Expert finds flaws in Narmada project, Government of India denies

Mysore, May 2: The report by an expert, Bradford Morse, submitted to the World Bank, said the Narmada Valley Project was flawed in many ways including that it was never possible to rehabilitate and resettle the large number of families that would have to be evacuated from their dwellings as a result of submersion of their lands, disclosed Maj. Gen. (retired) Sudhir G. Vombatkere.
Morse, author of World Bank report
However, he added, the Government of India did not agree with the expert opinion and began to implement the project in 1985. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by Medha Patkar, was the outcome of that action of the Central Government, the speaker said.
He was speaking on the topic Narmada — Analysis and implications in the monthly programme of lecture under the auspices of Ranga Jnana Vinimaya Kendra on Vani Vilas Road here on Thursday before the members of the Kendra and invitees.
Narmada Valley had become the focus of rehabilitation for many reasons. The affected populations of the valley in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had come together to agitate for their rights under NBA banner in a non-violent approach, he observed.
The Supreme Court of India had laid down the norms for rehabilitation spelling para-meters such as (a) land for land, (b) land should be acceptable to the oustees and (c) in rehabilitated life, their economic condition must improve significantly, Vombatkere explained.
The demand being justly made by NBA was ‘First rehabilitate and then implement the project’. But the Prime Minister had said that the rehabilitation and the project implementation would be done Pari passu (side by side), the speaker disclosed. The affected people of the Narmada Valley were thus dammed as well as damned in the name of development, he added. Much of the land submerged as a result of the project was agriculturally rich and productive, the speaker argued.
The Movement
The support for Narmada Bachao Andolan across the country was not as strong as it should have been only because of insufficient information through the media, the speaker observed. Even agricultural labourers of the region who had no land of their own, Bhopal Gas Leakage sufferers, Jadugoda Uranium Mines from where raw materials come to the Rare Materials Plant (RMP)in Mysore, Mumbai Slum Dwellers and many other Unions struggling for the rights of the oppressed classes have extended their support to NBA, the speaker disclosed.
The ideology of the movement was Jal, Jungle and Zamin with local people, opposed to centralisation, he explained. It started in the year 1985 at Dhule (Maharashtra), where at one time Karnataka’s renowned Engineer and Technocrat Sir M.Visvesvaraya worked, he added.
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), not merely about rehabilitation of people of the region coming under the Sardar Sarovar Project, over the years, had also widened to questioning the performance of existing dam projects, particularly the Bhakra Nangal dam, the interlinking of rivers project and over 150 dams in the North Eastern States, the speaker explained. NBA was also at the core of the formation of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), comprising more than 200 organisations across the country, he added.
In an ambience of worldwide militancy and growing terrorism, NBA stands out as a beacon of hope for democratic, peaceful and civilised dissent against programmes of the State which are not people-friendly, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere observed. If Governments, however, mistake non-violence for weakness and poverty for ignorance, it would augur ill for the nation, he added.
Narmada Project
Sardar Sarovar Project is the most downstream and the largest of the five major dams across Narmada River flowing to a length of 1,312 km. The Narmada Valley Project consists of 30 major dams, 135 medium and about 3,000 small dams across the main river and its tributaries put together in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh regions.
Planning for the Narmada project began in 1946 and the project work in 1985, aimed at irrigating two million hectares of land. The estimated cost of the project in 1970 was US 6 billion dollars with US 450 million dollars as the share of the World Bank. Following the verdict of an expert, Bradford Morse, that the project was flawed in many ways and not feasible, World Bank withdrew from the project in March 1993. Later, the then Gujarat Government issued Narmada Bonds to raise funds for the project.
A case was filed in 1994 on behalf of the NBA in the Supreme Court upholding the Morse report. In a majority judgement, the apex court dismissed the NBA case. However, one of the five judges dissented.
The World Commission on Dams, an independent body, was constituted in 1998, to review the development and effectiveness of large dams. Prof. Kader Asmal of South Africa was its Chairman and L.C. Jain, member of India’s Planning Commission and an eminent economist was one of its members. The Commission relied on extensive public consultation, an unusual and remarkable approach. It carried out a comprehensive study of 125 large dams in 56 countries.
The Commission examined if the dams were consistent with delivering technical and social benefits to the people of the region. It also said that power projects perform better than irrigation projects. Large dams had negative impact on the ecosystem. There was growing opposition to large dams (defined as those with a minimum height of 15 m) worldwide.
The Commission’s recommendations included the factors of equity, efficiency, participatory decision making, sustain ability and accountability. They were not acceptable to the Government of India.
Second Largest
Sardar Sarovar Dam is the second largest in the world. Length: 1.21 km, Height: 163 m above foundation, Concrete volume: 6.82 million cubic metres, Reservoir size: 214 km x 1.77 km (average), Storage capacity: Live-0.58 M-ha-m (million hectare metres), Dead-0.37 M-ha-m.
The government claims that the dam will provide drinking water to 40 million people, which is just a claim, Maj. Gen. Vombatkere remarked. NBA disputes the means of achieving it, he added.
The cost of the dam being Rs. 38,000 crore and claimed to irrigate 1.8 Mha (million hectares), the irrigation cost would work out to Rs. 75,000 per acre, unaffordable to the farmers, the speaker observed. The proposed power installation was 1,450 MW but the assured power generation was only 450 MW, Vombatkere added.
Listing the problems vexing the Narmada Dam project and its shortcomings, the speaker said that he had toured the region in November 2005 and found that no responsible official had visited the project and there was endemic corruption. The office of the project’s Grievance Redressal Authority was located in far away Bhopal. Relief mechanisms created for the benefit of the families affected by the project namely (a) Narmada Control Authority, (b) State Government and (c) Narmada Valley Development Authority were of no avail.
Today’s position is resting at the controversial point of raising the height of the dam from 110.64 m to 121.92 m. When the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister visited the so called rehabilitated villages, he discovered that the officials had fed him all false information.
It was shocking that even the Income Tax Department had demanded income tax from the families treating the compensation amount as their income, the Speaker observed.
The population of adivasis in India was 8 per cent of the total while their number was 40 per cent out of the 42 million people displaced by about 4,300 dams since 1947, the speaker observed.
Medha Patkar was the leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan, but was not the sole voice of the movement, the speaker concluded.

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