Monday, November 20 (New Delhi):
After a twelve year gap, when the Supreme Court last month said that construction on the Sardar Sarovar dam should begin, many thought it was the end of the road for thousands of villagers and the decade long struggle against the dam. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) report has come as a great boost to what many thought was a flagging fight against the Sardar Sarovar Project.
Last week, thousands of villagers from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh all bound by the river Narmada were in the capital to ensure their voices be heard. They appealed to the President, stormed the office of the Narmada Control Authority and met the president of the World Bank. Noorji Padvi, a resident of Danel village, Maharashtra, informs, "We went to meet the President. He shook hands with us, made us sit and listened to us. And after that he said he would talk to the Prime Minister and think about the issues we raised."
The WCD report is a product of two years of intensive study by members representing all sides of the controversial project, including financiers, builders and the anti-dam lobby.
Although the report says that dams can make a significant contribution to human development, it points out that an unacceptable price has been paid in too many cases, especially in social and environmental terms. According to the report, in the last 50 years 40 to 80 million people have been displaced by dams worldwide and many of them were not resettled or compensated. It also states that the benefits of these projects have been distributed in a highly unfair manner, which questions the real value of many dams.
As per its recommendations, free and prior informed consent of the tribal population is necessary before construction of big dams. The project should actively involve people who will be affected by it and the alternatives to big dams must be explored before such projects are cleared.
The report, which carries considerable moral authority, vindicates the arguments and issues raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). Medha Patkar, President, NBA, said, "The World Bank president had to commit to the audience that they will study the report in-depth and take it to more than 180 governments. They will discuss it and take a stand, as well as review their policies and present plans in the context of the report."
However, will all this affect the situation on the ground in the Sardar Sarovar project? The government says not much difference would be made. According to the Water Secretary Zahoor Hassan, "The Sardar Sarovar project is not being financed by the World Bank or by any other such international financial agencies. It is being funded entirely with our own resources--from the Government of India and the states and I don't think this report can have any impact so far as Sardar Sarovar project is concerned."
Meanwhile, in their very last hope from the judiciary, NBA activists are waiting for their review petition to come up in the Supreme Court, which asks for construction on the dam to be stopped. Sripad Dharmadhikari of NBA said, "We are certainly going to bring to the court's notice that here is the World Commission on Dams which has gone through an intense study of two years where thousand of experts have contributed and this is what it says." Ms. Patkar adds, "Public hearings on the Sardar Sarovar dam are being planned and the NBA is now going back to the valley to explain the report to the villagers there."
The WCD report has certainly helped in bolstering the cause of the people of the valley, even though the villagers there continue to be fuelled by the knowledge of their own reality. One affected villager complains, "There are lakhs of people in the Sardar Sarovar valley. How can the government provide for all of them? Where will the government get the jungles from, the rivers from, the land for fodder, the fish and vegetables? An adivasi
is like a fish. Once it is out of the water, the fish is dead. And if the adivasi
is out of his jungle, he will not survive."Read an overview of World Dam Report