TODAY -

Ganja Jaunts : 'Rethinking' Development

Czadanda Saint *

A picture of Tipaimukh and the rivers that flow to Bangladesh
A picture of Tipaimukh and the rivers that flow to Bangladesh :: Pix - TSE



Man is an evolving animal. At any point in history, he has learnt to adapt himself to the changing circumstances, and innovate, to dominate over the forces and the situations which tried to dominate him. He has learnt to tap the bounties, nature had offered to him for his own means. From the age of kindling fire by two stones to the era of cyber communications, he has indeed come a long way.

Nonetheless, along the path, he got drunk by his own success and has come to believe himself to be invincible, even superior to nature herself. Fuelled and blinded by his own greed, he went on to seek the higher pedestal where there was none. He strayed on the wrong path to seek the wrong aspiration and everything went wrong. Under the idolatry of gigantism and mistaking 'greed' to be his heavenly guide, he made himself the biggest adversary of nature. But when he introspect himself in the mirror, he found that he was only fighting against himself. Thus man became the greatest enemy of mankind. And now, he is trying to seek shelter in the arms of nature, whose arms he was willing to cut off moments ago, to satisfy his greed. This is the story of man till now…

The World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as a 'development which meets the needs the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs'. As can be seen, the key word here is 'needs'. But how do we define 'needs'? What exactly are our 'needs'? The definition in its best sense, is a relative one; a glaring reminder of how we have come to think of development only in 'economic' terms. We have no real parameters to measure our needs, and no guidelines to differentiate between 'needs' and 'greed'. For there is the universal fact- a rich man's needs might be the luxury of a poor man. A developed country's needs might be the luxury of a developing or an under-developed country.

However, before delving into the concept of sustainable development, let us see development first. Development, in its literal sense, means evolution and it is supposed to be a gradual process. But in our modern era, we have come to think of development as creation. And further and as said, when we talk of development, it is generally regarded as an economic progress. And so, sustainable development is usually understood as sustainable economic progress. But why so? Is GDP and GNP the only way to measure a country's prosperity? So what India is a rising world super-power, when hundreds and thousands of her people are still dying of hunger, thirst and lack of medical care? Is rapid industrialisation the only pill to kill all the ills?

In a democratic society, development is supposed to mean increasing people's choices and equality of opportunities. However, in our contemporary times, with the increasing tendency to identify development with only economic progress, development is associating itself less and less with the people and more with the inanimate entities such as wealth, material prosperity and property. More wealth, more industrialisation, the bigger the better seems to suggest development. Thus, greed has become synonymous with development. And as the late Dr. E. F. Schumacher has said, "we seem to be suffering from an almost idolatry of gigantism". Everything we do, we want it big. We confuse ourselves that the biggest is the best. But this is not always true. It has never been.

Broadly speaking, there are two aspects of development- tangible and intangible. Tangible aspect includes land, infrastructure and all other like resources. Intangible aspect relates to the education, organisation and the efficiency of the people. The tangible aspect forms the very base of development; because without it, all tangible resources remain latent, untapped and just 'potential' (Dr. E. F. Schumacher's 'Small is Beautiful'). Maybe, this is why it is often heralded that education is the greatest resource known to man.

Mere transfer of material and technological infrastructure would not result in development unless the base has been erected properly. Even for the economic progress, the base lies outside the 'economic' system, in the education, organisation and the discipline of the people in general. The country of Japan serves as the best illustration of how the intangible aspect of development is of vital importance; of how the Japanese society have recuperated time and time again from artificial as well as natural crisis.

However, the emergence and the growing importance of the concept of sustainable development and the repeated emphasis on the conservation of environment is proof enough that something has gone really wrong. Modern man's unchanging mentality of measuring development through economic growth and profit only, and the subsequent neglect of all other factors have definitely proved disastrous. Economic progress, even Lord Keynes admitted, is obtainable only when we employ the powerful drives of selfishness, which we are usually told to resist.

So, greed- one of the seven deadly sins, became the basis of development. And where has this led us? Where are we now? We are now in the wake of an impending environmental crisis. The talks of extreme environmental pollution, climate change, global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, green-house effect are no longer fads or morbid pessimistic ideas. They are the truth today.

In light of such cold facts, let us now 'rethink' development as regards our tiny state of Manipur, in the hope that a working hypothesis could be presented for a sustainable future.

However clichéd this may sound, the much hyped and the 'failed' Tipaimukh Dam Project remains the colossal reminder of the development status of our beloved state. Not only as regards the environmental and ecological aspects, but also and more importantly, as regards the visible neglect or rather the apparent manifestation of the weaknesses of the intangible basis of development.

