New Water Policy for India needed on basis of WCD
TRIBALS IN NARMADA VALLEY TO FACE SUBMERGENCE AGAIN
MAHARASHTRA GOVT. MUST STOP WORK ON DAM AND REVIEW SSP IN STATE'S INTEREST
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
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
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.
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
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.