Dam construction on any river is often preceded by displacement of locals and followed by submergence of villages, turning them into ghost villages. All the major river water projects involve large scale displacement of locals, and most of these displacements lead to creation of vulnerable groups. The stories of displacement and forced evictions can be traced back to construction of dams like Sardar Sarovar Dam on river Narmada, or Tehri Dam on Bhagirathi or Hirakud Dam on Mahanadi. Almost always, these displacements are rife with little insight into the village specific consequences of dam construction, villagers are left with no option but to give up on their ancestral lands to move out to alien colonies with no land to their name. Arundhati Roy, in her essay, ‘The greater common good’, while arriving at the figure of number of people displaced in the developmental projects in the last fifty years writes, “Fifty million people. I feel like someone who’s just stumbled on a mass grave.”
Above: Broken, Silted Canals of under construction Pawai Project on Ken River in MP (SANDRP photo)
The Ken Yatra while going through the Panna district were told by Project Affected People that the Pawai Medium Irrigation Project (PMP) under construction is displacing the people without just compensation or rehabilitation.
The Ken Yatra observed that the construction work of the PMP is happening in full swing in Madhya Pradesh. The dam is being built at ‘Tendu Ghat’ on Ken River in Panna district to supply irrigation water to 9952 hectares (the board at the project site erroneously says it will irrigate 30 000 ha) of agricultural land falling in Pawai and Gunnor tehsils. The construction work also involves creation of a massive canal, including a few aqua-ducts on Ken river and its tributaries. Continue reading “Pawai Dam Project displacing people without Rehabilitation, allege PAFs”→
Diplomatic and military strategies, by definition, are not decided through public debates. So the jingoism around Indus treaty with Pakistan seems more like an attempt at sending threatening signals. But it will have multiple serious ramifications in any case, so it is worth deliberating about.
The 1960 Indus treaty has allocated rights of development on three eastern tributaries (Sutlej, Beas & Ravi) to India, and we have exhausted that entitlement almost fully. Attempts to use the occasional remaining flow will mean a huge impact in Indian Punjab, which is unlikely to resonate well with the people of Punjab. The treaty gave Pakistan dominant right of development of the three western tributaries (Chenab, Jhelum and Indus), India has limitations about water use (both in terms of quantity and manner of use) in case of the western rivers. India has not yet exhausted the entitlement in this case.
Background There was an unexpectedly heavy flood during 1953 in Bihar that led the State leaders to think about the flood control measures to be taken seriously. The losses incurred in the State in floods prompted the Government of India to formulate its first Flood Policy and take preventive and corrective steps so that the flood victims are helped in whatever way possible. While the Flood Policy was given the final shape and announced in September, 1954 Bihar was already under a severe spell of floods in 1954. The 1954 flood is still counted as one of the worst floods in the history of Bihar and remembered well by the elderly generation. Following the floods of 1954 and promulgation of the National Flood Policy many embankments were constructed along the Bihar rivers and the Burhi Gandak that passes through the present districts of W & E Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur, Begusarai and Khagaria and joins the Ganga about 25 km below Khagaria town was one to be embanked in its stretch below Champaran. Continue reading “Breach in Chamarbandha Embankment in Samastipur-1958”→
“We went to meet the collector to ask him whether we were the citizens of this country or not? If, because of the Bagmati Project, our citizenship is terminated, he should issue orders to us to leave the country and get settled in Nepal and we will go there” says the Mukhia of Masaha Alam of a village that was in the Bairgania block of Sitamarhi district of Bihar prior to the construction of the embankments on the Bagmati in 1971-72. The village had an area of 150 acres and 420 families according to 1971 census. Only 104 families have been settled till date and the remaining 316 families in the village are still awaiting rehabilitation as they were trapped within the river and its right embankment then forty years ago and are literally on roads since the river was jacketed to prevent flooding of the plains in the river basin. Continue reading “Thanks to Bagmati Project, They Are on Roads for Forty Years”→
At a time when the creation of separate Telengana state from Andhra Pradesh is making headlines in the national media, the issue Polavaram dam seems to have been sidelined in media. But Polavaram dam holds huge significance in this situation since construction of this dam is one of the condition laid down by the center in order to create state of Telengana bifurcating the state of Andhra Pradesh. The dam though has no legally tenable clearance, Odisha and Chhattisgarh continue to oppose it and there are cases pending against the project in the Supreme Court.
