This March 2002 update has been split into 4 separate files for ease of downloading. Click on the following links to read all of them:
1. Index and updates
2. Redesigning the Uchangi Dam
3. Hydropower dams in North East India (Tables 1 - 4)
4. Hydropower dams in North East India (Table 5)

Redesigning the Uchangi Dam:

Participatory Resource Mapping in Action

Roopali Phadke (

Department of Env. Studies, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz

While international research for over a decade has demonstrated the importance of farmer participation in development projects, Indian irrigation agencies continue to implement a conventional top-down approach to project planning. Farmer knowledge is stigmatized as “traditional” and “unscientific” and is seen as inferior to government’s “expert scientific approach”.

The redesign of the Uchangi dam in Maharashtra is an example of cooperative efforts between farmers, NGO research groups, local political organisations. In this instance, the design and implementation of a government dam project resulted in a protracted local struggle. In this struggle, NGOs aided villagers to propose an alternative design that would limit social and ecological damage. After a period of negotiation, the govt. accepted aspects of the NGO alternative and redesigned the project.

The Uchangi Dam The Uchangi story unfolds in the southern district of Kolhalpur (population 3 million). While Maharashtra is one of the most economically advanced states in India, 37 percent of the population was listed as poor in a 1993-94 government survey.

Located in the coastal mountains, Kohlapur district receives an abundant rainfall - averaging 4,000 mm a year. With 15 % of total cultivable area irrigated, most parts of the district face water scarcity six months a year. Since flow irrigation is not practical in Kohlapur because of its hilly terrain, pumps directly on the rivers provide 71 % of irrigation. The other important source of irrigation is wells. However, wells are often drawn down very low in the dry season and there are very few programs to promote groundwater recharge and conservation.

Uchangi Dam Design

The Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation is constructing the Uchangi Dam for irrigation in Kohlapur district. The dam is located near the villages of Chafawade and Jeur on the banks of the Taor stream. The dam was designed without canals and was to store water behind ten intermittent weirs. The two main villages affected by reservoir construction, Chafawade and Jeur, have a combined population of about 2,000 people.

Protest and Political Organization Against the Uchangi Dam: Villagers in Chafawade, Jeur and Chitale mounted minor protests against the dam since 1986. In 1997, when officials began markint the submergence zone, villagers began protesting construction efforts in a much more organized fashion.  For four years, the people of Jeur and Chafawade villages maintained a steadfast struggle against the Uchangi dam. During the height of their struggle, villagers occupied the dam site for 50 days to halt construction. They prevented even a single govt. vehicle form entering the project area. Through savvy political leadership, activists were able to bring together some villages of benefit area with the PAPs to negotiate for an alternative proposal.

In 1997, PAPs sought support of the help of a local organization, the Shramik Mukti Dal,. The SMD has been involved in organizing the Maharashtra State Dam and Project Oustees Association. Recently, they have succeeded in not only halting construction of key dams but also in getting monetary compensation for displaced families as well irrigated land in command areas. SMD activists successfully threatened the government that they would halt work at other dams (Urmodi and Marathwadi) unless the demands at Uchangi had been met.

PAPs objection to the Uchangi project was based on unnecessary displacement, limited benefits from the project, and a lack of public disclosure of project details. PAPs in Chafawade and Jeur argued that the 222 Ha that were to be submerged for the dam’s reservoir was the most fertile land in their valley. They argued that this land was triple cropped, effectively meaning a loss of 666 Ha.  They also argued that water would have to be pumped up from the weirs at great cost.

The villagers argued that the government lacked transparency. Villagers and NGOs had been denied crucial information about the dam. They argued that for villagers to make an informed decision about this project they needed the technical specifics. 

While protests had effectively halted work on the Uchangi project, SMD activists encouraged villagers to present an alternative to the MKVDC.  In 1999, toward this effort, SMD called experts from the Society for the Promotion People’s Participation in Ecosystem Management and from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi-Pune. 

