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

Submitted by Hindi on Mon, 06/19/2017 - 13:11
Barh Mukti Abhiyan South Asia Network of Dams Rivers and People (SANDRAP)

(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)

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 releases of surplus waters from the reservoir in the name of dam safety. This causes inundation in the lower areas where the flood situation turns worse. This happened in 1981, 1993 and it is now being repeated this year. This dam was projected as a saviour from recurring floods and is now one of the major cause of floods in the area. Hence rehabilitation was a major issue but the other problems were no less important, he said.

Replying to the debate, Himanshu Thakkar said that it is an undisputed fact that water must be stored but the debate lies in how this demand has to be met. Dams are not the only answer to this question. About 80 percent of the money spent on the development of water resources of the country has been spent on building large dams but the results have not been encouraging. There used to be artesian wells in some areas in Gujarat until 30 years ago. Reckless extraction of groundwater destroyed these wells. This happened because the traditional methods to retain water were abandoned in the name of scientific development. Now, if a problem is created, instead of correcting the wrongs done, a new project would be pushed through.

There is no money to develop the traditional means of irrigation but there is no dearth of money for these useless dams. They will build the canals and leave the problem of waterlogging for the people to face. When waterlogging crops up, fresh projects would be made and new loans would be made available. The World Bank also followed the same line until recently.

We hear quite often that but for Bhakra dam, the whole country would have starved. There are 4,000 dams more in the country, in addition to Bhakra. Dr Sengupta told earlier that the contribution of large dams in the food production of the country may not be more than 10 percent of the total. Now, we should investigate the role and presence of Bhakra in this 10 percent. Otherwise also, this dam many not last for more than 50 years from now. Therefore, we also must have logical review of these large dams and we must assess the role of the propaganda machinery.

Dr. Parasuraman (Mumbai) made a brief comment over the subject. He said that the vested interests in dam construction are raising the issue of population explosion and the need for large dams, fiercely. They are trying to impress upon the people that more food will be needed for the increased population in future and for this, irrigation would be needed which would come only from large dams. In reality, food security is not linked to large dams. Thinkers like Amartya Sen, too, have confirmed this. Few days ago in a meeting like this in Pune, some speakers gave the statistics that in fifty years to come, we will have to produce 40 crore tons of grains to feed our population. To this extent, they were right. But when they said that to achieve this fete, large dams would be needed, they were entering a disputed territory. Our plea to listen to arguments about the alternatives falls on deaf years. Some 150 large dams in the USA were decommissioned after evaluation because it was found that the benefits accrued by these dams were far less than the costs that the society was paying for their existence. This is the state of affairs in a country for which it is said that they have developed themselves and do not want the other countries to prosper. We should keep on evaluating our dams and if the costs far outweigh the benefits, we must take some right decisions about these dams.

Many financial institutions like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank etc. have shown conformity with the findings of the WCD and in that background, rejection of the report by the Government of India acquires larger significance because our own sources for funding a large dam construction have virtually dried up. We must then continue our search for the alternatives and must work very seriously on that.

We shall talk about the rehabilitation issue in the next session.


Displacement, Rehabilitation and the report ofW.C.D.
Chair : Biju Negi

The session started with a statement of Dr. Parasuraman as he highlighted the findings of WCD report over the issue of displacement and resettlement. He said that, by far, some 40 to 80 million people have been displaced due to the construction of dams all over the world. These figures are arrived at on the basis of the official reports of the nations. This is only a guess estimate because the figures given in these reports are disputed in themselves and the public opinion, too, does not confirm these figures. WCD made a very strict scrutiny of these figures presented before it and then only it reached some conclusions. In China alone, some 12 million people were displaced due to dams till 1990.

In addition to the so-called displaced persons from a dam, the livelihood of a sizable number of people like the farmers and the fishermen living in the downstream areas of the dam has been very badly hit. For a long time since the dam construction started, displacement and rehabilitation remained a non-issue.

Often, many of the displaced persons do not get recognition as a displaced person and hence are not entitled to any resettlement or compensation of some sort. Those who get resettled are only physically shifted to some different place without any arrangements for their livelihood and their social and economic rehabilitation. Let us take the example of the Sardar Sarovar dam in our country. This is a project where rehabilitation issue has been best sorted out till date, given the background of other dams in the country. But here also it is not upto the mark. Whatever resettlement is there, it is only for those who resided in the submergence area of the dam. Those displaced due to canals etc. do not fall in this category.

Then, more and more people are displaced from amongst the backwards, minorities and other disadvantaged groups of the community as compared to the others. Their livelihood, culture and religious beliefs have been badly mauled due to dam building. There may not be more than 10 percent adivasis in the country's population but when we have a look at the displaced population figures, we find 45 percent adivasis here. If we include the Dalits also in this figure, then their percentage overshoots 50 while their combined population within the country will be to the tune of 20 percent only. These poor people have sacrificed their interests for the betterment of the country and when development projects are formulated, these are the people who are side-tracked. This is the group which suffers the trauma of displacement most.

