International Rivers Network Press Release
23rd May 2000
International Rivers Network
OGDEN BARRAGED WITH CALLS URGING COMPANY TO WITHDRAW FROM NOTORIOUS INDIAN DAM
NY-based Ogden Corporation is today being barraged with calls, faxes and emails urging the company to withdraw from the controversial Maheshwar Dam on India's Narmada River. The 400 megawatt Maheshwar hydropower project is fiercely opposed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), which represents tens of thousands of local people, as well as by other Indian and international human rights and environment groups because of its social, environmental and economic impacts.
International Rivers Network (IRN) and Friends of the Narmada, an international coalition of activists fighting dams on the Narmada River, have organized "Barrage Ogden Day 2" as part of a long-term campaign against foreign involvement in destructive dams on the Narmada River. Last month, Ogden was barraged with over 1500 faxes, calls and emails on April 25.
"By supporting the Maheshwar Dam, Ogden is contributing to human rights abuses and the destruction of the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. Both local people and their international supporters are determined that this dam will not be built. Ogden should cut its losses and get out now," says Patrick McCully, Campaigns Director of IRN.
The Maheshwar Dam would harm the livelihoods of around 40,000 farmers, wage laborers, fishers and crafts people in 61 villages and submerge about 1,100 hectares of rich agricultural land. Independent investigations have found that resettlement planning for the project is totally inadequate and that no land is available for resettlement as required by law. Project opponents claim that power from the dam will be prohibitively expensive and that Indians will have to subsidize foreign involvement in the uneconomic project.
On March 23, Ogden signed a Memorandum of Intent to develop the project, as part of U.S. President Bill Clinton's state visit to India. Harza Engineering Company of Chicago has been contracted as a consultant to Ogden. The dam's serious financial risks and the intense opposition to it caused U.S. power utility PacifiCorp to back out of the project in 1998, and German utilities Bayernwerk and VEW Energie to pull out in April 1999.
Ogden Corporation is a conglomerate with interests in the airline services, entertainment, environmental and energy sectors. The company has no experience with large dam projects. Its current portfolio contains only six small hydroelectric dams (four in the US and two in Costa Rica) with an average generating capacity of about 20 megawatts each.
Some of the company's ventures include the Wet 'n Wild Waterpark in Las Vegas, the Iguazu Grand Hotel Resort & Casino in Brazil, and the expansion of Bogota's Eldorado International Airport. Ogden has been embroiled in controversy because of its promotion of waste incinerators and its blocking of efforts by some of its food service employees to unionize. Fortune magazine recently voted Ogden's board of directors as one of America's worst.
Ogden officials claim that land is available for families who will lose part or all of their lands due to submergence. However, a 1998 report by India's premier social research institute, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, found that government lands claimed to be available for resettlement were either eroded and stony, already used by other poverty-stricken communities, or located in the submergence zone of the reservoir. The report also found that claims of private lands identified for resettlement were fictitious.
According to Ogden's Senior Vice President Kent Burton, people in the region "are voicing their support in increasing numbers and are encouraging us to move toward completion as rapidly as possible." However, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which represents tens of thousands of people affected by the Maheshwar Dam, states that they are "prepared to wage a relentless struggle" against the project and are determined to "not let the dam be built at any cost."
Over the last two years, thousands of farming families have occupied the dam site nine times, barricaded all roads leading to the dam for three months, and held mass demonstrations and hunger strikes opposing the dam. This spring, nearly 300 elected representatives of the affected area sent Ogden a resolution opposing the project.
International Rivers Network (IRN) is a US-based nongovernmental organization which supports local communities working to protect their rivers and watersheds. IRN works to halt destructive river development projects, and to encourage equitable and sustainable methods of meeting needs for water, energy and flood management.