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THE MAHESHWAR DAM IN INDIA

A Report by
Heffa Schücking
March 1999

III. MAIN FINDINGS OF THE INVESTIGATION

1. Underestimation of Submergence

In each and every village I visited, people conveyed doubts regarding the official submergence data. They showed me relatively high-lying areas in their village that are marked for submergence and much lower-lying areas that - according to the authorities - will not be submerged. In two communities, villagers had even invited engineers from Delhi to assess the situation. Their contour measurements showed that the extent of submergence will be much greater than is officially acknowledged. As the experiences with other large dams in Madhya Pradesh show, these doubts must be taken very seriously. In the case of the Bargi dam which was finished in 1987, the official planning documents concluded that 101 villages would be flooded. When the dam's floodgates closed, however, 162 villages and 26 of the resettlement sites were submerged.

2. Underestimation of the Number of Affected People

In their publications, the project developers claim that 2264 families will be affected. But even the official resettlement plan (if one bothers to add up the numbers) comes to the conclusion that some 4000 families would be affected. However, even this estimate is not based on reliable and recent census data. S. Kumars had provided me with a chart listing the number of houses in each of the affected villages. Upon visiting the villages, it quickly became clear that this data diverges strongly from the ground reality. For the full-submergence village Sulgaon for example, the document lists 196 houses. During my visit in Sulgaon I was able to ascertain that the village in fact has more than 400 houses. In addition, the resettlement plan only considers landed families. Many other occupational groups, who will also lose their livelihoods if the dam is built, are not considered. For example, the approximately 5000 workers in the sand-mining industry find no mention in any of the resettlement planning documents. They have organized themselves in cooperatives that pay dues to the Government for the right to dredge sand along this stretch of the river. As the sand banks will be submerged, these people will clearly be deprived of their livelihood. The information provided by the fisherpeople, that many of the fish species that they regularly catch will be negatively impacted by the dam, was confirmed by Dr. Tyson Roberts of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Dr. Roberts is one of the world's foremost experts on Asian fisheries and happened to be traveling through the project area during my stay. In an interview, he explained that many of the local fish species need shallow, rocky river bank areas to lay their eggs. If these areas are submerged then the species cannot reproduce and will disappear from this stretch of the river. Small industries have also been left out of the resettlement package. In almost all of the villages I visited, there was at least one jaggery factory. A typical jaggery factory employs 80 workers for three months of the year during the sugar-cane harvest. Shop-owners, carpenters and other trade occupations also find no mention in the resettlement plan.

3. Underestimation of Resources and Infrastructure

In spite of the fact that almost all of the agricultural lands in the villages alongside the Narmada are irrigated, the resettlement documents lists these as "unirrigated lands". Both the cost-benefit analysis for the project and the resettlement plan systematically undervalue the richness of the resources and the developed infrastructure that characterize the villages in the submergence zone. To name only two examples: Annex 6 of the resettlement plan concludes that there are in total only 176 fruit trees and 38 pakka-wells in all of the affected 61 villages. As surveys initiated by the villagers themselves show, this is a truly gross underestimate. In just one village, Pathrad (where I was based during my investigation and thus had the chance to ascertain the findings of the villagers survey), there are 40 pakka (brick) wells and some 4000 fruit trees. Pathrad is an extremely interesting case, because it is one of the first villages in all of India that has insured itself. The entire village including land and infrastructure is worth some 420 Million Rupees. Pathrad has seven temples, three schools, a large Panchayat Bhavan, a police station, a post office, a health station, two Dharamshalas and a ration shop. Pathrad's income from agriculture alone amounts to about 25 Million Rupees annually. If a realistic cost assessment were done, it would with all due likelihood show that the Maheshwar Project would not be viable if the property, resources and infrastructure of the affected villages were compensated at market costs.

4. No Information, No Participation

The village communities have received almost no information regarding the project. Until the date of my visit, S. Kumars and MPEB had organized a public meeting on the project in only one village (Jalud). As S. Kumars readily supplied me with submergence maps and many other docu-ments detailing Resettlement & Rehabilitation planning, I was very surprised to find that none of these documents had been made available to the people directly affected by the project. Instead there seems to have been a systematic policy of misinformation or withholding of information towards local people. One of the standard questions in my interviews was "When and how did you find out about the Maheshwar project and that you are affected?". The following answer was typical of responses I received in several villages: "Surveyors came into our village for the first time in 1987/88. When we asked them what the stone markers were being laid for, we were told that a railway line was going to be built along here. Years later when the cofferdam was built and blasting was taking place at the site, we finally realized that a dam was going to be built. In April 1997 we then went to the Subdistrict Officer in Mandleshwar and asked for information. He actually told us that not a single village is submerging for the dam. Up until today no one from the project authorities has ever come and properly informed us about the dam and the resettlement." (Radhubhai from Pathrad) Although the Maheshwar dam has been planned since 1978(!), the first villages were not informed until January 1998 after enraged villagers occupied the dam site for more than three weeks. Only then did MPEB distribute a short booklet containing vague promises but no specific information regarding who will be affected and where they will be resettled. If MPEB and S. Kumars had gone to the trouble of disclosing relevant documents to the villagers and consulted them, it would have quickly become apparent just how deficient and removed from reality these documents are.

