Consultative Meeting on the Report of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) Social Development Centre, Ranchi

(7th and 8th August 2001)

1st Session


Chair : Shri Harivansh, Chief Editor Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi
Convenor : Ms. Pushpa Martin (Gumla)
Chief Guest : Shri Inder Singh Namdhari
Hon. Speaker, Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha

The meeting started with an introductory note of Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Convenor, Barh Mukti Abhiyan. He said that this meeting is organized to discuss the findings of the recently published report of the World Commission on Dams. World Bank has had a significant role in the construction of dams all the world over in past 50 years. As the resistance to large dams grew up, there was a resentment against the role of the World Bank, as a corollary. On the other hand, there were institutions like the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which were concerned about the impact of large scale construction of dams on the environment all over the world. Thus, the interests of two different kinds of institutions were diagonally opposite to each other. It goes to their credit that they decided to negotiate their differences and it was through their efforts that some 39 experts from different disciplines related to dams assembled in Gland in Switzerland, in April 1997, to discuss this highly controversial issue. The participants ranged from the representatives of financial institutions to the representatives of victims of dam building. They decided to institute a commission that will look into the effectiveness of the dams already constructed and suggest alternatives to tap water resources, energy and the related development process. The commission was also expected to make acceptable recommendation and standards for design, planning, construction, monitoring, maintenance, functioning and decommissioning of dams.

Mishra said that the process of working of the commission will be discussed later but, at this stage, the issues raised in this report were mentioned briefly by him. The WCD Report has concluded that the dams have made a significant and perceptible contribution in the development of mankind. There have been immense benefits due to construction of the dams but the price paid by the society to get these benefits has not only been disproportionate to the benefits accrued but, at times, un-necessary and unacceptable, too. If the performance of the irrigation and flood control schemes of our states, Bihar and Jharkhand are reviewed, all these schemes will be in the dock. The Kosi Project, for example, does not irrigate the extent of land that the people used to irrigate on their own, through their own resources, before the project was taken up. The Gandak Project, which was propagated as the cheapest irrigation project of the country has waterlogged more area than it irrigated. Over thousand of crores of rupees have been spent on the Subarnrekha Project and not an inch has been irrigated so far. The Auranga dam is lost in files and the leaders do not venture to lay the foundation stone of the Koel-Karo Project because of people's' resistance. The schemes like Budhai, Punasi, Barnar, Shankh and Kanhar etc. are also under different stages of inaction. North Koel also suffers the same fate.

Why these schemes are not evaluated and if these are found to be ineffective, they should be shut down. Would somebody explain why there are 338 villages trapped within the Kosi embankments and the flood waters of a river like the Kosi, passes over the inhabitants every year? What happened to the oustees of the Subarnrekha Project-does anybody know? Western Kosi Canal is being constructed for past 37 years without a break-will somebody tell when the construction would be over? Such questions will be asked tomorrow, if not today and somebody will have to answer them. The report of the WCD, probably, suggests the same thing that before the projects are destined to doom, they are saved and the institutions and the individuals are made accountable for such a debacle. The participation of those for whom the projects are implemented should be ensured from the planning stage. The projects, in future, should be taken up with full and informed consent of all the stakeholders. There should be transparency at all the stages of construction and there should be a check on the false propaganda about the projects. To cite an example, the Government of Bihar has been telling the people that all the 66.295 lakh hectares of land, that is possible to irrigate through large and medium irrigation schemes in the state, would be covered under irrigation by 2017. The fact is that in past 54 years, the Water Resources Department of the state has irrigated just 16 lakh hectares of land and that some 4 lakh hectares of land was being irrigated through such schemes at the time of independence. This means that the state has added only 12 lakh hectares to it’s irrigated area since independence. Some 50 lakh hectares of land is yet to be irrigated for which there is neither money available or the intentions. How will the state irrigate the remaining area in the 16 years? We shall discuss all these points in this meeting.

