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The Hindu on : Contribution of large dams poor: report

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Sunday, September 24, 2000

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Contribution of large dams poor: report

By Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 23 The contribution of large dams to increased foodgrains production in India is only 10 per cent contrary to largely held belief, is a finding of the India Country Study (ICS) on large dams conducted by a consultant team of prominent Indian experts for the World Commission on Dams (WCD). The final report of the commission will be released by Mr. Nelson Mandela in London later this year. The commission has had two sittings in India - at Chennai and in New Delhi.

The team of Indian experts include former Water Resources Secretary, Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer, former Director of Madras Institute for Development Studies, Mr. Nirmal Sen Gupta, faculty at Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), Mr. Shekhar Singh and Mr Pranab Banerjee and former Additional Secretary in Central Water Commission, Mr. R. Rangachary.

More than Rs.1567.76 billions, which is two-third of the water resources budget of the nation, has been spent on large river water projects in the last 50 years till March, 1997 without any serious effort to evaluate the impact and performance of large dams.

The study comments on what it says is the poor track record of large dams in India on all accounts, bet it social, economic, environmental or financial. It says that costs are systematically underestimated and benefits exaggerated to show the requisite benefit-cost ratio. During implementation, there are enormous escalation in costs, considerable delays and changes in design and scope of the project resulting in fall in achieved yields.

Following the findings of the report, South Indian Network on Dams Rivers and People, an independent research and networking body, has demanded that an independent, ``credible'' national commission be set up to review the costs, benefits and impacts of large dams, including who has paid the costs for whose benefits. Pending the setting up of such a commission, the network has demanded that all existing large projects be put on hold.

The report talks about the lack of political will, legal framework and planning infrastructure to redress the ``substantial negative impacts'' that large dams have on environment and society. Apart from not acknowledging the social and environmental costs, most of the dams were also not required to internalise the costs of preventing, minimising and mitigating most of the adverse impacts, which have been significant. The report urged for other, alternative methods for achieving the objectives set out for large dams.

The report recommends that for better management of water resources, needs assessment for the given area be done, the needs should be prioritised and options assessment be done to find the optimum way of satisfying the needs. The available options be assessed in terms of costs viability including social and environmental. It recommends a national rehabilitation policy, with legal backing, based on land for land for displaced people. Those displaced by existing dams till now must be properly rehabilitated and compensated before any displacement was done.

The findings suggest that the problems of drainage, waterlogging, salinity and recurring losses against operation and maintenance costs may even require de-commissioning of some existing dams.

The findings of the study will be incorporated into the final report of the commission, a body endorsed by various stakeholders including the Government of India, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, representatives of the industry, international agencies including the World Bank.

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