Here's an article I wrote about seven years ago and published in Deccan Herald on the same subject. It has not been updated. However, I hope, it might interest you.
Of dams, development and displacement
Displacement of people, loss of cultural or historic sites and submergence of forests or scenic landscapes due to dam construction is a small price to pay for development. These problems pale into insignificance when viewed in the broader context of the tangible and intangible benefits that the major dam projects in India would bring to millions of people when completed. However, the authorities concerned should address the concomitant environmental and human problems, specially the problem of resettlement of the displaced people immediately.
The most comprehensive and timely report, "Dams and Development" by the World Commission of dams, which was released by Nelson Mandela in London on Nov.16, 2000, does not condemn the construction of dams outright. It reaffirms that there is often no alternative for developing countries in need of water and hydropower
Progress in Western Europe and North America was achieved at an enormous cost to the people and the environment but no one seems to remember it today. The media in our country and in the West focus almost daily on the negative social and environmental impact of development projects like Narmada and others in India. They do not remind the world that the US alone accounts for 25 per cent of the total emission of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and it is defying the world opinion by refusing to control it. The World Commission on Dams' report claims that dams built in India since Independence have displaced 56 million people involuntarily. It is not clear how this figure was arrived at. A vast number of people, no doubt, have been displaced but they are still alive! We must also ask ourselves: "How many people would have died in famines since Independence if we hadn't taken up building the "modern temples of India?"
China is building the Three Gorges Dam, which has been aptly described as the "New Great Wall of China". The 6000 kilometre long Great Wall was built to protect the country from outside invasions and the 1.6 kilometre long Three Gorges Dam would protect millions of people from the scourge of floods that destroyed them and their lands in the past. It would offer them long-term food security, abundant energy (hydropower) and cheap inland transport.
The 180 metres high and 1.6 km long dam will create a gigantic lake or an "inland sea" with an area of over 600 square kilometer. It will control the catastrophic floods that regularly sweep down the river causing incalculable loss of human life and property. While the dam will control floods in the lower reaches of the river, the huge reservoir upstream will facilitate and extend water transport and shipping up to Chongking, a teeming industrial city in the Sichuan province. In terms of hydropower the dam will top the list of world's hydropower schemes when completed. The dams 26 generators will transform the Yangtze's power into 18,200 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to one-tenth of China's energy output. This additional energy is indispensable to sustain that country's booming economy in the new century
The new lake will stretch back some 400 km in the Sichuan province. It will inundate 140 towns and 320 villages in addition to several antiquities and celebrated scenic sites. About 1.2 million people will be displaced and they are being moved to new towns and villages built on higher ground or outside the reservoir area. Tens of thousand of people living close to the river have already been moved and they have been compensated for their houses, lands and other immovable assets.
China may be handling the displacement of people in an orderly manner but it is the flooding of hundreds of archaeological and cultural sites, some 6000 years old that has aroused international interest and concern. Some Chinese and international critics think that heavy silting of the reservoir may compromise the dam's operation and increase the risk of a catastrophic collapse during a major flood.
The other critics think that the huge lake of 'inland sea' may turn into a cesspool if the pumping of raw sewage into the reservoir is not stopped. Water pollution from raw sewage would affect the water quality of the lake and render it unsuitable for irrigation and drinking. China is determined to complete it with its own resources and private foreign financing.
It is well-known that the environmental groups by and large oppose development projects without basing their opinions on science and technology. Most of the environmentalists and human rights warriors claim to be specialists and experts on any subjects. Nicholas Murray Butler had defined an expert as one "who knows more and more about less and less". But experts are multiplying in number and barging into new pastures where their presence was not thought necessary earlier. Interminable debates and hair-splitting go on, and various 'experts' offer solutions many of which stink of biases. "Trust one who has proved it", said Francois Villion, but in the environmental and human rights fields such people are in short supply, and second-rate 'experts' seize the chance to jump a rung or two when no one is looking!
"It is one thing to find fault with an existing system…It is a more difficult task to replace it with an approach that is better", Nelson Mandela had quite aptly remarked while releasing the aforesaid report.
Norman Borlaug, who had helped create the hybrid technology that brought about our Green Revolution, wrote a letter on April 12, 2002 and addressed M.S.Swaminathan, B.G.Verghese, M.V.Rao and R.S.Paroda. I quote from this letter as it shows how environmentalists and babus are also undermining our farmers' future.
"Approval of Bt. Cotton has been a long, slow, painful process, effectively delayed, I assume, by the lobbying of Vandana Shiva and her crowd. Now that the door has been opened for the use of transgenic biotechnology on one crop. I hope it'll soon be approved for other crops. The recent tactics in the use of the 'precautionary principle' is a dangerous game plan, especially when a country is under heavy population pressure. As an enthusiastic friend of India, I have been dismayed to see it lagging behind in the approval of transgenic crops while China forges ahead.
"I was very supportive of the environmental movement when it began in the 1960s. However, in recent years, the movement has evolved more and more towards an anti-science, anti-technology reactionary force. Too many of its leaders are opposed to high-yield crop production technology. Let us remember the courageous decision made by C. Subramaniam ignited the Green Revolution in 1966. Thank God, Subramaniam was not paralysed by the 'precautionary principle'. Look at the results – a six-fold increase in wheat production and a three-fold increase in rice production over the past 40 years. How would 500 million additional Indians have been fed without this great transformation?"
This letter teaches that by employing new technology sensibly and vigourously, we can create a second Green revolution, and bring freedom from monsoon's bondage. His 'precautionary principle' is a polite word for bureaucratic cowardliness. And Bt. Cotton is the miracle seed that resists bollworm, which destroys a third of our cotton crop. Those who postponed Bt. Cotton year after year for six years have their hands covered in blood from the suicides of cotton farmers.
If the anti-Narmada project ''activists`` devoted half as much time to devising viable strategies to resettle the displaced people as they do to meaningless displays of public concern, the problem would have ceased to exist. Indeed, there is a good case for luring the displaced to the plains, teaching them modern technologies and bringing them gradually into the new society that the nation is trying to build, even if not brilliantly. (If this happens, the activists will be rendered jobless and they won't be able to use the tribals as cannon fodder for their selfish ends).
The NBA, while guilty of projecting a skewed picture of the Narmada project, is doubly wrong when it has failed to provide concrete alternatives. Smaller projects under local administration, given the caste structure, will ultimately work against the same people whom the NBA has been trying to protect.
When the professional dissidents/activists argue with the state, when dissent challenges wisdom, it is a moral/ethical position, a rejoinder that defies easy answers. As Vaclav Havel has argued, the power of dissent is the power of ''living within the truth``. The professional dissidents in India today are still happy with the remains of historically repudiated social causes. Human rights and environmentalism have thus become the new text of the post-communist utopia. ''Unhappy the land that has need of heroes,`` cried out Brecht`s Galileo. We are certainly not in a happy land, but heroes are marching out of the dam site or the seminar halls, waving the flag (any flag except national flag) of salvation!