Hydro politics and capital formation in Himachal Pradesh

bhakra nangal dam

People`s consciousness in oppressed nations does not readily recognize natural resources as mere commodity having exchange and use value, rather people here retain the mystical ties with resources but in newly produced space the people are expropriated from their ties with the resources, this is catastrophic displacement of human emotions for a resource and not a revolutionary change in human consciousness. It is not to deny the fact that in international market the resource have been converted into a commodity and it has certain exchange value but this of certain kind. To blatantly loot the resources of oppressed nations, the ruling class of different imperialist state particularly US has created global institutions like World Bank, IMF and other UN agencies . To facilitate multiplication of profit on capital invested by big imperialist bourgeoisie these institutions have the significant role of attributing exchange value to all the resources in oppressed countries or regions. They finance all the projects that focus on expropriation of resources for capital multiplication. Presently colonialism rests on export of capital through loan, export of technology hidden under the terms of unequal agreements between the oppressed countries and imperial powers. Water is one such resources, upon which domestic and international politics is shaped.

“To write history, without putting on water in it is to leave out the large part of the story” Donald Worster, environment historian .

Water is an important resource for the existence of life in fact human civilization have developed around water. Water is both a natural and social category. There is an organic relation between water and human society. Water has dialectic relation with human social existence, while shaping human existence it has also undergone qualitative and quantitative changes. Altering the chemical composition and altering the availability are the two major changes produced by human social relations on water. Since the times of primitive communal society human have used water for its social necessities. With the commodity mode of production in capitalism in early 17th century the exploitation of water is in order to fuel the limitless growth of surplus value for capital expansion, this spatial expansion of capital is a social necessity of capitalism . From here started the non-renewal exploitative relation between capital and water. This got further enhanced in the era of imperialism, capital exported from imperialist powers were to be valorised in the land of oppressed countries like India. Exploitation of water resources by imperial capital became a social necessity. As the monopoly over capital in this era led into inter imperialist clashes over resources and the only way to solve this was to look for labour and resources outside one`s state boundaries. This explains the export of capital to oppressed nations . And thus we see a series of mechanism designed to tame the resource in service of capital. The first among many such mechanism was the construction of canal, the colonial powers constructed numerous canals and dams for the irrigation of land in order to reap raw materials for industries in England. Such was the level of emphasis on irrigation activities that the whole northwestern region of India came to be known as canal colonies .

The British built canals to irrigate land which were hitherto unproductive, for this they built check dams and dams to divert water from river to the canals. On this land they grew cotton and wheat for export to England and the state also collected large revenue from irrigated land. With these revenue the imperial powers had capital to invest in industrial production. It is no exaggeration to say that the five rivers of Indian subcontinent were the liquid basis on which human labour got crystallized abstractly as pound. The industrial capital of Britain emerged from water and in turn also shaped water, the rivers saw a change in their ecosystem, the normal flow of the river got obstructed which lead to decrease in volume of water, the people on the bank of rivers were deprived off water so that powerful capital holder class living in far off places could profit by. One of the impact of the canal was that the ground water got salivated and was thus rendered unfit for drinking in greater parts of Punjab . In the age of finance capital when money capital stated dominating the industrial capital, and productive forces too saw its highest development the exploitation of water too changed. In the era of imperialism, the export of finance capital in oppressed countries paved the way for loot and plunder of natural resources like water .

The export of capital ensured plunder of resources and labour to create surplus value over the capital while it also helped in producing new commodities in order to meet the new needs of capitalist powers. Water remained a big investment arena for the capitalists, this time through the development of technologies, water came to be seen as the source of power generation and thereafter capital can use it as constant capital in factories and as finance in stock market. The power itself is a commodity having certain exchange value that can be bought by industries to facilitate production of new commodity. This brought in a huge market of hydel power, companies expedite in the technology to convert water into power grew like monster. Hydel power generation industry was started by BuRec company that constructed the first large big dam in US named Hoover Dam . Later TVA along with World Bank and IMF left no stone unturned to export the technology to all the oppressed nations where it was easier to develop such dam as labour and resources there are cheap and power so produced can be used by the corporations with less expenditure on constant capital. For the capitalist this arrangement is haven because the labour cost in oppressed nations is lesser than those in imperialist nations and the water resources on which dams are build too is cheaper. Here starts the whole business of big dams and the way in which it devastate the ecology, society and politic-economy of the people in oppressed countries. Further the politics behind Dams construction must also be located in the Geo-politics after world war 2. Dam was also used as a weapon to colonize the oppressed countries, the export of dam is export of capital and is thus seen as challenge to the socialism. Dams are instrument of class struggle in this regard .

World Bank and Himachal`s Hydro-space

Himachal pradesh is a mountainous region located in Himalayas. The Himalayas are young fold mountains which are still at the stage of formation, Himalayas are on rise due to the congruence of Indian and Eurasian plate. This is an ongoing process, being in uplifting stage the whole of Himalaya is a geological sensitives ecosystem . Human have been a part of this ecosystem since pre-historic times. Given the ecological sensitivities, human have so adjusted that their basic necessities are fulfilled while the natural ecosystem too remain intact. But in era of imperialism the intensified plunder of resources for capital creation has caused a devastating effects on environment and natural resources, particularly water. Rivers and streams are important source of water, in himachal there are five drainage system; they are Chenab river system, Ravi river system, Beas river system, Sutlej river system and Yamuna river system . Except for Yamuna, the other river system are the part of Indus river system. Hence the whole of Himachal except for its south eastern part can perfectly be placed in Indus basin . These five rivers then have many stream and channels, in local language stream are called khad, smaller stream nallah and rivers dariya, the mountainous land of himachal is criss crossed by several khads and nallah. The khad and nallah are important components of the riverine system.

