India Water Week 2013: Another evidence of MoWR working like a big dam lobby?
It is well known that India’s water resources ministry in India and its offices like the CWC and NWDA work more like a big dam lobbies, now increasingly working for the private sector business organisations, rather than the communities that they are supposed to serve. If an additional proof was needed, it has become available in the form, content, inclusion and exclusion of the concerned groups in its India Water Week being organised at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi during April 8-12, 2013.
Ministry of Water Resources, Govt of India, along with organisations likes Central Water Commission, Central Ground Water Board, National Water Development Agency, some related ministries of Govt of India are collectively organising India Water Week during April 8-12. Sponsors of the week long show include some state dam and irrigation organisations to private sector business organisations like L&T and Jain Irrigation and also hydro power company from neighbouring country like the Punatsanchu Hydropower Authority of Bhutan. The theme of this year’s event is: “Efficient Water Management: Challenges and Opportunities”.
The official website (http://www.indiawaterweek.in/) says about the event, “Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India have established a key annual policy and technology showcase event… The event is targeted at International and National audience comprising of policy planners and technologists involved with water resources management in all key sectors of economy”.
Further elaborate statement (http://www.indiawaterweek.in/html/aboutus.html) says something different, “the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India have made a comprehensive plan for creating a unique platform for deliberating the issues involving all stakeholders including decision makers, politicians, researchers and entrepreneurs of water resources not only from Indian arena but also from International avenues”. So all stakeholders involved in India water sector are supposed to be participating in this. However, we see no sign of any scope for the most important stakeholders: farmers, women, tribals, fisherfolk or even critical voices from civil society. The organiser claims to have made efforts “for effective civil society involvement too in the consultative processes of India Water Week 2013”. We have not noticed any, but that must be our fault.
The registration fee: Who can afford? The fee is nominal: only Rs 8000/- per participant. Needless to add, the stakeholders have to make their own travelling and staying arrangements, not included in this registration fees. 99% of Indians cannot afford such fees, but we guess its not for them. The trouble, however, is that this is happening at public expense by the government of India agencies, in the name of people of India, most of whom cannot even participate it it.
The programme page of the official site (http://www.indiawaterweek.in/html/programme.html) opens with a telling statement: “Keeping in view the priorities of the Government of India towards making optimal usage of all the available water resources”. So, very interestingly, whatever the organisers are doing, is not only on behalf of water resources ministry and its subordinate offices, but the entire Government of India.
Commodification of Water That the event organisers equate water resources with water is apparent when they say: “the water resources are a single entity, which are shared by all the above sectors out of a common pool of utilizable water”. They simple do not seem to understand that water is an ecological good, embedded in the ecological entities and when water is taken out, it has consequences.
Enlightening definition of wide consultations What the Ministry understands by wide consultations is abundantly clarified by them. The Programme page says: “The theme for the event has been decided after wide consultations amongst the national and international level stakeholders and workers in the field. You can view the deliberations here.” When you click to view the deliberations, it takes you to: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/programme1.pdf. This page contains minutes of the meeting held on April 30, 2012, chaired by the Central Water Commission Chairman. It actually includes the list of 15 participants, and no prize of guessing that all, each one of them happen to be government officers! It is thus quite enlightening to know what is the meaning of wide consultations. Obviously those mortals who are not government officials have no place in the consultations.
National Water Policy It is learnt from the statements of the Union Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat that he will launch the new National Water Policy from the inaugural function on April 8, 2013. Here it should be noted that people of India have yet to see the final version of the new NWP, but those who pay the registration fees, will be first to see it! More importantly, it may be recalled that majority of the states that participated in the National Water Resources Council meeting held on Dec 29, 2012 opposed the policy. If one were to go by the latest draft available on MWR website (see: http://mowr.gov.in/writereaddata/linkimages/DraftNWP2012_English9353289094.pdf), the new policy is likely to advocate treated water as an “economic good”, encourage private sector to be service provider in public private participation mode and largely support business as usual practices rather than learn any lessons from past experiences. For more detailed comments on the new NWP draft, see: http://sandrp.in/wtrsect/Letter_to_NWRC_on_New_National_Water_Policy_Dec2012.pdf.
Buyer Seller meet for Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project There is an interesting session in the event with above sub title. DRIP is a World Bank funded programme managed by CWC for rehabilitation of some 243 dams that are more than 50 years old. The official programme website says, the objective of the event is to facilitate state dam agencies to get “exposure to state of the art technologies and solutions”. Its bit of a mystery what is going to be bought and sold, since even contours of the DRP programme are not in public domain. We hope, it is not about buying and selling of the old dams, as seems to be the case from the title of the session.
