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The Hindu on : Dams and drinking water

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Tuesday, December 14, 1999

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Dams and drinking water

Sir, - Prof. Indiresan in his article, ``Dams and drinking water'' (TheHindu, Dec. 1), has implied that my statement ``A mega-project can be replaced with a mix of mini alternatives'' in the article on big dams (TheHindu, Sept. 20) is tantamount to an assertion that ``a mega-project must be replaced with a mix of mini-alternatives.'' In fact, the whole purpose of my article was to suggest (as the title stressed) a fresh approach based on a rational procedure such as least-cost planning.

The essence of this non-fundamental procedure is a ranking of all the possible options on the basis of real (not merely financial) costs. The cheapest option is taken as the first element/component with a certain potential for contributing to the desired infrastructural output goal. Then, the next more expensive option with a further contribution to the desired output goal. In this way, one identifies the least-cost solution that will provide the required output. In the process, only the real costs determine whether an option comes into the solution or not.

Such a procedure can lead to several possible outcomes: (1) The proposed mega project (e.g. big dam) itself proves to be the least cost solution in which case it must be accepted irrespective of prejudices against such projects. (2) Another mega project turns out to be a better solution. (3) Since there is no rule that the alternative to a mega project must be yet another mega project, it can happen that a mix of mini- alternatives plus a mega project or a mix of only mini- alternatives meets the requirements. Thus, a mega project can be replaced/supplemented by a mix of alternatives, which could include both decentralised options and demand-side management measures. What matters is whether the mix provides the same services as the mega project. So, the chosen option or mix must earn its place through the analysis. It must not be selected on the basis of which breed/``caste'' of experts (engineers, economists, social scientists, environmentalists, etc.) has prepared the proposal. This is irrespective of what an expert thinks about the superiority of his/her expertise or the inferiority of other disciplines. No one should escape the substantiation based on the transparent least-cost planning analysis for the specific situation.

Even after this substantiation, the final approval must be based on participatory decision-making in which the people have the decisive say. Hence, the importance of transparency, the right to information and the role of civil society.

Amulya K. N. Reddy,


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