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Sep 09, 2004
Villagers teach how projects impact people

It is common for Indian businessmen to complain of the slowness of procedures in India. Equally, most citizens complain of things as being beyond their control. Both are one in blaming the state. The truth is that those who can act as bridges between people and the state have no time. Whenever communities find truly non-partisan mediators, harmony does result.

‘Civil Society’ a year old magazine reporting development news in India, featured a success story in its July,2004 issue. This alas is not yet available online at its archives and is therefore worth summarising in some detail.

The Bhilwara Group of Rajasthan arrived in Himachal Pradesh in 1996 armed with 45 government clearances, to set up a 192 megawatt hydel power station on lands to be acquired from the villages of Prini and Jagatsukh. They had an environment and social impact assessment [ESIA] done by ‘government-approved’ consultants. Far from the passport they had imagined it to be, it was the cause of Bhilwara’s woes that followed.

Often businesses in India go complacent thinking either that paper work is ‘done’ right, or at a minimum, that inconvenient documents are buried deep enough for anyone to find. The task of public spirited persons has to centre on salvaging submerged papers and make them speak. This is a daunting task for even the stout-hearted, the barely literate masses having no chance of success whatsoever. If governance has to improve in India, educated Indians must find the time for communities in need of help. Most of all, these crusaders need to believe that democracy does deliver, that in it, papers may be asleep but don’t die, and in the end justice will be done. It is easy to flinch at the stacked odds and choose the easy option, which invariably ends in the chant, “the system cannot be beaten”.

The ESIA that Bhilwara carried with it was a shallow document. It was essentially an acquiescence by the two village panchayats. There had been no public airing and discussion of issues. On the face of it a small hydel power station is a welcome thing. But there are several subtle issues to be considered. That these had been ignored, bothered Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People [SANDRP].

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