By Morten Rønning,
Scancem, which is owned 33% by Aker RGI, bought 25% of Narmada Cement Company in July. This makes the company a participant in a long-lasting and fierce conflict in India. The largest dam, Sardar Sarovar (SSP) is almost finished. This is one of two large dams in the Narmada Valley Development Project. The project consists of thousands of dams and adjoining canal networks.
Scancem's purchase is related to an expansion of the company's cement production, and needs final approval from Indian authorities. Scancem believes that the formalities will be taken care of by the end of September.
The SSP dam stretches 1210 metres across the Narmada valley, and has a planned height of 130 metres. The dam is almost completed, and the bottom sluices were closed as early as 1994. The result was that people's houses were overflowed without prior warning. Most of them do not want to move.
In 1993, 22,000 people in the area asserted that they will rather drown than move away from their homes.
The SSP reservoir will stretch 213 kilometres upstream along the Narmada river, which has its outlet north of Bombay. It will overflow 37,000 hectares of land, or 117,000 hectares if the adjoining canal network is included. 11,600 hectares of the overflowed area is forest.
The authorities themselves have estimated that more than 200,000 people will have to move from the reservoir area, and more than 300,000 when the canals and a game reserve which will be established in connection with the dam project are included. The opponents of the dam project suggest that these numbers are too low. Many of the people who will have to move are Adivasians, the indigenous people of India. The 42,000 Adivasians who are forced to resettle as a result of the Schoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary will not receive any compensation for their losses.
The replanting plan of the authorities, which is designed to compensate for the loss of forest in the reservoir, also seizes land which has been used by Adivasians for generations, but to which the authorities have granted them no legal right. The amount of compensation paid has also been criticized because it is not sufficient to buy new land.
The local population's struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam has been long-lasting, and the project is referred to as a dreadful example internationally. The first plans for damming up the river were made in 1946. Over 20 million people live in the areas along the Narmada River, and the estimates are that as many as over a million of these will be negatively affected if the entire project is carried out.
The opponents of the construction have struggled against the project with all available means both in the judicial system, through international campaigns, with hunger strikes and civil disobedience. The authorities and the police have cracked down on the opposition, and many people have been imprisoned as a result of their work. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the Save the Narmada Movement, represents much of the opposition; members of NBA are now unwelcome in many of the villages threatened by forced resettlement.
The population has been promised land as compensation for their losses, but new areas suitable for agriculture and cattle breeding are hard to find in India. Forest areas are almost impossible to get hold of.
The Scancem management is surprisingly unaware of the conflict in Narmada.
-We did not make inquiries about the company's portfolio of customers before we made our purchase, but this will of course be done if the purchase is approved and we get representatives on the board of directors, says Ragnar Skaudal in Scancem to NorWatch.
Scancem in India
Scancem International recently bought 25% of the shares in Narmada Cement Company for US$ 150 million. The Indian company owns 3 cement factories, and the Narmada project is one of its customers.
Scancem is owned 33% by Aker RGI and 67% by the Swedish company Euroc. The major shareholders in Aker RGI are Kjell Inge Røkke 32.7%, Morgan Guraranty Trust 8.9%, State Street Bank & Trust 4.1%, Storebrand 3.9%, and Folketrygdfondet (the National Insurance Fund) 3.9%.
There are many examples of scandalous forced resettlement connected to the project. Around 500 Adivasian families in the village Gadher were offered new land several years ago. The committee in charge of obtaining new land brought the men of the village to a fertile area, and offered them to buy it. Hesitatingly, the men put their fingerprints under the contract, contracts which they could not read because they are illiterate. On the day of resettling, the families were taken to a different area, with ghetto-like tin roof sheds and poor soil.
Their protests were ignored, and they were told that it was impossible to cancel the contract. The authorities promised to construct roads, build schools, and sink wells in the near future. After three years none of the promises had been fulfilled, the soil turned out to be too salty for agriculture, and many chose to return to Gadher, even though the village will soon be overflowed. The Adivasians from Gadher are not the only ones who have moved back.
Exit the World Bank
The foundation-stone of the SSP dam, which is constructed primarily to provide agriculture and people with water, was put down as early as 1961. Confrontations with the local population arose immediately, and there were also conflicts between the three Indian states which are affected by the project, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. It took the states 20 years to come to an agreement. The work was restarted in 1987 with the support of the World Bank, but the bank withdrew from the project in 1993 because of massive international criticism of its involvement.
The bank was accused of violating all its own guidelines regarding the environment and forced resettling of people. When the World Bank backed out, half of the US$ 450 million loan had been paid out.
"We will rather drown than move!"
Statement signed by 22,000 Indians who are forced to move as a result of the Narmada project
Narmada Cement Company (NCC), a subsidiary in the Chowgule group, has supplied the construction of the SSP dam with cement for 10-12 years, in other words during the entire construction period. The company has factories in Amreli, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. The construction of SSP is nearly finished, and the supplies this year will not exceed 20,000-30,000 tonnes, NorWatch is informed by the company's sales department in Bombay. A total of three cement companies have been involved in the construction.
The construction work has been stopped several times, also by the judicial system. It is uncertain whether the dam will be as high as 130 metres. It has been temporarily stopped at approximately 80 metres. Because of the repeated controversies around the project, Scancem's NCC are uncertain of what kind of future deliveries they can hope for.
Anyway, Scancem has become involved in a conflict of large dimensions in India.
- It is reprehensible that Scancem buys companies without knowing what the company is involved in. The Narmada project is the worst in history, with regard to environmental devastation and forced resettlement in India, says information manager Steinar Lem in The Future in Our Hands, who has monitored this conflict for many years.
Norwatch Newsletter 13/97