Any disturbance to the main channel will have its consequence in the tributaries too. The building of tunnels near a river have dried the tributaries of the river. Given this any attempt to alter the flow of river will have an impact on overall hydro-logical space which the river produces. But the imperialist plunder of the resources doe not care about such ecological loss what drives them is thirst for capital expansion. The vaolrisation of capital is the sine quo non for the existence of capital. Capital must always be in motion and to set that motion, the natural ecology needs to be moved. In this regard the Tennessee Valley Authority project is an important landmark

TVA is an US corporation commissioned in 1933 made to modernize the rural hinterlands of US through hydro-development project that included electricity generation. It is interesting to pint here that TVA was authorized at the times when the US economy was in crisis, it was the year of the great depression, the crisis was due to overproduction and the inability of the working class to consume the produced commodity, to resolve this crisis the capitalist turned to spending on urbanization and modernization project everywhere, the nearest site for capital valorisation was hydrological space of rural America . Later on the corporation started exporting its technology. The corporation under the leadership of David Lilienthal, gained acceptance by the state of the oppressed countries. The project was being portrayed as the symbol of modernism and development . The world bank and IMF funded the projects undertaken by this corporation it became a site for the production and reproduction of capital. In India the TVA affected whole of the Indus basin system. The water energy was tapped to produce constant capital for the capitalist in India and abroad.

Himachal Pradesh due to its terrain and river flow was best suited for multipurpose dam construction. Considering this the World Bank and the TVA (Tennesee Valley Authority) collaborated to construct multipurpose hydro infrastructure in the whole of Indus basin. This they also projected as a solution to the India and Pakistan conflict over water . This resulted in Indus Water Treaty of 1960 in which the basin got divided between India and Pakistan. India has control over east flowing river and Pakistan over the west. The treaty laid out hydrological bureaucracy in Indus Basin. Indus Water Commission was institutionalized with the power to plan for hydrological infrastructure in the basin. In the institution World Bank was made a partner by vesting juridical and financial power to it . Thereby Indian and Pakistani states were licensed to construct hydrological infrastructure in the basin.

To ensure direct flow of imperial capital in this sector, the Indian state made certain institutional arrangements, power generation sector was opened for 100 percent FDI by Indian state . Further to better serve the imperial capital the Indian state centrally controls the water resources, only 7.6 percentage of hydel energy is under the control of the state government of himachal pradesh the rest lies with the central government . And in accordance with this one of the biggest dam was made in Himachal. It was Bhakra Nangal Dam the construction of which started from 1948 and was completed on 1963. Bhakra Nangal multipurpose dam construction was started under the leadership of Harvey Slocum, an American engineer who was commissioned by Bureau of Reclamation instituted by US in 1903 . The bureau of Reclamation was commissioned to oversee water resource management for irrigation, water supply and hydroelectric power generation. This bureau is older to TVA and was commissioned in 1903. The bureau become more active at the time of economic depression in 1930s and through the policies of new deal in 1933, it started investments in hydel power production . And it was during those time that they appointed engineers like Harvey Slocum to see to it that the technology gets implanted in oppressed countries like India where the natural resources like water is an useful site to produce neo-liberal imperialist political economical space after few decades.

Given the geographic conditions of Himachal it was selected for manifestation of imperialist assault on natural resources. Bhakra Nangal Dam was constructed on the same pattern, the dam is present in the Bilaspur district of Himachal on Sutlej river which is one of the important river of Indus drainage system. As decided in Indus water treaty the Indian state have exclusive right to use the water of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi but the treaty also mentioned that the use should be such that it does not disturbs the domestic and other use by the state of Pakistan . But despite this India on the backing of World Bank and other imperialist powers have been constructing dams ever since the Bhakra dam. It has been estimated that Himachal has the capacity to generate 24000MW of power out of which about 10000MW have been harnessed, this has been done by building 813 big, small and micro hydel power plant . These dams are constructed to meet the water and electricity needs of Delhi, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, it is in these areas that the imperial capital has their producing unit .

This is very clear from the fact that only 7.6 percentage of hydroelectricity produced from the rivers of Himachal Pradesh is provided to Himachal Pradesh. While the urban centres in plains benifits from the water supply at the cost of huge electricity bill for people of Himachal, power cut in winter, acute drinking water shortage and huge dependency on rainfall for irrigation . It is ironical that the region which is the source of origin of most of the rivers that makes India fertile has to starve for the want of water, while its water is used to generate electricity that brightens the possibilities of value valorisation for capital. Himachal`s mountainous hydrospace that includes dam construction on its river and canal construction is a site for numerous utilities for the capitalist class, they are used for electricity generation that runs factory and corporate house in plains, provides drinking water and is also proclaimed that construction of dam over it also mitigate floods. These utilities are presented as something universal, but if one dares to rob the mystification attached to such claims we would find ourselves grappled with questions like who benefits by the products and whose social labour is embedded in the production?

Uttam Singh is a researcher and activist based in Himachal.


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