NGO Letter to World Bank on Sardar Sarovar Project

November 2, 1999

Mr. James Wolfensohn
World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433

Dear Mr. Wolfensohn:

We are writing to update you about the latest developments regarding the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) and to urge you to inform us on what steps the Bank will undertake to fulfil its responsibilities to mitigate the negative effects of this Bank-sponsored project. We would also like to know what is the Bank's current and future involvement in other projects related to the Narmada Valley Development Project. We wish to emphasise that the Government of India is still legally obligated to meet the terms and conditions in its loan and credit agreements with the Bank on this project (see Memo from Ibrahim F.I. Shihata to D.J. Wood, March 30, 1993).

Following the submission of the report of the Bank-commissioned Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation project (June 18th 1992), the Indian Government and the World Bank agreed in March 1993 that the World Bank would not extend further support for the project. In 1995 the Supreme Court ordered construction on the dam wall to be suspended, with the dam at a height of 80 metres above sea level. Unfortunately in February 1999, on the grounds of false information submitted by the state governments, the Supreme Court allowed the dam to be raised by a further five metres.

An NGO-fact finding team including some of the signatories recently went to the Narmada Valley in order to get a better understanding of the impact of SSP seven years after the Morse Commission's Independent Review. The team visited resettlement sites as well as villages which are to be submerged, and ones which are already partly submerged, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. From what we have seen and learned from villagers and local experts the scale of social and economic hardship and environmental destruction due to forced displacement, construction works and submergence is likely to surpass even the findings and projections of the Morse Commission.

The people we met at resettlement sites had suffered extreme economic hardship and psychological trauma. Many had been displaced under conditions of intimidation and physical violence by government authorities. Land of totally inadequate quality and quantity has been made available to the oustees. We heard numerous accounts of broken promises, threats and neglect from the government authorities.

We observed that people at resettlement sites are suffering from a high incidence of illness and malnutrition, and a sense of mental distress and disorientation. Communities and even families have been separated and fragmented among numerous different sites. Because they have lost their access to the river and forest commons, people have lost their access to free fodder, fuelwood, medicinal plants, food and other essential products. Unable to eke out a living in the new resettlement sites, many villagers have even returned to their (partially submerged) original villages.

Tribal families who previously were able to meet most of their basic needs and sustain their cultural identity from a diverse natural environment are now exposed to dependency and exploitation by money lenders, land owners and traders, or face destitution in urban slums. We also witnessed how thriving rural economies in non-tribal areas face destruction due to submergence. Hundreds of villages, tens of thousands of hectares of fertile arable land, forests, ancient temples and sacred burial grounds are to be sacrificed.

Years after project construction began there is still no overall resettlement and compensation plan. It is estimated that the number of people to be displaced or otherwise harmed by the dam reservoir, the irrigation canals, the construction colony, downstream impacts wildlife sanctuary, catchment treatment and backwaters will be considerably larger than the number anticipated when the Morse Commission submitted its report (which was also far larger than the number claimed when the World Bank approved the project).

The part-filled reservoir is already causing serious hardship in the villages we visited along the banks of the Narmada. Riverside vegetable gardens and fields have been submerged. With no other source of potable water, villagers are forced to drink from the muddy reservoir leading to increases in gastro-intestinal illnesses, especially among children. The thick deposits of mud created along the edge of the reservoir were a serious nuisance in previous years, making it difficult to fetch water and to wash, and trapping cattle. This year the mud became fatal: since July two people, a seven-year-old girl and an elderly man, have drowned after becoming stuck in the mud. The reservoir has also flooded paths and cut off villages from each other and from towns outside the valley. Other consequences of the part-built dam are a steep rise in malaria cases in villages near the reservoir, and increases in snake bites and crocodile attacks.

In view of the fate of the oustees who have already been displaced, the tens of thousands of villagers who have yet to move have no confidence in the capacity and commitment of the relevant state governments with regard to resettlement and rehabilitation. The people are persistent in their refusal to move, despite the hardships they face because of the reservoir, and repeatedly state that they are prepared to face the rising waters since no alternative options are available which would enable them to continue a decent life elsewhere.

