NBA Press Release
  17 March 2004
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Hundreds of Narmada protestors court arrest, demand scrapping of large dams and implementation of water and power alternatives

Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-33162

Narmada dams to serve Madhya Pradesh’s electricity and water needs or global and private corporates business agenda ?

On the 28th of January 2004, the new government in Madhya Pradesh extended a state guarantee of Rs. 400 crores to the destructive Maheshwar Project and expressed its intention to restart this high cost, controversial project. Immediately after the elections, work is being sought to be started on the Upper Beda dam in District Khargone although the administration has not been able to respond to the demands of the affected tribals to be given land as per the rehabilitation policy. Work is being intensified on the Omkareshwar and Narmada Sagar Projects that will submerge thousands of acres of land and forest, and uproot lakhs of people. Faced with protests surrounding the Narmada dams, the new Chief Minister responded by stating publicly that she would invite the Narmada Bachao Andolan for discussions on alternatives. But the truth is that all efforts of the people of the Narmada valley to meet the new government has failed in the last two months. That is why people from the Narmada valley thronged the streets of Bhopal on the 16th and 17th of March demanding that the state government scrap the destructive Maheshwar, Upper Beda and other large dams in the Narmada valley and implement the available, cheaper and better water and power alternatives. On the 16th of March the affected people demonstrated at various financial institutions and took them to task for not accountable for the use and abuse of public money in the Maheshwar and other Projects. On the 17th of March several hundred people from the Narmada valley took out a rally through the streets of Bhopal from Shahjahani Park to the CM’s bungalow and courted arrests in protest against the destructive policies being wrought in the Narmada valley.

Before and after the state assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh the newly elected Chief minister Ms. Uma Bharati repeatedly claimed that she would solve the electricity problems of Madhya Pradesh by building the Narmada dams. But the recent figures given by the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board for the year 2003-2004 belies this.

Electricity generated by MPSEB (A) Madhya Pradesh’s share from Central undertakings in Western grid (B) Firm availability of power in Madhya Pradesh (A) +(B) Current demand of consumers in Madhya Pradesh 1394 crore units 894 crore units 2288 crore units 1577 crore units These figures show that the availability of electricity in Madhya Pradesh whether it is from the MPSEB plants or from its share in the Central undertakings based in the Western grid is larger than the demand by 45 %. That is 1.5 times more electricity is being produced or allocated in Madhya Pradesh than is being purchased by consumers. It is thus clear that the electricity crisis in Madhya Pradesh is not a crisis of insufficient electricity generation and so its solution cannot be more electricity generation. The factual situation is that out of the electricity produced or purchased by Madhya Pradesh, around half – 44.20% as per MPSEB figures is lost, whereas similar transmission and distribution losses in developing countries like ours such as Thailand and Bangladesh are in the order of 9%. It is because of the exceedingly high transmission and distribution losses in Madhya Pradesh that to meet the demand of 1577 crore units, the grid will require around 2722 crore units. Thus the electricity crisis in Madhya Pradesh is not of insufficient generation but of that of a badly leaking transmission and distribution system.

As per government figures, the Maheshwar Project is to generate 90 crore units of electricity, that is around 3% of the annual consumption of electricity in Madhya Pradesh. As per the agreement of the NHPC with the Government of Madhya Pradesh, only 12% of the electricity produced by the Omkareshwar and Narmada Sagar dams will come to Madhya Pradesh on a firm basis. Madhya Pradesh will also purchase up to 49% of electricity on payment. The power envisaged to be given by Narmada Sagar dam to the Madhya Pradesh grid is around 2% of Madhya Pradesh’s total requirements. Similarly, power to be generated by the Omkareshwar dam is to be half of this – or around 1%. Thus it is for meeting a mere 6% of Madhya Pradesh’s electricity needs that hundreds of villages and millions of people in the Narmada valley are being destroyed, that too in a state where 44% is being lost in transit.

The question is whether the same amount of electricity cannot be made available by other means? Yes, it can be made available. These alternatives are both better and cheaper. At a fragment of the cost of new projects, by replacing and installing new electric lines, transformers, poles, building new sub-stations, and by renewing and renovating the transmission and distribution network, cheap electricity can be made available in large quantities, and sufficient to meet Madhya Pradesh’s entire needs at the present level of generation. In the Annual Revenue Requirement Report submitted by the MPSEB to the MPSERC in January 2004, they have presented the costs of energy savings by stopping technical and commercial losses. As per these figures, the cost of saving 90 crore units of electricity is between Rs. 300 to Rs. 600 crores. Yet to produce the same amount of electricity through the Maheshwar Project will cost an estimated Rs. 2200 crores – four times the amount!

Thus it is clear that in the short term, for the next few years, merely by saving electricity and renovating the transmission and distribution structure and stopping theft, the electricity needs of Madhya Pradesh can be met. However, simultaneously other alternatives may addressed. There is a possibility that 20 to 30 % electricity consumption can be saved by increasing the efficiency of agricultural pumps and pipes as well as electrical goods used for domestic and industrial purposes. Bio-mass based electricity options also need to be explored which are already being commercially done with bagasse and sugercane waste in suger-cane factories. It my also be noted that Hydel projects are also not suitable for the production of peaking power since the power produced by hydel projects sharply dwindles in the winter and summer months with dwindling water flows.

Apart from power, the water benefits of large dams in the Narmada valley are also extremely questionable. While Omkareshwar and Narmada Sagar dams are slated to provide irrigation to a large number of villages, the government has always kept the people in the command area in the dark about the study of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore that finds that almost 40% of the command of the Narmada Sagar and Omkareshwar dams will be waterlogged after the dams. It is also clear that decentralized water alternatives also exist to the large dams in the Narmada valley. The dream and aspiration of people in the command area for water will become a watery nightmare.

To meet the same water needs, decentralised water harvesting alternatives have also proved to be extremely successful all over the country as In Rajsamadhiliya in Saurashtra which was brimming with water at a time when the area was facing one of the worst droughts of the century because of the farsightedness of the villagers who had constructed innumerable small harvesting structures, or as in the experience of the Tarun Bharat Sangh in Alwar, Rajasthan where extensive tank building led to revival of rivers, recharge of ground water and a new life for an economy and area previously marked by mass migration. In the context of this experience, the NBA demands that the state government cancel the Rs. 87 crore Upper Beda project in District Khargone which is submerging 14 villages and hundreds of tribal and peasant families without offering them any agricultural land for rehabilitation. In lieu, Rs. 1 crore should be given to the Gram Kosh in each of the 72 command area villages so that they can develop decentralized water resources and are able to meet their water requirements, and the investment of Rs. 1 crore per village is able to stimulate large scale employment in the area.

Perhaps the imperatives behind the construction of Maheshwar, Upper Beda and the other Narmada dams is not the fulfillment of the water and energy needs of the common people of Madhya Pradesh and we have to look to the global corporates and their Indian partners relentless search for super-profits to understand why they are being pushed so hard in the development agenda, despite better and cheaper alternatives. Today global corporations like Siemens, Alstom and ABB that manufacture power equipment are facing severe economic crisis. These corporations belonging to the developed countries are facing deep economic recession and exhausted markets in their own countries. That is why it is imperative for them that their influence with local governments in the South ensure a spate of such projects so that business can continue as usual. It little matters then whether millions of people are uprooted or valuable resources are submerged. For example, the multinational Siemens was to sell power equipment to the Maheshwar Project promoted by S.Kumars, but subsequently had to withdraw because of popular struggle. Now, the same global equipment supplier Siemens has received the EPC contract for the Omkareshwar Project in the Narmada valley along with the Indian firm – Jaiprakash Associates.Similarly, Alstom power – a French multinational still has a contract for the Maheshwar Project. Alstom power also received the equipment contract for the Omkareshwar Project a month ago. The new Madhya Pradesh government has also recently announced that it could go in for a global tender for Maheshwar. The situation is clear. It is a pity that the energy policy of this country is not to meet the electricity and water needs of the common people of India, but in order to meet the business needs of the global corporates.

In the last two years under the aegis of the Asia Development Bank, both in the earlier Congress regime and during the present BJP regime in Madhya Pradesh, the entire reins of the power and water sector in Madhya Pradesh has gone into the hands of foreign multilateral banks and consultancy firms. The plans for the power sector for the last two years are being made by the Canadian firm SNC Lavalin. This firm is also the chief consultant for the MPSEB. Similarly as part of the conditionalities of the financial dispensation of the ADB and the British government “technical assistance”, foreign consultants have been appointed for the two other important decision making agencies of the Madhya Pradesh power sector, KPMG – an international accountancy firm has been appointed as the consultant for the Energy Department of the Madhya Pradesh government and Price Waterhouse has been appointed as the consultant for the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Regulatory Commission. Similarly, the Asia Development Bank has also designated the foreign consultancy firm – Halcrow Water to make the water development plan for Madhya Pradesh. Given that the keys of water and power development in Madhya Pradesh have now been given over to foreign corporates, it is not surprising that the voices of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the people of the Narmada valley advocating the realistic and cheaper power and water alternatives are not being heard.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan demands that the state government implement water and power alternatives that are based on financing from the Indian public financial institutions rather than the ADB or other foreign sources, management and control by popular and elected institutions rather than “independent” regulators, and on dispersed and decentralized technologies that emphasize conservation of energy and water utilization of existing capacities before fresh investments that are based on respect for the environment and people. The Andolan is resolved that it will raise the issue of financial irregularities and alternatives at the level of the state. The NBA also expresses anger and indignation at the decision of the NCA to increase the height of the SSP to 110 metres.

Mangat Varma
Alok Agarwal
Chittaroopa Palit