Now a 2013 film by social activist and filmmaker Saraswati Kavula “Dam’ned” documents plight of the people being affected by the Polavaram dam. The film also brings out the critical issues associated with the construction of this mega dam which were rarely covered by any media. The film is available in four parts on youtube, see: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCb4JjIYab5w_dFkHwkmkrHQ?feature=g-user-u.
The 71 minutes film is a brilliant documentation of peoples sentiments associated with the river, land and a project which will submerge all of these. Within these 71 minutes the film brings to light the multitude and complexity of issues associated with this mega project. But before getting into that, a brief about this gigantic project has been provided, as given in the film.
The Polavaram Project Polavaram is one of the most controversial dam projects in India. It is also the largest dam in India in terms of the number of people it would displace. The dam will be located near Polavaram village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, an area bordering Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The dam aims to irrigate 7,21,000 acres of land in four districts of Andhra Pradesh i.e. West Godavari, East Godavari, Vishakhapatnam and Krishna districts. The project proponent claims that this project will also provide drinking water to 540 villages of Vishakhapatnam district along with the city of Vizag and to provide water to industries located in Vishakhapatnam district. The project also aims to transfer 80 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Godavari to Krishna river basin.
The cost of mega plan will be majorly born by the ethnic tribal people of Andhra as well Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The dam will submerge 300 villages displacing 2,00,000 people. The submergence area will be so huge that the back waters of the dam go all upto Sabari river in Chattisgarh and Sileru river in Odisha. This submergence area will cover 10,000 acres of biodiversity rich forest and also partially submerge the Papikundulum wildlife sanctuary. The people living in these areas are predominantly ‘adivasis’ belonging to Koya and Konda Reddy tribes. There is a substantial number of no-tribal people, majority of the belonging to Dalits and backward classes. In numbers nearly 200 out of the 300 submerged villages are adivasi villages.
Why this Film is Important The film is threaded around people’s strong links with the land, forest, biodiversity and river. Throughout the film how people have associated themselves with the natural resources and how breaking this association is inviting havoc for the economic conditions and social relations have been depicted brilliantly.
“This is a land where our ancestors have been living for ages and we won’t leave it at any cost” such sentiments have been echoed throughout the history in most cases of displacement caused due to dams or any other project displacing people. This film on Polavaram documents with videos why and how this is such a crucial case against such projects. The film shows how displacing people from one place and giving them compensation either in terms of money or in rare cases some land has done little to improve the conditions of the people and has in fact impoverished and disempowered the people. This, as the film very clearly shows, has thrown them in to a life of poverty and uncertainty.
The film is packed with interviews of the people affected by the dam either due to submergence or due to other project components like canal construction. The filmmaker also interviewed experts from the field to show how the construction of Polavaram dam violates legal norms, is technically not feasible and takes no lesson from the experiences of construction of similar project in other parts of the country and how better options exist.
The personal interviews done brings to light how the people have little information about the project in Andhra Pradesh and have literally no information in Chhattisgarh and Odisha. In Andhra Pradesh, the government is also building infrastructure such as roads and buildings in areas which have been identified as submergence areas. This rather than helping people is creating confusions. There has been no environment or social impact assessment or public consultations in Chhattisgarh or Odisha, nor any plans for rehabilitation or environmental management. The Polavaram project got environment clearance in Oct 2005 but till 2013, in Andhra Pradesh out of the 276 submergence villages only 30 to 40 villages have been receiving compensation and that too only partly for their land only.
Complexities with Compensation: Monetary The film also brings out what is actually happening with the money given as compensation. The compensation that was given to one affected family, loosing 1.5 acres of land, was Rs. 1,68,000. When asked what did they do with the money, the head of the family said that they distributed the money among the family members where each person got around Rs. 10,000. People from Khammam district narrated the story of how they have been looted in the process of getting the compensation cheques from the government officials and lawyers. People were also cheated by insurance companies which came to these areas in large numbers posing as banks after people received their cheques. People also believed that after the project compensation was given the social relations in villages have deteriorated. One of the ladies from an affected family said “Many people died since the money came… drinking heavily and died… People are fighting among themselves since the money came.”
