In a sharp bid to bring in international pressure, the National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM), the apex body of tens of grassroots organizations across India, has organized a high-profile seminar to “examine” whether big dams are obsolete. The well-known world body campaigning against big dams, Beyond Copenhagen Collective, will be sponsoring it.
Other groups which will be participating in the seminar are well-known advoocacy groups such as Delhi Solidarity Group, Matu Jansangathan, Lokmaitri, and Manthan Adhyan Kendra. Titled “Are Dams Obsolete in Modern India?: Dams for Power and Water Management: Experience, Justice and Sustainability”, the seminar will be held in Indore on September 29-30, 2016.
Announcing the decision to hold the seminar, NAPM quotes Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister, as saying that the recent flood like situation in 12 districts ,including Patna, was “caused by huge siltation in river Ganga”, which a result of “silt being deposited in Ganga due to the construction of Farakka dam in West Bengal.”
Kumar insisted on August 21, “The only way to remove silt from the river is to remove the Farakka dam.” This stands in sharp contrast to Jawaharlal Nehru calling in 1963 Bhakra Nangal Project “the new temple of resurgent India”, and “symbol of India's progress”, suggests NAPM.
According to NAPM, while big dam proponents, including governments, advance the logic that they provide “multiple benefits in terms of vitally needed irrigation, 'clean' electricity and sometimes flood control services”, millions of displaced people have pointed to how they lead to “large scale human tragedy” and “ensuing violations of the fundamental human rights of the severely affected.”
NAPM says, “Government reports and judicial judgments prove that dams are one of the root cause of the disasters that are happening in India”, suggesting they lead to such devastations like the one which took place in 2013 in Uttarkhand. Yet, it regrets, “Financial institutions, national and international, have often found these big projects a 'good long term investment'.”
NAPM further says, these financial institutes suggest that these big dams may help overcome “threat of climate change from large scale fossil fuel burning for energy”, and hence are “sources of 'clean energy'.”
However, the fact is, it underlines, “The question of their emission of the greenhouse gas methane (from the submerged biomass, through anoxic decomposition), which is anywhere between 70-90 times as potent as carbon dioxide in the shorter term, has not been fully investigated or settled.”
Pointing out that the big dams in India – 4,877 in all, with 313 under construction – have traditionally been designed and built with the three major objectives of irrigation (with the logic that nearly 58% of Indian farm land is still un-irrigated), flood-control and power generation; yet says NAPM, their negative impacts are not looked into,
“The first two requires large water holding capacity, thus necessarily submerging large areas of forests and fertile farmlands along with villages and even towns (Sardar Sarovar on Narmada, Tehri of Bhagirathi, Hirakud on Mahanadi etc.)”, it says.
With the Indian economy focusing more on providing for the rising power demands of big industries and urban centres, NAPM says, “the trend has turned” to so-called “Run of the River projects” which allegedly have “comparatively lower submergence” targeted primarily towards “power generation (Nathpa-Jhakri, Karchham-Wangtoo, Baglihar, Dharasu etc.).”
Pointing out that the installed capacity of hydro-power in India has reached 42,800 MW (roughly 14% of the total installed electricity capacity in India of 304,000 MW), NAPM says, this is leading to ecological disaster.
“Getting the bigger 'gravitational head' or the height difference of intake and discharge of water, means that these are targeting the mountainous areas with high gradients, increasingly – the Himalayas”, says NAPM.
It adds, these additionally cause submergence of “pristine forests and farm land, inducing frequent and large landslides by the change of the moisture regime”, even as inviting earthquakes “by the enormous gravitational load on highly seismic geological terrain, and creating conditions for higher moisture-rainfall envelope in fragile mountain slopes.”