NBA Press Note

June 20, 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

WCD Report a Guideline for New Water Policy in India

National Interest Demands Review of Narmada and All Large Dams

As the tribals and peasants in the Narmada valley are preparing to face yet another illegal and inhuman submergence due to Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) by launching the Satyagraha from July 5, it is the time for the Indian government to stop the project and review it in the national interest. If the government can talk with the separatist groups and can invite the military ruler of Pakistan, which is a welcome step, it can surely talk with its own tribals and peasants of this country fighting against the displacement and destruction of the land and forest of this country. Along with safeguarding the borders, the government also should safeguard the depressed classes and already threatened natural resources of this country.

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.) near the residence of Baba Amte, confronting the submergence water. Before that the tribals in the submergence zone of the controversial Man dam will be launching the Satyagraha against the unjust submergence from July 2.

The construction upto 93 meters (with humps) on SSP would destroy the homes, farms, life and natural resources of anywhere upto 5000 tribal families from the villages of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It may, depending on the rainfall, almost wipe out the tribal belt in the SSP affected zone in the Narmada valley. This time the submergence would extend upto the fertile plains of Nimad, in M.P.

Fraud On People

The work on the SSP was stopped at the height of 90 meters and the Gujarat government got the additional 3 meters of humps through pressure tactics and manipulations. This has been done with callous disregard towards the legal provisions in the Narmada Valley Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) award and also the Supreme Court verdict, let alone the constitutional and human rights of the tribals. Even the oustees below the dam height of 80 meters have not been resettled fully, the dam was allowed to go upto 93 meters. Before that, the dam had to be stopped at 90 meters as the Resettlement sub-group and Environment sub-group of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) have refused the permission for the increase in the further height of the dam due to the failure to complete the resettlement and the non-fulfillment of the conditions. Even the 10% of the reservoir-affected 43700 families have not been properly resettled and there is no Master Plan of the total displacement and resettlement.

All the basic issues regarding the dam like the cost-benefit and displacement-resettlement, environmental, aspects have remained unanswered and the people have been refusing to leave their villages. Even after spending Rs. 45000 crores (450 billion) of the nation and 90% of the Gujarat's irrigation budget - on one single project, the waters from SSP are not meant for the drought-affected Kutch and Saurashtra.

Similar to Enron Power Project, the projects like the SSP are the social and economic liability for the nation. Yet, the power-holders of Gujarat continue with their pernicious politics of making the dam inevitable and irreversible to suppress the basic issues and the people who are raising them. The Supreme Court of India too has taken away all the legal and constitutional protections for the tribals and peasants and had given a license for the government to suppress the rights of the people.

Large Dams - A Liability

The Government of India and particulalry the Prime Minister must initiate the review of the dams like SSP and of the existing water policy centered around the large dams in the national interest. It needs bold political initiative, coming out of the stranglehold of the conventional view of the bureaucrats and engineers' lobby and evaluate the social, economical and environmental costs our people and nation has paid so far. There should be the post-facto analysis of the existing large dams about their cost-benefit, the wide gap between the estimated and actual costs, claims of benefits and the enormity of the displacement. We demand that the Sardar Sarovar and the entire Narmada valley Development Project can be a best case for such a review in the national interest.

If the spillover cost of the ongoing 119 large dams is about Rs. 25000 crores and the Water Resources Ministry cannot be allotted more than Rs. 2000 crores, we will have to think about planning for the large dams any more. Apart from the mere financial burden, what about at least 30-40 million oustees, mostly the tribals, or the environmental degradation on a large scale, submergence of fertile land and forests. All this is also the part of the national wealth and its destruction is also anti-development. We must give away the superstitions regarding the benefits of the large dam as the India Country Study proves that the large dams have contributed about 10% of the foodgrain production of the country.

WCD Report: Pathbreaking Effort

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.

The Report shows that the enormous displacement all over the world ( 40-80 million) due to the large dams and no resettlement for the most of them. 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. And these benefits too, largely have gone to the already well-off while poorer sectors of society have to borne the unjustifiable costs. On the other hand, 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.

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. It has highlighted 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. 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. WCD's recommends a value-framework with equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making, sustainability and accountability to a new decision-making process for water and energy sector.

Its 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..

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 unsustainable and iniquitous water policy of the country.

Medha Patkar