[Answered]Suppose the Government of India is thinking of constructing a dam in a mountain valley bond by forests and inhabited by ethnic communities. What rational policy should it resort to in dealing with unforeseen contingencies?

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Mentionrisks of dam project. Discuss a rational policy for the same.

Conclusion. Way forward.

Constructing a dam in a mountain valley entails many challenges. A comprehensive rehabilitation policy is must to ensure that unforeseen contingencies which can hinder development projects are avoided.The issue involves Environmental security and inclusive, balanced economic development at its core.

Inherent risks in a dam project:

  1. Since dams are land intensive it often involves deforestation, displacement of tribal people and submergence of villages among other challenges.
  2. Tribals had been living in the area for generations and it would be difficult for them to find an alternative place and means of livelihood.
  3. Unforeseen challenges include landslide, earthquake, flash floods, unscientific land-use etc.

Rational policy: A Rational Policy should address the above mentioned issue through application of environmental ethics, use of Joint Forest Management committees, mobilisation of CSR funds, training/ awareness among stakeholders. It should include the following:

  1. Transparent Rehabilitation, Resettlement: Government must implement resettlement packages making the ethnic communities/tribals materially better off to counter the narrative that development and modernisation is disastrous for tribals, who cannot cope with the change. Land distribution, compensation for loss of houses, forest produce and grazing land and other such resettlement measures should be implemented thoroughly without prejudice.
  2. Maintain transparency, ensure economic welfare: The oustees must be provided complete information regarding the dam, submergence and subsequent displacement due to them. Project authorities and state government must rehabilitate the oustees with sustainable non-land based livelihoods where needed. The various problems associated with displacement are compounded several times over for oustees who are also otherwise specially vulnerable, variously by class, caste, gender or age. Such vulnerabilities should factor in rehabilitation packages.
  3. Public Hearing: From the inception of planning of dam, through various stages of displacement and resettlement, it is to be expected that those likely to be negatively affected by the projects would be consulted and kept informed in such a way (public hearing, social audit) as to enable them to best rebuild their lives. Bureaucratic lassitude and insensitivity should not be tolerated.
  4. Ensure Tribal welfare: The Forest department must proactively involve the people in the forest villages about possible submergence and displacement. Tribal people share the problems of other rural people but they are even more dependent on forests and common property resources, their documented legal rights on cultivable lands are even more tenuous, their skills for diversified livelihood not based on forests or land are even more rudimentary, and their ability to negotiate with state officials and courts even more weaker.
  5. Environmental Impact Assessment: This should not be a one-off document but have to be carried out periodically along with social impact assessment. Members should be drawn preferably from environmentalist groups, academia and Civil Society.State has to ensure that peripheral activities like tourism, agriculture practices like Jhum cultivation, hunting, deforestation, land-use pattern has be undertaken with strict vigilance and accountability.
  6. Disaster preparedness: A Disaster Prediction Mechanism/vulnerability assessment should be developed which can provide early warning based on scientific inputs.Use of radio communication to broadcast such critical information should be undertaken.

Unforeseen circumstances pose most environmentally damaging situation in India.Given that environmental issues are complex,inter-related phenomena addressing it is always a great challenge. Inputs from recent examples like Kerala, Karnataka floods should be a lesson to us.

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