By Himanshu Thakkar*
Imagine that a state government wants to build a Big Dam, with height of 31.75 metres on a big river. The river has already seen a large number of dams, agitations, controversies and legal disputes. This dam is going to cost several hundred crores of rupees, just the initial civil works’ cost is Rs 299.43 Crores out of approved construction cost (alone) of Rs 438.18 Crores. But this dam will not provide any irrigation. Not supply any water to anyone. Will not do any flood control. Will not be a net generator of power. In short it can claim none of the benefits that a standard dam project claims.
And yet it will have fairly serious impacts. Hundreds of hectares of fertile, useful land will be destroyed. River itself and biodiversity of the river will be destroyed. In the downstream too there will be huge adverse impacts. Hundreds of tribal families will be adversely affected. Almost all of them have been affected by an upstream dam project. The government has refused to answer any of their concerns. The people are already agitated and have declared their opposition,[ 4] and have also legally challenged the project.
However, we do not know full social or environmental impacts of the dam, since such an impact assessment has never been done. The work on this project, according to the government, started in February 2013. Any such dam project would require impact assessment, management plan, public hearings, environmental appraisal, clearance, monitoring and compliance mechanism. But this one had none of it and does not want to do any of it! It does not have even a Rehabilitation Plan. Not even one on paper, as most such plans are.
Majority of the purported benefits of the project are supposed to legally go to another state, but that state has said it does not want the dam, nor does it want to share costs or benefits. And still the state government has started work on the dam.
We are used to telling a lot of bad dam stories. But this one seems to be a unique one.
Why does the state government want to build this dam? What are the benefits and for whom? Why is the Union Environment Ministry allowing such an illegal dam? Is this not dam fundamentalism?
Ok, enough of mystery. Let us understand what this project is about.
This story is about Garudeshwar dam on Narmada river in Bharuch district in Gujarat. With height of 31.75 metres, it is a major dam, since any dam above 15 metres height is considered big dam by national and international definitions. The Garudeshwar dam will create a huge 12-km-long reservoir.
It is proposed just downstream from the controversial Narmada dam, which is one of the most important components of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). The Narmada dam is being constructed under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. The Garudeshwar dam is proposed as part of the power component of the SSP, to act as downstream storage when the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) of SSP will act in a Pump Storage Supply (PSS) mode. This means that Garudeshwar Dam’s basic function is to store the water released from RBPH during peak hour power generation. This water stored in the Garudeshwar dam is then to be pumped back to the SSP reservoir during off peak hours. Pumping the water back to the reservoir typically takes about 20% more power.
This is in comparison with the power generated when a unit of water was released from the upstream dam (SSP in this case) during generation mode. It means that Garudeshwar Dam will be net consumer of electricity. This kind of project could have economic viability when there is additional tariff for power available during peak hours, which is not the case today. In absence of such valuation, such projects are not even economically viable.
According to the NWDT award, Madhya Pradesh gets majority, or 57% share in the power benefits (and costs) from SSP, Maharashtra gets 27% and Gujarat 16%.
Another objective of the Garudeshwar Dam is to create a reservoir surrounding the Statue of Unity, being propagated as the world’s highest statue on a small island 3 km downstream of the SSP Dam.
None of the required statutory clearances obtained
The minutes of the 80th meeting of SSCAC (Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, the statutory interstate body to coordinate construction of SSP, which is chaired by secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources, and includes senior officials of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, in addition to Narmada Control Authority), held in March 2013, notes on the issue of Garudeshwar Dam, “The work to be taken up by the Government of Gujarat (GoG) in compliance of all statutory clearances. The committee accordingly directed GoG to take further follow up actions.” It was no secret to SSCAC that the GoG had taken no clearances, how could then SSCAC wash its hands of such a statement?
