Interview with Medha Patkar

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Q: There is a criticism that over-concern for environment stands in
path of development?
Not at all. Even the world dam commission has stated that there should be first rehabilitation and then construction of dam. Dams are being sold out to the public by exaggerating the benefits and underestimating the costs. In India, almost all of the 4,000 large dams have been sold to the public by emphasizing the benefits—drinking water, irrigation, flood control, and hydropower. The social and environmental costs are never really assessed. Before all those costs are adequately studied, the clearances are granted. With those clearances, the planners claim they have taken care of everything.
The social costs are underestimated because only the so-called directly affected people are included, but even that number is underestimated because land records are never updated, especially in the case of indigenous people and rural communities. For example, in the case of Sardar Sarover—just one dam—when the tribunal was set up to resolve the inter-state conflict, working from 1969-79, it estimated the number of affected families as below 7,000. Today the official figure is about 43,000 families and the actual figure is somewhere near 50,000. Over 25 years, only 25 percent of those people have been taken care of in any way, though not necessarily receiving all their entitlements. There are another 23,500 families affected by the canal system.
Q: What is land acquisition?
Land acquisition act was made in 1894. Defence and cantonment acts have also been brought under this act. Actually defence has many pieces of land all over the country. They do not require any further land. But the land is being acquired for SEZ  by politicians. Land acquisition, under the garb of growth, is dividing society and leading to violence between State and its citizens.By oppressing peaceful and democratic resistances like Kudankulam, the State has further alienated itself from the people. there nexus between corporates and ruling elites had been restricting all possibilities of alternatives to the destructive model of growth and development. Land rights and agricultural reforms hold the key to successful future alternatives, she said.
Q: Urbanisation is growing very fast. Are the cities gobbling up villages?
Yes the urbanization is taking place very fast. For example Mumbai has expanded so fast and wide that it has gobbled up 995 villages. The existence of villages is in danger as the expansion of the cities is leading to their exitinction. 2616 villages have lost their existence due to the expanding boundaries of the cities in the country.Rehabilitation work in the cities is not happening properly and 30 to 60 percent of rehabilitation of the affected people in the slum areas of the cities is yet to take place. National Land Acquisition Act has not included the clause for rehabilitation in the urban centres. There should be some planning for rehabilitation of the affected people in the cities too. The people in rural area are being exploited in the name of urbanization. Every minister wants to be a builder.
Q:Every minister wants to be a builder. What do you mean?
Yes, every minister wants to grab as much land as possible and construct residential and commercial complexes to be sold at exorbitant prices. Adarsh scam is an ideal example of what can happen when politicians and bureaucrats join hands. Huge plots of land are being acquired in the name of SEZ and Corridor projects and then being sold at exorbitant prices to the corporate houses and big builders. Sancheti and Jayanti Shah are but agents of the land-grabbing politicians and this fact should be highlighted. Gangs of politicians and bureaucrats are hands in glow with the builders and corporate houses like India Bulls. They are hell bent on snatching the land belonging to the poor farmers and create concrete jungles in the midst of greenery. Agitations have helped in thwarting their nefarious designs and many corrupt babus and bureaucrats are cooling their heels behind the bars. Earlier politicians exploited the people now the bureaucrats are exploiting the people.
Q: What is wrong with their development paradigm? What is your vision
of sustainable development?
We are not against development per se, if that is defined as a change that is desirable and acceptable within our value framework. Our framework is not an individualist one. It is the framework of the Indian constitution, values of equity and justice. Sustainability has to mean justice to the population beyond one generation. That can come only if the priorities are set right. Our priority is the basic need fulfillment of every individual and that cannot happen unless the planning process is really democratic. Equitable and sustainable development presumes that the natural resources will be used. But in the choice of technologies and the priorities of goals and objectives, the preference should be given to the neediest sections, not to those who already have. If you have to submerge the land in an agricultural area, you are not only displacing people, but also affecting the core of the economy, and hence that decision needs to be taken carefully, to avoid displacement as much as possible. The government does not have the alternative land to rehabilitate people. If we don’t give priority to community needs and instead focus on taking water to distant populations, then we invariably encroach on community rights.
How can development paradigm be better challenged?
The development paradigm can be better challenged if we join hands. Otherwise, it is seen as the poor and displaced people raising questions for their own interests. There has to be a micro-to-macro linkage to put ourselves forward as political actors. Development issues cannot be contained within national boundaries. In India, even though there is hardly any land to relocate people onto, the projects are on the fast track, and those decisions are being made not just in Delhi and Bombay but also in Washington and Geneva. When there are more and more such projects going forward, the people’s sovereignty over natural resources and human rights are bypassed. It’s essential that we reach the global centers of power to fight not just centralized planning, but privatization-based planning. We have fought that at the local and national level. We have to ally with friends across the world to know the fact.
How should development go forward?
We must have decentralized management of resources, whether it is water, land, forest, or fish. Rights should be granted first to the smallest unit of population and the benefits should first take care of that unit, moving upward. That doesn’t mean that no exogenous source of water should be used. The same can be said of minerals. Unless you grant rights to the people living on the land under which you find mineral resources, you deprive the local population of that resource.
Our view of development is supportive of labor-intensive technologies that would not create unemployment, but would create livelihood opportunities for people when the resources are used. We are for technology that will not spoil, pollute, and destroy our natural resources, which still are rich enough and still in the hands of rural communities, which are simple-living, non-consumerist communities. The choice of technology is invariably related to the kind of living standard and lifestyle one visualizes as a part of development. Simple living, which would bring in more equity and justice across the world, among countries and within countries, is what we value. Technologies can bring some comforts, but we shouldn’t go to the other extreme of not using the human body and human power.
Violence against women is increasing in society. What is your opinion?
This is serious. Women are trapped in the complex forces. They are victims of collapsing value system. Contrary to the belief that globalisation had reduced caste-based discrimination, atrocities against the women and students have increased massively. Legislations and policies that have existed for decades have not allowed for the benefits to reach the people. Only three per cent of dalits have benefited from reservations and the conviction rate of people who have committed violence against dalits is pitiable.The destruction of natural resources affects lives and livelihoods of women, especially dalit women, and is connected to the skewed sex ratio, violence against women and patriarchy. This complexity has led to a new form of violence against women today.

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