Dams have also affected the health status of the people adversely. Some of it results from the storage of water in the areas where it did not exist earlier and some due to waterlogging in the irrigated areas. Dreaded diseases like Malaria, Kala-Azar and many other water borne diseases attack the people in the area. Women are hit more because they have to perform all their normal duties in changed circumstances.

It is essential, therefore, that when we make our plans for a project, we must take into confidence those people who are likely to be affected adversely. They should be made aware of everything that goes on in a project and, as far as possible, their resettlement should be total. Their participation in the project must be ensured and their 'informed consent' must be obtained before the project is taken up. This consent must be public and not based on representation of a few. It is observed, often, that this formality is completed by inviting people's representative of different stature in a closed door room. These days, this consent is obtained through a public-hearing and it must be ensured that this meeting does not turn into a stage-managed drama.

It should also be ensured that unless all the displaced persons of a project in a particular river basin are resettled, no fresh scheme be taken up in that river basin. Aravind Anjum, an activist from the Subarnrekha Project (East Singhbhum-Jharkhand) who struggles for the rehabilitation of the oustees there, said that the project was first proposed in 1970 as a multipurpose project at an estimated cost of Rs. 90 crores. Bihar (now Jharkhand), West Bengal and Orissa were the states to be benefited by the project. Some 926 crores of rupees have already been spent on the project till March 2000 and its revised estimate now stands at Rs. 2,376 crores (1995 costs). The project dislodged 10,921 families in Jharkhand / Orissa from their homes and hearths. We joined the people in the struggle for rehabilitation much later, when the dam was already built. The dam was opposed during the construction stage itself. This was the time when Koel-Karo Project was also mooted but no work has been done on that because of people's resistance.

We have been agitating against the rehabilitation pace in the project through Dharna, demonstration and fasts etc. The government accepts that the pace is slow and that it needed Rs. 80 crores to complete the rehabilitation process. In the Sardar Sarovar Project, even the landless people had the choice of choosing 5 Acres of land for their settlement. This was accepted by the project authorities under pressure from the World Bank. We are pressing that in this project too, every individual above the age of 18 years is treated as a family unit. Some 8000 persons were paid compensation about a fortnight/ago and the Water Resource Minister of the state assumes that their rehabilitation has been completed. We maintain that mere payment of the compensation of land is not rehabilitation. Resettlement must encompass physical, social, economic, cultural and livelihood aspects, too. Vijay Guria (Koel-Karo Project Area, Ranchi) said that the project is hanging like a Damocles sword over our head since 1970 but we have made up our mind that till such time we survive, we will not allow this project to come up. Hence, displacement and resettlement is a non-issue for us. These issues become vital where the projects are allowed to come up. Three patches of land that the government has shown to people for resettlement are unfit for habitation and nobody will go there. We are not contesting the dam but we are struggling for the survival of Jharkhand. We are struggling to protect our culture and traditions. Our ancestors used to live here, our religious centres are here, our forests, our river-everything is here. We will not leave this place.

The government should look for the alternatives to produce power. Some 10-20 Megawatts of power can be produced easily from the rivers without dislodging a single person. We also have Gobar Gas, Wind-Mills, Air Driven turbines, Solar Power and so on. Why not develop them? Prevent the wastage and pilferage of power from the factories and towns. The politicians lack the vision in storing water. The money available with the MPs and the MLAs is spent on anything other than the development of the water resources. This is their job and they should be doing it. Our stand is very clear-we will not leave our villages and homes to go somewhere else and we will also not allow any unauthorized person to enter our territory. Hon. Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha said this morning that he would use 'iron hand' to tackle us. We are very deeply hurt by his statement.

Swami Advaitananda (Gumla) said that as far as his information goes, some 65 villages were likely to be submerged under the Koel-Karo reservoirs. Where will so many people go? Displacement and rehabilitation issue is a very tricky issue. Innocent and simple people suffer while vocal and cunning people outsmart them and corner most of the benefits. It takes 20 years for the government to realize that I RD P scheme has flopped. The question is, should it take 20 years for this realization to come? Koel-Karo Project is on the anvil since 1970 and one does not know when the actual work, on this project would start. But any development work in the area is suspended since then because the government feels that the area would come under submergence and hence no work need to be done. Will somebody take the responsibility of this uncertainty? Guria ji says that the project would not be taken up. Then the situation is very unfortunate. If the project is built, the area will get submerged. If not, then it has already gone back by 50 years. Is there any end to this uncertainty?

