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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.

South Asia
Are governments putting the need for power and water above environmental and humanitarian considerations?

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.

Your reaction

I wonder when we humans will stop being selfish?

Bharath Ganesh, India/ USA
It is a serious mistake to put a price tag on all the issues, environmental or otherwise. I wonder when we humans will stop being selfish? When will we change our attitude and realise that there are others on this Earth, not just us?
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.
Anubhav Sharma, USA

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.
Pranav, India

The benefit of dams in preventing dislocation should also be considered when evaluating them

Ashish, India/ USA
Resettlement of people should be done better but let it not detract us from the real problem of the migration of farmers from MP as agricultural labour to Punjab every year. The Bango dam in Chattisgarh has helped a great deal by enabling farmers to harvest more than one crop in a year. This has mitigated migration to slums in the cities. The benefit of dams in preventing dislocation should also be considered when evaluating them.
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.
Graeme, England

I am for the Narmada dam as it will provide drinking water for millions of people

Ritesh Patel, USA
I am for the Narmada dam as it will provide drinking water for millions of people, be an effective flood control and provide one of the cheapest forms of energy, not to mention irrigation of thousands of acres of land that will provide food.
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.
Albert Devakaram, India

A poll we conducted in Mumbai showed that 99% of people agreed that only after every family is rehabilitated should a dam be built.
Ravi Kuchimanchi, India

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.
Jeetendra B. Patel, USA

To get electricity we need power stations

Manyu, UK
To get electricity we need power stations. The choice is: Do we build 'clean' power producing dams or 'polluting' coal or oil fired ones that cause global warming. Yes, there are some short term side effects with the displacement of people as opposed to spewing out smoke and carbondioxide for 70 years However, after the recent problems caused by global warming I know which one I favour. After the recent floods here, we need to start looking at building more hydropower dams in the UK.
Manyu, UK

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.
Miklos Nomad, Hungary

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.
Mandhoj Tamang, Canada

The people of the Narmada valley have been largely ignored by the system

George, India/ USA
The people of the Narmada valley have been largely ignored by the system all these years while the Narmada project has been dreamed up. It is supposed to be for the greater good of the people of India. But why is it that it is always the marginalised people that have to make sacrifices for the 'greater common good'? When will they ever receive some of that 'greater common good'? Is this a question that the system doesn't want to face?
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!
Ahmad R. Shahid, Pakistan/USA

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.
Vijay Krishna, USA

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.
Dhruba Roy, Australia

One must keep in mind the enormous damage the river has done in the past

Ashesh, USA
While the construction of the Narmada dam is attracting lot of flak, one must keep in mind the enormous damage the river has done in the past due to flooding. So I do agree that better cost benefit analysis needs to be done and the benefits the Sardar Sarovar dam will accrue have been highly exaggerated. However, to do nothing is a carte blanche I am not willing to give to the liberals who use courts to block anything and everything.
Ashesh, USA

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?
Raghuram Joshi, India

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.
Monirul Mirza, Bangladesh/Canada

They cause a great deal of environmental damage

Thulitha Wickrama, USA
It is true that dams provide a tremendous amount of energy, but it is also true that they cause a great deal of environmental damage. The answer to obtaining mass amounts of energy wth minimal environmental destruction lies in the development of solar energy.
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.
Anirban Hazra, India/ USA

A dam may ruin the lives of some yet benefit those of many others BUT who are we to decide which is preferable?
Somi, Manchester, UK

India's need for water far outweighs any other consideration

Vinod Dawda, UK
India's need for water far outweighs any other consideration. Since when did mankind take into account the environmental cost in pursuit of economic progress? Most of the time it has been lip service. So why change now especially when we are talking about a country which has been poorly developed for more than two centuries and the help it has received so far is mainly in the direction of keeping its impoverished population alive rather than empowering them to come out of the poverty trap? The environment lobbies are barking up the wrong tree.
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.
Krishan Canagasabey, Ceylon Tamil

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.
Shaili Sathyu, India

Dams are very important for India's growth

Ashish B, India/ USA
Dams are very important for India's growth. They are a boon for our farmers as well as the power sector. The only problem is the for villagers who have to be relocated. Well, I would say to them that I know it is hard and it is probably easy for us to say MOVE but it is for their good, our good and the good of India as a whole.
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.
Mohansingh, India

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.
Vikas, USA/ India

Opinion about dams the world over has begun to change

Srinivas Rangaraj, Canada
Big dams have historically driven the industrialisation of post-independent India. For politicians, they couldn't be a better vote-puller; lots of jobs, cheap electricity and irrigation. However, the opinion about dams the world over has begun to change as issues such as siltification, loss of traditional habitats of both people and animals to the large reservoirs they spawn etc, have come to light. It is a very difficult problem in countries with large populations as the immediate gains from these structures will eventually be offset by long-term environmental damage.
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.
Muthiah Annamalai MAK, Chicago, USA

Mega-dams are engineering marvels but environmental disasters

Srikanth Ranganathan, India/ USA
Mega-dams are engineering marvels but environmental disasters. The answer is a series of small dams and barrages, which are a better trade-off between economic prosperity and environmental loss. Series of small dams along the river valley may even maximise the economic benefits and share them better amongst more people.
Srikanth Ranganathan, India/ USA

This problem should be solved on the basis of national and social demand but should not be politicised.
Shree Pant, Australia/ Nepal

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.
Ram Tantaloor, USA

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.
Amit Kumar, India

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | South Asia
Protest against India dam ruling
29 Jul 99 | South Asia
Narmada: A history of controversy
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