Development as a concept peaked long, long ago. What is peddled today in its name is mere exploitation - be it of the earth and its resources or of human beings.
The word "Development" needs to be urgently banned from the political and academic lexicon of our times, and replaced with immediate effect by the words "evolution" an "sustainability" or even "survival".
What good has come to this world and its inhabitants in the past decade out of development?
And at what cost?
"Development" with its even more pernicious corollary "growth" has been the favourite word of governments- and in that context usually means its exact opposite.
A senior IAS officer from a Hindi heartland state who is now no more would advise young colleagues learning the ropes of administration and struggling to understand the truth behind formal facades of governance to simply replace the Hindi word for development, "Vikas" with its rhyming antonym "Vinaash" and then see if things made more sense. Of course he could not resist gilding the lily a little, so that a "Block Development Officer", in Hindi a "Prakhand Vikas Padadhikari" became in his lexicon a "Prachand Vinaash Padadhikari", or the Officer in charge of Intense Destruction
Similarly the Rural Development Department or the Grameen Vikas Vibhaag became the Grameen Vinaash Vibhaag, and so on. This was only partially a joke - very often and especially in hindsight, it was nothing but the plain truth.
The iconic 'Milkman of India', Verghese Kurien, architect of AMUL, had a favourite quip that he really believed in, which in fact embodied the reason why he started the cooperative movement among the farmers of Khera district of Gujarat: he used to say, if you want to destroy something, appoint a Commissioner to develop it. For where there is a Milk Commissioner there will soon be no milk, where there is a Jute Commissioner there will be no Jute, where there is a Vigilance Commissioner there is no Vigilance, and where there is an Agriculture Production Commissioner you soon see an Agriculture Reduction trend!
This last example reminds one inevitably of the sad fate of Punjab.
Once upon a time Punjab was the natural granary of India. With its vast rolling plains, rivers fed by the perpetual snows of the Himalayas, hardworking farmers, strong Sikh work ethic, and ryotwari system of land management and revenue collection, it was chugging along nicely, thank you!
And then we decided to "develop" its agriculture, which was the mainstay of its economy. For some strange reason it was decided that Punjab had to feed the rest of India, including fertile and productive regions like Bihar, UP, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and so on , since they suffered from occasional and localised shortages, or as we tend to turn them through our colossal mismanagement and chronic bungling, famine. It is anybody's guess as to how much of this shortage was natural, i.e. due to crop failure, and how much of it was man made i.e. due to hoarding and black marketing by traders and crass corruption practised by FCI, SFCs, bureaucrats and politicians.
Nevertheless Punjab became the guinea pig for blind frenzied exploitative and ultimately disastrous "Agricultural Development". No holds were barred, from the hybridisation and genetic modification of crops, unrestricted use of chemical fertilisers and carcinogenic pesticides, reckless exploitation of fragile soil and finite stores of groundwater, and turning of a wise traditional peasantry into money spinning machines, producing more and more for less and less remunerative prices, and glutted with short term riches at the cost of long term ruin.
The Green Revolution (agriculture), the Twin White Revolutions (dairy and poultry), the Blue Revolution (pisciculture)- Punjab was ready to let itself be lured into more and more intensified exploitation of its natural resources, even cultivating the water intensive labour intensive rice crop for which it is naturally unsuited by employing labour from Bihar and other parts of the country, in return for a short period of unsustainable prosperity and hypocritical flattery of national and international awards in a crazy race for "productivity".
Today Punjab's water is undrinkable, its food tasteless almost inedible, its soil depleted, its groundwater has receded, its population is diseased and drug addicted, its farmers depressed and suicidal, its government deep in debt, its society materialistic and degraded.
But is the Goddess of Development appeased?
Not at all!
Genetic Modification of crops and dairy and poultry, use of nuclear power for electricity to further deplete its remaining groundwater and further expose its population to radiation, are just some of the treats that Development Maiyya has in store in the form of concrete plans for its future.
When will we learn to place sustainability before development, evolution before progress, contentment and self discipline before greed and exploitation?
Gandhiji had rightly warned us:
"Nature has enough for Man's need, but not for Man's greed"