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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 15:57 GMT
Large dams: More harm than good?
Described by Jawaharlal Nehru as India's temples of the future, dams in South Asia have proved to be a controversial issue and have met with sustained opposition.
Should more efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives be pursued? Or do the economic benefits outweigh other factors?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Bharath Ganesh, India/ USA
Development has its price. To win something you must be willing to lose something. Besides the disadvantage only affects a handful, while the advantages will eventually spread throughout India.
Dry areas of Saurashtra need water more than anything else. A project that has got environmental clearance has no reason to be prolonged. Yes, rehabilitation is an issue. People are not going to get a similar piece of land but they will have to bear with it for the sake of their fellow countrymen who are dying for the want of water.
Ashish, India/ USA
It's not necessarily the building of dams that is the problem but the lack of money, effort, and time allowed for the consequences of such projects. The humanitarian and environmental fallout from dam projects always seems to come as a surprise to respective governments. They must do more to plan and provide for those affected.
Ritesh Patel, USA
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader, Ms Medha Patkar, has described the Supreme Court verdict as "life-imprisonment". There is no doubt that dams promote development and Ms Patkar does not oppose this. She only wants the development to be people-oriented. In other words, any development should take into account the aspirations of local people.
Indians should enjoy the right to control the resources of the nation and have a say in a development process that is in tune with their needs. Otherwise, all talk of development is meaningless for the mass of uprooted people in the Narmada Valley.
A poll we conducted in Mumbai showed
that 99% of people agreed that only after
every family is rehabilitated should a dam be built.
My family has about 60 acres of land which is entirely dependent on rain for farming. Last year we lost about 10,000 rupees because there was not enough rain. Getting water from a tubewell is not an option for farming purposes because it is too salty and destroys land within 10 years. There are hundreds of villages that I know of surrounding mine that are in the same situation. We have been waiting for the waters from Narmada for more than 10 years hoping that when they come they will change the lives of many people in this region where the first question asked in the morning is whether there is enough water for the day.
The building of dams may indeed provide benefits for farmers as well as electric power that cuts down on the use of coal and oil. The environmental damage that a dam causes is very local and may be overlooked for the benefits. However, dams bring danger too. They may break, especially if built in countries with known corrupt building practices that place safety and quality in secondary position.
For electrical power production purposes, nuclear power is much more effective and cheaper and without any environmental effects.
It is not dams that are harmful to the environment, it is humans that are the danger. There are just too many of us for this planet to sustain.
George, India/ USA
Environment and pollution are the ploys used by the West to prevent the Third World from progressing. Who is most responsible for degradation of the environment and increase in pollution? Certainly not the non-industrialised poor countries. Yet it's exactly them who are supposed to sacrifice their interests to protect the environment and decrease pollution. What a joke!
The Government in India is not particularly known for its concern
to see that the marginalised and vulnerable get their due in our country.
Leaving aside all the other much more (to me) compelling reasons to support
the NBA, the ousted of this dam may get some recompense for their
predicament because of the efforts of the NBA and their eagle eye.
And the Government may mend its ways just a little bit
when dealing with the weak. More power to the NBA.
I would say that when considering the size of India's population and the paucity of
drinking water, one should come to a compromise. Everyone,
politicians and citizens of the nation, should sincerely look at the welfare of
both the displaced and those who are struggling to get a few drops of water to quench
their thirst. Life is precious for everyone, so live and let live and share the
water. No-one owns and water knows no boundaries.
Had it not been for "foreign funded" protestors like Medha Patker, Gujrat could have been saved the last drought. Hundreds of lives could have been saved. Is she willing to take the responsibility for the next 50 droughts?
A recent study of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) shows that the emission of greenhouse gases by dams is many times more than estimated before. India needs to look for alternatives such as increasing efficiency to irrigate more lands with the same amount of water. The irrigation efficiency in India has been stagnant at a poor 40% since the British left.
Thulitha Wickrama, USA
The social and cultural value systems in India have always been fundamentally different from the west. Western cultural attitudes, in which lie the roots of capitalism and greed, were introduced to India by the colonial powers and though the Indian people have managed to oust these powers themselves, they still have to unlearn a lot of their legacy. Development models like big dams which lead to accumulation of wealth at the cost of sacrificing indigenous communities and traditional people are examples of the continuation of the way the colonisers ran the show, the only difference being the beneficiaries are now the elite of India. The cost is still being borne by the least empowered lower strata. Democratic India needs to undertake small scale and community level initiatives to bring about development which is sustainable, and really for its people.
A dam may ruin the lives of some yet benefit those of many others BUT who are we to decide which is preferable?
Vinod Dawda, UK
Progress towards economic prosperity cannot exclude the lives of people who would lose out on any new venture. Governments must consider their obligation to all citizens, not just the wealthy.
The Narmada Dam issue is not about water. The fight is between Government officials who are in league with industry and contractors, and the villagers who are actually not benefiting at all. According to various studies the actual benefit to the villagers is almost nil and to the city people it is marginal when compared to the amount of money spent.
Ashish B, India/ USA
As we have become more aware of the ecological consequences of these dams, we now undertake environmental impact studies before initiating projects of this nature. Perhaps, some of the elements of cost-benefit analysis that are a must nowadays were ignored in earlier years. To apply the modern criteria retroactively to projects which were begun decades ago and in which massive investments have already been made, benefits no one.
Just a few months ago it was said that millions of people were going to die from droughts. And not too long ago it was said that millions of people were going to die from floods. Dams can provide this regulation between floods and droughts, so that when there is a drought, there is enough water and when there is a flood, water can be stored.
Dams also provide a lot of energy, which is necessary for India's growing industry, and hydropower is a much better fuel source than the acid-rain producing coal.
Srinivas Rangaraj, Canada
Dams must be built. The reason being,
they do help economic development in the
region. Take the Hoover Dam (USA) for example,
it changed the Nevada desert for good.
I do accept that people have to be migrated
but we have to accept the fact that
"good things for life come at a cost" and it
has to seen on a long term basis.
Srikanth Ranganathan, India/ USA
This problem should be solved on the basis
of national and social demand but should not be politicised.
It would be utterly ridiculous to argue on behalf of both extremities - building big dams as a solution for economic benefits and conserving the environment without building them. There should be a balance and a clearly defined purpose that should warrant the effort. I think, prudence is the key to striking that balance. The Narmada dam project does not have this and I think the people's voices have to be heard.
If we do not build large dams then what is the alternative? The only problem is humanitarian, because large number of families need to be moved. I am in favour of the dam but also want the whole country to contribute towards relocation and ensure better living conditions for the affected families.
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