Editorial: Run! The NGOs are here

Jun 14 2014, 02:17 IST
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SummaryThis is not about Greenpeace, it is about the govt

Given how NGOs like Greenpeace and others have opposed big industrial projects like Vedanta, nuclear projects like the Kudankulam one, or dams like Narmada and agricultural productivity-enhancing tools like GM crops, it is difficult to rush to their support when the Intelligence Bureau (IB) blames them for causing large annual losses to the economy. Among the many instances the report cites of such activism, for instance, it talks of how one German national’s laptop had a scanned map of India with 16 nuclear plants—existing and proposed—along with contact details of 50 Indian anti-nuclear activists. There is little doubt foreign NGOs are targeting various projects, and you don’t need the IB to tell you that 11 of the nuclear activists are frequent foreign travellers, flying in and out of the US and Germany.

Activists, by their very nature, whether Indian- or foreign-funded, take one-sided positions that are inconvenient to the government/industrialists who are keen to push through large projects; it remains equally true, though, that several of their concerns—on rehabilitation for instance—are valid ones, and need to be taken on board. In which case, the real question is whether it was Greenpeace or James Cameron’s Avatar that felled the Vedanta project or whether it was the UPA government—more specifically, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh who, it has to be a great coincidence, refused permission to the project the very day Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi reached Niyamgiri to impress upon the tribals there that he was their sipahi in Delhi, determined to protect their God from the marauding Anil Agarwal.

The recent decision to allow an increase in the Narmada dam to its full reservoir height of 138.62 metres from the present 121.92 metres, however, is the best example of how irrelevant the IB report and the discussion around it is. The Narmada dam, the IB report begins by saying, was one of the projects targeted by NGOs; it is possible to argue the project has been set back by decades due to various types of protests. Yet, with the Narendra Modi government coming to power, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has allowed the height of the dam to be raised, despite the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) protesting the increase in height would mean an additional displacement of 2.5 lakh persons. Given the NCA is essentially a government-run body—the water secretary is its ex-officio chairperson and it has representatives of the Government of

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