India’s Tragedy of Enclosures- who gets the power and who gets damned?


Through the last few weeks I’ve been learning a lot about the definition of ‘enclosures’ and ‘the commons’ and have been coming up with my own opinions on them. I don’t think it’s possible these days to completely revert back to a world of ‘happy commoning’, but I also agree that enclosing every common would lead to catastrophe. The key is finding the middle ground between reasonable enclosures and accessible commons. A clear example of enclosure/common imbalance and its resulting consequences is India’s dam projects (as seen in the documentary  ‘The Suffering for the Ganga’) which led to this years’ horrific flooding known as the ‘Himilayan Tsunami’.

The Ganga has always been seen as a commons in India, it is considered to be the sources of life, the people’s way of encountering god, of being healed, and of being one with the world. It is thought to be so powerful and majestic that it could never be ‘owned’ or ‘contained’, and there were many superstitions surrounding the consequences of meddling with Her path.

India’s population continues to rise steadily each year and with more people comes the need for more resources and more ‘development’. In this case, it was the need for more power. However, rather than settling for building a few dams throughout the plethora of mountain rivers, the government chose to start building up to 300 new dams in Uttarakhand alone. Here is where the problem lies, here is where the imbalance begins.

The mass amounts of water which comes from the glaciers on the peaks above Uttarakhand is required to keep the land healthy and strong, once this water is diverted, the soil weakens and the trees which hold the soil together start to disappear. Yet the government was so power hungry that they ignored protests and obvious facts in front of them and built many dams within short distances of each other. This construction not only greatly reduced the rivers flow, drying out the land, but many villagers reported finding cement in their fields which began to suffocate their crops and the other plants (the leftover cement from the construction was dumped into the river and the sediment got into the farmers’ irrigation systems). The gradual weakening of the land opened up the potential for more landslides and in this case massive ones.

The culmination of events leading to this disaster goes back to when the project was being proposed, before any rock had been moved, or household dislodged. A reputed Indian geologist, KS Valdiya, stated on NDTV that most of the Himalayan range is prone to landslides, and  “As a matter of fact, many of the enlightened public knew about this except those who are the planners who undertake development.” This lack of communication, research or precaution against potential future consequences surrounding these projects magnified the events that unfolded that month and is unfortunately a common occurrence in India. The public had been keeping a close eye on the decisions of the government regarding these dams and many began speaking out (as this documentary shows). They knew that the governments decisions couldn’t lead to anything good. However, despite the known geological dangers and protests of the masses, the projects carried on, the people living in the designated dam area were paid a hefty amount of money (although not nearly as much as the land’s true value) and forced to relocate.

While these events were controversial to say the least, no one truly expected the severity what was coming. When the first cloud burst hit in June, 2013, the Kedarnath dam filled dangerously fast and soon burst over the top causing a torrent of water to pour down the mountain, dislodging rocks and boulders from the mountain side on its way. The people in the towns and villages below had no warning of its arrival and soon thousands of people disappeared under a wall of mud, rocks and water.  Other areas of the region (many popular tourist sites) also experienced heavy landslides, floods and destruction. An estimated 10,000 people died that month, many will never be found or accounted for. Another cloudburst came a week later ravaging what was left of the land and claiming more lives.

It has been argued that this was only a natural disaster, that nothing could have been done to prevent the calamity and that there wasn’t adequate time to send warnings. However had the dams not been in place, the land wouldn’t have been dry and vulnerable, and the large amounts of water in the lakes wouldn’t have been able to accumulate  to such a dangerous level or to grab so many boulders and foliage on its way down. This isn’t to say that the effects of the cloud bursts wouldn’t have still been horrific had there been no dams, but the death toll and level of destruction could have been greatly reduced, and many lives saved.

The biggest tragedy of this situation is that the dams were imposed on the people in these areas, they never saw any of the electricity being produced, many lost their homes and farmland during the building of the dams, and the ones who remained had to adapt to loosing direct access to their water supply and livelihood. Furthermore, they were the ones who suffered the consequences of someone else’s actions, of someone else’s desire for ‘development’, and of someone else who angered the Goddess Kali.


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