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Social and Environmental Impacts of Developmental Projects

Posted on June 8, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Social and Environmental Impacts of Developmental Projects


The protests against the severe negative social and environmental impacts of large developmental projects have made medium and minor developmental projects a popular option. Even though minidevelopmental projects are usually assumed to have negligible negative social and environmental impacts, it can also cause such impacts, which are generally not considered at the project formulation stages. With the passage of time and insights from a number of historical studies it is now possible to take a look back at the way rural populations in India were displaced for the construction of large dams during and after the independence. Today, international standards relating to the social implications of dam development projects are imposed on dam builders by both governments and financing institutions. However, in the absence of these international social standards, how did population displacements take place in the past? The forced displacements, euphemistically referred to as "involuntary resettlement" in discourses on development, took on increasing notoriety with the international energy crisis. The dams gave rise to an international debate on their social and environmental impacts, a debate continued by the World Commission on Dams. Today, when financing has again become available for the construction of new dams throughout the world, it seems opportune to provide some insights into the social implications of large dam development projects based on the experience of a country that has been, in many respects, one of the most innovative in the implementation of such projects.


When the technological euphoria of dam building was transferred to India, the concomitants of ecological disruption and social conflicts were also transferred. These conflicts and destruction are more aggravated in India than the havoc caused in other countries because India is a riparian civilization which has evolved in a monsoon climate. Most of India's river valleys are highly populated and rivers have provided the primary life-support systems for our riparian settlements. Changes in water flows create changes upstream as well as downstream. Such changes generate conflicts not merely between the people and the state, but also between different communities and different states. The Krishna river, one of the most important rivers of South India, is the best example for the ecological analysis of conflicts over river waters since it traverses through the most arid and drought prone regions in South India and there are intense and diverse demands for its water from different regions for diverse uses.


The first large-scale intervention in the natural flow of water in the Krishna river basin was seen in the late nineteenth century. It was motivated both by the irrigation needs of export crops like cotton and groundnut, as well as for transporting these products easily to major ports like Madras. The Krishna delta canal system based on the Vijayawada barrage was constructed in 1855 The Nira Canal in Maharashtra was constructed in 1835 to irrigate about 150,000 acres and the Kurnool Cuddapah Canal was constructed in 1886 to irrigate 100,000 acres. With the passage of time an increasing number of government aided large and medium projects came up and today the Krishna river has numerous dams including the Dhom Dam which is at a distance of 5 km from its source. Midstream, we find the Alamatti and Narayanpur Dams of the Upper Krishna Project while further downstream Srisailam and Nagarjunsugar Dams generate electricity and divert water for irrigation. The tributaries have also been used extensively in this respect.


The Koyna Dam is situated 58 km below the origin of the river. The Tunga River is impounded at Gajanur and Bhadra at Lakavalli. The Tunga and Bhadra meet and the Tungabhadra Dam is located 265 km from the origin. In Ghataprabha the reservoir at Hidkal in Karnataka is the major irrigation project while Malaprabha is impounded at the peacock gorge near Manoli. The spread of water-intensive cultivation throughout the basin has dramatically altered the water balance, leading to major conflicts between water for cash crop cultivation and staple food production on the one hand, and between irrigation and drinking water needs on the other. The case of sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra and grapes in Hyderabad are two instances of over-exploitation of water resources in the basin for cash crop production and a consequent destabilisation of the water cycle, leading to water scarcity in large parts of the basin.


Dams for irrigation and/or power are also a source of conflict between the traditional rights of people to land and water and the rights of the state to displace and uproot them for building river valley projects as in the case of Srisailam Dam. Large dams require massive submergence areas, and hence necessitate the displacement of large numbers of people. Big dams also allow large diversions of water. Major diversions from the river basin as in the case of the Telugu-Ganga Canal taking off from Srisailam Dam, affect the riparian rights of the states and have generated unresolvable inter-state conflicts.

The Srisailam project began in 1960, initially as a power project, across the Krishna, near Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh. After several delays, the main dam was finally completed twenty years later in 1981. In the meantime the project was converted into a multipurpose one with a generating capacity of 770 MWs by its second stage which was expected to be completed in 1987. The dam is to provide water for an estimated 4,95,000 acres with its catchment area of 79,553 sq miles and water spread of 238 sq miles. Under the right branch canal 1, 95,000 acres in Kurnool and Cuddapah districts will have assured irrigation. From the initial modest estimate of Rs. 38.47 crores for a power project the total cost of the multipurpose project was estimated to cross Rs. 1,000 crores in its enlarged form. The 470 feet high and 1,680 feet wide dam has alone cost Rs. 404 crores together with the installation of four generating sets of 110 MWs each. The right branch canal is estimated to cost Rs. 449 crores and the initial investment of Rs. 140 crores has been provided by the World Bank. The projected cost-benefit ratio of the project has been worked out at 1:1.91 at 10 per cent interest on capital outlay.


The construction of the project has meant the submergence of 106,925 acres of land belonging to 117 villages (100 main and 17 hamlets). Of these villages, spread over six taluks of Kurnool and Mahaboobnagar districts. seventy-two were completely submerged and ten were partially submerged (see Annexure l). A total of 27,871 families in these villages living in 21,080 dwellings had to be evacuated: resettlement had to be provided for nearly 158,00 people.


