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Indian Activists Ask U.S. to Help Stop Dam Project

October 25, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Activists from India asked members of Congress Tuesday to help stop World Bank support of a gigantic dam project they said threatens to displace thousands of people without compensation and cause an environmental disaster.

Rep. James Scheuer, D-N.Y., told a House natural resources subcommittee the Narmada Valley project in three states of Western India may be an example of development projects that ″undervalue the costs associated with environmental degradation and human displacement.″

The United States is the largest contributor to the World Bank and ″U.S. taxpayers’ dollars helped finance the project,″ thus Congress should check the accuracy of criticism that the Narmada Dam was approved without proper environmental impact studies or resettlement plans, he said.

A Treasury representative said the United States supported the project on the basis that those displaced would be compensated and that ″human welfare objectives of the project are met.″ Specific cost and contribution figures were not available.

Continuing involvement by the World Bank might be more helpful than a breakoff of support, however, in solving environmental and human welfare issues that ″have turned out to be more complex″ than anticipated, said Treasury official Frank Vukmanic.

″The bank may be the only point of leverage to achieve needed environmental reforms,″ he added. ″If the Bank backs away from this project, there is the possibility that private sources of funding may be available with no real prospect of resolving the problem.″

Scheuer said 60,000 of the dam’s ″intended beneficiaries″ demonstrated against its construction in September in India.

The project will turn 100,000 farmers into migrant laborers and benefit mainly politicians, contractors and agricultural lobbies, testified Medha Patkar, a sociologist representing the Save the Narmada Action Committee. One hundred thirty-one cities north of Bombay will receive 90 percent of the project’s benefits, she said, with only 10 percent of the benefit going to 4,720 villages.

Indian economist Vijay Paranjpye said his own figures found calculations and cost overruns so serious that India ″will not be able to complete the project in 25 years.″

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