ten years after it pulled out of the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project over environmental problems, the World Bank (wb) is again set to loosen the purse strings for similar ventures (hydroelectric power projects) in India. On December 12 the wb announced in New Delhi that it would rapidly increase its support for the country's infrastructure projects, including in the power sector.
"If the bank actually goes ahead and provides financial assistance for big dams in India, the implications will be the same as those of the Sardar Sarovar project. Millions of people will be displaced, and there will be a huge loss of flora and fauna,' observes Himanshu Thakkar, a member of the non-governmental organisation South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. Such apprehensions may not be misplaced. A recent report in a business daily quotes an unidentified wb official as saying that the Union government has sought the bank's help in constructing several dams in the Himalayan region.
wb country director Michael Carter clarifies: "Lately, we have had intense discussions with the Indian government about what the bank might do in the power sector. Hydropower projects have been a small part of these talks.' Carter adds: "We want to progress carefully and are basically looking at run-of-the-river schemes with high returns, very little resettlement and minimal environmental consequences.'
But Peter Bosshard of community support group International Rivers Network says: "India's power sector is in a big mess that has been deepened by the wb's ill-guided sector reform programmes.' It may be noted that the first tranche of wb loans for hydropower projects will be available after 2006.