. The foundation stone of the dam was laid by Nehru! The protests are from two sides, one side calls themselves pro-development and the other pro-rehabilitation.
Debate with one side!
Now the ridiculous part is that the reality is with both. Any development means that few citizens will be affected. However, it is definately the responsibility of the government to make sure each of these citizens are adequately compensated. Any person who demands adequate compensation cannot be wrong. What I feel is the point of debate is if the compensation is adequate or not.
How are the people compensated?
The Land Acquisition Act mentions about the compensation having two elements. First is the market price of the land and second is an allowance for compulsary nature of acquisition. There are also provision to allocate land in proportional terms. Typically what happens is governments try to suppress the "market price of acquired land" and inflate the "market price of allocated land". Thus for a 100 unit land before acquisition roughly equates to 20~40 units of new allocated land. Further this new land is taken from some other people and a lower amount is allocated to them. Please note that this is compulsory in nature and the farmer or land owner does not have any option to reject the offer.
Imagine tomorrow someone compulsarily takes up your 4 Bedroom penthouse and allocates you a 1 bedroom apartment across the street with a note that the price of new house is same as your penthouse because the development (like new road, electricity and water etc) that they hope to undertake in your land!
Further try and get the compensation through the courts and you will end up spending more than 30 years trying to get a reasonable deal for your land. Even at the end of 30 years all they get is a "simple interest" on their asset prices. They are not even given a standard recurring deposit interest rate! Generations after generations are forced into poverty despite their lands being very valuable! Is it fair is my question?
What is adequate compensation?
Beyond the amounts, it is the timing of the compensation that is critical. In this sense the NBA is critical. First compensation then development must be the mantra. It is only because of the stopping of the dam that the rehabilitation work is in focus. Had the dam been completed the matter would have gone out of public interest.
Medha Patkar is wrong in fasting!
Medha Patkar leads the protest through non-violent means by Fasting like Gandhi. Someone should let her know that no amount of fasting will help the NBA cause. This war has to be waged on basis of information. In information world information is the weapon.
Now I am wondering what would be possible tactics Medha Patkar can use in this war. Any suggestions?