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The Hindu on : German review faults Maheshwar dam project

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, June 30, 2000

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German review faults Maheshwar dam project

By Kalpana Sharma

MUMBAI, JUNE 29. The Maheshwar Hydel Project on the Narmada river has received a virtual no-confidence vote from an Independent Review appointed by the German Government. The review was undertaken following a request by the German engineering giant, Siemens, for an export credit guarantee to supply turbines for the project.

Headed by Dr. Richard E. Bissell, executive director, Policy Division at the U.S. National Research Council, who had earlier headed the World Bank's Inspection Panel, the report of the Independent Review has faulted the project on practically all major aspects of resettlement and rehabilitation. The review was commissioned by the German Government's Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Bissell report found that the Maheshwar Project, which is one of the 30 large dams originally planned to be built on the Narmada River, faced several problems in the area of resettlement and rehabilitation of people affected by the project. Attention to this has been drawn by the on-going agitation against the project in Maheshwar led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The project itself has gone through several changes. Launched in 1975 by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), the project was handed over to the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board (MPEB) in 1989.

The MPEB and the Madhya Pradesh Government, as part of the plan to involve private investors, brought in S. Kumars into the project in 1994 and set up the Shree Maheshwar Hydro-electric Power Corporation Ltd. (SMHPC). This in turn needed foreign investment. Two German companies that had initially shown interest pulled out.

This year, the U.S.-based Ogden Corporation has evinced interest and signed a Memorandum of Intent during the U.S. President, Mr. Clinton's visit to India in March to take 49 per cent shareholding in the project.

The report, however, could deter foreign investment as it has found that even the data on the number of people to be affected by the project has not been compiled. The last survey undertaken was in 1993. It came up with the figure of 4,000 oustee households on the basis of which calculations for investment in resettlement have been made.

Since then, a new survey has been conducted in just one of 61 villages that will be affected. Here, the number of oustees has increased from 190 to 300 households. The survey has not included landless people who will also be affected by the project. The Bissell committee has therefore concluded that the number of oustees is likely to be much larger than anticipated in the project plan.

The Review also points out that no socio-economic survey has been conducted to assess the extent of the impact. Further, of the 1,172 hectares of irrigated land that are needed, if the figure of 4,000 oustees is accepted, only 25 hectares have been acquired.

The accepted resettlement policy requires project authorities to give a minimum of two hectares of irrigated land to oustees. The review found that the land that had been acquired was ``not cultivable without treatment''

An even more fundamental problem was that of ascertaining the ``flood level'', which would then indicate the amount of land that would eventually be submerged once the project is in place. Even on this there is no agreement, the committee noted.

The report concludes: ``The approach of the R & R programme to date has failed to be transparent, participatory or democratic, and dissent has been handled with police force rather than communication. The provisions for monitoring and evaluation are token efforts rather than a serious endeavour to ensure a comprehensive R & R process''.

Such an adverse conclusion on a project that has been mired in controversy is unlikely to contribute to investor confidence.

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