Women have done wonderful work in the field of irrigation in our area without any external support. On the other hand, the government distributes salary to the irrigation worth Rs. 100 crores. The question is, what for? We have invented LPG for cooking. If we had not discovered this, the whole nation would be using firewood and chullahs. This chullah was not convenient to the big guns so they found out the gas, an alternative to chullahs. If you can find out chullahs for yourself, please do something for the poor also. This can be done only by the people who are impartial.

Trilochan Punji (Bolangir-Orissa) said that the foundation for the large dams in Western Orissa was laid along with the foundation of the Hirakud dam. The resettlement process of this dam was never completed and when the desired results from the dam were not available, other dams came in for consideration. The dams on the River Tel and the Indravati are the cases in point. The government not only wants to escape the responsibility of the displaced people, it also wants to escape the debate over the issue. There is nobody in our state to take care of the displaced persons for past 15-20 years.

Ram Chandra Khan (Patna/Darbhanga) drew the attention towards the Kosi Project (north Bihar-districts of Saharsa/Supaul/Darbhanga and Madhubani) taken up in the 1950s. He said that the developmental model that was presented for the benefit of common man was without any logical foundation. The project had threatened the existence of 300 villages, 3 lakh people and 3 lakh acres of land. That was the common statistics those days. There was no clarity about the scientific development then. Some 2,000 Gandhians opposed this project of the Govt. of India on the 14th January 1955, the day the foundation stone of the project was laid. Humanitarian aspects of the projects were not the subject of discussions then. Our area unlike the Gandak Project where some Tharu tribes reside in the upper reaches. The most distressed lot is that of the Musahars who are Dalits. They can be treated as our adivasis.

The River Kosi, for the jacketing of which a conspiracy was hatched that day, used to flow in a braided channel with 15 streams stretching over 100 kilometers. This extension of the streams was more pronounced in the districts of Purnea, Saharsa and Madhepura. In Darbhanga, we had only one stream called Tilyuga which is a river different from the Kosi. All the water of the Kosi was attempted to be encased between the embankments spaced at 6 to 10 kilometers. There are three different streams of the Kosi within the embankments, at the moment. Now, if you force a river that was flowing in 15 different streams and over 100 kilometers width, to flow within 6 to 10 kilometers, what would happen? An answer to this question was not known to the engineers then, nor do they know it now.

There was no mention of the fate of the 300 villages, 3 lakh people and 3 lakh acres of land in the project report of the Kosi. Resettlement should not only be a physical resettlement. It should be total resettlement but the very foundation of this project was laid on treachery. They forced the river flowing in 15 streams in Saharsa and Purnea to flow through Darbhanga and arrested it there within the embankments. Now there is problem of erosion and sand casting within the embankments while the countryside is waterlogged. Fate of both, those living outside or inside of the embankments, is sealed. Earlier, the flood depth used to be limited to 3 to 4 feet and now the flood water is 15 to 20 feet deep. Our villages, our homes, our orchards, our paths, our temples and mosques-everything is now devastated. The entire land lies barren and fallow. Land for land, house for house, job for one person each family in the Kosi Project ask for anything and the same was promised that time to us. We lost whatever we had in the process. This may be the only example of the organised treachery of the science and development.

Biju Negi (Dehradoon) summed up the debate on rehabilitation by saying that it is customary to recognize only those persons as displaced whose land and houses fall in the submergence area. Rest all others are always ignored. Most of the cases, it is only the poor who get displaced who are already marginalized in the society. Large dams are reflecting more losses than the benefits. There is no dialogue between those who have the experience of dealing with the floods locally and the experts with technical skills. They do not see eye to eye with each other.

Displacement is very easy to cause but resettlement is an equally difficult job. Governments only count numbers while narrating displacement. Sometimes, it does not give the numbers even. Displacement is total-everything like the village, home, orchards, fields, rivers, ecology, and livelihood etc. gets displaced and when it comes to rehabilitation, all these things must be restored to the people, and in totality.

The session ended with a statement from Dinesh Kumar Mishra that wherever the people have believed the authorities and agreed to be resettled tomorrow, they never got anything in return. And when they insisted that they wanted rehabilitation today and the project tomorrow, the project itself ran into jeopardy. This exposes the game that the authorities play. The displaced people in the Kosi Project trusted the project authorities for a resettlement tomorrow they are still waiting to get the promised doles. In the Narmada Valley, the displaced people insisted on rehabilitation first and the project is languishing there for the past 15 years or so.

Day Two 8th August 2001


WCD Report and Flood Control
Chair : Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyaya (Kolkata)
Convernor : Dr. Amarendra Prasad (Patna)

The debate was initiated once again by Dr. Parasuraman. He said that on the face of it, it appears that if the flood waters are held behind a dam, the flood problem would be solved. The Aswan Dam in Egypt has done something similar. But once the flood waters are held, the fertility of the land downstream is very badly affected. The available information, however, indicate that the dams have definitely flattened the peak floods and have reduced their magnitude successfully and the flooding in the lower areas has lessened because of the dams.

