Several decades have elapsed since the contestations were first articulated over the impacts of big dams on the communities of affected victims and beneficiaries. In this period many dams have been built, forecasts examined, consequences noted, and challenges debated. It is, therefore, time to revisit this monumental body of evidence and identify issues that have a bearing on policies for just transitions. The idea of the ‘greater common good’ with specific reference to a ‘future’ characterised by collective justice, has been used by governments in India, across the last 70 years, to justify the building of such large development projects to impose costs on negatively affected communities. This is often the ethical basis that still underlies many of the recommendations of global institutions and consultancies. The proposed study will revisit these justifications, especially their utilitarian premises and utopian promises, to re-examine – philosophically, empirically and physically - such projects in the new context of climate change especially on ecosystems and biodiversity. It will ask the question: What are the many impacts of big dams in India on just transitions seen in terms of near and distant futures?
This research will produce a body of arguments on the temporal ethics underlying policies – who is expected to benefit and who pay the price in which timeframes? on fair procedures of implementation, on cultural diversity, on the place of dissent in democracies. The study will contribute in the first instance to the current core UN concern with ‘duties to the future’ and also to allied policy discussions on intergenerational justice and equity.
Six rubrics have been identified that merit examination. They are:
- the ethical arguments and temporal claims that underlie the promise of the greater common good,
- the challenges of documentation, particularly over different timescales, faced by marginal groups to make their claims,
- the procedures deployed by the state to implement the project over different timeframes,
- the rhythms and forms of protest adopted by affected populations,
- the coercion used by the state to remove constraints to the project, and
- the rhetoric, in particular the temporal frames within this rhetoric, employed by the state to justify the dam.
These six pathways will be examined during the course of the three years of the study.
Central to the study is the debates around justice, not just in terms of the utilitarians versus the contractarians, but also in terms of social and legal justice. Contests over the idea of justice have been played out in the courts, in academic fora, and in political movements of opposition. While much of this has been documented we will need to build the archive and revisit this material to foreground issues that have relevance for current discussions on just transitions. Questions such as: Should one accept a positive view of justice i.e., rely solely on the legal system or should one challenge this legal system by drawing on other more substantive conceptions of justice? Civil disobedience was used as a form of protest which connected with a long tradition of opposing unjust policies.
The study will be developed in terms of two time frames, the near future and the distant future. In the near future the issues such as consultation, displacement, rehabilitation, and resettlement can be examined. The question here would be: How is the project being implemented in terms of its impacts on negatively affected communities? In the distant future issues such as ecosystem destruction, biodiversity loss, diminishing of ecosystem services, loss of cultural knowledge of tribal communities etc. The question here would be: How has the new thinking on climate change and biodiversity loss changed the way in which to evaluate big dams? Also how should policies be developed in the future which allow the interests of indigenous communities to be incorporated?
This research will produce a body of arguments on the ethics underlying policies, on fair procedures of implementation, on cultural diversity, on the place of dissent in democracies, etc which will contribute in the first instance to the current core UN concern with ‘duties to the future’ and also to allied policy discussions on intergenerational justice and equity.