Hydropower A quick look at the detailed programme (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/html/event_plan.html) shows that the event will have four sessions on hydropower: 1. Water Availability and issues in development of hydro / thermal power 2. Hydro Power Green Power 3. Hydro Power Generation – Impact on Environment 4. Accelerated Development of Hydropower. The formulation, description and available names of moderators of these sessions clearly show how the MWR is acting like a big dam lobby.
For example, the page on first session (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/IWW-2013-IB2_30.pdf) does not talk about water availability issues at all, but about the huge untapped hydropower potential, like any lobbyist would do. The moderator is Mr A B Pandya, who is known to be proponent of big dams.
For the second session on Hydro Power Green Power (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/IWW-2013-IB2_49.pdf) the very title says that it is going to play the usual pro hydro jingle. Not surprisingly, the moderator is Mr Dasho Chhewang Rinzin from Bhutan’s Druk Green Power Corporation Limited. The session description includes, “Environmental Impacts of Hydro Projects need to assessed in proper keeping in view all aspects”. While former environment minister Jairam Ramesh, Assam Power Minister and many others are on record to have said that almost all EIAs in India are mostly dis-honest, cut and past jobs, to expect Managing Director of Bhutan corporation to moderate such a session is clearly inappropriate decision. It is open secret that Bhutan, in spite of its slogan of Gross Happiness Index, gives scant regard for social or environment issues of hydropower projects. Only where you can do that, can you get away with calling Hydro Power as Green Power.
For the Third Session on Accelerated Development of Hydro Power, (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/IWW-2013-IB2_42.pdf), the session is, to be moderated by the Chairman of Central Electricity Authority, which has been sanctioning every hydropower project that comes its way, without even fulfilling its duty under Section 8(2) of India Electricity Act 2003, which asks CEA to evaluate the impact of the projects on basin wide context.
For the fourth session on Impact of Hydro Power on Environment (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/IWW-2013-IB2_15.pdf), the description actually talks only about positive impacts of hydropower on environment! Even about negative impacts, it says, “These impacts, however, may not necessarily be characterised as negative impacts”. The description actually shows how ostrich like the organisers are: “there is no universally accepted methodology for monitoring the downstream, reservoir or upstream ecological responses of the river systems”. They would not even like to acknowledge the existence of the report of the World Commission on Dams.
Session on Environment Flows It is indeed welcome to see the session titled: “Case for setting aside gains for environment flow”, though the title should be talking about gains from and not for environment flows. More worryingly, the organisers could not find anyone more credible than former Power Sector Shri Anil Razdan to moderate this session. Mr Razdan clearly has no environmental credentials and is rather known for his advocacy for more hydropower projects. This shows how insincere the organisers are on such vital issues.
There is only one more session on “Water Management and Sustainable Ecosystem” where there is likely to be some discussion on Ecosystem (see: http://www.indiawaterweek.in/pdf/IWW-2013-IB2_28.pdf). The session is to be moderated by Ms Sui Coates, Chief, WSH UNICEF. Good to see some representative of fairer gender at last. We hope UNICEF will in future speak up when dams destroy rivers, forests, biodiversity and livelihoods in future, which they have not done in the past, even though they are active in India.
In Conclusion: No-Water-weeks in India’s Drought Prone areas Even as the mandarins of water resource establishment host this multi crore water week, very large parts of India, including parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are facing drought and crores are people are suffering no-water-week, week after week. The organisers of India Water Week have clearly scant regard for these crores of unfortunate people. They may in fact join in chorus with Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar (see: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/ajit-pawar-apologises-for-shocking-remark-if-no-water-in-dam-do-we-urinate-in-it-351163) in mocking at these people. It would however be useful to remind them that Maharashtra is the state of India that has the highest number of big dams, more than a third of India’s big dams are in that state, and yet that state is claimed to be suffering drought worse than the 1972 drought, when the rainfall is much higher than the 1972 drought in most drought affected districts (for details see: http://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/how-is-2012-13-maharashtra-drought-worse-than-the-one-in-1972/) and when the states has built close to thousand big dams in these 40 years. Big dams are not going to be solutions of India’s Water Future, they are actually going to create more problems and we need to find real solutions, beginning with some honest review of past experiences, which is what such event should start from. But the organisers of India Water Week seem in no mood for any such exercise.
Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org, 09968242798)
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, Delhi (www.sandrp.in)
Manoj Mishra (email@example.com, 09910153601)
Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Delhi (http://www.peaceinst.org/)
Dr Latha Anantha (firstname.lastname@example.org)
River Research Centre, Thrissur, Kerala
Parineeta Dandekar (email@example.com)
Shripad Dharmadhikary (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Pune