The areas that experience many waves of floods, however, have continued to suffer because, in the event of subsequent flooding, all the waters reaching the reservoir was compelled to be discharged as there was no flood cushion left in the reservoir. In a country like India where there is a definite season of rains and floods, the role of dams has come in for severe criticism. There should be adequate storage space available in the reservoir if the flood is to be controlled while the irrigation/ power production requirements dictate that maximum possible amount of water should be stored in the reservoir. These two demands are contradictory to each other and, generally, the winning strokes go in favour of irrigation and power production requirements.

The Tenughat Dam and the dams of the DVC do not protect the downstream areas against floods. Wherever a dam is constructed, the people living downstream are assured about the flood protection aspect of the dam and there is a general sense of complacency. If there is a heavy rainfall in the catchment and severe floods are made to enter the reservoir, almost all the incoming water is passed through the gates provided for the purpose. The flood losses in such cases were found to be more pronounced than earlier. Such losses were recorded in Vientiene (Laos) and in Poland in recent past. Hirakud dam (Orissa) is also counted in the list of dams causing flood. In Japan however, the dams have saved people from flooding in an astonishing manner.

There is not much of mention about embankments in the WCD report but the impact of embankments over floods in Vietnam and China has not been very encouraging.

Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyaya said that the term 'flood control' is misleading in itself. It is not possible to control floods and, at best, these could be managed. When there is no control on rains, how can one control floods? Dr. Trijugi Prasad retorted back by saying that the truth is that if one could store flood waters, the flood in the downstream areas would be reduced in the same proportion. Dams, definitely, reduce floods and restrain the spread of water in the lower areas.

Himanshu Thakkar objected to this statement of Dr. Prasad and said that floods are not a risk alone. Ask a farmer in the village, he would say that he needed floods. There are instances when the floods have been enhanced due to dams. West Bengal floods (1978), Orissa (1981, 1993 and 2001) and Banda in U.P. (1992) were caused by 'Dams'. It is hard on our engineers to think of catchment area treatment. Nobody ever mentions about the moderation of floods that was affected due to tanks and chaurs of Madhubani in Bihar. For engineers, the dam is a must. That entire area gets submerged now because of the embankments built for flood control. Floods have a reason and a character of their own and this fact should not be ignored.

Vijay Kumar (Madhubani) said that a huge length of embankments was built in north Bihar to control floods. The Government says that it has freed a large chunk of land from floods. We demanded that if the Government felt that so much of an area was freed from floods, let it publish the maps of the flood protected area for the benefit of the common people. The government is not prepared to take this risk.

Dr. Nirmal Sengupta gave a different direction to the debate saying that there were three commonly adopted strategies to combat floods in our country. Damming the rivers, building embankments along the rivers and not doing anything but bear with the floods which we call 'living with the floods'. Dams are never built for flood control alone, they are built for irrigation and power production because that generates money. Flood control is a welfare measure and does not generate money and is added as the projected benefit from the dam to make the project look more glamourous. This is a reality. Whatever flood moderation capacity is there in the dams, it gets exhausted very soon because of the sedimentation of the reservoir and then on the dams start causing floods. Many speakers have told here what happened after the embankments were constructed along the rivers in these basins. Now the third alternative is not to do anything and 'live with the floods'. Some people believe, it is a better alternative. We have to seek our way out to development under the given constraints. Dinesh Mishra has done some good work in this direction and we should listen to him.

Dinesh Mishra gave the historical background of floods and said that flood water is not only water alone. It is a mixture of water and sediments. This muddy water spreads everywhere. While the people are inconvenienced, to an extent, for sometime, the land is rejuvenated because of the spread of silt and its fertility is enhanced. In earlier days, it is believed, human beings used to live in the hills and cultivate their lands there. Slowly the agriculture spread on to the plain lands. People used to come down to the plains, cultivate their fields and go back on to the hills to live there. In the next phase of development, the people moved on into the plains, along the bank of rivers for settling. Here, they used to face the fury of floods for about three months but an easy life and abundance of food grains was assured for the rest of the year. It was not a bad bargain for them. They extended their agriculture and denuded forests to increase their wealth. They, anyway, needed wood for house building, pottery, boats and fuel. Thus, the resistance to the flow of rainwater was withdrawn and floods started showing their face. By this time the people had forgotten that they themselves had encroached the floodplain of the rivers and the rivers were not at fault. This might have led to the initial efforts on flood control.

