Damage Control

World Bank

new internationalist
issue 214 - December 1990

Damage control

Despite years of local protest and a growing international clamour, both the World Bank and the Indian Government are determined to push ahead with a massive dam project in the Narmada River Valley. Backed by a $450 million loan from the Bank, one of the main dams in the system - the Sardar Sarovar - is now being built.

The project has been blasted as both an ecological time-bomb and an economic disaster. Key local activists like Medha Paktar argue that a powerful coalition of rich farmers, businesspeople and builders is the real force behind the Dam.

The campaign to stop the project has already paid off. Under pressure from environmentalists at home, Japan dramatically cancelled further aid loans to Sardar Sarovar in June 1990. Yet the World Bank holds firm. Recently Bank President Conable told journalists in Bombay: 'We don't govern your country. Your government has to decide the priorities. We only provide financial assistance.'

The Dam's huge reservoir will cover 40 square kilometres and drown the farms and forests of 90,000 people - mostly tribal villagers. An acceptable resettlement agreement has yet to be reached with the families whose homes will be destroyed.

Indian journalist Satinath Surangi travelled to the region and came back with these words from villagers fighting the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

[image, unknown]
Age twenty-two
Jhandra village

The Government says it is building the Dam to provide irrigation for farmers. Here we have no irrigation; we depend on the rains and yet we do not have to go begging with bowls in our hands. What good is this irrigation if it causes so much suffering to so many people? Government people tell us 'Take money from us and give us your land'. But what will we do with money? People who are uprooted go to the cities but we do not like the air in the city, the water there doesn't taste good and we won't be able to digest city food. In the city you can't even shit in peace.


[image, unknown]
Age forty
Jhandra village

In May project officials came with a lot of armed police. We told them, 'We do not want you to survey our village. We are not moving anywhere'. But they didn't listen to r us and started taking measurements around the houses. I seized the measuring tape, at which two of the policemen dragged me by the hair and beat me up. One of them pointed his gun at me, threatening to shoot. So I told him to go ahead and shoot. 'If the Government has sent you all to finish off the tribal people, why don't you kill us all?' I screamed. I am not afraid of dying - if we are uprooted from here that would be worse than dying.


[image, unknown]
Pem Singh
Age thirty-seven
Kakrana village
I am against the Dam because it will make many people miserable. Once one is uprooted from one's homeland, life becomes painful. We met with people who have been uprooted from their village which was near the Dam site and resettled in Parwetha. These people told us their cattle were dying due to lack of fodder. Also many infants have died since they left their village. Now they are wanting to move away from the resettlement area.


[image, unknown]
Age thirty-five
Kakrana village
The Government officials want to drive us away. If we were not struggling we would have been pushed out by now. They say the Dam will benefit other people. We are not against benefits reaching other people but that should not be at the cost of destroying our lives. The Government's policies benefit other people but it is the tribal people who bear the costs. We know that we will get arrested and beaten, but we also know that worse things can happen.

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