The Bone of Contention: Land The film shows that even in case of the compensation received in the form of land, why the result is equally distressful. In a rehabilitation colony in East Godavari district few males are to be found since they have migrated to the cities to find work. People said that there is no farmland for them to work nor there is any work under MGNREGA. In Kuruturu in West Godavari district, the conflict over land between tribal and non-tribal people have intensified since displaced people were given disputed land as part of their rehabilitation plan. Many people who were given such land returned to their original villages due to these conflicts. They now conclude: “we have decided that its better we die in the Godavari, rather then go over there.” Some of the affected people (e.g. in Kunta block in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh) face double displacement. The people of this area were forced to shift to Salwa Judum camps due to the conflict between Maoist and Salwa Judum since 2005. But at a time when they were returning to their villages to resume their lives, they were told that they will again had to leave their villages as they will be submerged by the Polavaram dam.
Canals Completed without any work on the Dam The film also throws light on drawback of the construction plan of the Polavaram dam. The films shows that the construction work of the irrigation canals of the project is almost complete at a time when no progress has been made in the construction of the main dam. This project, as Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP points out in the film, resembles the Rs 75,000 crore Maharastra irrigation scam where canals were constructed to fulfill the interests of the construction lobby without doing any work on the main dam. The massive Andhra Irrigation Scam is only beginning to surface, as pointed out in a recent CAG report[i].
Embankments as Huge as ‘China Walls’ The film shows that the proposal to construct embankments as huge as the ‘China wall’ on Sabari and Sileru rivers of Chhattisgarh and Odisha to prevent submergence of the areas in these states can only be possible on paper. The plan to construct embankment came as response to Orissa High Court order which said that Polavram project cannot submerge the areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. However, embankments were not a part of the original construction plan which received clearance from Environment Ministry. Nor has there been any environment or social impact assessment or feasibility study based on ground realities of the embankment proposal. There has also been no public consultations in these affected areas.
Experts say construction of such embankments would be a huge blunder of the Polavaram project. In the film Prof. T. Shivaji Rao of Center of Environment Studies in GITAM Univeristy, Vizag opined that with embankments there will be greater damage for Odisha and Chhattisgarh. Andhra Pradesh has also made a plan to put 16 lifts at different points on the embankments on Sabari and Sileru rivers to lift the water from the tributaries to the main river during flooding season. During rains these lifts are to lift and pump the water over the embankment walls and pour it in the river. This is doomed right from the beginning. The film shows this by bringing a detailed account of the experience of similar sluice gate scheme on the Godavari embankment in Bhadrachalam where it failed miserably. The sluices got closed up leading to waterlogging and inundation of houses.
There is no doubt that this film is a very detailed documentation of the issues related with Polavaram dam. The filmmaker could have added some voices from the government or project authorities to give a complete picture. In the film serious concerns were raised against how the government has handled the whole issue of Polavaram. I would recommend all concerned must watch this film. For a copy, either see the youtube link given above or write to the film maker: firstname.lastname@example.org, the price of a copy of the film is Rs 350/- including postage charges of Rs 50/-. Do watch and spread the word!
According to a new report, the largest climate induced displacement in the world for the year 2012 happened
in two states of Northeast India, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in June 2012 due to the monsoon floods which displaced 6.9 million people, constituting about 21.2% of the population of the two states. This staggering fact was revealed in the report named “Global Estimates 2012 – People Displaced by Disasters” published by The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) based in Geneva, Switzerland in May 2013. More people were displaced in India by natural disasters last year than in any other country, says the report. A closer scrutiny shows that the figure seems highly exaggerated, raising question mark over the accuracy of the work of IDMC and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), who jointly published the report.
IDMC is an international body monitoring internal displacement worldwide. This was established in 1998 by the NRC. IDMC defines displacement as a non volunteer nature of movement. People who are compelled to evacuate their homes in order to avoid the impacts or the threat of a disaster will come under this definition. But from this definition it is also clear that those people who are affected by any disaster but have not evacuated their place living will not be defined as displaced. IDMC states that majority of people who face displacement are internally displaced people (IDPs).
Displacement by type of related hazard, 2012 and 2008-2012
This report states that in 2012, an estimated 32.4 million people in 82 countries were newly displaced by disasters associated with natural hazard events. Over five years from 2008 to 2012, around 144 million people were forced from their homes in 125 countries. The majority of this displacement (98% in 2012 and 83% over five years) occurred due to climate and weather related hazards which include floods, storm, etc.
