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September 28, 2007 / Mridul

What Made Three Gorges Dam A Disaster,0.jpg

At last the Chinese government has admitted that the Three Gorges Dam may prove to be a disaster. After awarding billions of dollars of contracts to foreign construction companies & raising huge amounts of finances from foreign markets, the Chinese government is now in a fix. The project which was approved in 1992 quickly ran into trouble however the Chinese government was quickly up to the task of suppressing any voice against the project.

As stated in a Human Rights Watch group report dated 1995, the government had made full plans to block stem any protest by the general public, social rights groups or scientists.

As two “internal-use-only” documents recently prepared by China’s public security authorities and obtained by Human Rights Watch/Asia make clear, intensive contingency plans are now being drawn up by the police to deal with the widespread social turmoil ranging from large-scale peaceful protest actions to mass pitched battles with the authorities that is expected to ensue from the Three Gorges project as a whole and from the population transfer program in particular. According to one of the reports, “Already, in January 1993, one armed fight involving over 300 persons occurred in the vicinity of the dam.”

Chinese government blindfolded by the economy’s tremendous upsurge, took to the project even when some of the members of its own party were against it. To the Chinese government the project seemed as an opportunity to show its economic might & a major step in the ladder of power. Forgetting the disasters that Egypt’s Aswan Dam & India’s Narmada project were, the Chinese government was quick to shred off all the protests & open the project to the foreign multi nationals.

The western governments finding a great economic opportunity overlooked the possible environmental & social implications of the project. Their companies getting expansion opportunities in the previously closed economy of China was a reason enough for the western powers not to ask China to review the project. The US government played its part too:

In September 1994, for example, the White House solicited U.S. government inter-agency submissions in what some believed could be the prelude to a full-scale resumption of U.S.-China commercial cooperation on the dam-building project.

It is commendable that China has worked up its way to become the world’s fastest growing economy but in its endeavor to become a regional & eventually a global super power it has almost completely ignored the essentials of a free & open society. I don’t think the western governments are too much to be blamed; they saw an opening into a large & lucrative economy & the thoughts of great business & trade opportunities replaced the sounds of their conscience to at least ask China to review the project. Well they must have thought, if the Chinese don’t care for their own people then why should we, we must take care of ours.

The problem is that the Chinese system of governance has never been transparent or open, not only to the outsiders but to its own people too. The judicial system seems to be under the influence of the government. If an official of the system raises any question about the policies of the government he/she stands the risk of losing the job. The fear in the hearts of the people & the lack of freedom of expression is ruining the country. It is very understandable that it’s impossible to run the world’s largest country (by measure of population numbers) just by imposing one’s own ideas while ignoring those of others.

The neighbor’s got it right

The case of its neighbor, India comes to my mind. India too is a rapidly developing economy & is in a similar economic position but unlike China, India has a very sound & independent judicial system. Any project which might pose any threat to the environment or the rights of the concerned people is quickly challenged in the highest court of the country through a Public Interest Litigation. And the court almost every time orders the project to be stopped till its full review is done.

Take the Narmada Dam project – For the past few years whenever the dam authority has decided to raise the height of the dam it is challenged by activists in the Supreme Court. In one of the judgments the Supreme Court approved the raise in height but directed the dam authority to start work only after the rehabilitation work is complete. The court asks the state government for the status report on the rehabilitation work at regular intervals.

The recent Sethu Sumudram Project too has been halted after a PIL was filed in the court. It is alleged that the government hasn’t done enough research for the project. Many scientists & officers of the Navy have studied the project & have questioned the viability of the project & prepared their independent reports highlighting the possible consequences of the project. The court generally forms a team of experts from various fields to gather data & present a report within a given period of time. Although this process takes a significant amount of time still it’s better to be late than wrong.

The Chinese government must change its approach & shouldn’t blindly run for economic development putting at stake the future of its people otherwise the Dragon would have to face fire from its own people.


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