Dams, in India, must be one of the most lied-about things.
When I set about trying to see the truth behind the agitation at Rabo, and later, in Tehri, this was the first thing that struck me - how there are so many allegations of lies, hurled at each side, from each side.
The activists accuse the project's contractors and the administration of lying.
The administration accuses beneficiaries of displacement-related compensation packages (as well as claimants who're yet to be compensated) of lying.
The beneficiaries, the claimants, and the displaced, accuse the administration and government and the cops, and each other, of lying.
The government doesn't pay attention to either the lies or the allegations, and focusses on just fussing with paperwork and fighting lawsuits, while these dam things get constructed, anyway.
Now, I'm not an expert on dams, displacement (or even on lies) but to me, the worst business in this whole affair is the lack of transparency. Actually, it's a consistent, determined resolution not to share information with people, to cover up the paper trail... to avoid the truth, at any rate, even if you aren't telling bare-faced lies.
Everywhere I go, I hear the same story - 'the administration will not tell us the truth'.
The district officials don't announce public hearings on time, don't encourage people to attend, don't answer the questions raised, refused to meet worried locals, claim not to have access to relevant documents, although the files are sitting pretty right there, on their tables...
In short, the administration is hard to trust.
And if they don't want to tell you the truth, it stands to reason that they've got something nasty to hide.
For instance, the Jindals started work on the dam before they got all the all-clear from concerned ministries of environments, forests etc. They had only an 'in principle' clearance, which did not take into account the environmental impact assessment report. This is something the government conveniently overlooked while trying to soothe the tribals' ruffled feathers in Rabo.
The Raigarh administration claims the Rabo dam will benefit the locals, who will have water for irrigation. But they do not state, in writing, how much water will be made available, esp in the lean season, and what the tribal farmers should do, in case they need water and water is denied to them.
The Uttaranchal administration (according to what local activists tell me) once tried to hold jan-sunvai (public meetings) in Palamaneri and Lohari Nagpala, with exactly one person in attendance (and explained it away by saying - 'we did follow the rules').
Most of the people from the surrounding villages weren't invited. Or they were boycotting, in protest.
At one of these meetings, which the people attended, led by MATU activist Vimal (everyone just refers to him as Vimal bhai... don't know his surname), and demanded to see a certain file, one of the officials first claimed he knew nothing about it. Then, he dug it out from under the bottom of a pile, and made some silly comment about not understanding much, because it was written in English.
Vimal lost his temper, at that point, and demanded to know how the unschooled villagers were expected to understand the document, if the administration could not. (Though the NGOs aren't too great in the 'simple language' department)
In fact, Vimal has been accused of being a spy for the CIA, by the district officials. There were claims that the CBI is investigating him for espionage.
Vimal, while laughing away the suggestion, pointed out that they might have to sue the government for contempt of court. "In the Nainital High Court, there's a case going on. But the government representative fails to turn up each time we have a hearing. We are going to press for contempt of court now."
He also points out the lie of the claim that forests demolished would be replaced. "The Tehri Hydel Corporation was supposed to create 80,000 hectares of forest. and of course, this was not done."
And here's another great, big lie:
For the Bargi dam on the Narmada (built in the late 1980s) the government claimed that the project would submerge 101 villages. But 162 villages were ultimately submerged. Even the resettlement sites were submerged. Today, in Bargi, only 5 % of the command area is being irrigated.
The trouble is that the lie of Bargi dam on the Narmada has been uncovered 15 years too late…