What goes wrong with mega-ecological projects? Amidst the chaos of this pandemic, the talk about Dibang Project has been doing rounds. Well, I would not like to go deep into what it is as many are well aware of it.
Like many, this project sounds to me as nothing but a step towards filling the pockets of the corporates and I shall explain why.
The first element required in the understanding of the case is to understand the change of social and environmental conditions in a community with the consideration of political power balances in the said community, which is then based on the undeniable understanding that the relationship between human and its environment ‘globally’, is an intricately connected network, wherein the effect of any alteration or change in any one branch of this humongous web is felt throughout the whole system.
One needs to identify the root cause(s) of the problem rather than simply remain fixated on the symptoms of the problem. These problems normally emanate from a fraught social system where one social actor exploits other people and the environment for personal gains at the cost of the collective mass.
In short, one needs to understand that ecological systems are innately political in nature and that our understandings are massively influenced and directed by the political and economic processes that surround us. And evidently, the effects of the environmental changes in society are not homogenous. It affects different sections of the society in different ways mainly in the levels of social, political and economic differences. In this case, any (future) environmental disruption would be experienced first-handed by the local population in the valley and likewise, it would be a second-hand experience for other parts of the state. Not to forget, some might not even be affected by it. The relationship between politics, economy and nature is hence, one thing that needs to be understood well. The ever-increasing need for accumulation of capital is inherent to the problem of ecological degradation. I see many supporting this project in the name of development. My question is what according to them is development? The idea of laying concrete everywhere in a state, where basic facilities like healthcare and education remain in devastating conditions, to me, seems nowhere near to development. Development should be more of uplifting the society, providing the people with good education, healthcare, basically working on the Human Development Index (HDI) rather than focusing on the numerical value of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With Dibang, what people fail to see is that not all dam projects are successful and in the current scenario, ecology is not an element to be tested upon to testify its progressive nature. If one intends to understand the project to its depth, one can see the actual disparities it can cause to the local lives. The approval of this project by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) where the proposed project demands the felling of an approximate of 2.7 lakhs trees is yet another example in contemporary India of how economy is prioritized and revived by commodifying electricity and water at the cost of environment. The approvals of such projects are only seen through the lens of cost-benefit analyses, failing to take into account that not every project is successful. Primitive accumulation of environmental resources previously held by commons are now on the stake of commercialisation, making the locals subsiding on forest produce more vulnerable to livelihood loss hence leaving no alternative to working as wage labourers. As Whitehead describes in her paper ‘Space, Place and Primitive accumulation in Narmada Valley and Beyond’, that the ‘enclosure of resources’ including water, is not a hidden cost but an integral feature of large dam projects. Thus, the often viewed negative impacts of large dam construction like displacement of the locals and forest produce in various customary ways is instead a necessary element for capital accumulation. Therefore, it is indeed very important to stop such mega-projects from causing more environmental and social damages in the state. Anyway, one is free to think about what according to him/her is development but I hope, the idea of development in Arunachal is not to convert greens to concrete, which is the essence of every indigenous livelihood. If not, the actual results of whether this entire project being built on uncertainty proves beneficial or will be yet another example of failure of environmental jurisdiction is a matter of time. Therefore, the need of the hour is to understand the need of a systematic balance between environment and development.