Ethics concern contrasting questions of 'is' with questions of 'ought'. This is sometimes referred to as normative ethics. The 'is' comprises a descriptive world of issues that are experienced by different stakeholders.
The 'ought' comprises a normative world of values - often multiple and conflicting - which are used by stakeholders to make judgements on the realities they experience. Many issues relating to environment and development are experienced as complex questions requiring continual attention to value judgements on what ought to be.
So what role do value judgements play? Arguments for and against the Narmada Project can be considered as expressions of value judgements: arguments 'for' construction based on judgements on what ought to be the outcome, and arguments 'against' based on judgements regarding what ought not to be the outcome (Box 2).
One of the key problems arising from any controversial issue is sorting out judgements of 'fact' from value judgements. Scientific information on levels of domestic water supply, power generation, agricultural production, estimated numbers of poor and underprivileged communities being dispossessed of their livelihood, and ecological impacts, are vital. However, professed levels of impact, both positive and negative, are often contested even amongst scientists. 'Fact' and value are inextricably linked. So being aware of accompanying value judgements is also very important. Ethics makes values explicit. Box 3 provides an understanding of different types of value and different perspectives.
Arguments in support of the Narmada Dam Project can be said to have an anthropocentric perspective with a dominant, instrumental value judgement on water as a resource. Few would deny this as an important value judgement, particularly in a context of poor access to clean water. From a more ecocentric perspective, claims are made of providing flood protection for ecosystems, and offering compensation to support sanctuaries for endangered species.
Anthropocentric arguments can also be made against the project. The displacement of communities, loss of livelihood, and diminished access to water amongst vulnerable groups are particularly significant. The possible loss of biodiversity through deforestation and increased salinisation will have aesthetic disadvantages which can also be factored in from an anthropocentric perspective. Many of the arguments against such projects, however, derive from a more ecocentric perspective, bringing attention to wider and longer-term ecological impacts.
But values and perspectives are not fixed entities. They vary and develop M
a according to the context and time in which they are applied. This is evi- t dent with the Narmada case study. As time has moved on, protest around R
Narmada has become symbolic of a global concern for how we engage y with nature and the long-term consequences. Environmental ethics helps l to explain such changes in terms of different types of value judgements s
Outcomes judged to be good/ right/valuable (arguments for construction)
Outcomes judged to be bad/wrong/ worthless (arguments against construction)
1 Water access and quality
Supply water to 30m people including drinking water facilities
Irrigate crops to feed another 20m people covering 17,920 km2 of land
Increase prospect of insect-borne diseases
Inundate areas causing salinisation of land alongside canals through buildup of salts
2 Urban and rural economic development
Provide hydroelectric power Improve access to electricity in remote villages
Dispossess large numbers of poor and underprivileged communities of their land as a source of livelihood
Develop facilities for sophisticated Provide inadequate compensation and communication systems in the rehabilitation for resettled people as project areas with previous experiences in India
Increase employment both in construction and post-construction maintenance
Over-estimate power generated and under-estimate likely long-term dependence on private trans-national companies
Prompt excessive profiteering amongst private contractors and possible corruption in dispensing large budgets
3 Agricultural practice and technological development
Modernise agricultural practices using irrigated farming
Provide irrigation infrastructure for Undermine expert confidence (even biofuel agricultural production (and the World Bank withdrew from the other genetically modified crops) Narmada Project!)
Develop fisheries industry
4 Ecological impacts
Protect against advancement of desert and provision of flood protection to riverine reaches
Establish wildlife sanctuaries protecting rare species (e.g., Sloth Bear, Wild Ass, Kutch Bustard)
Give false promises regarding maintenance of dams given seemingly disorganised State infrastructure
Disrupt downstream fisheries
Diminish biodiversity through monoculture irrigated farming Devastate existing riverine ecosystem
Submerge current forest farmland
Ignore possible long-term impacts (e.g. large reservoirs could cause earthquakes)
Was this article helpful?