Hon. Shri lnder Singh Namdhari made his inaugural speech with a quote from Kalidas's Meghdootam. He said that the skies extract water from the sea and spread it all over the land in form of rains. This is how the Government operates. It collects taxes from the people and spreads the benefits all over the country. Irrigation benefits also come under this category. Mishra has raised many pertinent questions here. Our problem is that the rain water finds its way to the sea right before our eyes. Should we sit idle and allow all this water to get wasted? Should we not build large dams? If not, we will have to dam all the small streams. These small dams get filled up early and die their natural death and hence, we must build large dams. This is the easiest and most efficient way of intercepting surface water. It raises the water table also. These days, we have to bore about 400 feet deep to reach the groundwater table. If we build large dams, we will not have to go that deep.

Bhakra dam was built in Punjab. This dam alone changed the face of Punjab. There are lush green fields where once we used to have dust storms. A single state is now producing grains to feed the whole country. Such a fete is not possible without a dam like Bhakra. It also supplies power to as distant places as Delhi. I am saying this so forcefully because most of you sitting here, I feel, are opposed to large dams. I am not the kind of person to propagate vegetarianism amongst vegetarians because they are already convinced. I belong to those who propagate the cause of vegetarianism amongst non-vegetarians and you should listen to me very carefully.

Take, for example, the case of the Koel-Karo Project in our area. The basic problem there is of rehabilitation. There are many things said for and against the project but those issues are technical. If we are able to rehabilitate the displaced people properly then there is no reason why the project should not be built. We have no dearth of land and must take up the rehabilitation issue with an honest approach and in a time bound manner so that the affected people do not have to run around the government offices. Once this project is built, the entire area would turn happy and prosperous. The problem arises when a couple of hundred of people assemble and start shouting slogans against the project that they will not allow any construction to take place. I must assure you here that the government is determined to complete this project and would suppress any resistance to it by a handful of people with iron hand.

At this stage voices were raised from the audience regarding the environmental impact and the people's views about the project and Hon. Namdhariji replied by saying that he was not an environmentalist but he was conscious about the environment, for certain. If 100 acres of forest cover is lost due to construction of a dam, it should be compensated by planting trees over 200 acres. This will improve the environment and not only restore it. He retorted by saying that the stock of coal was limited and it would not be possible to produce thermal power for a long time. Citing the example of mini-micro hydel projects in Uttaranchal, he said that electricity was being produced from the water-falls there. He insisted that the basic issue was that of rehabilitation and should be resolved amicably. That, however, should not come in the way of further constructions.

Speaking after Hon. Namdhariji, the president of the Jharkhand unit of Janta Dal (U), Shri Gautam Sagar Rana, said that it was a fact that rehabilitation had been a thoroughly neglected issue in any project and that was the main reason of the opposition to projects by the people. There is no coordination, whatsoever, between the government and various official agencies working in Jharkhand. Recently, Eastern Coal fields Limited denuded the forests on a large scale for mining purposes and these forests were never restored. There used to be a market place of the villagers, some 90 years old, that was demolished. No alternative market was established there. When this matter was taken up with the secretary, it was found out that the Eastern Coal-Fields did not prepare, at all, any report about displacement, rehabilitation, denudation and restoration of forests etc. and that it had not made any allocation of funds under these heads. Actually money for the projects comes from the financial institutions the session ended with a vote of thanks by Rameshwar Singh (Hazaribagh) conditions. No government could build large or any dam ignoring the sentiments of the people.

'We must tap water from all our traditional and known resources first. We must restore all our tanks, ponds, wells, streams, check dams and water harvesting structures and then think of large dams, if at all. If these small schemes start functioning properly, then alone people will develop some confidence regarding the large projects. We are not in a position to demonstrate anything at the moment.'

Ghanashyam (Madhupur) talked about two different streams of development. One of these streams talks about the development keeping in view the compatibility with nature. The other stream belongs to those few people who want to exploit the nature to its maximum for their personal benefits. That the large dams have destroyed nature, is a historical fact. Human beings, animals, vegetations all are part of the nature and when nature is attacked, all its components are affected. When one opposed the Narmada dams or the Koel Karol the resistance was not directed at the dams but for keeping the nature infact.