It is true that the world we live in keeps changing, keeps on moving and we have to keep in tandem with the motion. We cannot and will not go back to the days of subsistence farming anymore. We have to move on, but for keeping in pace with the present world, we need energy security. It is a fact that there is power and energy crisis in Manipur.

It is also a fact that the World Bank has stated that energy harnessing is mandatory to bring about development. But for a state like Manipur, for acquiring energy security, the most viable option is the proper utilisation of the hydro-power potential. The stress, however, is on the word 'proper'.

Let us take a moment and ponder over a bit. It is not that difficult to figure out what is not right. Traditional wisdom calls for setting up of various small scale projects, instead of one big project like the Tipaimukh Dam. Because the generation of hydro-electricity is dependent on the available water and the vagaries of monsoon, smaller projects will be able to generate much of its potential capacity of power. And further as the Loktak Hydro Electric Power Project demonstrated, there is a huge difference between the potential and the actual generation of power.

But did we learn from that? No. This reveals the keenness of the concerned authority 'responsible' for the development of Manipur. Such lackasidal attitude, bordering on dishonesty, shows the level of inefficiency and the (want of) thought process and planning which have gone in drawing up such 'developmental' projects. In other words, gross neglect of intangible basis of development is unmistakable and patent.

Apart from this, another reason for the widespread apprehension of the feasibility of such 'developmental' projects is the level of corruption prevalent in Manipur. There is the 'alleged' belief that a big project like this would only result in filling up the coffers of the Government officials and others, who are wielding the sceptre of power: without resulting in any visible benefits for the people. Corruption is 'the' truth in our contemporary Manipur. And we no longer need a bunch of numbers or statistics to prove its incidence. It is very high today. Ethics, morality, work culture etc., are almost like words alien to our society.

We can even go as far to proclaim that in addition to the 'moral police' who are arresting the degradation of our Manipuri culture by prohibiting, whenever possible, the corruption of human body; we also need a similar movement to prevent/fight against this 'prostitution of our souls'. It has become endemic and assuming fearful proportions.

Without further delay, the need to re-organise our priorities emerges and to throw a long hard look at this gloomy reality. Where does the fault lie? Does it lie in the faulty education system? Or does it lie elsewhere, in the family, locality or the society in general? Such evident revelation of the fragility of the intangible basis of development does not bode well. Because, and as affirmed earlier, development does not start with the goods. It starts with the people.

We should always understand that there is more to development than just economic growth; more to development than material prosperity and economic progress; more to development than just setting up ambitious 'developmental' projects and transfer of infrastructure and materials.

And more recently, the audacious takeover bid of the Sana Konung by the Government of Manipur is another instance of our flawed perception of development; the premise from which development has to be built. In the name of conservation and preservation of our illustrious history, and all we could come up of is whether the Royal Palace is well maintained or not, and that it is not left in ruins and in a state of perpetual decay. Conservation or digitisation of the relics, ancient literature, traditional knowledge, creation of knowledge banks etc., doesn't feature anywhere in the Government's plan.

The legacy, we are choosing to leave behind! And to make this more ironic, in the vicinity of the Sana Konung, we have the 'white elephant' structure named the City Convention Centre, the purpose of which is yet to be deciphered till now. And it is quite sad to think that there used to be building in place of the City Convention Centre, which at least provided for the livelihood of a few people. How times have changed!

Mere installation of infrastructure does not embody development. At its very best, the takeover bid of the Sana Konung, City Convention Centre etc., are examples of laying over-emphasis on the tangible or to be more apt, on the 'superficial' aspect of development; and to measure development on the basis of structures and buildings alone. But for a very under-developed state like ours, we need to dig in a whole lot deeper than this.

First and foremost, for now, full priority should be given to the strengthening of the intangible basis of development- education, organisation and the discipline of the people in general. Minimising the instances of corruption in public life, nepotism, red-tapism and developing a strong work-culture etc., are some of the measures which needs to be taken up at the earliest. Strong will, an even stronger capacity to change and not just adapt, and good governance is the need of the day. Maybe, winds of change are yet to blow over our state. But the wheels are already set in motion. And hopefully, saner wisdom will prevail. And hopefully, Manipur will live long.

"A society grows great when old man plant trees, whose shade they know they shall never sit in". (Old Greek Proverb)


* Czadanda Saint is a regular contributor to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at saddanskhaibam(at)gmail(dot)com This article was posted on September 11, 2013.


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