Despite this, our ancestors did not prevent the flooding of their areas. They allowed flood waters to come to them which had two fold advantages. One, the agricultural fields used to get their annual quota of silt and two, because there was no restriction on the flood waters, a moderation of sorts was available and the flood depths never became unmanageable. They could never acquire devastating propositions. People had-tuned their life cycle to those of the floods. Their cropping pattern, their house design and festivals etc. were all governed by floods. Vidur, in Mahabharata has said that a person should do all the works in the day time so as to get a good sleep in the night and he should also prepare himself for eight months a year so that he could live peacefully through the four months of the rainy season. Kautilya, in his famous 'Arthashastra' had suggested the use of boats and bamboo to face floods. This has not lost relevance even today. Our NGOs talk about the disaster preparedness and so does the government these days but no one is prepared to learn anything from the common people as to how they survived the floods for centuries without any external assistance.

The technical definition of floods suggests that the floods are said to have occurred when the daily chores of a person are adversely affected due to excessive rainfall and spilling of the river waters. If the daily chores are managed in a way that the floods fail to cause any difference in the daily life of people, then the impact of floods is neutralized. Adoption of such techniques that help balancing the impact of floods is, probably, 'living with floods'. Let us take a look at the house designs in north-east of our country. The houses are built over wooden and bamboo stilts giving a clear margin for the normal flood water to pass underneath. The people live peacefully during floods while a mighty river like the Brahmaputra flows below their houses. The people make a platform of braced banana stems and tie it to one of the corners of the house. A hole of 5' to 6' is pierced in this platform and the sides are covered with jute or plastic sheets. That makes a latrine for them which is capable of floating on water and makes it usable even in the worst floods. The walls and floors of the houses are made of bamboo mats and plastered with mud. These are plastered once again, if needed, after the floods are over and the house is restored after every flood season.

Markets/transportation continue functioning on boats. Until a few years ago, floating banking and postal services were available in the Sundarban area of our country. The annual vacations in schools and colleges can be tuned with the flood cycle and the crop cycle can also be kept in conformity with floods.

In Bangladesh, floods are, generally, repeated in a season and standing paddy crop is often destroyed. The people keep ready seed beds of paddy that could float in the flood waters and securely fasten it to some heavy object. In case the crops are washed away due to floods, no time is lost in re-transplanting the paddy.

Similar is the problem of the drinking water. Floods are mostly accompanied by heavy rains. Rain-water is pure and safe to drink. If this could be tapped, one can save oneself from all kinds of water borne diseases.

There used to be a very rich experience of making use of flood waters in the Burdwan district of West Bengal, as narrated by William Wilcocks. We shall discuss this sometimes later as time is short now. Similarly, every village in the Mithila region had a well thought out and scientific mode of handling water. All that is lost now and nobody has time to investigate what we have lost in our craze for modern technology and large projects. Sattu (Roasted/ground horse gram) and Chura (Flattened Rice) are two important ready to eat varieties of food in the flooded areas. There has to be some reason behind it which nobody wants to explore. The people here make excellent pickles and know the art of drying vegetables. These items are needed in the rainy season when no cooking facilities or vegetables are available. Our engineers, however, refuse to see beyond embankments and dams.

There is a limit to the utility of any structural solution to tame floods-whether it is embankment or a dam. It many be throwing ring bunds around the settlements, desilting of the rivers or raising the villages. A stage comes when the technology stands still. All these methods to deal with floods have a price tag attached to them which is never shown to the customers, the so called beneficiaries (?). But the society has to pay the price for it, if not today it will have to pay it tomorrow or if not here, then it must be paid some where else. There is always a stage where the role of engineers end and that of the society starts. The society must understand its role and should be well aware of the situation when it will have to take over from the engineers and it should be prepared to take up that role.

Ms. Joya Mitra (Asansole/Kolkata) told that there were severe floods in West Bengal in 1978 and 2000. There were floods in 1975 too, but the impact was not felt very badly. The flood of 2000 was worse than that of 1978 although the rainfall was not that severe. The depth of floodwaters and its duration was much destructive in 2000 compared to earlier floods. The structures/ flood shelters that were built following 1978 floods were not very helpful this time.

People from the flooded area, including those in Malda, want floods because they feel that their land gets rejuvenated due to floods. The land gets so fertile that one can harvest 2 maunds of grains from one Kattha of land.

The magnitude and duration of floods is increasing in the same proportion as the preventive measures in flood control are proceeding. A river like Ichchamati has virtually no bed level of its own, it is now just a wide spread field. Similar is the situation with the rivers like the Damodar, the Mayurakshi, the Ajay and the Ganga. All are flat lands. Growing amount of deposited silt is blocking the passage of the rivers. Small amount of water coming into the river now causes the spill. The result is that the countryside is lower and the river is flowing at a higher level. The lower areas remain waterlogged for 7 to 8 months. There are areas in Howrah and Hooghly where water does not get dried at all. The land is converted to a pool in many places while, at places, it is converted to barren land.

