ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Expected Roadblocks

THE World Commission on Dams (WDC) is the outcome, almost directly, of the articulation of the voices of people who in the last few decades have become the victims of programme' ostensibly directed at creating/harnessing resources for the welfare of people. Large dams, by harnessing the waters of large river systems, created resources power, irrigation and drinking water, and so on presumably for all people. Unfortunately and inevitably, in the deeply inegalitarian societies of most third world countries (and elsewhere as well), these projects resulted in actually transferring control over resources from the local often historically marginalised people, to classes who already have access to both economic and political authority. Over the years and especially in the last decade, peoples' movements against such large development projects have prompted a rethinking at various levels of control. The Sardar Sarovar project has generated widespread protest and has spawned a great deal of literature questioning not just its economic and social benefits, but also the scientific and technical base on which it has been built. In response to this and to other similar burgeoning critical opinion around ongoing and planned large dam projects, international funding agencies as well as technological giants sought to pause and conduct a review of large dams. In 1997, following a survey by the World Bank of 50 large dams it was funding, the Bank and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (lUCN) called a meeting of crucial stakeholders. The decision to constitute the World Commission on Dams came at the end of this meeting. The 12 commissioners include the president of Asea Brown Boweri, the director of the Darling Basin Commission of Australia, executives of China's water resource ministry and the International Commission on Large Dams as well as Medha Patkar, leading activist of the anti-Narmada dam movement, and LC Jain. until recently India's ambassador to South Africa and a vocal critic of distorted development, including large dams. Its mandate is to document people's experience people who will benefit people who will lose their lands and livelihoods, people who will design these dams, those who will invest in them and those who are politically committed to the projects under way and to advise those who constituted it about these projects. In sum, the WDC is a body charged with the responsibility of reviewing a trend of development in managing water resources which although so far espoused as a meaningful solution to creating infrastructure! resources appears, as collective experience is documenting, in fact to be leading to distorted development sharpening social and economic disparities rather than bridging them. It is the outcome of a reasoned move to reconsider the development options, to re-examine one component of current development models. It is true that given the circumstances which prompted its genesis, the commission is likely to be more open to criticism about big dams than any other authority has been but its purpose is not inherently to lend support to anti-big dam advocates, The Gujarat government's ill-considered comments on the commission's visit and its now successful efforts to stall it from conducting a session in India are evidence of sheer paranoia. Although the WDC had planned to conduct a public hearing in Bhopal. it had sought the Gujarat government's permission to visit a dam-affected village and the Kevadia colony. The state government had right from the beginning urged the central government to ban the commission from holding any hearings anywhere in India on the ground that the Nantiada dam issue was being heard in the Supreme Court and such a public hearing as was planned would be prejudicial to the outcome. But when the commission made a request to visit the Sardar Sarovar site the Patel government as indeed the entire political leadership in Gujarat saw red. Patel called the commission's proposed visit "undue interference in our plans" and insisted that the members of the commission would be arrested if they attempted to visit the state. The centre beleaguered by the perennial problems with its allies could not but accede to pressure from Patel and his colleagues and the WDC was requested to defer the visit to India.

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