Timeline of Protests

Nov. 1997: Irrigation dept. officials surveying submergence area of dam are met with protest from thousands of people from Chafawade, Chitale and Jeur.

Dec. 1997: Meeting held with District Collector. Agency agrees to provide data and will accept submission of an alternative plan by the villagers.

June 1998: Starting of dam construction attempted. Data still not provided. People sit in protest with their cattle at dam site.

June 1999: Inauguration of dam construction attempted again and met by 2,000 protestors. Meeting with Collector to propose alternatives. Later this month, MKVDC agrees to release project data and establishes a timetable for NGOs to offer alternative.

Seeking Alternatives: To work out an alternative proposal, individuals from SOPPECOM and BGVS began working with villagers in Chafawade and Jeur to conduct a participatory resource mapping.

The exercise involved four phases. The first phase involved a socio-economic household survey and a land and water mapping exercise. Forty to fifty village youth were trained in Chafawade and Jeur to conduct the mapping. In total, 250 plots were surveyed over a one-month period in April and May 1999.

In the second phase, SOPPECOM engineers used the information collected through the surveys to show potential sites for storages.  After meetings, an action plan was developed using data and incorporating people’s suggestions. In the final phase, the SOPPECOM engineers combined the locally generated data with the limited information they were given from the govt. agency to propose an alternative. In drafting this alternative proposal, goals were to determine which sites and which levels of storage would limit land loss, provide dispersed submergence of land, and increase the beneficiary area.

The alternative proposal suggested constructing three supplementary storages instead of one large reservoir at Uchangi and 11 additional weirs.  SOPPECOM argued that the alternative plan could have phased construction and rehabilitation to allow affected and beneficiary groups to better participate in the process. 

Features of the final alternative

Water storage: 624 mcft

Dam Sites:

Uchangi (reduced height) and Khetoba

Submergence: 75-100 ha of cultivable land

(not a single family to home)

Benefits to: 13 villages (includes Chafawade & Jeur)

Negotiating an Alternative: In their negotiations, MKVDC officials argued that they could not fully accept the alternatives offered. However, the agency did concede to lower the original height of the dam by two meters. By reducing the height of the dam, not a single family would lose their home for the project. The people of Jeur and Chafawade will have to shift some of their farmlands.


Because storage potential was lost by lowering the height of the dam, the agency agreed to investigate the storage site suggested in the alternative proposal at Khetoba. Khetoba will submerge an additional 47 ha of farm and forestland (20 ha of forest area).

After redesigning the project, the command area has been extended to 13 villages instead of the original ten. The MKVDC has also agreed to subsidize the cost of a lift irrigation scheme for Chafawade and Jeur at 85 % cost. Under a new MKVDC policy, the agency has pledged that 6 % of the total irrigation potential of the dam will go to the PAPs upstream of the storage. There are now better relations between farmers, NGOs and government officials in the region.

Promoting Institutional Change: The movement in Maharashtra has made tremendous strides in challenging the regional irrigation agency’s dam projects designed without consulting local communities. While the MKVDC is involved with the construction of hundreds of dams and irrigation projects, the Uchangi dam has been the only case where local stakeholders were able to renegotiate and redesign a project.

SMD activists report that where the dam displacees movement is strong, they have been able to make the officers more cooperative. A well-organized political movement that has both enough local control to halt construction and clear demands of the agency can result in significant political change. Government officials have also agreed that the final design is a better one.

LessonsFirst, local stakeholders do have valuable knowledge that should be consulted when designing irrigation projects. Second, NGOs with technical expertise can play an integral role in participatory development. Lastly, it is important that govt. project planning become more transparent. Govt. agencies can provide hydrological and geological data to NGOs and community based organizations so that they can better assess local needs and suggest potential projects.

(This is part of a larger paper that is available from the author.)


Big Dams in North East India

For whose benefits? For What benefits?

