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BRIEF REPORT ON THE SARDAR SAROVAR BENCHMARKS

Patrick McCully
Baroda, Gujarat
1 April, 1993.

In response to the strongly critical report of the Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Projects (the "Morse Report") the World Bank and the Indian government agreed a series of conditions for the SSP authorities to meet by 31 March 1993. The conditions, referred to as "performance benchmarks", apply to the resettlement, environmental and health aspects of the project, as well as to its finanical viability.

The benchmarks were first described in detail on September 11, 1992, in a document "Review of Current Status and Next Steps". Some of the benchmarks were elaborated on 19 October in a short report "Review of Current Status and Next Steps: Performance Benchmarks". On October 23 the World Bank board narrowly voted to continue funding the projects on condition that the benchmarks would be met. In the Chairman's Summary of the Board meeting, World Bank President Lewis Preston stated that the "directors stressed the point that all the benchmarks must be met to justify continuation of Bank support beyond the next six months."

The benchmarks represent in several aspects a weakening of Bank policies. They contain many lacunae and inconsistencies and false assumptions and should be seen as the absolute bare minimum requirements on resettlement and environmental aspects of the project.

The key assumption behind the resettlement benchmarks was that there would be "a strengthened link between dam construction and resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R)." This link, the Bank claimed, "provides practical and monitorable assurance that R&R will proceed at the pace requried to meet the needs of the people involved and that it will not be short-circuited by the threat of imminent submergence."

According to the World Bank "Action Plan" which formed the basis for Next Steps, the upcoming year's construction programme would be approved "in accordance with progress on resettlement . . . [affected people] would need to be resettled at least one year prior to submergence of their land and/or houses."

The supposed link between R&R and construction has not only been broken, it was in fact meaningless from the moment Next Steps was written. The dam construction schedule was set in June 1992 to reach 61m above sea level by the start of the monsoon in June 1993. It must be presumed that this schedule was set on purely technical and financial considerations as even now, a little over 2 months before the monsoon begins, there are hundreds of families still living in areas which, barring an almost total failure of the monsoon rains, will be submerged for 4-5 months from this June if the dam reaches 61m. The dam is currently at around 53m, several metres above the height of the lowest houses behind the dam.

Many of the families in this year's submergence zone have pledged to drown before they leave their homes; others, however, are prepared to move but have not been given alternative lands. Even if the villagers do not drown they face destitution as their wood and mud houses stand to be washed away and not only will their harvests be destroyed but they will be unable to plant their crops for the following season.

In Next Steps the World Bank played down the threat of submergence this year, claiming there was only "a risk of temporary flooding for villages at the submergence level in the case of a 1 in 100 year flood." This is totally false. It was clearly a deliberate and callous attempt to mislead the Bank's donor countries so that they would allow project funding to continue, regardless of the human cost.

The Bank's assurances that any flooding this year would be both very unlikely, and, if it occurred, "relatively brief", was based on the fact that a set of temporary sluice gates at the foot of the dam would be kept open until 1994. Yet while the sluices prevent water from being impounded ouside of the monsoon, their maximum capacity is only a small fraction of the Narmada flow once the rains begin. In a taped interview on 18 March, 1993, the Chief Engineer on the Sardar Sarovar dam, Mr BJ Parmar, declared that "the sluices have no relation whatsoever with the flood during the monsoon . . . in size and capacity the [sluices] are very, very insignificant compared to the size of the monsoon." Once the rain starts the water will soon rise and flow over the top of the dam. It will continue to do so until 2-3 months after the monsoon ends.

The other benchmarks on resettlement and rehabilitation -- which were based on the assumption that there would be a firm link between R&R and dam construction -- have also been widely broken. Following are some of the most significant examples:

-- The "Performance Benchmarks document declares that ". . . satisfactory comprehensive R&R plans for all three states" are supposed to have been completed. The project authorities have not yet released any such plans to the public. In Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra no comprehensive plans can have been drawn up as project officials and surveyors are not able to enter the majority of the villages due to opposition to the dam. The authorities are thus unable to collect the detailed information on topography, land holdings, and numbers and categories of affected families needed for such plans. There has in any case been no systematic attempt to gather such information.

-- Next Steps claims that issue of compensation for the 700 families displaced by the dam construction site at Kevadia is "satisfactorily resolved". Yet the supposedly new compensation package offered by the Gujarat government has been rejected by the Kevadia villagers as it is merely a 1,000Rp increase in the 35,000Rp compensation offered -- and rejected -- in 1991. The Indipendent Review of SSP upheld the villagers' demand that they be given land to replace the land they lost.

-- "Performance Benchmarks" states that there must be "satisfactory demonstration of the feasibility of land acquisition on the required scale in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh." Neither state has managed to accomplish this. Next Steps states that the Maharashtra government had asked the central Ministry of Environment and Forestry to release 1500ha of forest land for resettlement. In early February it was revealed that the land will not be released. Maharashtra has not been able to locate any other suitable land in the state. MP is supposed to have "identified" 2000 ha of "good quality land" yet in the World Bank press conference on 29 March it was stated that only 1000 ha had been identified. The quality of this land is not known. Half of this land is claimed to be government land (and thus is probably already being used by farmers without formal land title who will be displaced by the oustees) and half is privately owned. The process of acquiring this land -- likely to prove much more problematic than merely identifying it -- has not yet begun although Performance Benchmarks states that large scale land acquisiton "will need to be underway".