As per the Supreme Court Order of Oct 2000 (Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union of India and Others), as also earlier statutory orders under NWDT, the sanction of Rehabilitation Sub-Group and Environment Sub Group of Narmada Control Authority (NCA) is to be obtained prior to every stage of work related to SSP. No such sanction has been obtained by these authorities. In fact, as per letter written by Shekhar Singh, a member of the environmental sub-group (ESG) of the NCA on March 24, 2013, there has not even been impact assessment of the Garudeshwar Dam, which is necessary before ESG can consider clearing the work on Garudeshwar work:
“Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the SSP dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 Million Cubic Meters is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir have never been brought before the ESG of NCA. In my estimation, the construction and operation of the GW will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km in length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream. However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”
Similarly, since it is a work under SSP, the (rehabilitation and resettlement) R&R policy of SSP is suppose to apply to the people affected by the Garudeshwar Dam. This also means that an R&R Plan has to be prepared and consent of the affected people taken and R&R completed a year before the construction work, which too has not been done, nor has a sanction of the R&R sub-group of the NCA been taken.
The reservoir upstream of the Narmada dam has been declared eco-sensitive zone and is a protected area. The Garudeshwar Dam will create a reservoir that will be affecting the river close to the dam and thus will be within the eco-sensitive zone, and legally, such a work requires clearance from the National Board of Wildlife, but such a clearance has not been taken.
Since Garudeshwar Dam is proposed in tribal area, consent of the gram sabhas is also legally required. No such consents have been taken. Thus, the work that has been going on is completely illegal.
Questions need to be answered
Official documents obtained by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) under the right to information (RTI) Act shows that the Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) has repeatedly shown their disagreement with the need for Garudeshwar Dam. Here are a few instances from official records. Strangely, in spite of this clear disagreement from a majority beneficiary state, the decision to go ahead with the project was taken by Gujarat and endorsed by SSCAC. The other statutory bodies like the Narmada Control Authority and its Environment Sub Group and Rehabilitation Sub Group were not even consulted.
• June 2011: The minutes of the 101st meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in June 2011 noted, “Summing up the discussion the Chairman observed that the extent of disagreement is now so acute that the very need of Garudeshwar Weir is being questioned.”
• July 2011: The events thereafter moved rapidly. Following a request letter of GOG on July 21st, 2011, Secretary to Union Water Resources Ministry (also chairman of SSCAC and NCA) called a meeting of participating states on 25th July, 2011. At this meeting, Madhya Pradesh continued its disagreement with the need for the Garudeshwar weir, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting, providing reasons of their opposition: “The representative from Govt of MP also informed the stand of their government on the construction of the said weir mentioning that State of Madhya Pradesh will become surplus in power by the year 2014 and as such, Madhya Pradesh may not like to avail such a costly peak power. According to their calculations, the tariff for peak power may be more than Rs 6 per unit. In view of this, State of Madhya Pradesh is not in the favour of the proposal of the Garudeshwar Weir requiring the sharing of the cost of construction and the energy required for reversible operations.”
• The response of the Secretary (MoWR) was strange, “GoMP to review their stand of surrendering their share of peak hour power generation by reversible operation on RBPH machines and confirm about the same for further course of action.”
• The fact that GOG and Union Govt (even as opposite parties were ruling the state and the centre, showing amazing collusion of pro dam fundamentalism) were so much hand in glove that the secretary, brushing aside the objections of the majority beneficiary state of MP, decided to push unwanted dam down the unwilling state’s throat: “Secretary (MOWR) while concluding the meeting, stated that the construction of Garudeshwar Weir needs to be taken up urgently & completed expeditiously…”
• March 2012: The Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) pointed out in their letter dated 21.03.2012 to SSCAC), “there is no mention about Garudeshwar Weir in the NWDT Award”.
• The GoMP also made it clear in this letter that GoMP does not concur with the proposal in view of “the change in power tariff scenario”.
• August 2012: The 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC records on this agenda Item no 104-5, “The representative of GOMP conveyed that, at this stage, they don’t agree with above decision and a note of dissent in this regard will be sent soon.”
