EPW    Special Articles June 23, 2001

World Commission on Dams and India

Analysis of A Relationship

Ramaswamy R Iyer

I

The report of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) entitled Dams and Development was released at London in November 2000. Its findings on past global experience in relation to dams, as well as its recommendations (approaches, policies, procedures) for the future, have been comprehensively rejected by the government of India, ministry of water resources (MOWR). The present article is intended not as a detailed examination of MOWR’s criticisms, but as an attempt to throw some light on the nature of their response. The present writer, as a member of the team that had produced an India country study for WCD, cannot claim to be a disinterested observer, but will try to present as fair and objective a picture as he can. This is being written in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the India study team.

MOWR’s reactions to the WCD Report were set forth briefly but categorically in their letter No 2/WCD/2001/DT (PR) Vol III dated February 1, 2001 addressed to the secretary general of the WCD. A copy of this should be available in WCD’s website (www.dams.org). Their detailed comments on the WCD Report were given in a long statement that seems to have been posted on the internet later in the same month (see http://genepi.louis-jean.com/cigb/Inde.htm). A third source from which we can get an idea of the MOWR’s thinking is the article on the WCD Report by B N Navalawala (until recently adviser in the Planning Commission, and now Secretary, ministry of water resources) published in the issue of the EPW, March 24, 2001. That article was doubtless written in the personal capacity of the author, but the criticisms that it makes are similar to (though expressed in more careful and restrained language than) the MOWR’s comments.

As mentioned above, MOWR’s response is comprehensively negative. It has questioned the composition of the Commission, its procedures, the adequacy and representativeness of the sample studied, the ‘knowledge base’ behind the Report, the manner in which the Report was finalised, and the fairness and objectivity of the analysis and findings; and it has found part II, which outlines an approach to future planning and sets forth criteria, principles and guidelines based on that approach, totally unacceptable. Moreover, its comments are expressed in unusually strong language. This is not mere non-acceptance but total denunciation.

II

What is the explanation for this extremely negative and harsh response? The answer is two-fold. First, against the background of the prolonged and bitter battle over the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and the increasing polarisation of attitudes on the large dam controversy, the Indian water resources establishment tended to react with dismay to the very idea of the setting up of a World Commission on Dams, which seemed to them a sinister ‘anti-dam’ move. The government of Gujarat tended to see this as a conspiracy against and a threat to the SSP, and its perceptions had a strong influence on the government of India (GoI). (In particular, a reference to the ‘decommissioning of dams’ that figured among the many subjects for study by the Commission set alarm bells ringing: the suspicion was that this was an attempt to scuttle SSP.) Secondly, the establishment’s suspicions and hostility were particularly aroused by the membership of the Commission, which included Medha Patkar (whom it regarded as their arch enemy) and L C Jain (whom it considered to be her friend and sympathiser). It was therefore (quite understandably) antagonistic to the WCD from the start.

That background conditioned GoI’s attitude to WCD all along. It stayed out of the consultative ‘WCD Forum’ that was established. When the WCD began its work and wanted to hold a hearing in India early in 1998, the GoI was initially not averse to this, but subsequently, under pressure from the Gujarat government, advised WCD that the proposed hearing would be inopportune. (There were newspaper reports to the effect that the Gujarat government even threatened to arrest the members of the Commission if they were to enter the state!) Sometime later, when the WCD commissioned a country study of India’s experience in relation to large dams by a team of five persons, as well as a cross-check survey of five dams by another group, the GoI’s hostility to WCD was reflected in its general attitude to these groups, though individually some members of these teams were able to hold discussions with and get material from senior officials in the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Planning Commission. At a very late stage, when the Commission’s work was well advanced, the GoI decided to join the consultative forum as a member. The MOWR and the CWC also participated in two ‘Stakeholder Consultations’ held by the WCD at Chennai (in collaboration with the Madras Institute of Development Studies) and Delhi (in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Public Administration) in February-March 2000 for considering a draft of the India country study prepared by the team of five (as mentioned above). This phase of ‘engagement’, however, lasted only for a few months. MOWR/CWC did not like the country study, and perhaps this led them to feel that they should dissociate themselves from the WCD process. At any rate, by the time that WCD came out with its own Report, GoI had virtually dropped out of the Forum, and had reverted to its original coldness to WCD. The final chapter of the story was the release of the WCD Report in November 2000, and MOWR’s comprehensive rejection of that Report.

III

Let us now consider the nature of the criticisms voiced by the MOWR. First, we take up MOWR’s response to the India country study entitled Large Dams: India’s Experience submitted by a team of five to the WCD in June 2000. The WCD sent a copy of this study to the MOWR and its response was one of ‘outright rejection’. Its criticisms were fourfold: (i) it questioned the competence of the members of the team; (ii) it felt that the study was unbalanced and negative; (iii) it criticised the fact that the Report itself reflected differences among the members; and (iv) it charged the team with not revising their report in the light of the comments and information provided by the MOWR and the CWC.

