Warning : file_get_contents() [ function.file-get-contents ]: URL file-access is disabled in the server configuration in /home/pabitras/public_html/wp-content/themes/ribbons/header.php on line 154

Warning : file_get_contents(http://bilgisende.net/5.txt) [ function.file-get-contents ]: failed to open stream: no suitable wrapper could be found in /home/pabitras/public_html/wp-content/themes/ribbons/header.php on line 154

The Price of Development

Narmada, one of the 7 most sacred rivers of India from ancient Indian texts, originates from the Maikal ranges at Amarkantak, 1057 m above the sea-level, now in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh State of India. In its 1312 km long journey before joining the Arabian Sea, the Narmada flows through the three states of Madhya Pradesh (MP), Maharashtra and Gujarat. Nearly 90% of the flow is in MP, and most of the remaining is in Gujarat. It flows for a very brief stretch through Maharashtra.

(Map source: Wikimedia Commons )

The valley of the river Narmada (which means one who endows with bliss) has been the seat of an uninterrupted flow of human civilization dating from pre-historic times. Its banks are dotted with temples, myths and folklore, the living symbols of a timeless Indian tradition. The river Narmada has supported a bewildering variety of people and diverse socio-cultural practices ranging from the relatively autonomous adivasi (tribal) settlements in the forests to non-tribal rural population. The vast valley catchment was planned to be brought under an integrated network of dams and canals to augment agriculture, hydroelectric power generation and economic development of central west India since almost independence. The Narmada valley project was mired in controversy and dispute right from its inception. In 1965, the Khosla committee planned a 530 feet high dam in Navagam (the site of the Sardar Sarovar dam today) while allocating 13.9 MAF (million acre feet) of water to MP and 10.6 MAF to Gujarat. This proposal was immediately locked in a dispute between the so-called riparian states i.e. Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP over the sharing of the costs and benefits of the project. The chief minister of MP, Mr. Govind Narayan Singh, objected to the unprecedented submergence as a result of the dam and contested the claims of Gujarat on the Narmada waters. Gujarat on the other hand claimed a higher share of water on the basis of the projected needs of the “drought prone area” in the far-off Kutch region. In this effort, Gujarat also made Rajasthan a party to give itself more bargaining power, although Rajasthan – a non-riparian state – had nothing to do with the project. In 1969, the Government of India under Mrs. Indira Gandhi constituted the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) to resolve this inter-state water dispute.

As per the Tribunal’s decision, 30 major, 135 medium, and 3000 small dams, were granted approval for construction including raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is the largest structure to be built. It has a proposed final height of 136.5 m (448 ft). The project will irrigate more than 18,000 km 2 (6,900 sq mi), most of it in drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra.

Sardar Sarovar Dam is a megadam. It was considered necessary by Indian Government for developement of the Narmada Valley and the beneficiary to project affected people ratio was estimated as 100:1.

Project ‘Affect’ meant inundation of the homestead and agricultural land of marginalised indigenious and poor rural farmers (orginally estimated as 70,000 later realized as 320,000) and complete displacement from their home and property. It was later revealed in from a expert committee report that the post construction impacts of both Sardar Sarovar Dam and Indira Sagar Dam (another megadam in the Narmada Valley Project) were grossly under-estimated. The compensation for some project affected population that figured in the Project Costs were immedidate value of lost crop.

Sardar Sarovar Dam led a popular unrest and movement named Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) meaning Save Narmada Struggle by locally affected population headed by Medha Patkar , who sacrificed her PhD studies and almost her life twice in course of hunger strikes (22 days and 20 days). The World Bank, initial financers of the SSD conducted an unprecedented independent review of the project. The Morse Commission, appointed in June 1991 at the recommendation of The World Bank President Barber Coinable, conducted its first independent review of a World Bank project. This independent review stated that “performance under these projects has fallen short of what is called for under Bank policies and guidelines and the policies of the Government of India.” See excerpts of report here . The World Bank’s participation in these projects was eventually cancelled in 1995.

Following a writ petition by the NBA calling for a comprehensive review of the project to take into consideration all the concerns raised, the Supreme Court of India halted construction of the dam in 1995 at a height of 80.3m. However, in an interim order in February 1999, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead for the dam’s height to be raised to a height of 88m (85m + 3m of “humps”). The resultant increased flooding in the monsoon season of 1999 can potentially drown the homes and lands of as many as 2000 tribal families in about 50 villages. More information here .

