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Smart City-related evictions in India brutal: Patkar

Medha Patkar said the demolition of the habitats in the name of development was undermining the very existence of people living there

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Social activist Medha Patkar has said the Smart City-related evictions in India were "brutal" and alleged that the demolition of the habitats in the name of development was undermining the very existence of people living there.

"In India there are hundred smart cities that are going to be developed. The (World) Bank is in it as it is said in one of the research documents of the 'Ambanis' the name is known because they are Indian multinationals," Patkar said during a panel discussion on 'Emerging Lessons on Environmental Assessment' being held on the sidelines of the Spring Meeting of the World Bank.

"The Smart City related evictions which is so brutal without paying one rupee compensation and which may initially be seen as an eviction just for the road widening," she said.

Patkar said it was not just road widening, it was demolishing the cultures, demolishing the habitats and undermining the very existence, rights and role of the hundred years old community who were not only not consulted but were just written off.

The World Bank is involved in India's ambitious Smart City projects in multiple ways including funding and sharing of technological expertise. In her remarks, the well-known Indian social activist rued about the dangers of development being carried in the name of Smart City projects in India.

Opposing such demolition or uprooting is dismissed at times as foolish, she said.

"So, delineating that context the largest of the map which would include not just the various categories of people but the various projects and the sub projects which would have the impacts rolling out," 62-year-old social activist said.

"That may happen after five years or ten years where if you raise a question, you are considered as a fool or just an opponent or the Maoist as the Vedanta opposing tribal communities were just called yesterday in one of the reports for the Ministry of Home Affairs in India," she said.

This has become a big issue because the Supreme Court asked the communities to decide. The communities decided not to allow the corporate to mine their lands.

It is not something like the Old Seattle experiment, it is the present time experience that the communities are going through, the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader said.

Patkar said the screening and scoping is always the inappropriate and unacceptable sequence at this point.

"It has to be scoping first and screening later. How can one decide the category A, B or C without really drawing the full scope of impacts and also the feasibility of solutions at least at the primary or the preliminary level," she said.

"If that is not done then we have an umpteen number of experiences where these illegal sand mining for example was till yesterday a minor mineral mining and would not have a major impact and now the country recognises and they have green tribunals to the Supreme Court have passed orders calling them as the major impact projects," she added.

So it's just changing of laws, changing of definitions or making it more inclusive that can bring certain impacts and certain kind of projects in a different category, the environmentalist said.

"It is necessary that the first and foremost scoping exercise needs to be taken very seriously otherwise the downstream impact of the dams for example, generally when the downstream people raise an issue related to the environmental flows of the sea ingress," she said.

"Yesterday I was talking to someone and the senior person in the bank asked us too how can the sea come inside? The sea does come in, when you stop the major river from flowing 1,300 kilometres long to have each reservoir as much in length as 200 and more kilometres, imagine the scale of impact it has not only to people but nature including the river and the sea itself," Patkar said.

The sea coming in and salinising the ground water and surface water is something that becomes a faint after 20 or 30 years as it is happening in Narmada today, she said.

Patkar said now no one is going to take up any issue, it is the final settlement to be the final order of the Supreme Court as in the case of Sardar Sarovar bridge where now no questioning is permitted. "We would find a way out very soon," she said.

When the catchment area treatment remains on paper, in the case of a dam, one cannot even say that it is compensating or mitigating the acceptation risks and related impact on the lifespan of the project itself, she said.

"It is therefore necessary that the options assessment is taken with much more depth and much more understanding to be able to make the right kind of technological choice. It's not technological in that sense, it has the social and environmental impacts which differ a lot and that is rarely happening," Patkar added.

"Why can't you start from the beginning and say that okay, if such large reservoirs or large mega cities or the smart cities is really treating the people like commodities and not even considering them as the units in the alive democracy then leave it out. Let the people decide. So it has to be not just consultation but consent that we would like to underline," she said. PTI


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