Insofar as the question of competence is concerned, we need not go into the details of the actual terms used in the MOWR’s comments or in the EPW article, but may take the criticisms to mean that the members of the team were unsuitable for the task on hand. This article would leave it to the readers to judge this in the light of the composition of the team, as given in the Annexe I to this article. The question of competence will not be further discussed.

As regards the charge that comments and information provided were not taken into account, this is not true. As mentioned earlier, during and after the two ‘stakeholder meetings’ of February-March 2000 at Chennai and Delhi, the MOWR/CWC provided detailed comments and information. Despite the severe time-constraint, all this was duly taken note of, and such revisions, corrections or additions as seemed necessary to the authors were carried out. There were also some discussions and clarifications in this process. Revisions were also made in response to comments and material received from numerous other sources. This exercise of correction/revision was quite a substantial one, and the final Report was submitted by the team to WCD in June 2000. However, the MOWR and the CWC were evidently dissatisfied with the results, as their considered response to the Report was one of ‘outright rejection’. They would doubtless have been happier if the authors had rewritten the Report completely to conform to their (MOWR’s/CWC’s) views and perceptions. When this did not happen, they were disappointed. Their accusation of ‘non-revision’ really means that the revision was not to their satisfaction. In other words, this is not a case of ‘non-revision’ but one of persisting differences of perceptions and views. The study team cannot be faulted for this.

The charge of differences within the team and of inconsistencies is difficult to understand. In the ‘Preface’ as well as in Chapter VII it had been clearly explained that the Report was not in its totality a joint effort; that the different chapters were written by different members; that each took responsibility only for his/her chapter(s), and was not necessarily in full agreement with everything in the chapters written by the others; and that all five had come together and taken joint responsibility for the final chapter (Chapter VII) entitled ‘Some Agreed Conclusions’. Where is the scope for misunderstanding or criticism in this? There were indeed some differences of perceptions and views among the members, but all of them did agree on the ‘agreed conclusions’; and so far as one can see, there are no inconsistencies or contradictions within the agreed conclusions.

Coming to the criticism that the Report was negative and not balanced, this is really an expression of disagreement on the part of the MOWR. What the ministry means is that it would have put the balance between the positive and negative aspects of dams at a point different from the point at which the Report (Chapter VII) appears to place it. They are entitled to their views. This point will not be debated here. Let the readers decide whether the Report presents a fair picture or not. Unfortunately, the Report has not been published and may not be easily accessible, but one hopes that this will soon be remedied. (Meanwhile it can be looked up in the WCD’s website.)

IV

Turning now to the WCD’s own Report, we must remember how the Commission came to be set up. By the 1990s, the movement against dams, not only in India but elsewhere as well, had led to a strong polarisation of opinions and to an impasse in respect of large projects. The World Bank had withdrawn from SSP in India and Arun III in Nepal, and had become wary of new projects. At the operative level, it would have liked to get back into the business of lending for such projects, but there were difficulties at the level of the board; some of the country directors were unenthusiastic about big dams. The dam-building industry wanted to end the impasse, as did the equipment-supplying industry. Some governments too wanted to bring the prevailing uncertainty to an end. The ‘Greens’, on the other hand, and NGOs involved in resettlement and human rights campaigns, were opposed to dams. It was in an effort to find a way out of this logjam that the unprecedented Gland Consultation of April 1997 took place. All interests (dam-builders, equipment-suppliers, ‘Green’ and human rights NGOs, the World Bank, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and so on) were present. International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD and the government of China were among the participants.) It was at that meeting that the decision to establish an independent commission was taken. The independence of the Commission was sought to be ensured partly by distancing it from the World Bank, and partly by diversifying its sources of financing. The constitution of the Commission was the subject of prolonged negotiation with a view to ensuring acceptability to the diverse interests and points of view involved. The Commission, as finally set up, included representatives of all the interests and points of view that had been present at Gland. The composition of the Commission is given in Annexe II.

A question often asked in India, not only in official circles but elsewhere as well, is: “Why should both the representatives from India be of the anti-dam persuasion?” L C Jain will deny that he is ‘anti-dam’, but leaving that aside, two points must be noted. First, there was no country representation; the members were there in their individual capacities and not as representatives of their countries. They could indeed be said to be ‘representative’, but of points of view and not countries or institutions. Secondly, even assuming that both Medha Patkar and L C Jain were ‘anti-dam’, there were other members representing the ‘pro-dam’ point of view: the past chairman of the ICOLD (a body of engineers), the CEO of Asea Brown Boveri (suppliers of equipment for dam-building), the chief executive of the Murray Darling Basin Organisation of Australia, etc. The Commission as a whole could not be said to be either ‘pro-dam’ or ‘anti-dam’. The chairman was a very distinguished minister in the South African government, and by no stretch of the imagination could he be described as an ‘anti-dam’ person. (It may be mentioned here that the chairman, Kader Asmal, has recently been awarded the Stockholm Water Prize.)

