Insiders: Velaveping Idukki
All I can say about the Supreme Court verdict striking down Kerala’s position on the Mullaperiyar Dam issue is that we are due for another round of the Hysterics vs. Imperialists media game. The managers of the Hysterics team, our local Malayali politicians, do have the advantage that their experience in fear-mongering has gone up considerably with the controversies over the Gadgil and Kasturirangan reports regarding ecological conservation of the Western Ghats. The Imperialists team out there in Tamil Nadu is also now more experienced, after their successful suppression of their own people’s fears for their lives at Koodankulam. So we are set for an interesting match!
However,please don’t underestimate us. The truth is that you north Indians (or others) never really got us — what we are today you will be –well — ten years later. There are of course simple souls, many ordinary folk in Idukki, who are scared for the land and their lives. But in any society, there are bound to be backward people who are always under old delusions? The sophisticated among us may be marginally scared of the dam break but our fear is not really that the land will disappear. Actually our issue is that the dam-break will make that happen too quickly. Please note that we intend to do it little by little, so that full economic advantage can be obtained! Ah, what is the use of letting everything get washed into the Arabian Sea? Our plan was simple and you will admit that no one can maximise advantage better than us. You have to realize that Kerala’s topography is too unfriendly towards profit-making ventures and we need to do something about it. Consider the following steps:
(1) Break up the hillocks and rocks by building quarries through the district and sell it so that we can all profit — we, that is, contractors, quarry workers,land owners,officials and politicians who receive bribes and cuts, and the criminal mafiosi who transport the materials and eliminate any inconvenient noises. Land slips etc will occur of course and people may suffer and die. But then people suffer and die anyway.
(2) The soil can be transported to low-lying swampy places that may be reclaimed for real estate or IT parks. OMG,ever thought dirt soil would be worth so much?
(3)The new dam could be (a kind of) Keynesianism in the times of corruption. It would fill the pockets of so many contractors and politicians and give them the necessary time to conduct steps (1) and (2) — but not that they aren’t already in full swing, no matter what Madhav Gadgil and company thought.
(4) The wealth thus generated would provide a lasting solution to the danger of us — the limited ‘we’ indicated above and not the tribal people — suffering of thirst in summer or dying of land slips in the rains — it could be invested in migration (the truth is that we are also afraid that the dam may break but our greed for wealth is simply too overwhelming to ignore). Few of us middle-to-well-off Malayalis can imagine our children spending their lives in Kerala — they will be sold in the global job market and will live in the West or at least in the Gulf countries and Indian metropolises. So by the time the dam breaks we and our children will be safely abroad somewhere.
Now you probably see why our leaders who beat their breasts over Mullaperiyar will not utter as much as a cheep about Koodankulam. The capital city of Kerala is barely 70 kilometers away but we are still not hysterical. Of course, the reason we know — Koodankulam is in Tamil Nadu and the hope is also that we will also get some of the spoils. Actually, your official discourses are all still on ‘development’ but we are now on the brink of introducing a new coinage more appropriate for these times — through which the Malayali contribution to the culture it signifies will also be highlighted because it is a Manglish word — ‘Velavepment’. ‘Vela vekkal’ means below-the-belt tricks, cheating, cunning moves that undermine others etc etc. Though deluded backward people still think that this is bad, they too would admit that these are utterly respectable in present-day Kerala. Great chunks of the real estate and housing sector in Kerala function within the paradigm of Velavepment and there is little doubt that the construction sector’s contribution to Kerala’s growth is high.Transplanting (in a certain way) the discourse of rights within that of this new one, of Velavepment, we could well argue that ‘we’ in Idukki have a right to, fully within the morality of this paradigm, sell everything that can be sold — soil, rocks, everything on which we stand upon — and then scoot elsewhere, to the US, UK, wherever.
Outsiders: Fighting Velavepment of Attakulangara Central High School
By now it must be clear this this post is NOT about Mullaperiyar and Kerala’s claims about it.Indeed not, and I refuse to turn my attention away from the dangers that we have created for ourselves just because the danger of a dam-break at Idukki may indeed be real and because Tamil Nadu’s vulgar imperialist moves must be condemned. I am writing from Thirvananthapuram currently lashed over the past week by truly malevolent,unprecedentedly destructive thunderstorms. The time is 3:30 at noon but it looks like 7:30 in the evening. Over 2000 trees have been uprooted, severe damages to life and property by lightning strikes are being reported.The march of Velavepment over the city has been such that trees have been the primary casualities. Because civil social groups like the Tree Walk are active, the authorities have not been able to cut down as many as they would have liked, so the strategy is to expose them to such horrible conditions that weaken and finally kill them in a raging storm. True to the spirit of Velavepment, two things equally valuable to Velavepers are achieved: the tree comes down, and the blame can be placed on environmental activists. But the lightning strikes tell us something else. They are probably related to the fact that the hillocks around Thiruvananthapuram have been razed mercilessly by the Velavepping real estate and quarrying interests and so the lightning bolts now strike much closer to the ground.But then, for the Velaveppers, this is just collateral damage.