We must do something very seriously with the catchment area treatment before it is too late. Ram Chandra Khan (Patna/Darbhanga) opined that the flood is actually a surplus water. There are many sources of water on our earth. The visible sources of water range from tanks to the ocean. The surplus water spills from the rivers during the rainy season and it acquires the status of floods. The sun extracts water from the ocean to form clouds that result in rains. Scientists term this phenomenon as water cycle. Rivers are formed in this process and their basic function is to drain water from their catchment to the sea. Hills and forests obstruct the flow of water and prevent flooding.

Similarly, sun, ocean, hills, forests, rivers and tanks etc. are all linked to floods in some way or the other and we treat all these as essential components of flooding. This forms the basis of the development of people's knowledge. Religion is the biggest source of scientific knowledge. India was the first country to talk about science but science led to discrimination in the society. Science contains most of knowledge in it but it remains silent over the issue of human welfare. We must save our rivers. They are the symbols of mobility. We must through our understanding of floods.

Rabi Kumar Tripathi (Puri) talked about the miseries caused by the embankments once again. He said that Puri, being a coastal district, is a playground of many rivers. These rivers join the sea and used to be free flowing rivers, not many years ago. He said he used to go to these rivers with his parents in his childhood and used to have good fun while boating in the flood season. One used to long for the floods throughout the year. Slowly, all these rivers were embanked and the mouths of the small rivers were sealed. Their water no more could enter the main river and the area outside the embankments got waterlogged and fertile land got ruined.

These embankments are now built upto 30 kilometers inside the coast. The floods earlier used to come slowly, their depths were less and they would recede fast. Everything has changed now. The floods appear like a demon and take away everything along with them. We have lost all our fishes, crops, trees and the vegetations. We earnestly demand that the embankments that are built near the cost are demolished. That is the only way to restore our environment to us.

Tapan Saha of the Mahananda basin in West Bengal said that the people are suffering there not because of the river but the embankments along them. Quoting from the book 'Bandini Mahananda' written by Dinesh Mishra, he said that the book contains a lot of information about the Bihar portion of the river but it was curiously silent about the Mahananda of West Bengal. The analysis of the problem, however, that he has done is almost the same that we face in our area in West Bengal. The state spends crores of rupees annually on the relief and rehabilitation. The situation remains same in the other basins of the state like the Damodar, the Ajay and the Rupnarayan.

The water that is prevented from flowing freely at Farakka Barrage, raises the water level of the Ganga and, in turn, all its tributaries. These rivers are flooded and the misery continues over a longer period now. Reinvited everybody to join hands and do something collectively. He also regretted that the West Bengal floods do not find much mention in the WCD Report.

Meghnath (Ranchi) said that all the wars that were fought till the last century, mostly, had land disputes as their basic cause. But if a war is fought now, in this century, in all probabilities, it will be fought for water. One can very easily spot two groups in every village. One, that possesses water and the other, that does not have access to it. There are disputes over sharing of water in different states. Opinion differs between India and Nepal and also between India and Bangladesh over the exploitation of water resources. Rivers have been flowing since time immemorial and will continue to flow for all times to come, but in the meanwhile how some people manipulated to get the right of damming these rivers? Dr. Parasuraman told yesterday that some unwanted dams are being decommissioned in the USA. The embankments also would suffer the same fate soon.

Any crop, say wheat, is not only wheat. What is equally important as to who is growing it. Then, there is the question of irrigation because the mode of irrigation, the quantity of water to be applied and the local needs differ from place to place. It is also equally important to know how human a particular technique is. He cited an example of one of his friends who had started cultivating 3-4 acres of land and was advised to get'a boring done in his fields for irrigation. He refused to do so saying that he had no right to steal the water belonging to others. That is the difference between the development of technology and human considerations. Technology has given its solution to the problem of irrigation but what is the human value of such a solution?

Ms. Bidisha Mallick, Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyaya and Ms. Pushpa Martin posed three different questions to Dinesh Mishra, at this stage. Bidisha said that whenever we talk about exploiting the water resources in the northern Gangetic plain, the discussions are never complete without the involvement of Nepal. She wanted that this issue ought to have been discussed here. Dr. Bandyopadhyaya said that the problem of waterlogging and its possible cures should have been discussed in greater details. Ms. Pushpa Martin wanted to know that a similar meeting was held in Patna in the month of April and feared that we are moving from one meeting to the other without a proper follow up. She wanted to know if any follow up programme was taken up?

Dinesh Mishra replied saying that international angle to the development of water resources is a very crucial factor. There are bilateral relationships between India and Nepal and India and Bangladesh. This encompasses the role of the international financial institutions and multinational companies. It also includes the views of the respective governments of India and Nepal along with the views of the population living on either side of the boundary. We could surely discuss this but the available time frame did not permit us to go into that detail.