In the summer of 1981, shocked by the brutal and inhuman manner in which people were thrown out of their homes by the government with the assistance of police, bulldozers


and workers from the town, a Lokayan team in Andhra Pradesh carried out a survey of the problem of the evictees in July-August 1981. The survey aimed at:


Understanding the socio-economic background of the affected households.

Appraising government policies and programmes with regard to compensation and the rates paid, adequacy of the mode of payment and the reactions of the recipients.

Studying government actions in evacuation of the people facing displacement.

Examining the problems associated with the rehabilitation schemes.

The survey covered fifteen of the 100 villages which were affected, using a stratified random sample of 344 households.

Hydro-power is considered as the clean generation of electricity since the process cause little impacts to environment during generation when compared to the other modes of electricity generations. The magnitude of social and environmental impacts of hydro-power generation depends on the scale of the project. Major hydro-power projects invariably cause larger negative social and environmental impacts including displacement of human settlements, loss of large areas of productive land, ecological imbalances of the area etc. where as such impacts due to mini-hydro projects (MHP) are normally assumed to be minimal. Mini-hydropower projects are therefore considered environmentally friendly options when compared to some of the larger hydropower projects. The impacts of these hydropower plants were mostly contained within the estate. The social and environment impacts of such plants were mostly limited to the village concern and the stakeholders (beneficiaries and the impacted) are usually empowered to resolve the impacts through the village level committee.


Social conflicts over water can also be analysed at different societal levels. Thus, inter-state conflicts are generated when water projects of upstream states influence the quality and quantity of water flow in the basin and reduce the possibilities of water use by downstream states. Major inter-basin water transfers in rivers flowing through many states also generate conflicts by disturbing the riparian rights of states. Conflicts also arise between the state and the people when official planning and policies lead to changes in water use and utilisation pattern and therefore undermine people's access to water. Thus,state planned quarrying of minerals or timber extraction in the river catchments affect the river flow and generate conflicts downstream. Similarly, state planned agricultural production based on large irrigation projects to generate marketable surpluses of cash crops conflicts with people's needs for local food production. Such projects also lead to conflicts between the state and the people by eroding traditional water rights which are often communal in nature and ensure the survival of all members of the community. Finally, state plans tend to serve the interests of the economically and politically powerful groups of society and hence generate new gaps between the rich and poor in terms of access to water resources.


Recently in 2009 the Asian Development Bank has done Special Evaluation Study on the Social and Environmental Impacts of Developmental Projects and come up with following findings and recommendations:-


Summary of Findings


In some of the study projects the communication and consultation process was weak, resulting in improper identification of impacts and inadequate implementation of mitigation measures.

Failure to collect primary socio-environmental baseline data in the study projects, inaccuracies in technical review, and incomplete coverage in preparatory documents led to misidentification of impacts and weak treatment in some study projects of areas such as timely income restoration and mitigation of fisheries impacts.

Limited use of environmental and social experts during planning and the poor review capacity in the DMC agencies resulted in creating some inconsistencies in detailed impact statements and in the summary documents.

Inadequate or inconsistent treatment of impacts associated with auxiliary infrastructure components (such as transmission lines and access roads), nonintegration of resettlement components in the environmental assessment process, changes in project design during implementation, and weak linkages with other parallel development efforts meant that some secondary impacts of projects did not have appropriate mitigation measures.

Studies that had a resettlement plan implemented some satisfactory social mitigation measures but failed in timeliness of compensation and income restoration programs.



Impact assessments need to be prepared in local languages. Surveys of the project-affected persons and public consultation meetings should be held in all potentially affected areas, taking into account the extent of literacy and adapting to the community's culture of participation.

Project preparatory work needs to include the collection of adequate baseline data. A description of the methodologies adopted in measuring the base conditions should also be indicated.

Environmental and social scientists need to be an integral part of the design team for sensitive projects, supplemented by a panel of experts, as needed. ADB should oversee whether the panel's recommendations are taken into consideration by project management.

Promulgate the draft impact assessments to stakeholders, related NGOs, universities, and international agencies to increase transparency and to support ADB's technical review responsibility.

Ensure the implementation of important measures by way of specific assurances in the loan agreement, and monitorable targets in progress reports.

DMC agencies and ADB should be more rigorous in screening the capacity of construction firms bidding on large hydropower projects.

The project proponents should ensure that at the end of the defect liabilities period, an independent environmental audit is completed (as in more recent projects) to identify mitigation measures that were not met and require contractors to address the inadequacies noted.




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Das, Veena (1995), Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

"Environment and Conservation" (2006), Competition Refresher, Vol. XXIV, No.7 (July).

"Environmental Degradation" (2005), Competition Refresher, Vol. XXIII, No.9 (September).

Gadgil, Madhav and Ramachandra Guha (1994), "Ecological Conflicts and Environmental Movement in India", Development and Change, Vol. 25, No. 1 (January).

Mahanta, K.C. (1997), People of the Himalayas: Ecology, Culture, Development and Change, Kamla-Raj Enterprises, Delhi.

Reddy, V. Ratna (1995), "Environmental Movements in India: Some Reflections", Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXX, No. 12 (25th March).

Special Evaluation Study on the Social and Environmental Impacts of Selected Hydropower Projects (2009), Asian Development Bank Report.

Vadakumchery, Johnson (2003), Tribes and Cultural Ecology in Central India, Mittal Publications, New Delhi.

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