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
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
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
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
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
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
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.