During this monsoon, hundreds of villagers and activists stayed in the houses by the Sardar Sarovar reservoir and bravely faced the rising waters to show their opposition to submergence. In some houses, the water rose to knee-height, in others to people's waists, in once case up to the people's necks.

Just as the number of people predicted to lose their livelihoods to the project have been dramatically underestimated, so has the final economic cost of the project. When the Planning Commission sanctioned the project, it was estimated to cost just under $3 billion at current prices. Now project authorities agree the cost will not be less than $4.5 billion. Project critics believe the actual cost will be more than twice this.

Yet, SSP is unlikely to deliver the benefits on the basis of which it has been justified. For a number of reasons, at least one-third of the projected command area will not get irrigation waters. These reasons (many confirmed by the Bank's own Project Completion Reports) include:

* the overestimation of the amount of water in the Narmada in original project plans; * the exaggerated irrigation efficiency used by project planners; * the promotion of water-intensive sugar cane growing in the areas near the head of the canal; * the current plans to use water for industrial and municipal uses although no water was allocated for these uses in original project plans, * the need to allocate water for the 150 kilometres of river and rich estuary region downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam. This region needs water for domestic, industrial, agriculture, fisheries, and navigation uses, and to push back seawater. Yet no allowance is made in planning documents for downstream needs.

It is clear that the inevitable shortfall in water availability will be felt most by those at the tail end of the huge canal system - the poor and drought-prone districts of Kutch and Saurashtra in whose name the project is being built. Even if the tailenders were to receive the amount of water promised this would still only be enough to benefit 1.6% of the cultivable area of Kutch and 9% of the cultivable area of Saurashtra. Gujarat officials claim that alternative solutions can solve the water problems of the remaining areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. But if 'alternative solutions' are good enough for 98.4% of Kutch and 91% of Saurashtra, they must also be good enough for the remaining areas.

In 1992, the Morse Commission wrote: "The opposition, especially in the submergence area, has ripened into hostility. So long as this hostility endures, progress will be impossible except as a result of unacceptable means." The Morse Commission was right. Construction of Sardar Sarovar has only been able to continue because of the unacceptable and illegal flooding of villages and the repression of peaceful protests. If the dam is raised any further it is certain that the repression will be intensified.

The Bank's initial support for SSP brought considerable legitimation to the project and has greatly contributed to the humanitarian disaster which is unfolding in the Narmada Valley. We therefore request you to inform us what the Bank has done and what it plans to do to ensure that the Indian government adheres to the terms of the SSP credit and loan agreements, notably with regard to resettlement and rehabilitation.

Furthermore, we request you to inform us whether the Bank is presently making financial assistance available - for example through agriculture or power sector loans - to the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects, the Narmada Sagar dam and irrigation project and/or any other projects forming part of the Narmada Valley Development Project, or whether the Bank is considering such support in future.

In view of the Bank's role in the crucial initial phases of this project, we consider the Bank co-responsible for the social hardship and economic and ecological damages resulting from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. We call upon you to urge the Indian government to fulfil its obligations vis-a-vis the people affected by SSP and to halt any further increase in the height of the dam pending a comprehensive and participatory review of the project by an independent tribunal. Disbursements and approvals of any World Bank loans for Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra should only be made when these conditions have been met.

A copy of this letter will be shared with the governors of the World Bank and the parliamentary development committees of the respective donor countries.

We look forward to receiving your reply. Please send replies to Patrick McCully at International Rivers Network, 1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94703 or by fax to 510-848-1008. If you have any questions, you can contact Mr. McCully at 510-848-1155 or

Yours sincerely,

Paul Wolvekamp

Lori Udall
First Nations Development Institute

Patrick McCully
International Rivers Network

This letter is also endorsed by the following institutions and individuals:

87 organizations in 24 countries

Lina Cabearo, AID/WATCH

Saleem Samad, Like-Minded Environmental Activists Group

Chantal Marijnissen, FERN

Maria Amalia Fontoura de Souza, Eco'Living Institute

Dianne Murray, Dam-Reservoir Working Group, Carleton University
Ali Sauer, Narmada Support Group Canada
Patricia Adams, Probe International