To the question of Dr. Bandyopadhyaya, he said that waterlogging and salinity of the land is a very old problem. The entire land of Mithila was once a swamp and Bhishma, in Mahabharata, had called Reh (the salt crust over the land) as the fever of the land. The kind of waterlogging that we are facing these days is caused by the reckless and unscientific construction of embankments, canals, roads and railway lines. Denudation of forests has led to erosion of the soil and aggrading of the river beds. This also prevents the smooth flow of water. Politically, it pays more to arrange for irrigation. If one starts working to clear the waterlogging, somewhere one has to accept the mistakes of the past. It does not give any political mileage either. That is the reason that removal of waterlogging is relegated to the background. This also is not a new phenomenon. Way back in 1873, a British engineer named Robert Green Kennedy and working in India, researched and found out that only 28 percent of the amount of water released from the head-works of a canal reaches the fields. The rest is lost in transit and raises the water table and increases waterlogging. He maintained that if the government took credit for irrigating the fields and charged canal rates for the same, then it was also the duty of the government to take the responsibility of the waterlogging created thus, and it should clear the same. As a punishment to bringing the truth before the people, Kennedy was transferred to the battle fields in Afghanistan where he had to spent 18 years. The truth about waterlogging, no one wants to speak. This problem will never be solved without a mass movement.

Replying to the question of Ms Pushpa Martin, he said that the awareness programmes were continuing as usual. During this period Barh Mukti Abhiyan had participated in various meeting's, published some articles in journals and continued meeting people. There was a meeting with the Water Resources Secretary in the month of June and we had an opportunity to put up our views before the Governor of Bihar, he said. The efforts have not slackened on that front, he assured.

Ghanashyam (Madhupur) said that the floods are raising their head in Jharkhand also. Dumka got devastated by the Mayurakshi dam last year. 19 people were killed there and the floods remained there for one and a half months. We will have to find alternatives to many new problems now.

Science that is evolved out of fear and terror cannot look after the human interests. Society is divided in classes and science works in favour of those who have power. It is essential therefore, to recognize the science of the poor which is simple and easily accessible. A farmer when asked about his occupation, always says that he is involved in Kheti-Bari. His Kheti (agriculture) is different from Bari (Crops grown in his backyard, mostly fruits and vegetables). All his needs are met from this combination and he never returns empty handed. This is the way to move along with nature. Hence, we ought to learn to live with the rivers and allow them to flow un-interrupted. We must learn from the people first and then develop science accordingly.

Dr. Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, in his concluding remark, said that all the presentations that were made in this session, pointed an accusing finger towards the misuse and ill effects of science and technology. There are two district faces of science before us. One, the science of the rulers and the other is the science of the masses. The science of the power is working in its own way but the need of the hour was to promote peoples' science. The report of the WCD, probably, wants the same thing, to take out science from its narrow confines of power, and make it available to the masses.


Human Rights and the Report of W. C. D.
Chair : Ms. Joya Mitra
Convernor : Vijay Kumar (Madhubani)

The debate started, once again, with a statement from Dr. Parasuraman who said the WCD report discusses the human right issues in detail. Referring to the statement made by Himanshu Thakkar yesterday he said equality, efficiency, participation, sustainability and accountability were the underlying principles in this report. These values are reflected well in the declaration of the human rights paper of the United Nations (1948) and worked as a foundation for any debate on the dams.

There are two facets of livelihood and human rights. When it comes to taking risks, these could be kept in two different segments. Some risks are voluntary. Let us take the case of Enron. The risks taken by this agency are covered by the counter guarantee of the Government of India and it is protected against that. Enron knows, from the very beginning, the risks it is taking in its venture and it is also aware of the extent of protection it is entitled to. On the other hand, there are people on whom the risks are imposed and they do not know the sequence of events going to take place in future with them. The risks taken by such people is involuntary. Most of the displaced people come under this category. Environment also is a part of involuntary risk taker. Any risk that comes on environment is faced only involuntarily.

The threats that the livelihood of the people face, is not accounted for in any project plan. People are left to fend of themselves while agencies like Enron get, for certain, the security they need against the risks. These concessions are never given to a poor people. Our constitution guarantees very clearly the protection to adivasis about their lands that it could not be used for other purposes. We are also protected by law to conserve our language and culture. Similar guarantee is available for the protection of environment. The law governing forests clearly indicates that if forest land is to be acquired, the consent of state and the central government is a must. Some states have given the right to information but many states are yet to follow the suit.

We must very clearly know what our rights are. The WCD report insists that without consultation with the affected people, no project should be taken up. We must be aware of our rights and ensure our participation in the projects. We also must endeavour to reach the related information to the people in.their own languages.