In the year 2012, twenty disaster-induced displacement events were recorded, which were induced by flood and storm related disasters. Out of these, fourteen happened in Asia which includes the mass displacement in India, China and Philippines. Large scale flood displacements also happened in African countries of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and South Sudan. In fact the Nigerian floods also displaced over six million people. Hurricane Sandy brought the disaster for the west which rendered 775,000 people homeless in America and 343,000 people in Cuba.
Why Disaster Induced Displacements are Increasing The report says that related and interconnected global changes like population growth, rapid urbanisation and the exposure of vulnerable communities, homes and livelihoods to hazards will increase the risk of global disasters. Even though increasing use of life saving drugs have brought down mortality rate related with weather related hazards, number of disaster survivors getting displaced will not decrease.
The analysis done in the report shows that disaster induced displacement takes a toll on both high income and low income countries. However, it is the middle and low income countries where majority of the people were displaced. The report states that for the year 2012, 96.09% of disaster induced displacement happened in the middle and low income countries, whereas for the period of 2008-2012 it was 98.27%. The report also identifies that the South Asia region had the highest disaster related displacement (36.4%) for the year 2012. From 2008 to 2012, the highest disaster induced displacements have happened in China (49,782,000) which is followed by India (23,775,000) and Pakistan (14,991,000).
Risk of the Unseen – Climate Change The impact of climate change on disaster induced displacement has been emphasized in the report. The report states that climate change is an important concern which will impact extreme weather events which could lead to more displacement. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report in March 2012, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) in which relationship between extreme weather or climate events (“climate extremes”) and displacement has been acknowledged, “Although data on climate change-forced displacement is incomplete, it is clear that the many outcomes of climate change processes will be seen and felt as disasters by the affected populations. For people affected by disasters, subsequent displacement and resettlement often constitute a second disaster in their lives.” Evidence suggests that climate extremes are becoming more and more unpredictable due to the impact of climate change which has changed the frequency and magnitude of these climate extremes. This could be very serious issue considering the impact climate extremes can have on displacement. The report however fails to point out that while high income countries have been responsible for the climate change to the greatest extent, the impacts of their emissions are being felt by the poorest people in the low income countries and middle income countries.
Displacement in Northeast The report says that that around 900,000 people were evacuated in Arunachal Pradesh in June-July 2012; two thirds of the state’s population. In Assam, the report says, quoting Central Water Commission that as many as six million, 20 per cent of the state’s population, were forced to flee by rising waters. It says, officials claimed the 2012 floods were the worst since 2004 when eight times more houses were recorded as damaged than in an average year.
Rainfall in June 2012 does not corroborate IDMC claims – Monsoon rain is the reason for the floods in June 2012. The table below presents the rainfall figures of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh during June 2012.
28 June – 4 July
Assam & Meghalaya
Note: Rainfall in mm, figures in bracket indicate the % departure from Normal, all figures from weekly and seasonal rainfall maps of India Meteorological department.
It is clear from the above table that rainfall in June 2012 in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh was normal or below normal in all weeks except during June 21-27, 2012. Even the excess rain in this period is not too high to cause unprecedented flood displacement. This raises some doubt about the figures in the IDMC report.
Assam suffers annually from flood disasters. The havoc of floods paralyses the state for several months every year. International recognition of this problem is very important for the state. However, that seems to be some significant exaggeration in the figure of displacement in NE India due to floods in June 2012.
The total population Arunachal Pradesh is 1,382,611 according to 2011 census and displacement of 900,000 people would mean displacement of massive 65% population of the state. But we could not find any report or news confirming displacement of this huge extent. There was news about floods in several districts in Arunachal Pradesh in June and July 2012, but none corroborated the displacement figure of 900,000. In fact displacement of 65% population of Arunachal Pradesh due to floods have never been heard of for even the worst ever floods in the state.
For Assam, the flood in June 2012 was recorded as the worst floods in last ten years. The flood in June 2012 was termed as unprecedented by Dr. Partha Jyoti Das, a senior researcher working on flood and environment related issues in Assam. He said that the flood occurred quite earlier than the previous years, i.e. in the first few weeks of June. However we found it difficult to find any document corroborating the displacement figure of six million in Assam due to floods in June 2012.
On the National Disaster Management website of Government of India (http://ndmindia.nic.in/flood-2012/floods2012.htm) the highest number of people affected during the month of June and July was 1,992,727 (reported on 2nd July 2012). The highest number of people evacuated during this time was 383,421 (reported on 4th July 2012). The highest number of people found in the relief camps was 484,555 (reported on 15th July 2012). The Assam State Disaster Management Authority also corroborated this figure as the highest number of people reported in the relief camps during that period. Two tables providing extent of damage (cumulative figures) and rescue and relief (provisional) are given in Annexure1 and Annexure 2.