'Hon. Namdhariji talked about the usefulness of large dams. There is a reservoir called Malay in his constituency and it must be irrigating some land also which he might be knowing better than us. Only 90 families were displaced because of the construction of this dam and I challenge that the government can not tell where these 90 families are these days. There are some 7 lakh people displaced in Jharkhand today. Some 16 percent of agricultural land is irrigated through traditional means in this state and despite spending billions of rupees on irrigation by the government, it has not been able to irrigate more than 5 percent of our land. Then you talk of suppressing the voice of the people with iron hand. Who then, you are making the projects for?'

The concluding remarks were given by the chair, Shri Harivansh, who reemphasized the doctrine of two streams of development. He suggested that the public opinion must reign supreme and all the efforts should be directed towards strengthening the same to make it more effective. One many have to struggle hard to achieve this objective. Decentralization is a theme often talked about in development. The large dams lead towards centralization that widen the gap between the rich and the poor. The small paths to development bring the people closer and the efforts should be made in that direction.

The session ended with a vote of thanks by Rameshwar Singh (Hazaribagh)

Session-2
Presentation of the Report of the World Commission on Dams.
Chair : Jayanta Basu (Kolkata)
Convenor : Binod Kumar (Palamau)

The first presentation of this session was made by Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP (New Delhi). He said that some background information was given here by Dinesh Mishra. In a sense, WCD was established in 1980s itself when not only the dam building activity was at its peak but the resistance to the construction of dams was also at its peak. There are over 45,000 large dams all over the world, at the moment. Technically, a large dam is one whose height from its foundation to the crest is more than 15 metres. A dam could also fall in this category if its height is between 5 to 15 meters but the storage capacity is larger than 3 million cubic meter. China tops the list of large dam building nations (22,000 dams). This is followed by the USA (6,575 dams) and India (4,291 dams).

Questions like large dams for whom and at whose costs had started cropping up in the 1980s. It was also being asked then whether these dams are useful and necessary for development and on the target was the World Bank which was providing funds for a large number of dams being built. Fed up with the mounting criticism of its role, the World Bank got an evaluation done of the dams funded by it and made public the report. This, however, did not deter people from criticising the World Bank. Then came the W.C.D. formally and its report was released in November 2000. We have assembled here to discuss the findings of that report.

The government of India has rejected this report, probably, because persons like Medha Patkar were its members, who are known to be opposed to large dams. The fact is that the chairperson of the commission, Prof. Kader Ashmal, was the Minister of Water Resources of South Africa (he is education minister there at the moment) and he was responsible for constructing many dams over there. Dr. John Veltrop, former president of International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD) was also a member of the commission. Mr. Goran Lyndhal, chairperson of Asia-Brown Broveri Limited, was also a member. This company is one of the largest supplier of machinery and equipments used in large dam construction. Don Blackmore, executive president of Murray Darling Basin Project in Australia was also a member of the commission. In addition, many social scientists and subject matter specialists were there in the commission. Out of 12 members of the commission, Shri Lakshmi Chand Jain and Ms. Medha Patkar were from India. Of the 12 members of the commission, 7 were in favour of large dams while 5 were known to be opponents. The commission, thus, was in no way a commission of anti-dam activists.

The commission had made a detailed study of 8 dams in the world and surveyed another 125 such dams. It then made 17 thematic studies of dam construction which ranged from social, environmental, economic, administrative and institutional, to alternatives to large dams etc. The commission had received altogether 947 submissions for and against the dam construction. Based on these information, the commission evaluated the technical, financial, economic performance, impact on environment and the society and equitable distribution of costs and benefits aspects of dam construction. It then looked into the alternatives suggested to large dam construction, the opportunities that would be available in case these alternatives are adopted and so also the hindrances. The commission also studied the planning, decision making process and the manner in which these decisions were carried forward projects which formed the basis for-the selection of a dam project, design, construction, maintenance and operation and their decommissioning.