Govt. of India has launched a major, aggressive strategy to build big water projects in the North East Region of India, as is evident from the statements of the senior Power & Water Resources Ministry, CEA, NHPC, Brahmaputra Board and NEEPCO officials. A recently published CEA ranking study of planned big hydro projects of India contains 168 projects from the region with combined installed capacity of over 38000 MW. To give an idea of the scale, this is over 1.5 times the India’s existing hydropower capacity and equivalent capacity of more than 26 Sardar Sarovar Projects.

For what and whose benefits are these projects planned? These are some of the basic questions that come to mind when looking at this big dam building agenda of Govt. of India in the North East. If in the past wrong kind of development projects and in other cases lack of development have caused problems that plague the region today, the future agenda of Indian Govt. seem to have worse situation in store for the people of the region.


Firstly, the main apparent benefit of the proposed projects, namely power, is not meant for the East region, but for the rest of the nation. For if the existing (installed capacity being 1790 MW) and under construction projects (with installed capacity of 1545 MW) in the region are taken into consideration, they have enough capacity, if operated optimally, to satisfy power needs of the region for at least another decade if not two. Parliamentary Standing Committee on energy in its report for the last year has noted that even peak demand in the region is only 926 MW. The officials of NEEPCO and NEC admit that the new big dam projects are not required for the power needs of the region. Secondly, it is the central govt. and its institutions like NEEPCO, NHPC and Brahmaputra Board, and water and power ministries that are taking all the decisions for the region, with practically no involvement of the people of the region.

Thirdly, all the social and environmental costs would be borne by the people of the region. And if past experience is any guide, these costs are going to be heavy and mostly paid by the poorest, who depend on the natural resources around them. For example, Gumti project in Tripura submerged over 4634 Ha of land and displaced over three thousand families in mid seventies, the figure would be several multiples today. The project has installed capacity of 15 MW, but has not generated firm power at more than 5 MW over the years. Subir Bhaumik, a senior BBC Correspondent has over the years been advocating that the project be decommissioned as Tripura with its huge gas reserves now is installing over 600 MW capacity projects, when its needs are a fraction of that figure. He shows how the catchment of the ethnic conflict in Tripura is among the displaced people of this dam.

Or take the Loktak project in Manipur, where in Feb. 2002 a meeting inaugurated by the Governor was discussing opening up of the gates to reduce the social and environmental impacts of the project. This 105 MW NHPC project have seen cost escalation of 1050%, time overrun of 110 months, collapse of tunnels and destruction of fisheries and also habitat of thousands of people. The people clearly see that the benefits from opening up the gates (& stopping power generation) would be larger than the energy generation from the project during the period. The supporters of the large dams agenda would of course add flood control and such other claims as benefits of such projects, as they are doing in case of Tipaimukh and Subansiri projects, without really telling people what this would mean in reality. It is not possible to deal with this and other very important issues of seismicity, siltation, impacts of wildlife and biodiversity and so on in this brief piece, but suffice to say that there are many a slips between promises and reality.

This is not to argue that the water, power, flood management and developmental needs of the region are already taken care of. Far from it. What is required is a participatory, transparent and accountable planning and decision making process that would begin with needs assessment in various areas of the region, prioritisation of needs, options assessment, looking at the costs, benefits, resource availability and then identifying and implementing the best available option with full participation of the people.

Better options do exist. For energy generation from smaller hydro projects in the region, the identified potential is 1660 MW as per CEA. Less than 3 % of that potential has been realised. Before going for destructive option of large dams, should it not be mandatory that this less expensive, less destructive and quicker option is taken up? Is there any options assessment process in place?

That all this is not happening was apparent at a meeting in Shillong less then six months ago, where senior govt. representatives were present. Subsequent high-pitched propaganda for large dams in the region has only strengthened the fears that the proponents of this agenda have little use of local needs, local sensitivities, sustainable development or democratisation of development.