As the nation struggles hard to meet very difficult health situation as well as the accompanying, continuing disruption in economy and livelihoods, this may be just the right time to stop some of the most controversial and expensive projects which have been very widely opposed for a long time regarding their highly questionable benefits as well as many harmful impacts and the related wastage of precious national resources. This way we can immediately save more resources for urgent tasks now and in the near future. In addition a lot of potential harm can be avoided. This would also be a good way for the government to show how its concern for taking everyone together and responding favorably to strong public opinion has increased during crisis times.
When we speak of undesirable expensive projects, of course we are considering economic aspects but in addition we are also considering social and ecological aspects.
An obvious choice to start with in this context would be the Central Vista Project in Delhi which has been criticized very widely and repeatedly by responsible persons. This is a project of very misplaced and distorted ideas of grandeur which can be very easily avoided without sacrificing any truly beneficial objectives. Not only will this save billions of Rs., immediately and in the years to come, but in addition this will protect environment by avoiding the removal/loss of trees and demolition of buildings. This project involves the demolition of several very useful buildings and this itself will create huge pollution problems, apart from involving massive wastage of resources which would be sad in any conditions but is all the more so in present conditions when it is so important to save resources for urgent tasks and priorities. In fact not only is this project hugely wasteful , in present conditions even its execution involves risks which are best avoided.
Other projects in the line for abandoning would be the highly controversial river-link projects, starting with the most irrational and well-advised one namely the Ken-Betwa Link Project which involves the cutting of over two million trees and in addition its benefits are entirely suspect. It is likely to worsen the already difficult water conditions in the Bundelkhand region, as has been pointed out in several reviews of this project in recent times.
The planned several dams in the Lahul-Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh as well as several controversial dam projects in Himalayan region ,which have been opposed for strong safety, ecological and social reasons, would be other priority candidates while drawing up a list of projects fit for abandoning.
It will not be difficult to draw up a list of several such highly contentious projects whose total costs in the years to come are likely to amount to at least four lakh thousand Rs. If the saving per year is calculated, it would still be a huge amount. This amount can be diverted towards strengthening the health sector with special emphasis on life-saving equipments and medicines as well as strengthening rural health systems.
The second priority would be the generation of a lot of more ecologically protective livelihoods in soil and water conservation, small scale irrigation linked to needs of small farmers, promotion of natural/organic farming, protection of forests and pastures and overall increase of greenery.
The government can also earn a lot of goodwill by avoiding wasteful projects in these difficult times and diverting resources to most urgent needs.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement ) and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times).