The commission studied very carefully the objectives of the dam construction that were put before the governments at the time of construction and on the basis of which the sanction was accorded to them. The commission also kept its eyes open to the achievements in the back drop of stated objectives of the projects as to why and how these targets were not met and also to the fact that whether what was achieved was totally unintended.

The commission inferred that in case of irrigation by a large dam, the stated targets were not achieved, generally. In case of power production, the situation was much better. Domestic and industrial supply of water was not very encouraging and flood through the dams was effective in some cases but, at the same time, the risk of floods were enhanced in many places due to the construction of dams. The expenditure on dams and the construction time far exceeded the initial estimates. The sedimentation rate in the reservoirs was more than expected and waterlogging and salinity was on the rise.

The dams have adversely affected the forests, forest dwellers and the wild animals living there and they have also hit badly the people living upstream and downstream of the dam. Where the dams are built as a chain, in a river basin they have affected badly the quality of water, biodiversity and flood control. It is never easy to correct these discrepancies.

The commission also found that the dams have displaced some forty to eighty million people all over the world. The dams have adversely hit the life of billions of people living downstream of them. A large number of the displaced people are not recognized as displaced persons and hence they are neither entitled for any compensation nor do they get any rehabilitation. Even those getting rehabilitation are not rehabilitated socially and economically. Larger the number of the people displaced from a project, greater is-the problem faced in resettling them.

All the available alternatives to irrigation, flood control and power production are not tapped and comparative study is done only within a framework while the alternatives do exist.

The project planning lacks transparency and the people are not aware of their future. Those who are affected by the project, rarely get an opportunity to participate in the project. If any social or environmental study is ever done, it is either too late or its jurisdiction is too narrow. Monitoring and evaluation of the projects is too specific and haphazard and it does not provide any opportunity for learning from the experiences gained.

It is essential, therefore, to take a balanced view of those who are likely to be benefited by a project and those who stand to loose. The project should be run efficiently from its inception to the end. There should be participation and informed consent of all the concerned stakeholders. The projects should be sustainable and those responsible for the implementation should be totally accountable to the people. The dams have consumed the maximum amount of resources all over the world in the name of development and hence they acquire a great significance for the people and hence they must be widely debated.

Dr. Nirmal Sengupta (Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai) narrated his experiences control of the India Case Study of the large dams. He is one of the authors of the India study Report. He told that India had around 300 large dams at the time of independence and this number had now risen to 4291. Of these, the maximum number of dams are located in Maharashtra (1529), followed by Madhya Pradesh (1093) and Gujarat (527). Most of the engineers in India, in the period following independence, were trained in England or the USA and were influenced by the developmental model of those countries. This was the period of a tremendous boom in the dam industry.

The total production of food grains in our country, at the time of independence, was about 51 million tons which now stands at about 200 million tons. We used to import grains then, and what we produce now is slightly more than our requirements. At the moment, the proportion of non-irrigated sector is 40.47 while the irrigated area that contributes to the food production in our country is 59.52. In India, the irrigation schemes that irrigate more than 10,000 hectares of land are called the major irrigation schemes while those irrigating between 2,000 to 10,000 hectares are called the medium irrigation schemes. The projects that irrigate less than 2,000 hectares come under the minor schemes. Till 1996-97, the total irrigation capacity of the country was 918 lakh hectares (LH). Of this, only 338 LH, i.e., 36.8 percent was irrigated through major and medium irrigation schemes. If we assume that all these major and medium schemes exist only in the form of large dams, even then the total contribution of the large dams in the entire food production of the country cannot be more than 21.9 percent.

Large dams are not the only claimants of this enhanced production. The Department of Agriculture claims that use of improved seeds, fertilizers, agricultural research and its extension services, availability of agricultural loans and support prices are no way less responsible for the enhanced production. If we make allowances for these contributing factors, the impact of large dams in producing grains may not be more than 10 percent. This is not at all a small contribution but it is also not as much for which the propaganda is made.

