Development Fundamentalists

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

What is it in the make up of humans that prevents them from appreciating the gift of life? I was in Colaba in Mumbai when bombs, grenades and bullets were unleashed on innocents. It took me seven hours to get my family home and safe. There was no anger in me while the ugly saga was playing itself out, just sadness and amazement that the gift of life -- not of the victims but the perpetrators -- was being so callously abused. I did not question whether they deserved to die, but whether they deserved to be born.

While the nation's pendulum-swings from anger and frustration to helplessness and fear, my thoughts race ahead, trying to imagine the world that my two grandsons, Siddharth (20 months) and Surya (five months) will grow up in. Is it likely to be safer for them than it was for me? No. Happier? No. Healthier? No. Prettier, cleaner, or better organised? None of the above. So. To the question again. What kind of an India, what kind of a planet can our children look forward to inheriting? Ironically the answer lies in the hands of a generation that has already squeezed most of life from life. The over-60s in charge of national decisions have far less at stake than the young ones. Yet this budda brigade (of which I am a card carrying member) persists in poisoning the pond from which the young ones will drink tomorrow. Which is why the outpouring of anger towards politicians over the past week resonates with the way I have felt towards them for over three decades. My life has in fact been one long battle against the developmental fundamentalists, who I call the ‘dismal ones’. At one time I naively imagined, were just greedy and ill-intentioned. Now, frankly, the epithet stupid fits in very well too.

How else can one describe people who unerringly do the wrong thing when presented with multiple choices? Take the case of our government’s water mission…it has no budget for the protection of forested water sources. Or the Fisheries Department, which has no budget for protecting fish breeding grounds. Or the Ministry of Power, which in response to the climate change crisis, plans to triple its coal-fired thermal plant capacity and build billions of dollars of high dams in the Himalaya, though glacial melt will might prevent their turbines from turning. The stupidity goes on. Mangroves are cut in Mumbai to PREVENT floods. Forest are destroyed in Maharashtra to ENHANCE water security. Nuclear reactors and/or uranium mining is planned INSIDE tiger reserves that supply water to large cities for safety reasons.

Even crime syndicates stop short of killing the golden goose (aam aadmi) because that enables them to extort money longer. India’s development fundamentalists have no such worries. They probably believe theirs is the last generation and that conserving rivers, forests, soils, coasts and mountains for unborn humans amounts to wasting precious resources.