Vijay Kumar wanted to know from Dr. Parasuraman that the Governments of India and Nepal, both, have rejected the report of the WCD. In the given circumstances, what would happen to the concept of equality, efficiency and accountability etc. Our governments believe that these guidelines are dangerous. It is obvious that the government is now determined to build the dams at any cost. What should be the people's response to this, he enquired.

Dr. Parasuraman replied that the displaced people are the most adversely affected people by a dam construction. While such people are uprooted because of the project, they are also deprived of any benefits that might accrue from the construction of the dam. The WCD report says that it should be ensured that these uprooted people become the first beneficiaries of the project. Whether these benefits come from power production or irrigation, it should be the duty of the society to ensure that the benefits first go to such people.

Dams are not the big problem in themselves. Problem comes when the law of the land is not enforced properly. It is because of this that neither we get the equal opportunity or participate in the project. That is the reason why the benefits of the project do not reach the lowest stratum. Women enforced their rights in South Africa by occupying land in the downstream areas of the dams and tried to check disparities. WCD studied these cases and we want that the ways and means are identified so that those affected by dams are given participation in the process and their problems are sorted out.

The benefits from dams in South Africa used to go to the colonial rulers there earlier but now the original inhabitants have forced their way to get the same. We will have to learn from these experiences and set our own examples.

This clarification by Dr. Parasuraman triggered more questions. Vijay Kumar raked the question of equality again and asked him as to what should be the role of activists if the governments deny equality in the projects. Bhubaneshwar Singh of Siwan said that lot of discussions have taken place here about the displaced persons and their resettlement but we have not talked about those who have been benefited earlier and have now become the victims of the projects. Waterlogging is a case in point. In the beginning, the canals irrigated the land which slowly got waterlogged. One gets converted from a beneficiary to a victim. Such people are not protected, at all, under any convention or the law.

Dr. Parasuraman said that if the local organisations are able to mount and sustain pressure, nobody would ever find it easy to go against the promises made to the people. The government should be told not to take up any fresh project in a basin before correcting the wrongs done to the people in past. The recommendation of this report should be used as a universal law to mount pressures on the government's. Such pressures can also be mounted on the financial institutions that are likely to fund these projects.

Chairperson, Ms. Joya Mitra, summed up by saying that the time was short for discussing the topic although we have been able to brush up our understanding over the threats to livelihood and other security issues in this session. The problems faced by the displaced persons are enormous. The fishermen's loss of livelihood in the downstream areas of the dams are distinctly visible and it would have been better if we had discussed it in this session. Ms. Joya said that she had talked to a participant from the Koel-Karo basin in the morning and was told that 8 persons have been killed so far in police firing in the project area but the morale was high still. It would have been better if we had discussed sometimes the issue of tackling state sponsored violence.


Future Programmes on the Report of the W.C.D.
Chair : Rameshwar Singh (Hazaribagh)
Convenor : Kameshwar Lai Indu (West Champaran)

This session was convened in four smaller groups and the suggestions made by these groups after discussions are given below :

(i) The report of the World Commission on Dams should be discussed at the people's level. For this district level meetings were suggested by all the groups.

(ii) People should be rallied around the large dams issue by initiating a dialogue amongst them.

(iii) Extensive studies should be done in traditional agriculture and irrigation and all the positive aspects of this wisdom should be protected against external attacks.

(iv) Attempts should be made to form regional core groups that would include representatives of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

(v) Pressure should be mounted on the MLAs/MPs and engineers to initiate debate over the issue of water and hydropower.

After these resolutions were passed, Daya Nath, Ramesh, Pankaj and Shahid Kamal moved another resolution denouncing barbarous police firing on the people demanding relief in the Aurai block of Muzaffarpur district. The resolution demanded the resettlement of the affected families and institution of criminal cases against the guilty policemen on the charge of murder. It was further demanded that the distribution of relief materials should be handed over to the Gram Panchayats.

Summing up the session, Rameshwar Singh said that the World Commission on Dams is now wound up and we should not be expecting anything else from it. An organisation called Dams and Development Group would function for two more years under the auspices of the UN for a possible follow up. The report of the WCD is available on the internet and attempts are being made to translate the report into Hindi. Barh Mukti Abhiyan will try to publish the proceedings of this two days consultation and will send the report to each one of you.

Kindly keep in touch and continue to support us in our endeavour.

The consultation ended with a vote of thanks from Kameshwar Kamati.


विश्व बाँध आयोग की रिपोर्ट पर गोष्ठी 7-8 अगस्त, 2001

(इस पुस्तक के अन्य अध्यायों को पढ़ने के लिये कृपया आलेख के लिंक पर क्लिक करें।)


विश्व बाँध आयोग की रिपोर्ट पर गोष्ठी 7-8 अगस्त, 2001


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


Disqus Comment