Date: Mon, 20 Feb 1995 15:02:20 GMT
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From: Rich Winkel <>

/** dev.worldbank: 191.2 **/
** Written 12:53 PM Feb 16, 1995 by gn:ecologist in cdp:dev.worldbank **

/** dev.worldbank: 191.3 **/
** Written 12:55 PM Feb 16, 1995 by gn:ecologist in cdp:dev.worldbank **

Narmada: Ignorning a resettlement disaster

Anonymous. 16 February, 1995

The World Bank's resettlement review was a response to the international controversy over the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada River in Western India. The World Bank agreed in 1985 to lend $450 million for the dam and water delivery project without assessing the number of people who would be displaced, nor whether they could be rehabilitated. There has still not been a comprehensive survey of the number of people being displaced by the dam, but officials now say that over 200,000 will be evicted by the reservoir alone. With the project's canals and secondary displacement, however, critics calculate that about one million people will be affected.


SSP is distinguished among World Bank projects partly by the scale of the evictions, and partly by the degree to which the affected people mobilized, firstly to press for greater compensation for people being evicted, and then against the scheme itself.

The World Bank claimed that it had consulted affected people and that they would be fully compensated. Bank consultants, however, filed report after report showing that RresettledS people were merely removed to tin sheds on infertile lands. The Bank ignored this information and continued pouring money into the project. In 1989, for example, senior World Bank anthropologist, Thayer Scudder reported:

"I personally doubt that a satisfactory Resettlement And Rehabilitation program can be implemented. For that reason I recommend . . . either permanent or temporary termination of World Bank disbursements."

In 1991, after years of such criticism, the World Bank agreed to appoint an Independent Review of the dam, chaired by Bradford Morse, ex-head of the United Nations Development Programme, and Thomas Berger, a Canadian Supreme Court Judge. The Review found that:

"In 1985, when the credit and loan agreements were signed, no basis for designing, implementing, and assessing resettlement and rehabilitation was in place. The numbers of people to be affected were not known; the range of likely impacts had never been considered; the canal had been overlooked."

Between 140,000 and 222,800 people losing land to the canals were not given RProject Affected PersonS status. The Independent Review concluded: "It seems clear that engineering and economic imperatives have driven the Projects to the exclusion of human and environmental concerns."


The Independent Review recorded that people from Manibeli village on the bank of the Narmada river were moved to the Parveta resettlement site which consisted of "temporary shacks, limited water supplies and no cultivable land." Similarly, the Tata Institute For Social Sciences (the official Indian agency for resettlement monitoring) concluded in a 1992 report:

"Parveta is a classic example of how a resettlement should not be done . . People were shifted first and the basic infrastructure created later . . . Land was being cleared for over three years which made proper cultivation in the early years very difficult. At least 15 per cent of the households received lands that were not good for cultivation. Seven years after shifting, these households could cultivate only parts of their land. . . . The prolonged social and economic disorganization that was created by the ad-hoc resettlement process has had a telling effect on the morbidity and mortality condition of the people."

Indeed, the Institute found that Manibeli oustees, especially children, suffered unusually high mortality rates during the first years of relocation. Other criticisms of the resettlement sites included: inhospitable corrugated iron huts, lack of grazing land, firewood and building wood, drinking water and cremation facilities, plots smaller than the promised two hectares, disputes over resettlement plot ownership and dispersal of families and village units.

The people who have moved to such sites have often not gone voluntarily. The Tata Institute comments:

"They are virtually compelled to take this step through lack of choice: they see the dam wall rising before their eyes and fear that moving will become inevitable . . . . The choice is between being wiped out or accepting whatever is offered without protest."


Defensive of its record, World Bank management refused to "step back" from the project as recommended by its own Independent Review. Instead it asked the Bank's Board to approve continued funding. Incensed, the Morse Review team wrote to the World Bank President, describing the Bank management's response as "misleading . . . it ignores or misrepresents the main findings of our review." The Morse team warned "unless the Bank recognises the failure of its incremental strategy, the well-being of tens of thousands of people will continue to be at risk."

Nevertheless, in October 1992, the Bank Board narrowly voted for funding to continue. Six months later, however, the World Bank was forced to stop lending, tacitly admitting that the project was a social and environmental failure. The main reason for the withdrawal was the bitter resistance of thousands of project-affected people who vowed not to move from their homes. A February 1993 "Peoples' Referendum" in the Narmada Valley, carried out by the peoples' movement the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), found that 22,523 families opposed moving.

The Bank's Independent Review warned that opposition to the dam was so strong in the affected villages that the authorities would have to use "unacceptable means" to get the dam built. During the six months after the World Bank's decision to continue funding, 800 dam opponents were arrested. Many were beaten, and one NBA village activist was sexually assaulted by police in an attempt to intimidate her.

The authorities also used subtle tactics to appear to be involving oustees in resettlement. In November 1992, for example, an "information camp" on resettlement was organised for public relations purposes in Omkareshwar, Madhya Pradesh. Although this town is 70km away from the last village threatened with submergence, 200 people went to the camp. The NBA records the authorities' reaction: "in the town, many from the group were recognized as members of the NBA, and the police arrested 123 people. They were not told why they were arrested, nor produced in front of the magistrate." Fifty people reached the meeting, but "when they started asking some questions, the police just rounded them up and took them away." This is just one of the ways that apparent participation and consultation with affected people mask the reality of their exclusion.


Aid administrations in countries such as the USA, The Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Germany and the Nordic countries, under pressure from NGOs, opposed further World Bank funding for SSP in October 1992. Britain, however, supported further funding, giving Bank management a narrow majority. British Executive Director David Peretz accepted that the Morse Review "presents clear evidence that the Bank's own guidelines on resettlement have been repeatedly ignored; there has been consistent failure to meet the timetable of work on environmental impact assessments." Yet he concluded that the Morse team was wrong to call for a halt to construction. Britain even lent further support and legitimacy to the project by paying £750,000 for British consultants to go to India.

The ODA, which briefs the British Executive Director to the World Bank, was regularly informed about SSP by British NGOs. The ODA frequently failed to reply to letters and to take action on the matters raised, even when large numbers of dam-affected people were arrested or otherwise intimidated. Instead, the British authorities reiterated the position of Bank officials Q that the Indian government must be given one more chance and that they were happy with Bank assurances that resettlement difficulties were being satisfactorily resolved and that the project should be given one more chance. Yet a letter in early 1994 to the Indian Ministry of Water Resources from Heinz Vergin, the head of the World BankUs India Department, makes clear that the Bank has still not received adequate assurances on resettlement from the Indian government.


Sardar Sarovar, The Report of the Independent Review, 1992, Resource Futures International, Ottowa, Canada.

Sardar Sarovar Project, An Overview, International Rivers Network, Berkley, USA.

Petition to the Supreme Court of India, Narmada Bachao Andolan, New Delhi, 1994.

The Resettled Areas, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, India, 1993.

Latest News From the Narmada Valley, November 29, 1992, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Baroda, India.

World History Archives Gateway to World History Images from World History Hartford Web Publishing