The MOWR’s comments on the Commission’s procedures, the adequacy and representativeness of the sample studied, the knowledge base of WCD, the manner in which the Report was finalised, its fairness and objectivity, etc, will not be dealt with here. It is for the WCD secretariat to answer these points.

However, one point needs to be put in proper perspective. One of the criticisms is that the positive contributions of dams have not been sufficiently brought out. The WCD could argue that it (perhaps unwisely) took this for granted. It is of course true that dams provide irrigation, electricity, etc. Why else would dams be built? But five questions arise (leaving aside the purely managerial question of time and cost overruns):

(i) Were the expected benefits fully realised? Or were there serious shortfalls?

(ii) At what cost (financial, environmental, social, human) were those benefits achieved? Was the final balance between the costs and the benefits (as actually achieved) positive or negative?

(iii) Going beyond the cost-benefit calculus, were there serious adverse impacts and consequences (environmental, social, human)? Were all of them remediable? Were all of them foreseeable? Taking everything into account, was it right to have built the project in question?

(iv) What have been the equity implications? Has the project (during the planning, construction, implementation and operation stages) been a contributor to equity and social justice, or the opposite, or neither?

(v) Assuming that certain benefits were aimed at and achieved, was the project the only way of achieving those benefits? Were there alternative answers that might have avoided some of the negative impacts? Were such alternatives and options considered?

It will be seen therefore that a mere reference to irrigation, hydro-electric power, etc, will not take us very far. To claim these as the contributions of dams is to beg the questions listed above. Such a claim is made easily enough and often enough; it is all the other (‘negative’) things that need to be looked at carefully in a critical examination of dams. In the nature of things, such an examination is bound to appear negative. (Incidentally, the determination of the ‘contribution’ itself is sometimes problematic: should we attribute ‘food security’ to dams or to irrigation? How much of the irrigation comes from dams? Could that irrigation have been ensured through other means? These questions cannot be easily answered, but they are important and need to be asked. This too would appear ‘negative’.)

Assuming that the Report could have said something more about the positive contributions of dams, is it open to the charge of being ‘anti-dam’? There seems to be no basis for such an accusation. Nowhere does the Report say that dams should not be built. It assumes that dams will continue to be built, and the whole of part II of the Report is an elaborate prescription of how they should be planned, approved, built and operated in the future. In fact, those of an anti-dam persuasion might well complain that the Report does not really face squarely the question implied in its first term of reference, namely, whether, on balance, dams are good or bad. Implicitly it accepts the need for dams. Its criticism is not against dams themselves, but against the manner in which projects have been planned, evaluated, approved and implemented in the past. Its recommendations in part II are therefore directed towards better planning and decision-making in the future. However, assuming that all past deficiencies in this regard are eliminated, that ‘people’ are involved in the planning and implementation from the beginning, that corruption and collusion have disappeared, and that equity and social justice have become central concerns, can we take it that large dams will be wholly good? For instance, will they be environmentally benign and conducive to the sustainability of planet Earth? That crucial question is not really posed and answered in the Report. How then can the Report be described as ‘anti-dam’? (Incidentally, the very use of the word ‘anti-dam’ as a term of abuse is revealing. Why is it right to be ‘pro-dam’ and wrong to be ‘anti-dam’? Are not both partial perceptions?)

V

Be that as it may, the sad fact is that the official circles and the engineering community in this country regard the Report as being essentially anti-dam, and this tends to have some influence even beyond those circles. It must be added that the GoI’s negative perceptions of the WCD Report are partly shared by several other governments in this part of the world. In February 2001 the Asian Development Bank held a meeting at Manila to discuss the WCD Report. (The present writer was an invitee.) The government of India did not participate in that meeting (as was only to be expected), but other governments of the region were well represented. The leader of the Chinese team expressed himself very strongly and made points similar to those made by the Indian MOWR in their posting on the web. The representatives of other governments, namely, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc, were more restrained in their language, and were prepared to find some merit in the Report, but in essence they were all against the approach and procedures suggested in the Report. All these countries had dam-building programmes, and felt that their efforts might be hampered by the Report, if it were to gain general acceptance. (It must be noted that while the voices of the dam-building governments were prominent – that of China was particularly strident – other points of view were not much heard at the meeting; the voices of NGOs were few and muted.)

An important strand in the reactions of developing countries to the Report is to see it as yet another instance of the imposition on them by the developed countries of an agenda designed in the latter’s interests. There are indeed deep and justifiable concerns on the part of developing countries regarding the dubious use that the developed world tries to make of the WTO forum and the processes of environmental negotiations such as those relating to greenhouse gas emissions. What the developed countries have been trying to do is to impose severe disciplines on the developing countries without making the slightest changes in their own resource-intensive and ‘toxic’ ways of living (to use Anil Agarwal’s word), which have brought the world to its present state, and which continue to exercise a baneful influence on the rest of the world by providing a definition of the idea of development. This is quite rightly resented by the developing countries. The present writer shares these concerns, as will be clear from two of his articles (‘Scarce Natural Resources and the Language of Security’, EPW, May 16, 1998; and ‘Two Americas’, EPW, July 24, 1999). Unfortunately, that resentment tends to distort thinking and to get carried into inappropriate contexts, such as the controversy over large dams. Criticisms of the adverse consequences of dams, and the recommendation of caution in taking up such projects, are also perceived as a western conspiracy to prevent poorer countries from developing. There is the argument, often repeated, that the west, having built all the dams that it needed to build, is trying to prevent India from building any. Such perceptions, often accompanied by strong nationalistic sentiments, are very difficult to argue with.

In fact, what we have here is not a reasoned argument. The attempt is not to deal with the Report, but to discredit it so that it does not have to be taken seriously. The dam-builders seem to have decided to undertake a campaign towards this objective. Lest this should seem a fanciful hypothesis or a conspiracy theory of this writer’s own, attention is invited to the letter No 395/CPU/IHA dated March 22, 2001 from the Indian Committee of the International Hydropower Association (signed by C V J Verma, executive chairman and president, International Commission on Large Dams), the text of which is reproduced in Annexe III. It gives clear evidence of a concerted effort to render the WCD Report ineffective. The motivations behind this may be entirely honourable. Quite possibly, those who are interested in building dams (governments, international organisations related to dam-building) are convinced that the world needs many more dams; that this constitutes ‘development’ and is for the good of humanity; that the WCD Report is likely to come in the way of this noble enterprise; and therefore that it is necessary to eliminate that danger. It is, however, clear that we are no longer in the realm of civil discourse; this is war. This explains the ferocity of the attack on the WCD (perceived as the enemy) and the attempts to denigrate anyone associated with it in any way.

(Incidentally, dams seem to have become temples of modern India in a manner that perhaps Nehru never dreamt of when he used that phrase. They seem to inspire a fervour akin to religious emotion; and the perception of a (real or imagined) threat to the building of more such temples calls forth a furor religiosus.)

VI

It may be argued that the WCD Report is in effect ‘anti-dam’ because the principles and procedures recommended in part II are so stringent and cumbersome as to make it very difficult for any project to go through in the future. It is this reaction that is the greatest cause for concern. We may leave it to WCD to answer the points about cumbersome and dilatory procedures and rigid institutionalisation. Adaptations and modifications can and must be made to their guidelines from a practical point of view, with due regard to the circumstances of different countries and cases. What worries one is the negative reaction to unexceptionable principles and approaches.

Broadly speaking, what does the Report advocate? It wants to improve planning and decision-making in the future, drawing lessons from past experience. It re-stresses the Dublin-Rio principle of ‘stakeholder consultation and participation’ (we shall revert to that term later) and recommends the requirement of ‘free, prior, informed consent’. It formulates a ‘rights and risks’ approach that transcends the old-style cost-benefit analysis. (The reference is to the impact of a project on the rights of affected groups and the risks that they have to bear.) It underscores the imperative of ‘sustainability’. It urges the consideration of options and alternatives. How can anyone disagree with any of this? And yet, the governments and international bodies concerned with dam-building feel so threatened that they consider it necessary to oppose the WCD Report fiercely.

Not very long ago, even project-planners and dam-builders would have been willing to agree that dams had had some adverse consequences, that past processes of planning and evaluation had been deficient, that environmental and human aspects had not received adequate attention in the past, that project-affected persons should be consulted at a much earlier stage and should be given some rights over the benefits arising from the project, and that significant changes in attitudes, processes and procedures were called for. Observations and recommendations on these lines will be found in numerous official documents and reports. Now, the perception of the WCD Report as a threat to national planning and policy-making has led to a closing of ranks, a hardening of attitudes, and a retrogression from the degree of enlightenment that was beginning to emerge. There is a downgrading of environmental, social and human concerns. The spirit of intolerance is in the air. It was evident in the hostile and uncivil interventions by some of the MOWR/CWC representatives in the two stakeholder meetings at Chennai and Delhi in February-March 2000 (noticed by all present, including members of the media), as also in several other subsequent meetings and conferences relating to water resource development. References to the adverse impacts of dams are ill received. The espousal of environmental concerns, equity and social justice by individuals and NGOs is misinterpreted. Genuine and profound concerns are made to appear sinister, dishonourable and anti-national. Terms such as ‘environmental lobby’, ‘eco-fundamentalism’, ‘enemies of development’, ‘foreign agents’, etc, are freely bandied about. There is a strident reassertion of the dominance of the engineering point of view, and a deprecation of other perspectives. In recent months, a distinguished Indian engineer, a former director of one of the IITs and a recipient of a prestigious national award, has been saying, both in articles and in speeches: “It is we engineers who make a positive contribution; social scientists make no contribution; they can only question and criticise.”

In the MOWR’s comments on the recommendations in part II of the WCD Report there are some disturbing observations. Consider the following:

(i) On equity: “However, emphasis on equity in a wrong manner is dangerous. Many countries including India and USSR have learnt hard way (sic) that too much emphasis on equity can only perpetuate poverty…”

(ii) On the consideration of alternatives and options: “Only developed countries, which have the time and money to explore all possible alternatives to dams can afford, if they wish, may wish (sic) to opt for such exercises on ‘Options Assessment’ as brought out in WCD Report.”

(iii) On the principle of consultation and participation: “If for every single project decision, informed participation and acceptance by all groups is to be carried out, the decision-making would become a long drawn, protracted process…” “ ‘Free, prior and informed consent’ as suggested by the Commission is likely to render all major project proposals of significance subject to purely local perspective and evaluation, negating the regional and national planning of economic deverlopment”… “Tribals and even non-tribals affected by the project would understandably view the dam proposal from their own perspective…”

It is not the intention of this article to suggest that MOWR’s detailed critique of the WCD Report is without merit. There are many points in it that need careful responses. In essence the argument is that the developmental needs of developing countries necessitate dam projects; that WCD has ignored these needs; that water-scarce areas require water-transfers from elsewhere to supplement local resources; that while considering the interests of people who are affected adversely by such projects, we must not forget the interests of those in the command area who will receive irrigation or drinking water from the project; that our concern about the possible environmental impact of a dam in certain areas should not lead us to forget the beneficial environmental /ecological impact of the transfer of water to water-short areas; and so on. It is this writer’s view that there are some fallacies here, and that the arguments are not as strong and persuasive as the MOWR might think; but there is hardly any doubt that the points are important and demand detailed discussion. However, the point that is being made here is that the anger of the dam-builders has led them to rebel against even accepted principles such as equity, consultation, participation, consideration of options and alternatives, sustainability, etc. It is sad to see that having taken several steps forward during the last decade or two, MOWR (and others of their way of thinking) have now taken at least some (if not many) steps back.

VII

While not entering into a detailed discussion of the many issues raised by the MOWR, it seems necessary to say a few words about two of them. The first is regarding the notion of ‘stakeholders’. Consider this passage from the MOWR’s comments:

While repeatedly talking about stakeholders, those sections of society which have a strong stake in a dam construction and who stand to suffer and lose if a dam is not constructed or is delayed, are not even recognised as stakeholders!

The concept of ‘stakeholder’ is a flawed one that has great potential for misuse. First, it is a notion drawn by analogy from prospecting for oil or minerals and carries a connotation of an individualistic claim, with an underlying implication of contestation. Secondly, it is an ethically neutral concept that lumps together every person or party having any kind of connection or concern with a project. Not only those who are likely to be adversely affected by the project or expect to enjoy the benefits that it will bring, but a wide range of others who are concerned with it in one form or another come within the ambit of the term. Thus, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, consultants and contractors are all ‘stakeholders’. The interests and concerns of these diverse categories may not in all cases be benign and legitimate, and some may have a more vital ‘stake’ than others, but the term ‘stakeholder’ makes no distinctions: it legitimises and levels all kinds of ‘stakeholding’. Everyone is a stakeholder, and the primacy of those whose lands and habitats are taken away and who suffer a traumatic uprooting is not recognised by the term.

Even taking only two categories (in relation to a ‘water resource development’ project), namely, project-affected people and prospective beneficiaries, the vital difference between the two tends to get blurred by the bland assimilating term ‘stakeholders’. There is a cruel irony in describing the involuntary and helpless victims of a project as ‘stakeholders’, and this is compounded when they are put on the same footing as those who stand to benefit from the project. It needs to be remembered that in the case of the former, existing rights (i e, natural and often centuries-old rights of access and livelihoods) are taken away, whereas in the case of the latter, the project, by diverting river waters through canals, confers new rights not earlier enjoyed. The former are stake-losers, whereas the latter are stake-gainers.

The second point that needs to be noticed is the difficult question of the relationship between the state and civil society. The MOWR adopts the simple position that in a parliamentary democracy such as India people elect their representatives to panchayats, legislative assemblies and parliament; and that their interests can be presumed to be taken care of by these representatives, and by the executive governments that are accountable to them. This view would call into question the need to ‘consult’ people separately in the context of a project; and yet many democracies have found it necessary to institute consultation procedures. Further, in such a view, there would be no question of any conflict between the state and the people; the distinction between state and civil society would be pointless; and there would be no need at all for any movement for ‘empowering’ the people. It is clear that the point of view set forth by the MOWR has many serious implications. The debate will not be pursued here; it is merely brought to the reader’s notice for being pondered over.

VIII

Finally, as a former bureaucrat, this writer is intrigued by an important procedural question. The matters discussed in the WCD’s Report and in the MOWR’s comments go far beyond the domain of that ministry. There are other ministries charged with the responsibility for agriculture, watershed development, rural development, rural and urban water supply and sanitation, environmental concerns, public health aspects, the interests of project-affected persons who often belong to scheduled castes or tribes or other backward classes or weaker sections of society, the welfare of women and children, and so on. It seems very difficult to believe that all those ministries would readily subscribe to some of the statements made in the MOWR’s comments. Were there any inter-ministerial consultations before the MOWR’s comments were communicated? Are the various ministries concerned willing to endorse everything that the MOWR has said? Would that be in conformity with the policies of the respective ministries? What does the Planning Commission think about these matters? Do the comments represent the views of one ministry or those of the government of India as a whole?

IX

As mentioned more than once, this is not a defence of the WCD or a rejoinder to the MOWR’s points. That is a debate that needs to be separately pursued. What this article has been trying to show is that the anger of the dam-builders has tended to prevent such a debate; instead, an effort has been mounted to deflect a perceived threat by denigrating the Commission and those who had made contributions to the WCD process and damaging their credibility. This article will conclude with an earnest threefold plea:

(i) to the MOWR/CWC, their counterparts in the state governments, their international confreres (ICOLD, ICID, IHA, etc) and the engineering community in general: “call off hostilities and return to the path of rationality and civil discourse”;

(ii) to the ministries (and their counterparts at the state level) concerned with the environment and forests, women’s and children’s welfare, scheduled castes and tribes, agriculture, rural and urban development, community initiatives in water harvesting and watershed development, etc: “ask yourselves whether your statutory responsibilities and your departmental concerns, policies, and guidelines are adequately reflectyed in the MOWR/CWC response to the WCD Report, and further, whether perhaps that Report contains ideas that have some resonance from your points of view” (this is also addressed to the Planning Commission); and

(iii) to the media, academics of diverse disciplines, journalists, doctors, teachers and other professionals, the intelligentsia in general and indeed the ordinary citizen: “do take a modest degree of interest in this important debate in which major issues and concerns are involved, and do not ignore this as a debate between two sets of specialists”.

Will this threefold plea fall on deaf ears?

[Comments on an earlier draft of this paper received from some members of the India study team as well as from others are gratefully acknowledged. However, the responsibility for the views expressed and for any errors that remain is entirely that of the author.]

Annexe I

Composition of Team That Produced India Country Report (Large Dams: India’s Experience)

R Rangachari: Career started with the government of Madras, in the PWD in 1951; service with the government of India commenced in 1953 at the Hirakud dam project under the Central Water and Power Commission, and culminated in the position of Member, Central Water Commission and additional secretary to the government of India. Senior positions held under the GoI include: (a) chairman of a number of Indo-Bangladesh joint committees/task-forces; (b) member, Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission; (c) chairman, Sone River Commission; (d) chairman, Ganga Flood Control Commission; (e) chairman, Brahmaputra Board; (f) member, Central Water Commission (Floods; River Management; and Water Resources) and additional secretary to the government of India, ministry of water resources. After retirement from the government of India in 1988, he has served as visiting professor, Centre for Policy Research, adviser to the government of Tamil Nadu, member of the Planning Commission’s Working Group for Participatory Irrigation Management for the Ninth Plan, and is currently chairman of the Working Group on Flood Management. He has in addition served as consultant to the ministry of water resources, IWRS, WAPCOS, Inter- national Water Resources Association on water resources development of GBM Basin, B P Koirala Foundation on Indo-Nepal water cooperation, etc.

Ramaswamy R Iyer: Former secretary, water resources, government of India; the initiator and principal draftsman of the National Water Policy 1987; member of two review committees set up by GoI to go into issues relating to the SSP (the Five Member Group or FMG, 1993-95) and the Tehri Project (Expert Committee on the Environmental and Rehabilitation Aspects of the Tehri Hydro Electric Project, 1996-97); member of the Committee on the Pricing of Irrigation Water set up by the Planning Commission (1992); chairman of the Ninth Plan Working Group on Participatory Irrigation Management; member of the National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (1997-99); a consultant to the World Bank in a water sector policy review study (2000); and now a member of the Vision 2020 Committee set up by the Planning Commission.

Nirmal Sengupta: Professor (former director), Madras Institute of Development Studies. A former senior government official. Publications in irrigation and water management (on large systems as well) include articles published by ICID and IIMI. Did pioneering research work in indigenous irrigation systems (from 1980 onwards). Author of a number of books.

Shekhar Singh: Teaches at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi. Has been adviser (Environment and Forests) to the Planning Commission, government of India; chairman of the ministry of environment and forest’s (MoEF) Environmental Appraisal Committee for Thermal Power Projects; and chairman of the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Ecologically Vulnerable Areas. Member of: the Expert Committee on the Drinking Water Technology Mission set up by the ministry of rural development, government of India; the MoEF’s Environmental Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects; the Sardar Sarovar Environmental Advisory Committee set up by the government of Gujarat; the Narmada (Indira) Sagar Review Committee, set up by the government of Madhya Pradesh; the Expert Committee to review the Tehri Dam, set up by the ministry of power, government of India; the Central Board for Forestry and Indian Board for Wildlife; and continues to be a member of the Environment Sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority.

Pranab Banerji: Economist on the faculty of IIPA.

Annexe II

Composition of World Commission on Dams

Kader Asmal, Chair, is a prominent member of president Thabo Mbeki’s Cabinet as minister of education of the Republic of South Africa. Under Nelson Mandela, he was the minister of water affairs and forestry and led the fundamental review and reform of South Africa’s Water Resource Management policy. Prior to his return from his exile in 1990, Asmal was a law professor at Trinity College Dublin for 27 years, specialising in human rights, labour and international law. From 1980 to 1986 he was dean of Faculty of Arts (Humanities). He was also a founder of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1963 and its chairperson until 1991. In 1983, Asmal received the Prix UNESCO for the advancement of human rights. In 1993, he became a member of the negotiating team of the African National Congress at the Multi-Party Negotiating forum, and in May 1994 was elected to the National Assembly. In 1996, he was awarded the Gold Medal Award for conservation from the World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa. He is also a patron of the Global Water Partnership. On March 22, 2000 – World Water Day – Asmal was awarded the 10th Stockholm Water Prize by the Stockholm Water Foundation. His selection to chair the World Commission on dams was the result of a comprehensive global search process and consultation with participants at the Gland workshop.

Lakshmi Chand Jain, Vice Chair, has served on India’s national Planning Commissions and Planning Boards of several states and was appointed high commissioner for India to South Africa for 1997-99. He was a member of the government of India’s Independent Committee to report on selected aspects of Sardar Sarovar Project. He has also served as the chairperson of the Industrial Development Services, a techno- economic consultancy organisation in India, for 30 years. L C Jain received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service in 1989.

Donald J Blackmore is the chief executive of the Murray – Darling Basin Commission, in Canberra, Australia. He has brought principles of environmentally sustainable water management to a major river basin initially focused on Irrigation and Hydroelectric Power generation. Since 1990 he has served as director and deputy chairperson of Australia’s Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation. He also was a member of the International Advisory Panel for the Aral Sea. Joji Carino’s work began as an activist and analyst of indigenous peoples’ issues in her native Philippines, particularly in relation to dam projects in the Cordillera region. Over 25 years she has worked as an active campaigner and advocate of indigenous peoples’ human rights. She now works for Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Centre for International Policy, Research, and Education). Well known for defending the interest of tribal and other indigenous peoples and minorities, she has effectively carried her agenda into global fora. Jose Goldemberg is a professor at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and has been recognised for his work on the future of energy globally. He was the chairman and CEO of the Energy Company of the State of Sao Paulo. He has served as rector of his university, and as secretary of science and technology for the federal government of Brazil and as minister of education. He currently serves in senior capacities with the International Energy Initiative and the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. His most recent work has been as chairperson of the World Energy Assessment. Judy Henderson trained professionally as a medical doctor. She served as chair of Oxfam International, was a board member of the Environmental Protection agency of New South Wales, Australia, and a former board member of Greenpeace International. She has a distinguished record of involvement in social and environmental issues internationally. She is currently a board member of the Ethical investment agency.

Goran Lindahl is the president and CEO of ABB, a global technology group with headquarters in Zurich. He is member of the advisory board for the alliance for Global Sustainability, deputy chairman of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum and on the advisory board of the World Childhood Foundation. He is also a frequent speaker at the World Economic Forum. An electrical engineer by profession, he has been involved in many major electricity infrastructure projects, including large hydroelectric schemes. As the head of ABB, Goran Lindahl leads one of the world’s largest Industrial companies. The ABB Group employs about 1,60,000 people in more than hundred countries.

Deborah Moore was until recently senior scientist at Environmental Defence, a US based NGO, where she continues as consulting scientist working to protect living rivers worldwide. In the western US, Moore has worked with native American communities and the US Congress to design and promote innovative water rights and river restoration arrangements, Internationally she has contributed to many global water policy fora, including the Dublin Conference on Water and the Environment, and analysed the performance of large-scale river development projects and alternatives in Asia and Latin America.

