All ill-conceived and ill-fated project

Dr Sandeep Pandey

Published through Priyanka Features
KASHMIR TIMES, Jammu; July 20, 1999
EARTHWIRE Journal of UNESCO for SouthEast Asia

About six year back due to adverse report of an independent inquiry commission instituted by the World Bank on the Sardar Sarovar Project, it along with the Japanese government had decided to withdraw funding. The Morse Commission was unsatisfied with the rehabilitation and resettlement work which was supposed to accompany the dam construction work. Today it is the turn of Maheswar dam, part of the same Narmada valley development plan. Two German companies, VEW Energy and Bayemwerk have decided to dissociate themselves, from the project. They don't want be involved with a project with such ‘massive social implications.’ They have arrived at a conclusion that the resettlement plan is not being implemented in a socially acceptable manner.

Maheshwar is the first large hydroelectric dam in India which was to be financed by the private sector with an estimated cost of 530 Million Dollars. S. Kumars were going to be mainly responsible for building this dam and companies like VEW Energy and Bayemwerk were going to invest their money into it. Together VEW Energy and Bayemwerk were going to have a share of 49% investment. Another investor is Siemens which is also going to supply the turbines and some other machinery for this project. But the project is in jeopardy now owing to the pull-out of two major companies.

Once again in the Narmada valley people have risen against powerful interest groups and demonstrated that any anti-people project cannot be forced upon them. The affected people have specifically demanded that construction of the Maheshwar dam and illegal purchase of land to be submerged be halted and the viability of the project should be established before the people after a fresh cost-benefit analysis. Last year the Madhya Pradesh government had instituted a Task Force with representatives of all concerned groups - the dam builders, the government, the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the people to be affected by the project. The government is now unwilling to implement the recommendations of the Task Force because of pressure of vested interests. The people are demanding a complete review of the project and want the government to show that it is actually beneficial after a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Further they are willing to consider the possibility of rehabilitation only if actual availability of land is established by the government. It is notable that recently when some people to be affected by the Sardar Sarovar project visited Jhabua, Dhar and Khargone districts of MP along with officials of the MP government to see the land supposedly available for rehabilitation most of the land was found to be inhabitable and uncultivable. The people in the Narmada valley because of the consciousness created by the people's movement are not willing to be taken for a ride in the name of rehabilitation or cash compensation.

The Task Force has also suggested alternatives for water and power in case the project is found to be unviable. However, the government doesn't seem to be sincere enough towards these alternatives. It is interested in somehow going ahead with these projects even though that may violate some of its own guidelines. It is willing to go to any length for this. Recently in an affidavit submitted by the Maharashtra government to the Supreme Court it was falsely reported, as admitted by the District Collector of Nandurbar later, that enough land is available for rehabilitation of everybody going to be displaced by the project. The reality is that none of the three governments, MP Gujarat and Maharashtra have enough land available for rehabilitation of the Sardar Sarovar affected people. The sooner the governments will accept this reality less painful it would be for them. Because the peoples' resistance in the valley is so strong with support from people all over the country, in addition to it receiving wide attention from media the world over, that it may not be possible for the governments to simply ingore the ground realities.

Protest is also gathering against the largest dam planned on Narmada, the Narmada Sagar project. Here too the government is resorting to questionable ways in trying to acquire the land in exchange for cash compensation, which is not legal in accordance with rehabilitation policy as stated in Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. The rehabilitation policy is based on the principle of land for land and land to the landless for all people falling in the submergence area. The government has tampered with this policy and has tried to dilute it by making some amendments. The people are demanding a complete review of all aspects of the Narmada Sagar project.

Then there are questions being raised by the Andolan on the necessity of construction of dams in areas which are already well irrigated. For example, 54% of the command area of Man project, 73% of the Jobat project and 84% of Lower Goi and most of Veda project command area is presently irrigated. In such a situation what is the necessity of constructing dams in these areas? For the area which is as yet uncovered by irrigation, alternative methods could be explored, some of which have already been suggested by the experts. Of the above-mentioned projects works has begun on Man and Jobat dams whereas no work has yet begun on Lower Goi and Veda projects. When the entire project is in preliminary stages it appears quite reasonable that a thorough review should be carried out before going ahead with the construction.

However, the manner in which the MP government is going ahead with the Maheshwar dam, inspite of recommendations of the Task Force suggesting otherwise, raises questions about its motives. Why is the same government willing to consider a reduction in height of the Sardar Sarovar dam and completely unrelenting on the issue of Maheshwar dam? What is the kind of commitment that the MP government has entered into with the private company S. Kumars? Is that commitment more important than the voice of the people, for whose benefit supposedly the entire project has been conceived? In the changed atmosphere of economic liberalization suddenly the governments seems to have become more sympathetic to private companies and MNCs rather than the people to whom they should actually be accountable.

Anyway, the adamant attitude taken by the government and S. Kumars is not going to take them very far. The reality of the pull-out of two German companies is yet to dawn upon them and is certain to dampen their enthusiasm.

Dr.SANDEEP PANDEY (Author had done his Ph.D. in Control Theory from University of California, Berkeley, USA, and was a former Professor at IIT Kanpur. Presently he is the key-organizer of Global Peace March, going on from Khetolai (POKARAN) to Sarnath and involved with conducting experiments on education and self-reliance in reoti village of Ballia district, as well as co-ordinating several other humanitarian activities)