The third in a series of articles, D. Narasimha Reddy outlines a perspective on recent water management strategies.
July 2002: Dams: Modern Management
In the past, great trust has been placed on technological solutions. Dams became the symbols of development the world over. In post-independent India, the rage was for big dams. So far, 3,000 large and medium reservoirs have been constructed across India. In 1950-51, irrigation was available for only 2.26 crore hectares of land. By 1993-94, this has increased to 8.50 crores of hectares. Even food grain production has increased. However, this has not been without a cost. Twenty million people were displaced over four decades since India's independence as hundreds of dams came up all over the country. Of these only around 25 percent were ever resettled. The environmental and social costs of these dams and the disparity between losers and beneficiaries were realized in the face of increasing population pressure on the land. Resentment against the big dams in particular, have led to agitations in Maharashtra in the 1960s and 1970s. Similar agitations seized the projects in other parts of the country. But these agitations were project specific, and it was only in the late eighties that resentment against big dams became a worldwide issue and attention was focussed on Silent Valley, Narmada, and Tehri projects in India. Several big dams have been built in the last 50 years as the primary method of supplying water and generating hydropower with little consideration of their social and environmental impacts. Two thirds of the mega-scale dams built in the 1980s were in the Third World. Dams are responsible for inundating ecologically important lands and the numerous species, while destroying the lands and livelihoods of millions of people. In India, the World Bank is currently financing 21 projects, mostly in the irrigation and power sectors, involving the forced displacement of over 800,000 people, mostly tribal and rural people. It is said that mega irrigation has increased crop yields by over 200 percent and is responsible for one third of the world's total crop production. But it is increasingly becoming costly, inefficient and low performing. Water prices in the irrigation sector are artificially low and promote wastage. Financing large dam projects raises questions of sustainability. For example, there are 18 major projects and 71 medium projects in Andhra Pradesh. Besides these, 82,500 tanks provide water for 121 lakh acres. By December, 1992, Rs.3314.61 crores have been spent on 15 major and 21 medium irrigation projects. Completing them will cost Rs.3513.68 crores. In recent times, governments have been able to allocate only Rs.300 crores for major dams, and Rs.20 crores for medium projects per year. At this rate, including the annual rate of 15 percent in expenditure, expenditure can be enormous. Expenditure for the proposed 12 major projects was estimated at Rs.5,819.90 crores. And under some of the projects like Telugu Ganga, Jurala, Srisailam Left and Right canals, by 1993 not a single acre was being irrigated.
A comprehensive policy framework is needed to ensure an integrated approach to water resource development, with rational and equitable allocation of resources, and giving priority to the poor and unserved. Rffective policy frameworks recognize the longer-term perspective of water as a finite and vulnerable resource, and address the whole water cycle. They also observe key behavioral roles at all levels. An effective policy framework should also include the establishment of standards and targets, as well as a system to monitor and use them as indicators for planning and management purposes. A national water sector strategy should state the government's objectives and the methods to be employed to achieve them. It will include investment and project development guidelines, which should aim to ensure that the development of water supply reflects considerations of water resource management and environment, such as equitable distribution of water resources and the prevention of pollution. The World Bank's Strategy
The draft Strategy (Water Resources Strategy: Strategic Directions for World Bank Engagement, Draft for Discussion of March 25, 2002) advocates focus on the following aspects:
June 2002 D. Narasimha Reddy is Executive Director of Centre for Resource Education, 201, Maheshwari Complex, Masab Tank, Hyderabad 500 028 India. He is also on the Board of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements