NAPM Press Release

June 19, 2001

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Review of Large Dam Centered Water Policy Sought In 'Drought, Dams, Alternative' Conference

Organizations to make coordinated efforts for decentralized, equitable, sustanable water policy in Maharashtra

Many organizations, movements and experts working on the issues of drought and alternative water management in Maharashtra are coordinating their efforts to persuade the state government to formulate the sustainable, equitable, decentralized water policy with the people's rights and equitable distribution as its basic principles. This was the consensus in the day-long conference on the ' Drought, Dams and Alternative', held on June 5 in Pune by the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), which made it clear that the prevalent water management plans centered around the large projects, have failed to solve the problem of the drought and water scarcity.

After the conference, some senior activists have decided to further the issues regarding the alternative water management and distribution, that have emerged from this conference and through the various major struggles, experiments in the state. Accordingly, the organizations would start the dialogue about the consensus on the water policy and at the same time there would be efforts to open the dialogue with the state government. Mr. Vilasrao Salunkhe, pioneer of 'Pani Panchyat', the unique campaign for decentralized and equitable water management in the state, and senior Socialist leader Mr. Bhai Vaidya have written a letter to the Chief Minister for a dialogue with the such organizations and movements for formulating an equitable, sustainable and people-centered water policy for the state.

Number of organizations and water experts participated in the 'Drought, Dams and Alternative' conference. Mr. Salunkhe inaugurated the deliberations with an appeal for various organizations to coordinate their issues and efforts for a blueprint of such a policy. Noted water expert and Director of Afarm, Dr. Mukund Ghare gave a keynote address detailing the dismal situation of water distribution and utilization in the state. Hardeo Singh Jadeja, the Sarpanch of the Rajsamandhiala village in Saurashtra which has been in the news for its ample waters in the severe drought, gave some idea of how the village has carried out its water management plan according to scientific precision and grit. Rajendra Singh of 'Tarun Bharat Sangh' emphasised the important and decisive role of the 'common people', their knowledge and techniques which make any plan a success.

Vijay Parajapye, noted economist and expert on irrigation projects, Anand Kapoor, working in the Bhimashankar area and in Bargi area in M.P. on the issues of water management and resettlement mistakes regarding the water usage, distribution in the past. Prof. Vijay Diwan presented the case-study of the failed Jayakwadi Project, the large dam in the plains of Marathwada. Rajkiumar Sinha from Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangharsha Samiti (M.P.) revealed the bankruptcy involved in the large dams like Bargi. Prof. H.M.Desarda, Prof. Takalkar, Dinkar Dave ( Gujarat) also participated.

In the concluding session, Medha Patkar made it clear that there should be an independent post-facto analysis of the large dam centered water plans and projects in the state and on national level. The large dams have proved to be socially iniquitous, environmentally unsustainable and centralized in control, negating any possibility of the people's control on their resources and on the water sources. "The issues like displacement, people's rights, sustainability, equitable distribution have to be integrated to evolve a new policy. The report of the World Commission on Dams can provide some guidelines in that direction" she said. She asserted that " the present economic policy of globalization, liberalization and privatization is out to give a free hand to the national-multinational capital with the increasing privatization of water and other natural resources as against the needs of the people and values of equality and justice. Therefore, the efforts for developing the just and sustainable water policy have to be integrated with the struggle against the globalization".

The Issues Emerged From the Conference

The mega-project/large-dam centered policy has resulted in the enormous financial costs, irreparable environmental degradation and displacement alongwith the problems like waterlogging, salinity and the iniquitous water distribution in the command area. The policy was characterized by the centralization of the decision-making and benefits, unequal distribution and environmentally unsustainable utilization of the water. This policy could be carried on only with the suppression of the democratic rights of the people.

Maharashtra government must model it water policy on the basis of the issues emanated through the discussions with movements, organizations and experts striving for the alternative water management.

There has been no post-facto analysis of the large dams that have been completed in the state. Yet, the plans are afoot to have more such large dams and spend the already scarce financial resources on these unsustainable and unviable projects. The state government should stop such spendthrift policies.

First, it should complete whichever large projects are incomplete for decades- and then stop for taking a review of the entire policy. The water from such projects must be distributed on the equitable basis, it should not be allowed for unsustainable use for the cash crops like the sugarcane. All the oustees of such projects must be resettled with just and acceptable policy and following all the legal and constitutional provisions. The resettlement must be done on the basis of the natural resources in the area and with their meaningful participation in the decision-making. The issues like the consent of the affected people, right to information and questioning the propriety and cost-benefit of the project should be the part of their rights.

Rights, Equality, Sustainability

Before any new project, the rights of the people ( villages, hamlets, localities etc.) over and the first right of usage of their own natural resources must be recognised. Only after their needs are fully satisfied, the residual water/forest/land etc could be for the outside use.

The decentralized water harvesting at different places and equitable and sustainable use would be more efficient, viable and environmentally sustainable way. Taking inspiration from the experiments and constructive campaigns in Maharashtra and other states the states, the Maharashtra government should formulate such policy which would give the central place to the village level planning by the people/groups, with their own right over it avoiding the displacement and environmental destruction.

Along with watershed development programmes, small dams, check dams, village ponds, contour bunding, the rejuvenation and reuse of the traditional water structures/sources like tanks, kunds, bavadis etc.

In such water-planning in the villages, the role of the local and traditional artisans, technicians and local knowledge-base should become pivotal. Their vision, knowledge and preferences should have central place, with the new context, in such planning. The exploitative system of dominance gets its legitimacy and strength from the monopoly of 'the' knowledge. Despite the government policy for people-oriented water planning, the technocracy and bureaucracy still retains its hold on such schemes, planning and campaigns. The 'people's participation' becomes something extraneous and disposable thing in the plans prepared by the bureaucrats. Instead, the government and bureaucracy should 'participate' in the plans and schemes prepared by the people.

Equitable distribution of water made available through such plans should be yet another hallmark of the new water policy. The water should be distributed equally among all the families /persons in the village/ locality; stipulated amount of water should be given to per person and not according to the landholding. The landless, Dalits and women too are entitled have the per-person water. This would be helpful for a egalitarian and sustainable land policy also.

Along with the people in the command area, people in the catchment areas of the reservoirs, the downstream people and the oustees too have the equitable right over the water. The water cannot be exclusively made available to the 'command area' only. The people around the reservoirs should have the right to lift water according to the equitable distribution norm. The displaced people from Bargi and Tawa dams in Madhya Pradesh have established their right over the reservoir and the right over the drawdown land. Similar provision can be made in the Water-policy in Maharashtra also. Utilising water in decentralised way, through water harvesting, is also a part of the equitable distribution.

The crass disparity between urban and rural water distribution should be be done away with. In Maharashtra the urban areas get 135 liters per day water while the rural areas get 40 lpd.

There should be strict water utilization code. The priority should be for the drinking water and then for the protective irrigation for a single crop, rural water needs and industrial water should be the last priority. Industry and urban water usage, wastage, pollution must be strictly controlled, monitored. The five-star usage in hotels, water parks etc. must be banned. It is absurd to use the 'last drop of water', as some water needs to flow in the river also. It has social and environmental purpose.

In agriculture also, the water-sucking cash crops like sugarcane should not be encouraged while the foodgrains, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables etc. should get the priority. The crop pattern and the water policy are interdependent.

World Commission On Dams

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. It has clearly vindicated the issues that peoples' movements have raised through their struggles over last fifty years. .

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 bear the unjustifiable costs. On the other hand, the performance of such dams 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. 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..

Though the Government of India has neglected the important recommendations of the WCD, many governments like 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 these lines. Given the recurring drought situation and failure of the prevalent water policy to tackle it, and the plethora of problems concerning the large dam cetered water planning, there is an urgent need for reviewing the water policy of Maharashtra and the nation on these lines.

Sanjay Sangvai