Narmada Samachar: 8 June 2001


All this (and more) news can be accessed via the Press Clippings page at:
The NBA press releases are accessible at:

Archives of Narmada Samachar are accessible at:

Maheshwar Dam related

NBA Press Releases

Financial Institutions must stop funding Maheshwar Hydro-Electric Project;
Lesson from Dabhol: Moratorium on all further FI lending to
Independent Power Projects
NBA Press Release - May 31, 2001

Maheshwar dam affected people storm Financial institutions
; FIs taken to task for irregularities;
Collusion between FIs and private promoters, RBI must act to stop
large scale loot of public finance
NBA Press Release - June 1, 2001

Press Clippings

NBA serves legal notices to IFCI for Maheshwar ; Times of India - June 2, 2001
"We have questioned the FIs' role in the entire
project, the high tariff, non-escrowable
capacity of state electricity Board (MPSEB) and
techno-economic clearance to the project," NBA
activists Chitaroopa Palit and Alok Agarwal
told reporters here on Friday. 
"IDBI officials informed that they had already
disbursed Rs 30 crore out of a total Rs 100 crore
and Rs 50 crore equity pledged to the project.
This is direct contravention of the IFCI appraisal
report of March 2000," Agarwal alleged. 

The FI had done so despite the fact that the
statutory techno-economic clearance of the
Central Electricity Authority for an increased
outlay of Rs 2,254 crore has not been cleared, he
NBA protests against funding of Maheshwar dam ; Times of India - June 2, 2001

SSP related news

NBA Press Release

New Water Policy for India needed on basis of WCD;
Tribals in Narmada Valley to face submergence again;
Maharashtra Govt. must stop work on dam and review SSP in state's interest
NBA Press Release - June 4, 2001

Press Clippings

Gujarat unable to pay contractors for canal project ; Indian Express - June 3, 2001
Former cop files PIL against construction of big dams ; Deccan Herald - June 8, 2001
A retired deputy superintendent of police, B R Nana Rao has filed a public
interest writ petition (PIL) in the Karnataka High Court against the
construction of big dams across the country. The petitioner, stating that
he was inspired by Medha Patkar?s Narmada Bachao Andolan and Booker Prize
Winner Arundathi Roy, claimed that forcing countries like India to
construct huge dams is a 'first world conspiracy'.  A division bench
comprising Chief Justice P V Reddi and Justice N K Patil which heard the
petitioner today has reserved its verdict on the writ petition.  According
to the petition, the country already has about 3,000 dams and these dams
do not help the small and marginal farmers in any way. These mega-dams,
apart from causing severe ecological damage also render millions of people
homeless, the petition argued.  According to the petitioner, the World
Bank and other institutions which earlier promoted the construction of
dams in the developed countries, are now promoting the dam construction
'industry' in countries like India as the 'industry' is dead in the rest
of the world. 

Other News

How Gehlot sells drought relief ; Indian Express - May 30, 2001
THERE is one thing the Rajasthan government excels in - the fine art of
public relations, in window dressing reality so exquisitely that the dirt
remains camouflaged. Whatever his detractors might say, Chief Minister
Ashok Gehlot is an inspired salesman. Government expenditure on publicity
and advertising has been more than doubled this year. With allegations
about inadequate relief measures for drought flying thick and fast in the
scorching heat, attention was gloriously diverted. At a recent PHDCCI
summit of chief secretaries of the northern region in Jaipur, a succession
of lavish presentations and hard-sell convinced outsiders beyond doubt
that Rajasthan was the most innovative state in the country. A slick 34
page magazine printed in Bombay elaborated on all the unique projects
initiated by the government - from education to greening of the desert.
Ironically, at a time when most of the state?s famous lakes are reduced to
shallow ponds, a scheme to introduce ??houseboats?? and water sports was
unveiled by the tourism department. Ignorant first-timers to the state
were enthralled. 
Tell DPC to pack up, demands Patkar ; Deccan Herald - June 5, 2001