There have been changes in the crop cycle all over the country. Paddy and wheat has become important crop while the coarse grains are relegated to background. We have become self-reliant in case of oil seeds Improved irrigation has been a contributing factor in all this but it is, probably, not possible to compartmentalize the various contributing factors like irrigation etc. The benefits of many large schemes have been cornered by the big farmers and they have started growing sugar cane or banana, instead of cereals.

In the flood control sector, the projects like the DVC dams were taken up in West Bengal / Bihar while flood cushion was provided in the Hirakund dam in Orissa. There were apprehensions about both these schemes right from their inception. Accusing fingers are being raised towards Hirakud for causing this year floods in coastal Orissa. A good number of dams are being proposed to provided flood protection in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin. The fate of dams proposed in Nepal depends on the agreement between India and Nepal and only future will tell about the performance of dams in the north-east.

Some 48 percent of the hydro-power potential of the country is located in the north-east while 36 percent potential lies in the Ganga basin. All this can be realized through the construction of large dams. According to the 9th plan document, the ecology of the Himalayas is very fragile and most of the proposed dams are to be located in inaccessible areas. Initial reaches of the Brahmaputra are located in China and if she tampers with the river by building dams there, our projects would suffer. Further, some top authorities feel that building dams in the Himalayan range is not in the interest of the country, strategically. In case of international conflicts, these dams would cause a security risk to the people living downstream.

Dr. Pranab Banerjee (Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi) presented an economic analysis of the large dams. He said that India and China, put together, have built almost half the number of dams built all over the world. Most of the reports, thus, have come from these two countries only.

The engineers and the builders of the dams claim that the dams are responsible for increased productivity. This is only partially true because the productivity has increased even in the rain-fed areas. This point was amply made clear by Dr. Sengupta and he would not repeat them.

He said that in actual practice the process of planning and construction of large dams is quite complex. The construction of the dams, generally, precedes the preparation of the detailed project report. The alternatives are never explored and even the voices of the experts are also lost in the din, at times. The entire process remains a secret and even those, for whose benefits the projects are made, have no participation or a say in the project.

Some 1,32,000 crores of rupees have been spent on large and medium irrigation schemes till 1997, in India, while the total irrigated area was about 9.20 crore hectares. The cost of irrigation is too high, as such. If we happen to add the cost of submergence, rehabilitation and damages to the environment, the cost that the society pays for such irrigation is further hiked.

A session of questions and answer followed the statements made by Himanshu Thakkar and Drs. Nirmal Sengupta and Pranab Banerji.

Dr. Trijugi Prasad (Patna) maintained that the dams ensure prosperity of the common people. We must first see how the dams came into being. In our country 87 percent of rainfall takes place only in three months. The water that should be used round the year cannot be consumed in these three months. That underlines the need for storage of water and for that we need dams on the rivers.

When we talk about managing our water resources, as a student, we analyze the application of science and the consequences of such application, both. In the proposal and the project planning, both these points are elaborated adequately. A problem crops up when science is applied in parts. There is a global politics in the utilization of water resources and this is happening despite so much of social and environmental Piparasi embankment along the Gandak breaches quite consciousness.

The situation in Bihar is even worse. Here, first there was a proposal to build a high dam in Nepal which was never built. Then came the embankments along the river and even these were not free from politics. The jobs were left half-done and that is problems now. It is not fair to blame science while the works remained uncompleted due to political factors.

The state of education of exploiting water resources suffers the same fate in our province. There is only one institute, Water Resource Development Centre, under Patna University and it grossly lacks the facilities to promote such an education. We must set our house in order before- talking about the projects.

This statement of Dr. Prasad prompted reactions from many listeners. Ms. Joya Mitra (Kolkata) wanted to know from him whether the ill effects of dams are not taught as a part of the syllabus or the engineers turn a blind eye towards the adverse impact of the dams? People turn paupers right under their nose, the projects never achieve their stated objectives and the costs multiply by 10 to 20 times but the construction never stops. When we talk about politics, we must also talk about the maneuvers of the vested interests and the builder lobby. Some people are used to make hay while the sun shines without ever bothering about the consequences. The engineers and contractors are equally to be blamed for this debacle.

