Problems in Human Rights and Large Dams

37 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2011 Last revised: 13 Nov 2015

See all articles by Don Anton

Don Anton

ANU College of Law

Dinah L. Shelton

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: June 26, 2011


This "case study" was intended to be included in Anton & Shelton, Environmental Problems and Human Rights (Cambridge, 2011), but space limitations forced its omission from the printed text. Among large infrastructure projects, damming rivers to provide hydroelectric power have been the source of considerable conflict between governments and the people who are affected by such projects, especially those forced to relocate. In many instances dams are built in pristine natural areas, destroying or degrading nature reserves, indigenous lands and/or archaeological sites. Increasing opposition to large dams has resulted in national and international litigation, as well as substantial changes in the practices of international financial institutions. This case study looks at the case of the Narmada dam in India, as it has evolved over time in response to public action, national litigation, and challenges to World Bank financing. In reading these materials, consider the following issues: (1) In developing countries, do the benefits of flood control and the provision of renewable energy outweigh the environmental and human rights impacts of large dams? (2) Can equal or greater benefits be achieved by alternative development projects that have fewer negative impacts on the environment and human rights? (3) By what procedures and substantive measures can the negative impacts be avoided or mitigated? (4) Even if there are considerable benefits to hydroelectric projects, should certain locations be off-limits to the construction of large dams? If so, what are the relevant criteria by which to decide? (5) How should the rights of local communities and indigenous populations be safeguarded?

Keywords: Dams, Human Rights, International Finance, World Bank

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Anton, Donald K. and Shelton, Dinah L., Problems in Human Rights and Large Dams (June 26, 2011). ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 11-18, Available at SSRN: or

Donald K. Anton (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

HOME PAGE: http://

Dinah L. Shelton

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
(202) 994-9413 (Phone)

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