Development as Disaster
Impact of various industrial, defence, developmental and infrastructural projects on people and environment in Assam
The people of Assam feel it in their bones that of the impact of development of the state: 40% may be set down as benefit to the people and as much as 60% may be red-pencilled as loss and damage. The Baghjan gas well fire which has been raging for a hundred days defying most modern technology to put it down is a classic instance. God knows how much it has damaged the environment and human lives for scores of miles around. However the political and financial promoters do not care a rap about such loss and damage in their soulless calculations.
An enormous six-lane tunnel project has been proposed and approved without informed consent of the experts in civil society and hapless indigenous people around both ends of a tunnel that will burrow under the Brahmaputra to link regions on both its banks that have been as yet unspoilt habitat of the Assamese indigenous communities since time immemorial. Indigenous people of many communities on both banks depend on its water for drinking and domestic purposes and will surely face a very serious crisis in sustaining life. The loose soil under the Brahmaputra bed has weak cohesion and stretches down nearly three kilometres and more until hard granite rock is found. The disturbance in the river-bed during such heavy construction underground might lead to unexpected and terrible upheavals for people on both the banks.
The rich aquatic life in the river may suffer a havoc. Further regions around both proposed ends of the tunnel are still relatively pristine green with vegetation and smiling crops. All that will become a memory of the past as a semi-industrial desert will descend and replace them.It can easily be predicted that lives and livelihoods of the people will be blown into the dust, on a much larger scale than in Baghjan.
The pity is while the centre has quietly acquired the land for the project (Vide Notification No.S.O. 3695 issued by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways dated the October 20,2020) the people are kept in the dark about its actual consequences for them. They are only told it will be a magnificent technological marvel and they are waiting to gape at it.It probably follows from the logic by which the National Wildlife Bureau drastically diluted regulations of Environmental Impact Assessment under the guidance of the minister concerned under cover of the current pandemic.The clandestine revisions in EIA rules had also proposed blanket no-questions-asked approval to defence projects.
The allegedly imperative need for this project has not been established by debates among various informed circles,stake-holders and victims. Again perhaps on the grounds of security. The state government seems utterly oblivious, and the powerful minister Himanta Biswa Sharma is currently fulminating against lakhs upon lakhs of 'Mughals' who had allegedly infiltrated into the NRC and turned it into a worthless scrap of paper. That proves the suspicions of those in the rest of the country that extension of the NRC to the whole country is meant to turn minorities into unwelcome infiltrators.
The amount of dirt and barren waste from the mammoth excavation needing to be disposed of is certain to lay waste huge stretches of farmland and settled land. It is quite on the cards that giant projects rushed through with such reckless abandon have been intended to rouse the sleeping and torpid demand in the economy, the supposedly unfailing boost through infra-structure building. Economists have been known to suggest plans for economic recovery with much less cost to the people and infinitely less unsettling effect on their lives. Indeed there may be ways to plan economic turn-around that will be of direct benefit to the people. But such ideas find little favour with brains obsessed with colossal profitable technological feats.
*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the authors own.
Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain: