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Updated: February 12, 2013 15:01 IST

Damn the dams, says expert

G. Venkataramana Rao
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Former member of Maharashtra Planning Board H.M. Desarda. Photo: V. Raju
Former member of Maharashtra Planning Board H.M. Desarda. Photo: V. Raju

Former member of Maharashtra State Planning Board and a Gandhian H.M. Desarda is president of India’s nominee to the University of Hyderabad Executive Council

Andhra Pradesh has several rivers and the government has spent a lot on irrigation projects, but a lot more needs to be spent on them before they are completed. Ecological economists like H.M. Desarda, however, have been opposing the construction of such “wasteful” projects.

“India has built 4,000 large dams since World War II and they have submerged 2.5 million acres and deprived 50 million people of the livelihood. The dams are providing irrigation facilities to just 10 per cent of the cropped land in the country. Sixty per cent of the cropped land is still rainfed and the remaining 30 per cent are irrigated with well water. Where groundwater is the source for irrigation the water tables are falling at an average rate of two to three meters per year,” Prof. Desarda says.

The best way to store water according to him was in “ecological entities like plants and aquifers”. But, the Central and State governments were preferring to store water more and more in larger and larger open reservoirs where the sun evaporates it. This was also causing the rivers to run dry. Giant dams entail displacing farming communities from their productive lands and they also provide kickbacks to those in power. “Good technology with regard to water supply would be local harvesting and storage of rainwater in micro-watersheds of soil and biomass” he said.

He said the first step was to move beyond the present large dam-centric planning and policy of water resource development. This had totally distorted the water resource planning and was draining the exchequer excessively.

Stating that the river inter-linking project was totally impractical Prof. Desarda opines that it had now become amply clear that local rainwater harvesting was the most cost-effective way to developing water resource. The prevailing perception about storage needs had to he thoroughly reviewed and radically restructured.

“The large dams and mega storages with a vast network of canals were required for the green-revolution oriented agricultural development and for water supplies to the metropolises, water-squandering industries and elitist westernised lifestyle,” says Prof. Desarda.

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