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Sardar Sarovar Dam: Height of callousness

Sardar Sarovar Dam: Height of callousness
Gujarat was allocated nine million acre feet (MAF) of water from the Sardar Sarovar dam under the Narmada water dispute tribunal award. The state plans to use that water through the main canal. The level of the main canal is 110 metres. The moment the water in the dam is above that level, it will enter the canal and after that Gujarat can make use of it. Gujarat already has more than nine MAF water available annually even at the current height of 121.82 metres. (In addition, it gets 0.5 MAF from Rajasthan, which is also to be supplied by the same canal.) Now the question is how much of it Gujarat is using. The state says its total projected command area is 18.5 lakh hectares, of which it is able to irrigate around 3.7 lakh hectares (20 per cent). If Gujarat already gets all the water at the current height but is able to use only 20 per cent of it, why does it want to raise the dam height? Three issues are related to the proposed increase in the dam height.

Gujarat is not going to get additional quantity of water unless there is surplus water. The tribunal assumed that the Narmada has 28 MAF water and divided it among four states: 9 MAF for Gujarat, 0.5 MAF for Rajasthan, 0.25 MAF for Maharashtra and 18.25 MAF for Madhya Pradesh. If there is more than 28 MAF water in a year, Gujarat can take more. The first issue is the development of the canal network in the state. The reason Gujarat is not able to use additional water is because it has not developed the whole canal network, including branch canals, the distributaries, minors, sub-minor canals and field channels. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) was not stopping them from building the canal network. Why did they not develop the canal network all these years and use the water already available? This is a question the Gujarat government needs to answer.
Thus, media reports saying that the increase in the dam height will allow Gujarat to take the water to Kutch and Saurashtra are absolutely untrue. At the current height, the state can take all the water it wants to Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat. The only additional benefit from the increased height is more storage. They cannot store the water currently as they do not have the permission. Sections of media have not yet understood that the latest permission (of height raise) is not for filling the water up to the full height, but only for installing the gates.

The second issue is rehabilitation. According to the tribunal and the supreme court’s orders, rehabilitation of the people to be affected at the next stage of height increase has to be completed six months ahead of submergence. Madhya Pradesh has not completed rehabilitation yet. Two hectares of land is supposed to be provided to each displaced family and a person above 18 years is to be considered a separate family.

Madhya Pradesh has been saying that it does not have land – and this is in violation of the tribunal’s order. NBA estimates that the latest increase in height will affect 2.5 lakh people, most of them in Madhya Pradesh but some in Gujarat and Maharashtra. NBA’s factsheet also shows that some families in Gujarat and Maharashtra are yet to be rehabilitated. Without rehabilitation, how did the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) allow the height increase? The third issue is that there is a legally binding decision-making process which has also been part of the supreme court order of October 2000. It says that every stage of additional increase in the dam height has to be sanctioned by the environment and rehabilitation sub-groups of the NCA, and the NCA itself. The environment sub-group is chaired by the ministry of environment and forests secretary with representatives from the four states and the NCA.

The rehabilitation sub-group is chaired by the ministry of social justice secretary, again with representation from the four states and NCA. The NCA is chaired by the water resources secretary and includes secretaries from the ministries of environment and social justice, the chief secretaries of the four states and a number of others. This is a legally mandated mechanism. But till 15 days back this mechanism had not given clearance. Why is it that within 15 days of Narendra Modi coming to power, all these officials, agencies, ministries, ministers, secretaries and all the state governments have fallen in line and given their clearance? This mechanism is not supposed to go by the political orders of the prime minister. It is supposed to go by the merit of the situation. The height increase seems like a political decision. Such political decisions cannot have legal sanctions in this case. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat for the last 13 years. During his tenure as CM he had been advocating the height increase. As soon as he became PM he wanted to push through this matter. He held a meeting with the Gujarat chief minister and all the ministries, and this information was not in public domain till recently. The NCA meeting was scheduled for 12 June.

Is there anything from the government in public domain after that? Not even a word till now, as on 20 June. How does this government function? There is absolutely no transparency on such a major decision. Nor any participatory process involving affected people and NBA. How was the decision taken and on what basis? Where are the minutes and the agenda of the meeting? All of this should have been in public domain and agenda should be out a month in advance. Why this secrecy?
Since Gujarat has been unable to make full use of the available water, why was it pushing for the increase in height?

By arrangement with Governance Now
Himanshu Thakkar

Himanshu Thakkar

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