Price of Development

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Can development be without price? Much as anybody may wish it, this cannot be so. Hence, the more realistic and pertinent question should be, what kind of price is worth paying for any development project. The basic principle in any walk of life `“ that of minimizing the losses and maximizing the gains, should very well apply here too. Just as in the law of physics which says matter (or energy) can neither be created nor destroyed, development, or for that matter anything else, can be snatched out of nothing. Only God knows how to do that and we are sure He would not be keen to demonstrate. Jokes apart, development must have to be a rational negotiation process in which we weigh the pros and cons of all projects envisaged, and then lean our decisions towards the arguments that are honestly weightier. Often this logic is abandoned in all our ongoing debates on the issue.

The need to pursue this debate has acquired a sense of desperation in our situation. Just the consideration of the example of the acute power shortage in the state should suffice to demonstrate this. We note though that the situation has improved, not on account of availability of more electric power but because of better management which has prevented wastages as well as theft. Leave the question of why this was not done earlier for the time being and let us return to the original contention. On the one hand we have not enough electricity and on the other we also often put up non-negotiable oppositions to electricity generating hydel projects. It is true these projects will command a price but shouldn`™t the debate be also about how heavy the price would be and how worthy it is to pay the price. If we foreclose the issue and say we should not pay any price at all, whatever the circumstance, then we should also not be complaining the scarcity of electricity, and in fact the absence of the fruits of development in our lives. We do not have to sell ourselves and our future just for the sake of development, but all the same, we must also have to be prepared to pay some price at least if we want development. As the saying goes, you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg. Hence if you think it is absolutely wrong to break the egg then don`™t even imagine how the omelette can be relished. The effort then must be to seek the right balance between what we end up paying and what we end up getting. To extend the aphorism of the egg a little more, the debate must be about taking care not to cook the goose that lays the golden egg just for one sumptuous meal, but also not to unnecessarily deprive ourselves of the simple delight of an omelette meal. As practical optimists, we believe there is such a balance. Maybe a series of small dams rather than a mega high dam is the answer?

Take another case. Other than electricity, tap water is also in acute shortage in the state. In rural areas, since there are still clean natural sources of water, the problem although bad, is not as desperate. But in the urban areas, say for instance Imphal, what would the people do without treated water. Luckily, there are some very well maintained community artificial water bodies which are an important substitute in times of extreme scarcity, but the problem can only grow in the days ahead. Under the circumstance, imagine what would have been the scenario if the Shingda Dam were not there and Imphal did not receive even the existing supply of tap water. Perhaps, Imphal with its ever growing population would not have been liveable at all by now. Here is, right in front of our eyes, what we may say is a successful, life supporting, small dam, and yet so many still insist on opposing any mention of dams. Of course, even in the case of small dams, the question of compensation and meaningful resettlement of affected population, if any, must be addressed seriously and adequately.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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