Figures from Oxfam India, one of the leading organizations providing flood relief in the state also validated the fact that the flood in June 2012 was unprecedented early flood and worst in last ten years. They maintained that due to this flood nearly 2.4 million people have been affected and half a million people have been displaced. The IDMC report also refers to the information gathered from Sphere India and Inter Agency Group (IAG). We found that in a Joint Assessment Report of IAG Assam on Assam Flood 2012 (published on 6th July, 2012) the number of affected people was stated as 2,391,369 in 4,540 villages. In the same report 383,421 inmates were reported to be staying in 650 relief camps in 15 districts of the state.
We had written to IDMC (at the email address email@example.com as provided in the document for any further information and referred documents) on June 13, 2013, for copies of the documents referred in end note 11 and in table A2.1, and also request to “provide any other report that provides details and support for the figure of 6.9 million people displaced by flood disaster in North East India in June July 2012”. Our email remains unanswered as we write this.
Dr. Arupjyoti Saikia, an environment historian working on northeast after seeing the report said that “I have no accurate estimate of the people being displaced. But equally the estimate provided by the IDMC seems little awkward. The numbers of people affected in AP is surely less for very natural reasons. Often IDMC reports are criticized for their over-reaction. Official figures matter a lot as this numbers help in procuring relief from the GOI as well as other agencies. I presume GOA reports will come closer to the truth.” Dr. Dulal Chandra Goswami, another senior scholar from northeast, said that the displacement figures for northeast, quoted in the report appear to be highly exaggerated. Dr. Partha Jyoti Das also expressed similar opinions saying that the figures mentioned in the IDMC report for northeast are overestimated. Many reporters may accept the figures in such reports uncritically and report them, which lead to spreading of wrong information. This was evident from the reports published in Down to Earth and Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Moreover, displacement in Assam is not only induced by floods but also by erosion. The report does mention “Shelter needs were a primary humanitarian concern as the authorities encouraged IDPs to leave relief camps and return to water-logged villages, destroyed houses and eroded land”. But this is not completely correct as erosion leads to permanent displacement of people from their original land. Floods lead to inundation of a certain area for a period of time displacing people temporarily from their homes. But erosion displaces people permanently from their land. In displacements induced by floods the displaced people have the option of going back to their houses. Erosion leaves no option for that. People who get affected by erosion have to shift their homes before the actual erosion happens. In 2007 it was stated in the State Assembly that in 15 out of 23 districts in the state 40,414.98 bighas of land was lost due to erosion. 10,075 families have lost their houses due to erosion in that year. Many people who get displaced due to erosion opt to live on the side of the embankments in poor living conditions for years due to their inability to buy new land. They might not come to relief camp during floods which may result in their non-recognition in official displacement figures.
Such kind of reports also need to recognise clearly that among the disaster induced displacement, it is the poor people who are most at risk even in a fast growing country like India and climate change is making them even more vulnerable. Hence there is an urgent need to ensure that the climate action plans address the vulnerabilities of the poor. Unfortunately, Indian government’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) does not even recognise the vulnerable classes of people. In fact NAPCC increases the vulnerability of the poor, since it basically follows the business as usual development path.
This report by IDMC is an important initiative to document the plight of the people who face displacement due to the disasters. Recording and documentation of displacement is very important for policy formulation as well as for all related discussions and debates. The numbers presented are shocking but are clearly unsubstantiated and exaggerated. However exaggerated facts will also not lead to healthy policy formulation. Besides, factual inaccuracies may lead to questioning the credibility of such reports. We hope that IDMC will acknowledge these errors and bring more factual accuracy in their future reports. Such reports also need to highlight the issue of climate justice.
Parag Jyoti Saikia and Himanshu Thakkar
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (www.sandrp.in)
 As defined by the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, internally displaced people (IDPs) are individuals or groups of people “who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of
habitual residence […] and who have not crossed an internationally recognised state border.”
 This figure is clearly gross error. The total Disaster induced displacement in 2012 by all types of hazards is 32.4 million, so storm related disaster cannot displace 95.7 million people. We have used a corrected figure in the table here, based on total displacement subtracted by displacement by other (than storm) factors.