The damming of the Narmada River in western India has proven to be a highly controversial undertaking. The ongoing construction of Sardar Sarovar, the first dam of what will be one of the largest irrigation and hydropower projects in the world, has engendered heated debate between supporters and opponents. The N arm ada situation effectively highlights significant contemporary controversies about development policy and implementation, including the problems of reconciling large infrastructural plans with participatory development, and equitably addressing the competing resource and cultural concerns and needs of disparate populations. At issue are the criteria by which one balances the needs and interests of various populations within a nation-state, £he means by which social and environmental costs are weighed against the projected economic advantages of large-scale development projects, the degree to which the interests of marginalised groups should receive special consideration, and even the definition of development itself.
In response to the growing controversy, the President of the World Bank established an unprecedented independent review team in June 1991 charged with assessing the resettlement and rehabilitation and environmental aspects of the Sardar Sarovar projects. The review team, led by Bradford Morse, former head of UNDP, issued its report in June 1992. Sardar Sarovar: The Report of the Independent Review, which brings together and analyses a large amount of information, should be required reading for development planners desiring toheedthelessons of this controversy.
The independent review responds to two issues: the need for measures to protect the human population displaced by dam construction and operation, and the need to develop environmental impact assessment procedures to anticipate and prevent adverse outcomes. The major focus of the Report´s commentary is the negative consequences of (he poor management of compensation programmes by government agencies, and the passive acquiescence to this by Bank staff.
Seven years after World Bank funding was approved, there is> still no accurate count or analysis of the population to be resettled, and widely divergent resettlement policies have been proposed by the three Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The Report resists making direct recommendations about the implementation of the SSP and instead declares that “…the wisest course would be for the Bank to step back from the Projects and consider them afresh.”f he report argues that the profound difficulties of Sardar Sarovar have their genesis in the earliest phase of the Bank´s involvement in the projects, for they turn on the absence of an adequate database and failure to consult with the people whose lives and environment were and continue to be affected. In the authors´ view, social and environmental arrangements are fundamental aspects of dam project design and should not be treated as a luxury to be included as local conditions permit. Given the global controversy that has produced monograph based on three days erupted overhow to balance the benefits promised by large dams with the interests of affected people and the environment, it is perhaps not surprising that the publication of the Report has fueled the debate rather than end the controversy. Local, national and international opponents of the project touted the report as an indictment of projects which proceed without a completely worked-out plan for resettlement and rehabilitation.
In his response to the Report, the President of the WorldBank admitted that deficiencies of the Bank were particularly noteworthy in its failing to insist that the national and state governments consult with affected parties, develop socioeconomic data on project-affected persons, and assess their implementation capacity for resettlement. However, despite the Report´s conclusions, the World Bank management argued that adequate steps to improve the resettlement and rehabilitation of the oustees could be taken simultaneously with the continuing construction of the dam. Heeding this assessment, the Execufive Directors voted in October 1992 to continue funding of the project.