Upendra Kumar Singh (Ranchi) wanted to know about the possible alternatives to large dams in the Jharkhand state, given its social and economical background. Dr. Nirmal Sengupta asserted that the technical education was too bad in the country. The kind of education that is being imparted in the technical institutions of the country, had nothing to with the needs of the country and it needs an overhaul. Rana Gautam (Jamshedpur) wanted to know that the construction of large dams all over the world is virtually getting stopped and the dams that are existing are also getting sedimented badly. This is going to create a void and what could be the filler? Dev Nath Devan (Madhubani) suggested that alternatives to dam may exist but our job should be to empower people to take decisions.

There were stray voices at this stage, one asking what should be proper height of the dam and the other responding that 12 feet would be fine. Kameshwar Lal 'Indu' (West Champaran) told that the 'dam' along the Gandak is effectively only 5 feet high and the river bed level has gone up considerably. Whenever this low height 'bandh' breaches, it causes devastation. Pipra-Piparasi embankment along the Gandak breaches quite frequently and the breach not only causes unprecedented miseries in the four blocks of West Champaran but also inundates part of Padarauna district in U. P.

Dayanath (Darbhanga) said that the river bed level in his area has gone up considerably because of the construction of the 'bandhs' along the rivers. The floods have become more frequent and more devastating. There is waterlogging outside the embankments and one cannot distinguish between the river side and the countryside. Wherever the people are hit more due to under 'bandhs', they cut them. Where there used to be three crops a year, one hardly finds a single crop there. There are areas where water stagnates for over 9 months a year. What benefits Bhakra Nangal dam gave to the local populace, they would be the best judges to ascertain but we were trapped in floods, for nothing, by citing the success story of the Hwang Ho embankments.

Manthan (Jamshedpur) intervened at this stage to say that those coming from the flooded areas are using the word 'dam' for embankments and that is causing confusion here. Dams are built across the flow of the river channel while the embankments are built along the the river to prevent its flow from spilling. He suggested the use of the proper word. He also wanted to know whether there is any mention of embankments in the report of the WCD? Is there any comparative study of large and small dams in this report ? Those likely to be displaced are naturally opposed to the construction of dams but there are people in the same neighbourhood who would be benefited by dams. The opinion differs within a very short distance. Is there any mention of such a dichotomy in this report?

Meghnath (Ranchi) said that the countries in the west constructed dams to save the existence of their rivers while the socialistic countries built them for power production. What was the people's view regarding the dams in those two different situations? What could be also the possible reason that the socialists and the imperialists think alike when it comes to building dams?

Bhagabati Balwant Rai (Puri-Orissa) maintained that it is not essential that all the dams are bad. There are dams which have helped the people immensely. When we talk of dam construction we must look at all the aspects of dam building in totality so as to judge the costs and the benefits objectively. We must strive hard to minimize the costs. Biju Negi (Dehradoon-Uttaranchal) said that not much of attention is paid to the agricultural research in fainted areas. Whatever researches have been done, they are done in the irrigated areas or where irrigation is practiced, although to a lesser degree. Rainfed and drought prone areas do not get the attention they deserve. Besides, whenever we build a dam it will submerge the land for certain. Agriculture is lost on that area of submergence but the dams also adversely affect the area downstream.

Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyaya (I.I.M.-Kolkata) suggested that the biggest hindrance in the path of dam construction was the displacement and resettlement. If that could be resolved, a major charge against the dam construction could be withdrawn. The problem comes when this also is not settled amicably.

Rabi Kumar Tripathi (Puri-Orissa) agreed with Dr, Bandyopadhyaya that rehabilitation was the most contentious issue. He said that Hirakud dam was built in 1950s but the rehabilitation is not yet over. Whatever rehabilitation has been done, is of those who were from the submergence area. These people were resettled in forests where they are not used to live. Those who did not go there are still living in the reservoir area. Productivity of the land is progressively declining in the irrigated areas. Added to this is the problem of rel
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