chapter  5
18 Pages

Large dams as ‘temples of modern India’?

An obituary to Nehruvian techno-political dreams and a plea for Gandhian ethics
ByHimanshu Upadhyaya

Theorization of environmental movements has identified the 1970s as the decade of rise of environmentalism in India (Gadgil: 2001). However, the social movements/local struggles that have posed challenges to the project of ‘Development’ and high priests of the temple of modern India date back to 1920s. This chapter seeks to track what has been passed off as ‘nation building’ fervour, which coincided with large dams and embankments building during the first two decades. By engaging with autobiographical writings by those who contributed to the nation building imagination, this chapter shows that ‘technological planning’ happened in a style that only looked at financial and political cost benefit assessment.

Following Klingensmith (2007), Nandy (2001) and others who use memoirs and autobiographical/biographical writings to scrutinize the so-called apolitical development planning, this chapter brings forth insights by citing from the memoirs of Bhailal Patel (1996). Bhailal Patel worked as a civil engineer in British India and has been credited for having conceived of the technological dream of the Sardar Sarova Project. This chapter also cites from memoirs of Jugatram Dave, a Gandhian educationist, to probe the level of ‘participation’ for local people in the Ukai multipurpose river valley project. These two autobiographical writings are analysed to probe the attitudes towards the people losing land during colonial time and in post-independent India.