So the state that was supposed to get 57% benefits and also pay same proportion of costs, has refused to concur with the scheme.
Status of work
According to the agenda notes for the 81st meeting of SSCAC, held on March 28, 2014, till December 2013, 6.88% of excavation was the only physical progress on the Garudeshwar weir. Financial Progress achieved was even less, at 3.19%.
Some recent developments:
• October 2013: The affected people and eminent Gujarat citizens write to MoEF and GOG to immediately stop illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam. Affected people and their leaders were put under house arrest when Chief Minister and former Deputy PM L K Advani came to the Kevadia Colony to lay foundation stone for the proposed Statue of Unity.
• January 3, 2014 Gujarat government is considering use of force to suppress the movement against the illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam.
• January 27, 2014: Tribal women of 70 villages to be affected by the Garudeshwar dam go to the site of ongoing work and ask the contractor to stop the work as it is illegal, without necessary clearances, impact assessments and consents.
• January 31, 2014: National Green Tribunal order (Lakhan Musafir & Anr Vs. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd and others – Application 10/2013 WZ): “We deem it proper to grant three (3) weeks time to Respondent No.1 to file reply affidavit and make it clear that in the meanwhile if any work done, it will be subject to final outcome of the present Application, without claiming any right of equity arising out of execution of construction work and without pleadings in advance of any ‘fait accompli’.
• February 25, 2014: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) order: “Learned Additional Advocate General, seeks time to file comprehensive reply affidavit, as regards the nature of project in question. He submits that filing of such affidavit requires co-ordination of various departments and Agencies, which will take certain time. He, therefore, seeks reasonable time to complete the exercise of preparing reply affidavit. He undertakes to maintain directions as regards keeping of equity, in the light of earlier order dated 31st January, 2014.” The application next comes up for hearing on May 9, 2014.
• April 1, 2014: People of 70 villages affected by Garudeshwar Dam hold protest demonstration in Vadodara.
• April 14, 2014: Blasting at Garudeshwar village for the dam leads to rock fall on people, endangering lives of children and also shaking of houses.
It is clear that Garudeshwar Dam does not have any justification, any impact assessment study, any required statutory clearances, any consents from affected Gram Sabhas and or even from the state which is supposed to get majority of the questionable claimed benefits. This dam seems like a symbol of Gujarat Government’s dam fundamentalism.
The reason as to why the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is not taking action against this illegal work or why the Union Water Resources Ministry is supporting the work or why the political opposition in Gujarat is silent on this dam is still a mystery. However, under the current circumstances, the project must be stopped immediately. We hope NGT takes this step urgently. It is high time that political parties fighting elections in the area and Gujarat take a stand on this dam immediately.
*email@example.com. From SANDRP (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People) blog http://sandrp.wordpress.com
 “The letter of acceptance-cum-work order for the construction of Garudeshwar Weir across river Narmada near village Garudeshwar has been issued to agency M/s Rithwik Project Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad by SSNNL, Gandhinagar vide letter No. CPC/ Garudeshwar Weir/ 2011/657-P-II dated 04.05.2012”, as per Minutes of 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012.
 Minutes of 104th meeting of Permanent Standing Committee of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012, obtained by SANDRP under RTI.
 That the officials knew about the opposition is clear from the Gujarat Samachar clipping of Oct 22, 2012, carrying warning from affected people that if their issues are not settled, the work on the dam will be stopped. This clipping was included in the agenda notes for the 80th meeting of SSCAC held on March 25, 2013.
 The minutes of the 105th meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in Feb 2013 noted on the issue of Garudeshwar dam, “The representative of GOG informed that work is delayed due to objection of the local peoples for giving better R&R package”.
 Calling is weir is clearly an attempt to mislead everyone, giving an impression that is a low dam, which it is not.
 Annexure 79.2(C).5 with the Agenda for 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012
 Agenda of the 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012.
 Obtained by SANDRP under RTI Act.