World Bank: Return Of The Big Dam?

Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam (SSND) has been appropriated by Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as if it is his and his alone baby. The fact remains that the project was conceived at the cusp of independence though its implementation began in 1979. Even then Modi was no where on the scene. It is the largest project in India in water impounding capacity and irrigation potential. Irrigation benefits would go to downstream areas mainly in Gujarat and Rajasthan, while large scale submergence and displacement of poor indigenous communities would take place chiefly in Madhya Predesh (MP), and Maharashtra. To balance what is patently unjust, Gujarat and Center were to finance the project exclusively, Gujarat was to find land for housing and farming in the state for people affected or ousted by the project (PAP) in MP and Maharashtra, and the power generated (some 1450 MW  was to go largely to MP. The full height of the dam was to be reached in stages so that submergence occurs in stages, and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (RR) work gets breathing space to move apace. As the construction of this mega dam proceeded, the grandiose design-board claims of the “best so far in the country RR package” began to fall apart in tatters. SSND followed the same trajectory of all earlier hydro-projects in the country, where rights of the PAPs were ruthlessly ignored or crushed.  Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and Medha Patkar took up the cause of some of the most marginalised of communities to seek protection of their rights and fulfillment of RR promises before dam height could be increased. Dam Height Increase (DHI) would have meant more submergence and more displacement. NBA argued only when those already displaced are properly resettled and rehabilitated can the work on height increase commence. The governments argued that NBA is unnecessarily holding nation to a ransom and has become a major obstacle in country’s development. Dam versus Displacement turned into a prolonged court battle in apex court framed around the issue of DHI. Ruling Congress in Gujarat and Center were leading the charge against NBA. Then BJP came to power in Gujarat and it took over where Congress left. Some of the earlier posts provide anchor to the crucial issues at stake: Obsession with Pawar IrrigationSemi-Columnists of the Indian ExpressGrounded irrigation : Falling between stools!Is Modi Kite Flying over Sardar Sarovar Project?; and a film, Drowned Out.
The long struggle waged by NBA, the international attention it received, and the tardy implementation of RR package, irreversible damage caused to eco-systems, large scale irregularities in and uneven implementation of different modules of the project together with similar issues reported from around the world forced World Bank in 1990s to revise its policy of support to mega dams; and significantly step back its involvement in them.
Modi rose to head Gujarat in 2001. Soon after he reinvented himself as विकास पुरुष (Development Man), he provided his “image” the context of SSND ,  which he calls the भाग्यारेषा (fortune) of Gujarat, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to vilify anyone, real or imaginary, who “opposes” the DHI. Just last Sunday he replayed the SSND card, ^^^DEVDA, GUJARAT: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Sunday slammed the Union government for allegedly ignoring the state government’s demand about construction of gates at Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam, and said the Centre was only concerned about “nephews and uncles”. “I alongwith our (BJP) leaders like Parsottam Rupala and L K Advani have urged the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nearly 25 times, seeking Centre’s permission to construct gates at Sardar Sarovar dam, but he does not pay any attention,”^^^. The welcome jab at Congress when he referred to “nephews and uncles” was to point at yet another corruption scandal that surfaced with the arrest Vijay Singla, son of the sister of Railway minister, Pawan Bansal. However, Modi never loses an opportunity to repeat his “grouse: against obstacles in DHI, as if that is the only issue which is holding the “unstoppable rise” of Gujarat. ^^^Citing the minutes of the 84th meeting of Narmada Control Authority (NCA), … in reality the Narmada Water Disputes) Tribunal did not permit installation of gates on the dam because Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments have not fulfilled their respective responsibilities like rehabilitation and other project-related work^^^.
Some “development” has happened that would be music to Modi’s ears. He has an unexpected ally in  World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
Climate change -and world bank doesn’t acknowledge it but the grass-root resistance the world over to resource grab- are turning out to be great spoilers in the unhindered progress of “Development Juggernaut”, which just a decade earlier looked unstoppable. Sustainable development has gained prominence. It has several definitions, but the one I found best says Sustainable development is that which doesn’t not erode the ability of future generations to live sustainably.  Germane to this is the concept of Natural Capital, which is what we have in the entire world as a single eco-system. Something we have inherited and are spoiling to the point of no return. Businesses do not reckon the true cost of their operations by ignoring the environmental damage they inflict- termed as “externalities” (I have trouble with this term, -this hides the true nature of the beast by making it something incidental or outlier when it is something intrinsic to business-, but let it pass). Trucost estimates that “100 global externalities” account for US$ 4.7 trillion or 65% of total primary sector impacts. Green House Gases (GHG) impact alone of Coal power generation accounts for over USD 800 billion (p15) not counting air pollution costs. The report may not be unbiased or wholly accurate or even complete, but it does bring into relief enormity of the problem. The ratio of natural capital cost to total revenue for coal power generation is a highly un-economical and un-ecological 110% (p10).
It is an imperative for global capital to grow to survive much like a shark which has to be constantly on the move to survive. World Bank is faced with a Hobson’s choice to square of development with climate change. The foregoing would suggest No, No, to Coal. Petroleum production has crossed the Peak sometime past. Fracking has shown “great promise” in North America but is not without environmental downsides, and supply of natural gas is limited and woefully inadequate to allow a significant change over to it. World Bank archives admit financing an Italian nuclear power plant (NPP), but generally claims to not fund NPPs anywhere in the world (why? Is it because it is too well aware of associated risks much like the general insurance industry, which shuns NPP like plague). Fukushima Daichi NPP disaster makes people and even some governments see red flag. What does WB then do? Shut shop? That is an option not on the table. Hydro-power is the “new” answer for “changed” times. ^^^Such projects were shunned in the 1990s, in part because they can be disruptive to communities and ecosystems. But the World Bank is opening the taps for dams, transmission lines and related infrastructure as its president, Jim Yong Kim, tries to resolve a quandary at the bank’s core: how to eliminate poverty while adding as little as possible to carbon emissions.
Large hydro is a very big part of the solution for Africa and South Asia and Southeast Asia. . . . I fundamentally believe we have to be involved,” said Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president for sustainable development and an influential voice among Kim’s top staff members. The earlier move out of hydro “was the wrong message. . . . That was then. This is now. We are back.”^^^  The WB, though it talks of reducing poverty, has always been part of the problem, not solution. Be that as it may, the Time for Mega Dams has come. Would they make a grand comeback?, powered by World Bank. Modi, and other Big Dam advocates – Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar, and who else-, have now a useful ally. Move over NBA?
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