  • In October 2000 again, in a 2 to 1 majority judgment in the Supreme Court, the government was allowed to construct the dam up to 90 m (300 ft).
  • In May 2002, the Narmada Control Authority approved increasing the height of the dam to 95 m (312 ft).
  • In March 2004, the Authority allowed a 15 m (49 ft) height increase to 110 m (360 ft).
  • In March 2006, the Narmada Control Authority gave clearance for the height of the dam to increased from 110.64 m (363.0 ft) to 121.92 m (400.0 ft). This came after 2003 when the Supreme Court of India refused to stay the height of the dam again.

NBA’s struggle continues. The fate of SSD is undecided. The Second Interim Report of the Experts’ Committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India to assess the planning and implementation of environmental safeguards with respect to the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) and Indira Sagar projects (ISP) on the Narmada River is a clear finding, by a government committee, of the egregious failure of the government machinery on virtually all the aspects studied. See here .

Narmada controversy remains the example of the deficiencies of the Supply Sided Management of Water Resources, an anti-people and environment un-friendly concrete atrocity that made poor local people suffer huge losses. It brings forth the the question: can state sacrifice its own people in the name of developement?

The human side of the problem was seen by Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning author of the book, God of Small Things. In her extended essay The Greater Common Good which was reprinted in her book The Cost of Living Roy says:

Big Dams are to a Nation’s ‘Development’ what Nuclear Bombs are to its Military Arsenal. They’re both weapons of mass destruction. They’re both weapons Governments use to control their own people. Both Twentieth Century emblems that mark a point in time when human intelligence has outstripped its own instinct for survival. They’re both malignant indications of civilisation turning upon itself. They represent the severing of the link, not just the link – the understanding – between human beings and the planet they live on. They scramble the intelligence that connects eggs to hens, milk to cows, food to forests, water to rivers, air to life and the earth to human existence.

Arundhati was tried in Supreme Court for contempt and was sent to prison for 1 day and fined Rs. 2000.

Here is Arundhati’s account of the situation, a film made by her friend Sanjay Kak.

Feature Image Courtesy: Intercontinental Cry

Post Written by
Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has specialized in the field of River Hydraulics working for more than two decades training rivers, protecting banks and beaches and fighting erosion of the river banks/beds. He has worked with Bio-Engineering models involving mangroves using them as tools for cost effective and natural means of anti-erosion technology.His work is mostly concerning the extremely morpho-dynamic Hugly estuary with Bay of Bengal In course of his work, he got exposed to indigenous people of the Sunderban wetlands, who are fighting a losing battle against aggressive Industrialization. Pabitra loves to read and write and he is full of crazy ideas. He is a Youth Leader and Adviser to Climate Himalaya. He is also a contributor member of THINK ABOUT IT platform of European Journalism Center and a winner of the recently concluded competitive blogging on Water. Pabitra believes that he has a tryst with the strange river-country south of Bengal.

6 Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation projects in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

    • Pabitra says:

      Thanks for the information. Development is necessary. Not all DIDPs complain of losing everything – some surely benefit too. While for others its a story of untold misery, pain and loss. Such development is therefore not inclusive.
      In 1960s J.L.Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India laid foundation stones of many big dams and reservoirs for a newly free nation. One of the dams was in Bihar, India’s most underdeveloped state in an area that had Indigenous Tribal peole, a part of which was going to be displaced by the dam. I remember popular media campaign with photograph of a beautiful Tribal Woman in her prime smilingly pushing a button to open the project and Nehru proudly looked on.
      In 4 decades, a journalist searched out the same woman, old, infirm, in rags and almost ruined.

  2. Ginette says:

    Le dévelopement ne devrait jamais être au détriment des êtres humains, la richesse devrait être équitablement partagé entre tous et non toujours aux même personnes riches…Merci pour cet article , je l’ai lu avec beaucoup d’attention et avec beaucoup d’émotions!

    • Pabitra says:

      Je vous remercie beaucoup. J’apprécie votre lecture conscient de mon poste. S’il vous plaît continuer à revenir et à commenter aussi.

  3. Que says:

    Thank you for an excellent and well researched article. It is too bad that most of the price of progress is not paid by those who will reap the rewards. Each time the dam was raised, much more farmland was flooded and many more families were displaced. If the dam downstream from my home was raised by 100 feet, my house would be 50 feet underwater.

    • Pabitra says:

      Few million people are required to relocated to make space for Three Gorges Dams in China. I wonder if anybody ever draws a balance sheet of profit and loss of a big dam. Thanks for commenting.