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Temples of Modern India? Dam Controversies Past and Present

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1 Temples of Modern India? Dam Controversies Past and Present
Kathleen D. Morrison Department of Anthropology University of Chicago

2 What a stupendous, magnificent work—a work which only that nation can take up which has faith and boldness! has become the symbol of a nation’s will to march forward with strength, determination, and courage… As I walked around the [dam] site I thought that these days the biggest temple and mosque and gurdwara is the place where man works for the good of mankind. What place is greater than this, this Bhakra-Nangal, where thousands and lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of men have worked, have shed their blood and their sweat and laid down their lives as well? Where can be a greater and holier place than this, which we can regard as higher?

3 Dams are the temples of modern India, where I worship…
--Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of independent India , comments at the opening of the Nangal canal, Punjab

4 Dams and the nation: independent India and the official appeal of big dams
Anti-colonial response Modernism and science Self-sufficiency in food production Historical legacies --suppression of Indian industry by british --era of great enthusiasm for science and modernism. TVA as model, also Soviet style 5 year plans. Seeking a new course as an independent nation --experience with famines, food importer to 1970s. Irrigation and green rev package seen as savior --less well discussed, long historical tradition in south asia, just rule associated with patronage of irrgation, more than a thousand years of dam-building in India, not necessarily small scale.

5 Need for food Need for power
India has a population of more than one billion and growing rainfall is highly seasonal Significant regional variability of rainfall Large population living at or below poverty line Need for power Growing proportion living in cities Rural electrification and agricultural uses No oil or gas resources Does India need dams? well, it needs water and power.

6 the present situation: polarization
Contemporary India “one of the most active dam-building countries on earth” Multiple large projects currently underway Significant political will shown at state & national levels World Bank pullout Significant local protest Court challenges International pressure Academic studies Does India need dams? Absolute polarization; state and middle class urbanites on one side, rural poor and environmentalist community on other

7 The Narmada Project Ca. 1.5 million to be displaced
Most contentious is Narmada project More than 30 major dams Power and water to primarily benefit Gujarat Displaced people and lands primarily in MP Ousteees disproportionately poor and powerless Ca. 1.5 million to be displaced No environmental studies No rehabilitation plan in place yet More than 20 years in progress thus far

8 Protest against Narmada Project: Narmada Bachao Andolan
Impulse for formation of Narmada Bachao Andalan ; dharna, fasting etc Forms of protest developed during independence movement deployed against government-led dam projects in India

9 In response,government points to Bhakra-Nangal Project
Begun prior to independence, completed shortly after Located in HP, serves Punjab , Haryana, and Rajasthan Inundated extensive lands esp. Bilasapur state 36,000 displaced. Harvey Slocum, superintending engineer

10 Bhakra dam Highest concrete gravity dam in Asia Hydroelectric
Intensive production of HYV wheat and rice Industrialized production Punjab “breadbasket of India” Often credited with making India self-sufficient in food

11 Evaluating the arguments: historical perspectives on dams in India
Middle Period (Medieval) dams and reservoirs of south India 10th-16th c. Bhakra-Nangal and Tungabhadra Projects 1940s-60s So who is right? Can we resolve this impasse? Look at existing dams, from 60 to 600 years old/

12 Reservoirs were highly elaborated in Middle period southern India and Sri Lanka
both large and small reservoirs continue in use The impacts of older reservoirs were comparable to those of modern ones Ecological effects Social effects Cultural logics of patronage and rule

13 The Peninsular Interior: Archaeology of an Agrarian Landscape
Contexts of patronage & construction Elite financing Ritual associations Labor mobilization Histories of reservoirs on the landscape Patterns of construction, maintenance, and abandonment Siltation patterns, sediment inflow Regional Vegetation Histories Patterns of hillside erosion and valley floor siltation Integration of Agricultural facilities with settlements, road networks, markets, etc. More than a decade of research. Time frame: 2000 BC to present, archaeological, historical, paleoenvironmental work

14 Problems with large dams
Environmental problems Submergence of forests and other ecosystems Siltation behind the dam Loss of fertility downstream Loss of reservoir capacity Exacerbation of downstream erosion Blocked passage for migratory animals Microenvironmental effects on climate So what have we learned from both more recent (1940s+) and more ancient (1300+) irrigation facilities? Well, the story is very familiar to critics of modern dams: The Mahaseer is now threatened in many Indian rivers

15 Middle Period Reservoirs
In dry areas, could make dry crops more secure, in wetter areas allowed production of rice and other wet crops High rate of failure Variable rainfall, often do not fill High evaporation rates High siltation rates Serious deforestation in catchments High incidence of dam breaching Villages washed away Required constant maintenance British notes from 1876 famine, Mosse’s comments on contemporary Tamil tanks.