Medha Patkar graduated in physical sciences and did postgraduate research on social sciences. She was the member of the faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences before founding the Narmada Bachao Andolan (struggle to save the Narmada river) in India, a people’s movement against the construction of large dams on the Narmada river and for alternatives in water, power and development. She is a founding member and National Convener of the National Alliance of People’s movement She is Internationally recognised as a campaigner for human and political rights.

Thayer Scudder is an emeritus professor of anthropology at the California Institute of technology. His work over 40 years on socio-economic issued associated with river basin development has been definitive in the field. His work in Africa is best known but he has undertaken studies of sustainable resource use in all parts of the world with a focus on resettlement and socio-economic issues related to infrastructure development. He has also served on number of independent review panels for dam projects in Africa and Asia

Jam Veltrop worked with the Harza Engineering Company from 1954 to 1994 as dean of the faculty of engineering at the University of Nigeria. He was the chairman of US Committee on Large Dams (1981-82) and president of International Commission on Large Dams (1988-91) At Harza he was chief engineer member of the board of directors, and retired as senior vice president. He worked on many world class hydroprojects such as Mangla, Tarbela, Guri, Yacyreta, Karun-I, Ertan and Bath country pumped storage: received ASCE’s Rickey Medal in 1997 for his contributions in the field of hydroelectric engineering and was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1998.

Achim Steiner (WCD secretary-general, ex-Officio Commissioner) has served as an advisor on international development policy as well as economic planning and natural resource management. During his career he has worked for both governmental and non-governmental organisation with extended assignments in India, Pakistan, Germany, Zimbabwe/Southern Africa, the US, and Vietnam. Most recently he served as senior policy adviser for Global Policy with IUCN in Washington and chief technical adviser with the Mekong River Commission/GTZ, based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Annexe III

Copy of Letter no 395/CPU/ IHA dated March 22, 2001 from the Indian Committee of International Hydropower Association

(Yogendra Prasad, Chairman and CMD, NHPC;

C V J Varma, Executive chairman and president; International Commission on Large Dams)

Kindly reply to
Council of Power Utilities
A-2/158, Janakpuri
New Delhi 110058, India.
Fax: 91 11 5611622
Tel: 91 11 5618472
E mail cvj@vsnl.com
No 395/CPU/IHA   March 22, 2001

Shri B N Navalawala
Advisor (Water Resources),
Planning Commission, Yojana Bhavan,
Sansad Marg, New Delhi 110001
Dear Sir,

A copy of Proceeding Volume of the Conference on Water Resource Development Irrigation and Hydropower at New Delhi on February 1-2, 2001. The conference was a great success and substantially benefited not only our country but also a number of other developing countries. By and large the benefits have been:

(1) For the first time the three organisations – International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, International Hydropower Association and International Commission on Large Dams have come on a single platform and these represent 25,000 members in 81 countries.

(2) Government of India have issued official rejection of the Report of WCD.

(3) We were able get the WCD meeting scheduled in India for February 12, 2001, basically for propaganda purpose, cancelled.

(4) Acceptance of the WCD Report by funding agencies, specially the World Bank, scheduled on February 15-16, 2001, did not succeed by WCD in spite of their high profile.

(5) Similarly, we could interact with other countries specially China who could also influence ADB not to accept the WCD Report.

(6) Finally at the Cape Town meeting in the last week of February 2001 considerable amount of pressure could be exerted by Forum members so as not to accept the WCD Report on toto. (7) The various industries connected with power development in the developed countries especially in the US, were advised so that they could join hands with the developing countries to oppose the acceptance of WCD Report in their own interest.

(8) We have been able to address president, OECD not to accept the WCD Report in their meeting in Paris.

As a follow up, the Indian Committee of Hydro Power Association and National Hydro-Electric Power Corporation. In association with council of power utilities are organising an International Conference on “Water Resource Development – Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Electric Power and its Evacuation – February 6-8, 2002 at Hotel Hyatt regency, Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi 110066, India. The conference is sponsored by the ministry of power and ministry of water resources, government of India and in cooperation with International Commissions Large Dams, International Commissions on Irrigation and Drainage and International Hydropower Association, China Yangyze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation and Chinese Society for Hydroelectric Engineering.

The major objectives of this conference is to provide a forum for sharing of experiences of senior utility engineers, water resources development, planners, consultants, academicians, environments, etc, on the theme of water resources development flood, irrigation, navigation, electric power and its evaluation.

A number of lead papers on topics indicated in the Information Bulletin in the 3 day conference are expected to be presented by eminent experts from India and abroad. The conference is expected to be attended by a large number of delegates from different organisation associated with a water development projects, flood control, irrigation, navigation, hydro power development projects, environment aspects and power transmission system, etc, from all over the world.

I have the pleasure of extending cordial invitation to you to present papers on different topics given in the Information Bulletin, copy enclosed.


Thanking you,
Yours Faithfully,
C V J Varma
(secretary general)
DA: As above

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