Cristian Opaso, Grupo de Acción por el Biobío

Hildebrando Velez, Agua Censat Viva

Ricardo Navarro, CESTA, Friends of the Earth El Salvador

Marko Ulvila, Coalition for Environment and Development
Johan von Bonsdorff and Aija Taskinen, Swallows

Francoise Vanni, Agir Ici
Aine Aubert, ASPAL
Agnes Bertrand, Ecoropa
Christophe Romagne, France-Liberte

Bernd Scheel, Action for World Solidarity
Theodor Rathgeber, Society for Threatened Peoples
Heffa Sch¸cking, Urgewald

Francesco Martone, Reform the World Bank Campaign

Arundhati Dhuru, Sandeep, ASHA-Lucknow
Daniel Mazgaonkar, Bombay Dist. Sarvodaya Mandal
Debi Goenka, Bombay Environmental Action Group
Daniel Mazgaonkar, Bombay Sarvodaya Friendship Centre
Leo F. Saldanha, Environment Support Group
Jean Saldanha, Human Rights Law Network
Jawahar Raja, Human Rights Network
Neharika and Laxman, IIMA
Nagesh Hatkar and Rajni Bakshi, Jansahayog Trust
Ira Roy, Sachetan
Ashish Fernandes, Sanctuary Magazine
Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People
Bina Srinivasan, Swashraya

Saitoh Aya, Rivers! Japan

Menno Houtstra, ECEAT
Regien van der Sijp, Foundation Hivos
James Barnes, Friends of the Earth International
Maria Verhoeven, ICCO
Wouter van Dam, International Tree Fund
Leo van der Vlist, NCIV
Jenne de Beer, NTFP Exchange Programme for South East Asia
Daphne Wysham, TNI
Arjan Alkema, Vereniging Milieudefensie

Aly Ercelawn and Muhammad Nauman, Creed Alliance

Juraj Zamkovsky, Center for Environmental Public Advocacy

Brian Ashley, Alternative Information and Development Centre

Hemantha Withanage, Environmental Foundation Ltd.
Kamla Melvani, NeoSynthesis Research Centre
Ranil Senanayake, Rainforest Rescue International
D.L.O. Mendis, Sri Lanka Pugwash Group

Magnus Bergmar, Children¥s World
Gran Eklof, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation

Peter Bosshard, Berne Declaration
Bernhard Herold, Honduras-Group Switzerland
Alex Sutter, Human Rights Switzerland
Luc Bigler, INTERTEAM, Swiss Volunteer Service
JosÈ Amrein-Murer, RomeroHaus Luzern
John Kunzli, Society for the Peoples of the Rainforest
Brigitte Anderegg, Solidarity Fund for the Social Struggles for Liberation
in the Third World
Bruno Riesen, SWISSAID
Bruno Gartner and Peter Niggli, Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations

Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project
Nicholas Hildyard, The CornerHouse
Marcus Colchester, Forest Peoples Programme

Karin Nansen, REDES - Friends of the Earth
Maurizio Ferrari, World Rainforest Movement

Shailabh Nagar, Association for India's Development (AID)/State College
chapter, Pennsylvania State University
Bharatiya Educational Foundation
Dana Clark, Center for International Environmental Law
Fred Cooks, Comprehensive Communications
Dharma Megha Inc.
India Development Society
India Foundation
India Information Center
International Service Society
Usmaan Raheem Ahmad, Kashmir Environmental Watch Asociation
Arafaat A. Valiani, Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York City
Seva International
Shri Inc.
Pramod Parajuli, Social Movement Learning Project
Ritu Primlane, Thimmakka's Resources for Environmental Education
University Research Associates
Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment
Vedanta Society of East Lansing
Washington Watch Inc.