Such is the power of velavepping now, the dominant left and right are united in their pursuit, open and otherwise, of this new paradigm. People’s planning through decentralization, that last thrust through which the CPM hoped to refurbish its fortunes, appears to be permanently in cold storage. In any case, the CPM itself seems to have abandoned it as a renewable political project. I am hardly surprised that the Grama Sabhas were not considered as forums of public education during the controversy around the Gadgil report — it is well-known to most researchers that these have been, indeed, set up as forums for welfare distribution and serve to reinforce the powerful rather than the weak. I suppose one should not be surprised, either, that decentralization in urban areas (growing rapidly in Kerala) has not been ever a political project and that the CPM never tried to change that. What explains, other than this, the continuing influence and presence of parastatals like the Trivandrum Development Authority (TRIDA) which appears to be the chief government vehicle of Velavepment in urban governance? It is well-known that the parastals of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram were not dismantled in the 1990s because they were headed by powerful politicians. They still are, but it is interesting that the CPM-led Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation is so meek and subservient before the wily games of TRIDA led by their rivals now?
I am refering to the struggle around sprawling, tree-filled, beautiful campus of the Attakulangara Central High School in the heart of the city of Thiruvananthapuram, very near the East Fort. This is no doubt a green lung in the middle of highly polluted city localities — Tree Walk, the organization that has been fighting to preserve it from the greed of TRIDA, found that when noon temperatures were 37 degree celsius in the Putharikandam grounds just outside the school campus, it was 30 degree celsius inside. A bird and butterfly census revealed that the grounds host several bird species and species of butterflies and the campus has some hundred trees of more than 30 species.The more-than-a-century-old school is definitely heritage property but then heritage is an idea that makes no sense within the velavepment paradigm!The TRIDA has been lobbying to obtain 2 acres of land by the main road from the campus to build a bus parking zone and a shopping complex, and it has been extraordinarily resistant to alternate suggestions put forth by members of Tree Walk and others. Basic norms of city planning have been violated in the choice of this site, but the TRIDA, led by a powerful politician of the UDF, has been stubborn. Velavepment requires exactly the opposite of transperancy and so the land has apparently been transfered to the TRIDA through a very closely guarded government order, months back! This is velavepment no doubt, also because the norms of allotment of shop spaces under TRIDA’s control has not exactly been very transparent, as some friends who run a shop for eco-friendly goods recently found out.
Interestingly, city residents have nowhere to turn for the Trivandrum City Corporation Council seems either deaf or powerless! Surely the spirit of decentralization should be that the democratically-elected City Council is above the TRIDA and indeed must have greater right in deciding how the considerable landed resources available with the TRIDA should be used. The CPM does not seem interested in asserting this and extending decentralization as a political project, such has been its passivity in this.
This is in sharp contrast to the panchayat, still — the last hurdle perhaps in the way of velavepment. At Mookunnimala in the Pallichal panchayat close to Thiruvananthapuram city, the local people’s struggle against quarrying is now growing in strength, forcing the panchayat to pay attention. The protestors refused to be cowed down by threats or tamed by blandishment and forced the panchayat to convene a special Grama Sabha to pass a resolution ending quarrying completely. Over the years we have watched helplessly these beautiful hillocks, once the city’s favorite picnic spot, mercilessly destroyed by quarries. The people there now find the consequences unbearable: houses have weakened from their very foundations, drinking water availability has fallen alarmingly, the dust and pollution from the quarries and the pick-up trucks have left people chronically ill, and the criminals who help to run this business have had a free run too long. So they have refused the authorities’ attempts to play down the issue, to project as ‘inconveniences’ caused by the pick-up trucks transporting the products.CPM academics lamenting the fall of attendance in the Grama Sabhas should open their eyes at least now: this Grama Sabha was highly attended, and by people from all sections inclusing the middle classes. And perhaps not surprisingly, the political party that seems to have taken some serious interest is the AAP. If the CPM academics really want to revive decentralization they should persuade their leaders to abandon their pursuit of velavepment!
I am sure readers will protest by now that velavepment is not unique to Kerala but actually the warp and weft of Narendra Modi’s economics. True, that’s why we seem to be so nonchalant about him. The fact is, we have democratised it in a way Modiji cannot even imagine (now) — we new elite Malayalis, are all, it seems to me, little Modis interested in selling, selling, selling.
But the truth is that velavepping cannot really save us. for example, in the event of a leak at Koodankulam,we may enter the netherworld together, me and Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister and Chief Patron of the Velavepment paradigm.But maybe he will be airlifted to safety!Nevertheless, let him be not proud. Even if he is removed to safety (I sure won’t be), the effects of radiation he will not escape and chief ministership can’t do a thing about that. Let him and his colleagues remember, the offices will not save them from the fury of Nature or the anger of the survivors of their velavepment.