-- All three project states were supposed to "institute an agreed process of appeals and settlement in respect of grievances about R&R and communicate it to all affected people." In none of the states has there been an effort to make oustees aware of such a process.

-- Next Steps claims that Gujarat has "readily completed resettlement of oustees". In fact there are many hundreds of families in the 14 Gujarat submergence villages who have still to be given acceptable resettlement land. The homes and lands of many of these families is at risk during the coming monsoon. A Gujarat High Court stay order is in place against the forcible eviction of the more than 400 families still in the first 6 villages due to be submerged. At least 59 of these families have returned from their resettlement sites due to the poor quality of the land and other problems.

-- A "key implementation issue in Gujarat," Next Steps claims, "is to get firmer numbers regarding Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh oustees who wish to come to Gujarat, and to prepare appropriate staffing and operational plans as well as realistic budgets for handling these oustees." Gujarat cannot have met this benchmark as the two other states have not done any reliable studies to ascertain how many of their oustees wish to exercise their right to choose land in their home state, and how many are prepared to move to Gujarat.

-- Next Steps also states that there is a problem with the 25 "encroacher" families already living on the land at Taloda forest which Maharashtra has turned into a resettlement site. It quotes the Maharashtra government as saying that "no encroached land will be used for resettlement." In fact the Tata Institute of Social Sciences reports that there are 4 entire villages of encroachers at Taloda. Anger among the villagers that their land and forests are being taken over by SSP oustees led to the fatal shooting by forestry officials of a tribal woman at Taloda in July 1992.

-- Next Steps is strongly critical of the record of Madhya Pradesh on R&R. It lists a number of benchmarks on R&R to be met by Madhya Pradesh by March 31st, 1993. The state is supposed to "identify quickly families who have decided to go to Gujarat and together with Gujarat begin the process of resettling them" and is to "complete the consultation process in the first 17 villages to affected [sic] by submergence." However strong opposition to the dam in the majority of the MP villages means that officials cannot possibly identify which families wish to go to Gujarat as the R&R officials are not even able to enter most of the MP villages. The inability of officials to enter villages without a large police escort has made a mockery of the authorities' attempts at "consultation" in the first 17 villages as well as elsewhere in Madhya Pradesh. The "consultation" process in MP has been accompanied with widescale police repression with the arrests and beating of many villagers. In one of the 17 villages Anjanwara, on 29th and 30th January, the police went on a rampage, beating women and girls with rifle butts and lathis, shooting one man in the hand and shoulder, destroying property and stealing money and food.

-- Performance Benchmarks states that "An analysis of the special rehabilitation needs of tribals in the Maharashtra villages and at least the first 17 villages in Madhya Pradesh is expected to be reflected in the detailed R&R plans." In July 1992 the World Bank asked the Anthropological Survey of India to carry out such an analysis of the tribal people to be displaced by SSP. In February this year, however, before any work had begun on the study, ASI was told in a letter from a senior official in the Narmada Control Authority that the study was only "small work" and that the expertise of the ASI would not be needed. The Director General of the ASI believes that the NCA rejected the ASI as the Survey had made clear their concerns that the tribals welfare should not be harmed by resettlement. The contract for the study was given in February to a sociologist from the School of Social Works in Indore who had to submit a first draft by mid-March. It has not been possible to find any villagers or NGO workers who are aware of any researchers from Indore doing field work in the MP or Maharashtra villages. The late start of the study makes it extremely unlikely that the results -- whatever their quality -- could be incorporated into any "detailed R&R plans" by the March 31 deadline.

-- As the head of the Bank's India Department, Mr Heinz Vergin, admitted in the March 29 press conference in Washington, the Gujarat government has failed to meet the requirement to complete socio-economic studies of the people affected by the canal network. These studies were supposed to have been used to develop a "suitable policy package" for the canal affected families by March 31.

The project authorities have also failed to meet the environment benchmarks. For example:

-- The "completion of the terms of reference for the preparation of a comprehensive Narmada Basin environmental management plan" required in Performance Benchmarks has not been done. Several years ago the Narmada Control Authority set up a committee to draw up these terms of reference but the committee no longer exists.

-- Next Steps says that a required "environmental work plan" has been prepared and is under consideration by the Environmental Sub-Group of the Narmada Control Authority. According to Mr Shekkar Singh of this Sub-Group some of the studies which the work plan claims are underway have not yet begun, and the overall quality of the studies within the work plan is extremely low. The Sub-Group has not to date considered either a prioritization of the plans for future environmental work or a "further elaboration of costs and project linkages" both of which the government was supposed to provide by January 1, 1993.

-- Performance Benchmarks states that by 31 March there should have been "satisfactory progress in completing an environmental impact assessment for the Gujarat command area." A group of researchers from the MS University of Baroda were asked to send a proposal for such an environmental impact assessment to the Narmada Nigam (the state-owned corporation building SSP). The Baroda University's proposal was turned down, however, as they insisted that such a study must include work on hydrology and water management, as well as the flora and fauna studies the Nigam wanted and that it would take 2 years to conclude a meaningful study, rather than the 12 months the Nigam insisted upon. Saurashtra University has now been commissioned to do the flora and fauna studies. It is difficult to have much confidence in a study of the environment of a huge command area without the hydrology of the area being properly investigated.



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