90 individuals from 9 countries

(Institutional affiliations given for identification purposes only)

Phil Fearnside, National Institute for Research in the Amazon

Ann Oaks, University of Guelph

Jesudas M. Athyal, Centre for Research on New International Economic Order
Anuj Bhuvania, National Law School of India University
Naresh Dadhich, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics
Mita Deshpande, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Saurabh Jain, Indian Institute of Technology, Association for India's
M. Jehangir
Pervin Jehangir
Radhika Kolluru, National Law School of India University
Kalpana Mehta
Laxman Mohanty, Oricom Education
Sujit Patwardhan
Sanjana Sanjana, Samvada
Pia Sethi, Tata Energy Research Institute
Manu Sharma, Friend of Vistar
Kishore Kumar Singh, CARE India
S. Swaminathan, Indian Institute of Technology
Dr. Roopa Vajpeyi, University of Delhi, Voluntary Organization in Interest
of Consumer Organization
C. Venkatesh
Neharika Vohra, Indian Institute of Management

Cecile M.E. van Hezik, Tilburg University

Todd Nachowitz, University of Waikato

Shaheen Rafi Khan, Sustainable Development Policy Institute

Dr. P. Routledge, Department of Geography and Topographic Science,
University of Glasgow

Karl Langley, Computing & Information Systems, University of Brighton at Sussex
Dr. Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies

Sabah Aafreen, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Anu Agarwal, Materials Science and Engineering Department, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
Nitish Agrawal, ASHA/Princeton University Chapter
Akash Akash, Association for India's Development
Melliyal Annamalai, Oracle Corp
Frederique Apffel-Marglin, Professor of Anthropology, Smith College
Pankaj Arora, Association for India's Development
Ravishankar Arunachalam, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie
Mellon University
Padmaja Baru, Association for India's Development
Neerja Bhatt, Oracle Corporation
Dr. Geoffrey Bradshaw, Common Futures Forum
Vinod Brahmapuram, Association for India's Development
Dr. Supratik Chakraborty, Association for India's Development, Rejuvenate
India Movement
Gautam Desai, Association for India's Development
Virginia Doellgast, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mona Fawaz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Boyd Fuller, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
Venkatesh Ganti, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Triguna Ghosh, Parametric Technology Corporation
Sai Manohar Gopisetty, Princeton University
Venu Govindu, University of Maryland
John A. Grim, Chair of Department of Religion, Bucknell University
Puneet Gupta, Association for India's Development
Gokul Janga, Association for India's Development
Sudhir Kodati
Vijay Krishna, Healtheon Corporation
Indu Krishnaswamy, Association for India's Development
N.S. Kumar
Prem Kumar V.G., Texas Instruments (I) Ltd.
Vinay P. Kumar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Vishy Kuruganti, Yahoo
Sarah Malieckal, Association for India's Development
Paul Martin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Vijay Kumar Manghnani, North Carolina State University
Purnima Patil McCutcheon, WATG Architects, Environmental Council for the
State of Hawaii
Eric James McCutcheon
Suman Mishra, Association for India's Development
Sanat Mohanty, Chemical Engineering & Materials Science, University of Minnesota
Soma Nag, Pennsylvania State University
Priya Nagarajan, Pennsylvania State University
Ajit Natarajan
Mora Oommen, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Kameshwari Pothukuchi, Department of Geography and Urban Planning, Wayne
State University
Ruchi Pushkarna, Association for India's Development
Madhu Raghunath, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
Arvind Rajagopal, Department of Culture and Communication, New York University
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Anand B. Rao, Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
Manojkumar Saranathan, University of Washington
S. Subramanya Sastry, University of Wisconsin at Madison/ASHA-Madison
Karen Scott, Floraculture and Ornamental Horticulture, Cornell University
Ratnabali Sengupta, Raytheon ITSS
Urja Sheth, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
Prasad Subramanian, George Mason University
Balu Swami, ASHA for Education
Deeptha Thattai, Association for India's Development
Narayanan Thondugulam, Association for India's Development
Charu Uppal, Pennsylvania State University
Aniruddha Vaidya
George Varghese, ASHA for Education
Vivekananda Vedula, University of Texas at Austin
Camilia Kumari Wankaner, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Maha Yahya, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

For more information contact:
Patrick McCully
International Rivers Network
phone (510) 848-1155
fax (510) 848-1008

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