Probe International Press Release: Safety concerns about Himachal Dam project

Government secrecy threatens Canadian democracy, puts Third World lives at risk;
Power to cover-up dooms Canadian agencies to repeat mistakes,
says watchdog group to Federal Task Force
NBA Press Release - June 6, 2001

Probe [International] obtained some 1,600 pages of project-related
documents from CIDA using the Access to Information Act, but
approximately one-fifth of those pages were severed, often on the
grounds that the information contained in them was submitted
confidentially by a third party.  What was released, however,
shows that the $1.3 billion Chamera I dam project [in Himachal Pradesh,
India] has been plagued with problems so severe that consultants
hired by CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] warned about 
geological instability around the dam site that "could lead to
a catastrophic event involving not only a major shortage of
power production but, more important than all, potential losses
of lives in the communities installed downstream of the dam."

Feature Article: Big dams are no good - Darryl D'Monte - June 7, 2001

Instead of huge investments in mega dams with poor returns, 
the state should give up its outdated ideas and opt for a better model, 
says Darryl D'Monte 
With the publication of its report, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) 
has been disbanded and a small Dams and Development unit has been created 
within the UN system to take this mandate further. In that sense, this is 
somewhat of a parallel with the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) 
set up after the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The CSD's task is to see to 
it that Agenda 21, the voluminous set of recommendations on environment 
and development that emanated after this "mother of all UN meetings", is 
honoured in spirit and practice. Incidentally, an Indian - Nitin Desai, 
a former Member of the Planning Commission, heads the CSD.

The WCD was in many ways more innovative than the Earth Summit, at least 
in the manner it was created and functioned. It grew out of a small 
workshop organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature 
(IUCN) and the World Bank at the former's headquarters in Gland, 
Switzerland in 1997. Diverse interests were represented at the meeting 
but it surprisingly arrived at a consensus that a World Commission was 
required to pronounce on the pros and cons of these mega projects, 
with a view to settling some of the misgivings surrounding them. 
The members included the head of the International Commission on 
Large Dams - an unashamed proponent of this technology - as well 
as the redoubtable Medha Patkar and a representative of Asea Brown 
Boveri, a leading Swiss multinational, which specialises in executing 
large engineering projects. 

At recent briefings on the WCD report in Mumbai and New Delhi by the 
three Indians associated with the Commission - Patkar, L.C. Jain and 
Prof S. Parasuraman - the spokespersons reiterated that as many as 79 
countries participated in the deliberations. There were seven detailed 
case studies of dams, three country studies (including India), 17 
thematic reviews, 130 contributing papers, four regional consultations, 
and scores of public hearings and 950 submissions. 

It was highly unfortunate that the Indian government chose not to 
associate itself with the Commission. The first Asian consultation 
was to take place in Bhopal, but was cancelled at the last minute 
after the government indicated its displeasure - obviously under 
pressure from its fellow-BJP regime in Gujarat, which is pushing 
through the Sardar Sarovar project. China, the other big dam-building 
country, also decided not to co-operate, after initially appointing a 
Chief Engineer to participate. By contrast, Sri Lanka - 
where the Asian consultation was finally held - and 
Pakistan took part.

As Prof Parasuraman, originally from the Tata Institute of Social 
Sciences in Mumbai, who served on the WCD secretariat, observed, 
the consensus was that these dams do bring benefits, but at 
unacceptable costs. However, even the benefits are often illusory. 
They provide less than 19 per cent of the total hydropower and account 
for between 30 and 40 per cent of the irrigated area. The most surprising 
finding is that they only contribute 12 to 16 per cent of global food 
production, which puts a question mark over the argument constantly put 
forward by the protagonists of big dams. 

In India, according to the WCD country study (disowned by the government), 
big dams have contributed less than 30 per cent of food production. For 
that matter, 80 per cent of agricultural land in the world is rain-fed 
and this accounts for 60 per cent of grain production. Instead of spending 
vast resources on a dubious technology, therefore, it is time that dryland 
farming was given top priority.  

