NBA Press Note

June 4, 2001

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity! NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN
B-13, Shivam Flats
Ellora Park,
Tel: 0265-282232
58, Gandhi Marg,
Badwani, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07290-22464

New Water Policy for India needed on basis of WCD

The Maharashtra government and the Union government must review the present unsustainable and inequitable water management policies and practices in view of the important recommendations of the world Commission on Dams (WCD), including the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) in the Narmada valley. The large and unsustainable projects like SSP are going to prove a burden and liability on the government like the infamous Enron Power Project. For the sake of the national interests and the interests of the tribal and peasants in the Narmada valley, the governments must call a halt to the SSP and all such projects and review them in cooperation with the people's organizations.

The people's movements will be resisting the oppressive tactics of the governments and at present the people in the Narmada valley are prepared to another bout of submergence due to the unjustified increase in the height of the SSP upto 90 meters plus 3 meters of humps. From July 5, the people will launch the Satyagraha against the dam, displacement and submergence at Domkhedi ( Maharashtra) and Jalsindhi and the Chhoti Kasaravad ( M.P.), confronting the submergence water. Over 3500 tribals-peasants from about 80 villages will be affected by the submergence this monsoon.

The ball now is in the court of the government. The government is on the test. The people's movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and the conscientious citizens in India have been keeping watch on the situation and the government's response to such a crisis precipitated by the acts of the government and the judiciary. It is clear that the Government of Maharashtra has been unable to resettle the tribal villagers even upto the height of the 80 meters so far. The ousted people are languishing in the resettlement sites for last four to seven years. The Union Social welfare Ministry's Secretary and Rehabilitation sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority have recognised that the people have not been resettled. Yet the Gujarat government, along with the Union Water Resources Ministry have pressed for the increase in the height of the dam and the humps. It is reprehensible that Maharashtra government did not oppose this gameplan of flushing out of the people from their villages with the threat of the unjust submergence.

We demand that the Maharashtra government must take a firm stand against any further destruction and submergence. It should also initiate an independent review of the cost and benefit of the SSP for Maharashtra.

WCD Report

The report of the World Commission on dams (WCD) has been a pathbreaking effort to change the decision-making, planning and assessment processes of the water and land management. All these years, the government has been pursuing the large-dam centered water policy with no significant gains The WCD Report has clearly vindicated the issues that peoples' movements raised and struggled over, during the past half a century. Large dams are planned, pushed and are justified with no respect for peoples' rights to resources and development planning, no or little place for social and environmental impacts assessment in their decision-making.

The Report shows that:

  • Large dams have forced 40-80 million people from their homes and lands, with impacts including extreme economic hardship, community disintegration, and an increase in mental and physical health problems. Indigenous, tribal, and peasant communities have been particularly hard hit. People living downstream of dams have also suffered from increased disease, the loss of natural resources upon which their livelihoods depended;
  • As against benefits in terms of water and power services, the price, especially in social and environmental terms, paid by people in too many cases, is often unacceptable and unnecessary.
  • The benefits of large dams, largely gone to the already well-off while poorer sectors of society have borne the costs, is unjustifiable.

The detailed assessment of economic performance of large dams is no doubt mixed and yet what is remarkable is that even within the planner's established framework of economic appraisal (leaving out social-environmental costs, risk analysis and post-facto evaluation), the performance on irrigation and drinking water supply is much poorer than the planned, less than 50% targets being achieved in a majority of cases, large percentage of dams fail to recover operation and maintenance costs. To quote from the Report (pg-42), "Large irrigation dams in the WCD knowledge base have typically fallen short of physical targets, failed to recover their costs, and been less profitable in economic terms than expected." Also, "the WCD knowledge base suggests a marked tendency towards schedule delays for large dam projects compared with the planned time to implementation." (pg-42)

The Report especially exposes and questions the flawed processes of decision-making on large dams which is devoid of granting rights to the Project Affected, assessing all options and without comprehensive social and environmental impact assessment. Stressing that options exist, it says "Many of the non-dam options available today including demand-side management, supply efficiency and new supply options can improve or expand water and energy services and meet evolving development needs in all segments of society" (pg-xxxi-xxxii). "Decentralised, small-scale options (micro hydro, home-scale solar electric systems, wind and biomass systems) based on local renewable sources offer an important near-term, and possibly long-term, potential particularly in rural areas far away from centralized supply networks" (pg-xxxii).

WCD's recommendations in a value-framework with equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making, sustainability and accountability goes a long way to a new decision-making process, not for dams but all options in water and energy sector.

WCD's main contribution thus is to assert the people's right to decision-making, through Prior Informed Consent in the case of tribal and indigenous communities and 'Demonstrable Public Acceptance' in the case of other rural / urban communities to be affected by any water / power project. Its recommendation on option-assessment before the appropriate choice of technology, provides an unique space for non-conventional options which could be more equitable, sustainable and hence development effective.

The report of the World Commission on Dams is a step forward in the decades long struggle of the peoples' organizations questioning the social and environmental impacts and their justifiability on the basis of water and power delivery services as also economic benefits. It is ironical that the Government of India has neglected the important recommendation s of the WCD, while many governments like those of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Germany, Norway, USA and multilateral financial institutions like World Bank and Asian Development Bank have decided to change their water policy on the lines of the WCD report.

Given the recurring drought situation and failure of the prevalent water policy to tackle it, there is an urgent need for the major shift in the water policy of the country. There is dire paucity of funds to pursue the current policy, even the spillover cost of the ongoing projects ( Rs. 75,000crores) is unsurmountable for the Planning Commission ( It could give paltry Rs. 2000 crores for the same). It is in the interest of Indian government, people to change such bankrupt and unsustainable, anti-people policy. The sustainablitity, recognition of people's rights, option assessments, people's participation and equal distribution of water and other resources can be hallmark of the new water policy for the 21st century in India. The report of the WCD can be guiding force in such direction.

Medha Patkar