5. Availability of Land

One of the preconditions for the environmental clearance awarded to the project in 1994 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests was documentation that land-for-land compensation for the affected villages would be possible. The basis for the clearance was a document entitled "Status of Land Requirement and Availability" which was signed by the District Collector in Khargone. In the meantime it has come to light that this document contains falsified data. In Spring of 1998 the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India's most renowned sociological research institute, undertook research in the Maheshwar area and carefully examined all available Government documents pertaining to resettlement planning as well as visiting all 61 affected villages. Its study came to the conclusion that the majority of the resettlement areas outlined in this document lie in the submergence zone of the future dam! Subsequently, four further land availability documents have been presented. However, close examination reveals them all to be seriously deficient. The second and third document were also assessed by the Tata Institute, which arrived at a similarly devastating appraisal. The fifth land availability document is dated June 1998 and was presented to me by S. Kumars. A first analysis of this document shows that it lists lands as available for resettlement that will fall into the submergence zone of either the downstream Sardar-Sarovar dam or Maheshwar itself. It seems an almost obvious conclusion that there is simply not sufficient land available for the resettlement of those affected by the Maheshwar Project. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that none of the 50 families that have lost their land to the project to date have received land-for-land compensation. The soils of the region are not of uniform quality. In the villages along the river, the very industrious agricultural communities of Gujars, Patidars and other groups with small- and medium-sized landholdings, prosper through farming the rich alluvial soils along the river banks. The further one goes from the river, however, increasingly red murum wastelands begin to turn up, that are unsuitable for agriculture. There are no large plots of unoccupied arable land available in the region. In fact the availability of land is a problem in the whole state of Madhya Pradesh, as the Government of Madhya Pradesh itself stated in its affidavit to the Supreme Court regarding the Sardar-Sarovar Project.

6. The Problem of "Secondary Displacement" or Displacement for Provision of Resettlement Sites

Unsurprisingly, very few concrete resettlement sites have been identified to date. The most advanced resettlement planning has taken place for Jalud (the first village behind the dam). The resettlement site for Jalud is at a location called "Samraj" and the visit there was among the most depressing interludes in my investigation. The overall impression in Samraj is not heartening: one finds stony ground with little vegetation and red murum soils unsuitable for agriculture. Having been there, it is easy to understand why the people of Jalud have refused this site in a Gram Sabha (village assembly). However, I was most shocked to find out that even this low-quality land is already being utilized by a community of Adivasis and Harijans. They live in great poverty; many of the children show signs of undernourishment. For this community, daily survival is clearly an enormous struggle. They explained to me, that while they were never well off, their situation has become desperate since April 1998. At this time, representatives of MPEB and S. Kumars entered the village with a police force and forcibly annexed and bulldozed the land of 34 families as well as the entire pasture land of the hamlet. Although all of these families have either land titles (which I was shown) or the status of long-term encroachers (and the receipts to back this claim), there was no due process of land acquisition or even written notices served. Instead, from one day to the next, their land was bulldozed and taken from them. When some individuals attempted to peacefully intervene and explained that they own title to this land, the police responded by manhandling these people and the representative of MPEB threatened to have the entire hamlet thrown into jail. The consequences of these events for the Harijan/Adivasi community are catastrophic. Since they have lost their entire pasture lands they were forced to sell almost all of their cattle and buffaloes - some 400 animals. On the private and encroached lands that were taken, they had been growing subsistence crops such as sorghum. Anokibai, a Bhiladivasi asked "If the land has gone, then we are also gone. If we don't have the land, will we then eat stones or pebbles? How will we live and how will we eat?" MPEB has used the land it took away from the people of Samraj to cultivate a "demonstration crop" in order to convince the people of Jalud that agricultural cultivation is possible at this site. For this purpose, they put down a layer of silt taken from a nearby tank onto the red murum. During my visit, MPEB provided me with documentation on the results of this experiment. In spite of the above described treatment, the yield equaled only 1/5 of the yield that farmers in Jalud are able to achieve on an area of the same size. In fact, on 1/4 of the planted area in Samraj the seeds did not germinate at all, as the silt was washed away during the first monsoon. Continued...


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