On the flip side, there is the displacement of people, which is put at 
a massive 40 to 80 millions, mainly in India and China. Although there 
are no official figures on this social catastrophe for obvious reasons, 
it is guesstimated that the number could be as high as 50 million in 
India and 12 million in China. It ought to be clarified that these 
constitute those who have been physically displaced by submergence, 
those rendered landless and homeless downstream and also due to the 
building of infrastructure like canals have not been counted. 

The less-known adverse impacts include the question of cost over-runs, 
which average 50 per cent. In India, these touch as much as 250 per cent, 
which makes a mockery of the entire concept of cost-benefit analysis. 
Furthermore, costs are recovered on power but not on irrigation. Finally, 
the other familiar argument by dam-builders, that this hydropower is clean,
 unlike thermal, fossil fuel or nuclear energy, is now being questioned: by 
submerging forest areas, dam reservoirs generate methane and greenhouse 
which approximate those of thermal power.

One of the most alarming findings of this post mortem on dams is their
 long gestation periods and delays. According to the report of India's 
Parliamentary Standing Committee 
of the Ministry of Water Resources, dams begun 25 to 30 years ago have 
still not been completed. The cost spill-over amounts to a staggering 
Rs 75,000 crore. On the other hand, the Planning Commission has 
allocated only Rs 2,000 crore for this purpose. Not that the dam-builders 
have any qualms about such minor details: they continue to start new 
projects all the time. 

Another unfamiliar fact is that, according to a World Bank study, 
less than 40 per cent of the water from the "head"
of the dam reaches its supposed destination in this country. 
Take the case of Sardar Sarovar. It was originally sanctioned by 
the Planning Commission a few decades ago on the ground that it 
would bring water to the thirsty in Saurashtra and Kutch. Today, 
it is clear that only a small proportion will reach these districts. 
There is also the related issue of the efficiency of irrigation. 
Groundwater is 1.5 times more efficient than surface or canal 
irrigation, which is plagued by leakage, evaporation and other losses.

Worldwide, big dams have only delivered 40 to 50 per cent 
of their potential. Yet, China for instance is going ahead with the 
Three Gorges, one of the world's biggest. The resort to this 
mega-technology has led to overuse of water, leading to salinity 
and waterlogging. The first impact has contributed to a fifth of 
agricultural land alongside canals going out of production, as has 
been witnessed in Punjab and Haryana, not to mention ecologically 
similar zones in Pakistan. Besides, once an area has been earmarked 
for a big dam, 
all development funds virtually dry up. In the case of 
Indira Sagar, the huge dam on the Narmada in Madhya Pradesh, 
there isn't a road for 260 villages, or schools or primary 
health centres, because the area is condemned. At the same time, 
due to a paucity of funds, there is no sign of 
the dam coming up: even politicians in that state are opposed to it.

Given all the shortcomings listed above, it would be well to 
set existing dams in order before embarking on new projects. 
The Indians who served on the WCD believe that the core emerging 
issue is a proper recognition of the rights of those affected by dams 
as well as a comprehensive assessment of risks. There is also a strong
 case for alternative methods of putting up dams, where the state creates 
greater opportunities for equity instead of depriving the most
 vulnerable of their rights. Tribals and lower castes can be
 accommodated in this process. 

Finally, these outcomes could be achieved through binding formal 
agreements, not left to the vagaries of the administrative and
 political process. Some activists like Patkar call for "prior 
informed consent" before launching dams. It is noteworthy that 
six European governments have decided to implement the WCD 
guidelines; Sri Lanka and Brazil have even set up a National
Commission on Dams and Pakistan has asked for IUCN help to 
develop one on these lines. By contrast, the Ministry of Water
Resources boycotted the briefing in Delhi, as did irrigation 
officials in Maharashtra during the Mumbai meeting. This 
ostrich-like attitude does not sit well with the new thrust 
towards transparency and democratic functioning in this 
new century.