BRIEF REPORT ON THE SARDAR SAROVAR BENCHMARKS
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
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
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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