SANDRP Press Release
September 20, 2000
S A N D R P
South Asian Network on Dams Rivers and People
53-B, AD Block, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi 110 052
Ph. 011 - 7484654, 7484654
India Country Study for World Commission on Dams
Exposes India's Poor Track Record on Large Dams
"The marginal contribution of large dams to increased foodgrains
production [in India] is less than 10%".
This startling fact was among many other findings of
the India Country Study (ICS) on large dams conducted by a consultant team
of five prominent Indian experts. The study conducted for the
multi-stakeholders World Commission on Dams (WCD) exposes the poor track
record of large dams in India on all accounts - social, economic,
environmental and financial as well as the availability of better non-large
Not only is there insufficient internationalising of social and
environmental costs in project design, the report found that "Costs are
systematically underestimated and benefits exaggerated so that requisite
B-C ratio is shown to have been arrived at. Further, during actual
implementation, there are enormous escalation in costs, considerable delays
and changes in design and scope of projects. Benefits, on the other had,
fall well below anticipated figures as actual irrigated area and achieved
yields fall below projected levels". Thus, the report concludes, the Major
and Medium Irrigation Projects are unviable. On hydropower dams, the report
concludes, "Given the high capital cost, long gestation period and the
environmental and social costs, hydro power development is not the
preferred option for power generation compared to other sources".
The report consistently highlighted the absence in India of the political
will, legal framework and planning infrastructure to mitigate and redress
the substantial negative effects that large dams have on the environment
and society. "Apart from not acknowledging the social and environmental
costs, most of the dams were also not required to internalize the costs of
preventing, minimizing and mitigating most of the adverse impacts", which
have been very significant. On options, the report concludes, "If we also
look (as we must) at the costs and benefits of other, alternative, methods
for achieving the objectives set out for large dams, then some of these
alternatives might turn out to be better options then large dams".
The findings of the study are expected to have a significant impact on
India's large dam policy especially because it is part of WCD knowledge
base. It will be incorporated into the final report of the WCD, a body
endorsed by various stakeholders ranging from the NBA and Government of
India to representatives of the industry and leading international agencies
including the World Bank and IUCN.
Citing other studies where estimates of human displacement due to large
dams range between 30 million and 40 million, the report suggests that
these figures ring true especially in light of the study's own estimates
that place the figures at a monumental 56 million. Even by the most
conservative estimates based on Central Water Commission (a Govt. of India
body) figures, large dams have submerged over 5 million ha of forests,
affecting the tribals and other poor sections of society depending on forests.
Vindicating the stance of critics of large dams in India and outside that
large dams cater to well-to-do classes at the cost of the poor and
marginalised communities, the report finds, "Together, nearly 62% of the
population displaced were tribals and members of the scheduled castes.
Considering their population nationally is only a little over 24.5%,
clearly their representation among those displaced was disproportionately
high. For tribals, this was particularly significant as their proportion in
the national population is only a little over eight percent, which their
proportion among the displaced was over 47%".
Not only that, even the electricity and irrigation benefits of large hydel
projects routinely bypass the dam affected and other poor communities and
are disproportionately consumed by landed farmers and urban electricity
consumers or well to do families in rural areas. Thus, on distribution
aspects of large dams, the conclusion of the study is even more shocking,
"Also, the distribution of most of the costs and benefits of large dams
seems to accentuate socio-economic inequities. This seems primarily due to
a lack of policy direction regarding the equity aspects of projects".
Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Govt. of
India, who authored the section on "the framework of laws, policies,
institutions and procedures", eloquently demolishes oft-repeated arguments
by large dam proponents. Iyer identifies the systematic malaise that has
led to large scale misery due to large dams. He concludes "that some people
should be willing to make sacrifices for national economic 'progress'... is
clearly an unacceptable proposition from the point of view of social
justice and it goes against the Project Affected Persons' right to life and
right to equality before the law". Iyer points out that the Indian
framework contains "no effective mechanism for ensuring compliance with
conditions (where conditions are set) and taking appropriate measures in
event of non-compliance".
While underlining that large dam planning process in India is done in the
absence of a comprehensive water policy that explores alternatives, the
report outlines recommendations for better management of water resources.
Before taking up any project, needs assessment for the given area
must be done, the needs should be prioritised and then options assessment
should be done to find the optimum way of satisfying the needs. The
available options must be assessed in terms of being least cost (all kinds
of costs), viability including from the social and environmental point of
It is likely that demand side management, more efficient use of
available systems would be the preferred options.
There should be a national rehabilitation policy based on land for
land principle. The policy must have a legal backing. Most significantly,
the report has recommended that those displaced till now must be properly
rehabilitated and compensated BEFORE any further displacement is affected.
Strengthening the institutional framework to ensure implementation
of social and environmental safeguards;
Independent monitoring of compliance and transparency;
Increased irrigation efficiency and crop yields, better use of
available irrigation systems;
Soil moisture conservation techniques, Local rain water harvesting,
small hydel and other non conventional energy technologies and watershed
development would reduce the need of future dams;
"Problems of drainage, waterlogging, salinity, and recurring losses
against operation and maintenance costs may even require abandoning or
decommissioning of some existing dams";
Demand-side conservation and increased energy efficiency;
Improved capacity utilisation and distribution loss reduction.
It is clear that time has come to do an independent review of performance
of large dams in India. Over Rs. 1567.76 billion (at constant 1996-7 price
level), that is over 2/3rd of the water resources budget of the nation has
been spent on large projects in fifty years by March 1997. As the report
notes, there has been no attempt to really evaluate what has been the
performance of large dams. As another year of drought stares before the
nation, we demand that a truly independent, credible national commission be
set up to review the costs, benefits and (intended & unintended) impacts of
large dams, including who has paid the costs and who has benefited. Pending
report of such a commission, it would only be logical, that no more large
dams be taken up, work on ongoing large dams be stopped and water resources
and hydropower budget be spent on available alternatives. And as ICS notes,
there is no dearth of such alternatives.
(For Full report, visit www.dams.org or
write to firstname.lastname@example.org)
SANDRP is an independent research and networking organization based in Delhi.