Two contradictory principles are present before us. Chanakya’s advice to the king was to “give up one for the family, family for the village, and village for the country.” The Government is implementing many development schemes in which local people are harmed in keeping with this formula. For example, making of the Farakka Barrage has prevented migration of Hilsa fish from downstream and taken away the livelihood of thousands of fishermen up to Allahabad. Most, if not all, development schemes involve harm to local people. When this harm is pointed out, government officials reply, “What to do! Some small losses have to be borne for attaining progress.” Local people are uprooted in accordance with this principle.
The second principle is Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah-let all be happy. No one should be harmed according to this principle. Thus Gandhiji advised the planners to examine the impact of government policies on the poorest person. The Farakka Barrage should not be built according to this principle because fishermen lose their livelihood. This contradiction between the two principles arises because in the ‘country’ mentioned in Chanakya’s formula has not been defined precisely.
The water flowing to Bangladesh has been pushed into the Hooghly by the Farakka Barrage. Flow of water in the Hooghly has increased and small sized ships can now come into Kolkata. Cost of transport from the ports to Kolkata has been reduced and entire eastern part of the country has benefited economically. According to Chanakya’s formula, it was correct to make the Barrage because one should give up the village for the country. But, what is the meaning of ‘country’ here? Cheap goods are not the defining feature of the country. Cheap goods are important because the use of low-cost copies and books by the students of Bhagalpur will make them better and more fulfilled human beings. The homemaker will get a light-weight water pot, will save time in fetching water and will be able to sing bhajans in the time saved. These benefits of the Farakka Barrage are real.
The objective of the country is not limited to cheap books and water pots, however. People take bath in the Ganga in Bhagalpur and feel happy. Their level of consciousness rises from such bathing. This benefit has been lost upon making of the Barrage and reduction of flow in the Ganga. It was necessary for the planners to assess the rise in consciousness obtained from cheap books as well as the decline of consciousness from deprivation of bath in flowing waters of the Ganga. It is not correct to highlight the benefit of cheap goods and hide the benefits of taking bath in the Ganga. Other impacts should be likewise assessed. There is loss of pleasure of immersing idols of Durga in the flowing waters. Dying family members are not getting the few drops of pristine Gangajal because flow of the Ganga has been obstructed. It seems the decline of great cities like Kanpur, Patna and Kolkata in the twentieth century has been parallel with making of Haridwar and other barrages on the Ganga. Whether there is a connection between the two events should be studied. Main point is that assessment of a development project like the Farakka Barrage must not be reduced to economic benefits alone. Chanakya did not say “give up the village for economic development of the country.” Chanakya was a holistic thinker. In the beginning verses of Arthashastra he speaks of the need to balance Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha. Artha is to be pursued in synergy with the Dharma and Moksha. If the social, economic, material and spiritual welfare of the country is enhanced holistically by giving up a village, then such should surely be done, but not for economic growth alone. The Government has made a grave error in reducing the holistic welfare of the country to mere increased consumption.
Even a comprehensive assessment of economic growth is not done. The economic loss from reduced fishing from Farakka to Allahabad, the inundation of fertile lands upstream of the Barrage, the erosion of Ganga Sagar due to reduced flow of silt from the Ganga, and loss of river transport and tourism from Kolkata to Haridwar have not been assessed. It seems development projects are being made by the urban middle class planners only to provide benefits to the urban middle class. The livelihood of fishermen of Munger is taken away to provide cheap Chinese toys to the middle class of Kolkata.
Then there are other living creatures in this country. Turtles and earthworms live near the flowing waters of our rivers and cleanse it of pollution. Beneficent bacteria multiply in flowing waters of the rivers that is full of oxygen and cleanse the waters. Fishes perform the same function. Turtles, earthworms, bacteria and fishes also have a right to live in this ‘country’. Indeed, man and these living beings are dependent on each other. Existence of man may be threatened in absence of these living beings. River water will become impure and may spread dangerous diseases and lead to the decimation of man himself. Therefore, the impact of a development project on other living beings should also be assessed.
When Chanakya says ‘give up one village for the country,’ he is speaking holistically. A ‘country’ is first and foremost defined by its self-identity. We spent thousands of crores of rupees and sacrificed many soldiers to liberate few thousand acres of land near Tiger Hill not because it was economically beneficial but because Tiger Hill represented the collective consciousness and self-respect of the country. Therefore, the word ‘country’ in Chanakya’s formula should be understood as holistic welfare of all living beings of the country. The Government, on the other hand, is equating the ‘country’ with consumption of the middle class. Chanakya’s formula has been misinterpreted. Truly speaking, Chanakya’s formula is no different than the Vedic mantra Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah because holistic assessment of the country includes all beings. The mischief has been created by reducing the ‘country’ to the consumption by the urban middle class.
True planning should consider alternatives to projects from a holistic viewpoint. The objective of providing more water to the Hooghly is entirely laudable. But this can also be done by dredging the Hooghly. That would also increase the flow from Kolkata to Diamond Harbour. The cost may be more but this has to be set off against the myriad benefits of increased flow of the Ganga. Pilgrims of Bhagalpur will get more spiritual benefits, poor people living along the Ganga will not be fearful their fields being engulfed by the rising river, fishermen will ply their trade, and turtles, earthworms, bacteria and fishes will prosper along with man. That is the planning we need to do.
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