Friday, July 23, 2004

My Road to Harsud

Since last few years, whenever I came across any news item of the Narmada Project, it has always made me uncomfortable...

This week when I read yet another report - The Road to Harsud by Arundhati Roy - the 700 year old town in MP which will be submerged, and its people left rootless, for the "larger good"...

....I thought I might as well write this down:

It was back in 1982-83, when I was working in NPC. We had got a project to estimate the number of villages which will be submerged, and people displaced, as a part of the project feasibility report for the Narmda Dam Project. We had a very small role: visit a small area near Indore, find out the numbers, and collate them and submit the report.

Narmada Sagar Dam had seemed a distant and impersonal - almost an imaginary - reality then, and in any case, this work would get us some "consultancy" revenue. Two of us were given the task, and we visited these places. We did a "sample survey" of villages - i.e., visited a few representative areas and villages, and made guestimates for the entire population of villages in that area. What I also recall is that there were no updated official records of population available - the 1981 Census results had not yet got published - but the report with "figures and facts" had to be submitted...

... we did what seemed a reasonable exercise in making educated estimates: we talked to the Gram Pradhan, the VLWs (Villege Level Workers), the BDO (Block Development Officers), etc. - cross-checked their estimates as much as we could.

These were 10 hectic hot days of travelling on loaded buses, bullock carts, and even walking a few miles through difficult terrains.

At the end of the project, we could churn out a report, which we felt had a high accuracy level in the reported figure (even though there was no way to verify them) - and the NPC sent the Consultancy Report with the bill.

Now when I read these reports, of villages getting submerged, tens of thousands of people deprived of their land, roots, livelihood, self-identity (and sometimes even their family), I wonder at my own role - however small - in making this happen to them...

I can justify by believing that I was in my 20s then, just a few years into my job, and did not understand the context of what I was doing; I was, after all, just doing my job...
... and then realise that this is exactly what the prisoners in Nuremberg Trials, and the wardens of Abu Ghraib had said: I was just doing my job...

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Clash of Paradigms

It is fascinating, if one compares the variety of struggles taking place around the contemporary world - and find that underlying these the template is the same.

In many ways, the current conflict between the "good" vs "evil" is a struggle between two paradigms, which is not just limited to the so-called "War on Terrorism" by the country which believe in, and stand by, the "Rule of Law".

Compare also, for instance:

  • The conflict between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) vs. the P2P networks for downloading music
  • The elitist World Economic Forum and the networked World Socil Forum
  • The Coalition with its centralised command-and-control sturucture vs. the "Al-Queda" which is actually a network
  • The two models of software development (The Cathedral & and Baazar) seen in Windows vs Linux
  • MNCs vs Industrial Clusters
  • Monetary Systems based around a Central bank vs. Complementary Currencies (e.g. Ithaca Hours, Lets, Times Dollars, etc.)
  • Centralised Datawarehouses vs. Distributed Intelligence

etc. etc.

The two paradigms are the Centralised vs the Network - and interestingly one finds them confronting each other in a variety of domains simultaneously...