16 Problems with large dams
Environmental Problems Possible tectonic effects Water pollution Algae blooms, pesticides Habitat for invasive plants Waterlogging of command area Salinization of command area Decreases in agricultural production

17 Tungabhadra project Spread of invasive water hyacinth
Salinization and waterlogging are serious problems Marginal and poor farmers most affected Has led to loss of agricultural productivity The Bhakra command area, too, has experienced salinization and waterlogging

18 Problems with Large Dams
Human Consequences Inundation of land, villages, homes, sacred places Displacement Unequal water distribution Exacerbates power differences Loss of rural employment Encouragement of commercial production Loss of subsistence independence Loss of local jobs Displacement disproportionally affects the poorer, people without clout

19 Middle Period Southern India: Human Costs
Inundation caused displacement, loss of fields, grazing land Perennially-watered areas dedicated to cash crops, commercial production Water flow rarely equable Construction and maintenance highly political, even for small facilities High degree of elite investment Changes in taxation associated with new facilities

20 Bhakra-Nangal: human costs
50 years later, displaced people still not fully resettled Only landed compensated Loss of soil fertility means crops cannot be grown without chemical fertilizers Subsistence farming no longer possible Rural indebtedness Farmer suicides 1/3th of Bilasapur district population displaced. Displaced scorned as Bilasapuris; 2006 HP initiative to help displaced.

21 Problems with Large Dams
Safety and Public Health Issues Vectors for water-borne diseases Danger of catastrophic dam failure Rampant corruption Excessive siltation

22 Area watered by both Middle period and Tungabhadra project reservoirs
Expansion of malaria into this semi-arid region by 19th century, if not before More recently, also dengue and chikkungunya as well Mosquito-borne

23 Middle Period Southern India: dam failure
Daroji reservoir, built 16th c. Still in use In 1851, the Daroji reservoir breached, flooding and destroying Daroji village and killing several people Virtually every one of the hundreds of dams studied has breached Dates of Middle period

24 Breach in the Moolathara Dam near Chittur
in Palakkad district of Kerala. (The Hindu, Nov. 11, 2009)

25 Cultural Logics of Reservoirs in India: Continuity & Change
Reservoirs have special religious valence “dams are the temples of India, where I worship” Reservoirs have long been associated with political power and legitimate rule South Asian cultural logics of reservoir patronage and legitimate rule established in Middle period

26 Alternatives? Analysis of older dams and reservoirs shows that many problems are intrinsic to these facilities Large dams have always been power-laden technologies, with unequal benefits and risks Smaller-scale facilities can work, but require significant attention to watershed protection and equal access Cattle-power has been largely replaced by electric pumps 15th century canal still in use

27 Discussion Critiques of large dams and reservoirs
Problems of these kinds of facilities are not unique Vision of Sustainable alternatives Need more realistic sense of “traditional” facilities Existing system as “facts on the ground” Specific cultural contexts matter for both the past and present Cultural logics of reservoir patronage in South Asia Dams as signs of modernity and progress, “big science” Erosion near Bhadra reservoir

28 Colonial Reservoirs Pattern of failure and low productivity continued
Rhetoric of a previous golden age when tanks all in use and in better repair Mosse: British saw problems as a failure of traditional village institutions, not as consequence of colonial disruptions of political relations Parallel to “new traditionalists” Same arguments used in Middle periods, logic of restoration Complex variety of arrangements for control and maintenance of reservoirs

29 What was the appeal? Political economy of prestation
Gift-giving sign of legitimate rule Reservoirs: smaller “package size” and resource mix than gifts of canals, temples, villages Inscriptional analysis: Dual pattern of patronage Pilgrimage Centers: Temples pool gifts Urban Hinterland: Nayakas primary patrons

30 Cultural logic of Reservoirs: the Middle Periods
Special religious merit associated with the construction of a reservoir The “Sevenfold Progeny” Associations with temples Reservoirs evoke the Eternal Ocean Snakes, makaras, elephants, lotuses Aesthetic of greenery, water, fertility Associated with power and order, political and gender-based

31 British India: Emergence of the “Imperial Tank”
Destructive potential of reservoirs of interest from beginning Category of “protective” vs. “productive” works Imperial Tanks Breach may threaten railways Madras Presidency 5 in 87 in Reservoirs have always been power-laden technologies Protective: flood and famine. Not just productivity itself but also jobs in construction during times of famine.

32 The “New Traditionalist” Position
Traditional irrigation was sustainable and non-exploitative Traditional facilities are small-scale Traditional facilities worked well and are sustainable Represent a “lost wisdom” Traditional facilities were community-managed Not associated with power or exploitation The cultural logics of traditional irrigation differ from those of contemporary projects Latter are Western/Modern, former are Indigenous/Traditional

33 New Traditionalism: False Dichotomies
Modern Traditional ecological transformation failure inequality state power oppression monumental sustainability productivity equity local control outside of politics small

34 Environmental and Human Costs of Reservoirs: Old & New
Modern dams and traditional tanks not different in kind Faced many of the same problems Transformed environments Associated with resource inequality High rates of failure Scalar differences do exist but old does not mean small Seasonality of supply probably more critical

35 Discussion & Prospects
Romantic image of traditional irrigation detracts from legitimate critique of modern projects Long-term historical analysis can lay foundation for realistic assessment of the possibilities of tank regeneration programs Contemporary rhetoric on dam-building in India takes from both western and Indian tropes Already in place, much environmental transformation has already happened

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