By Jikubhai Tadvi, Rahul Yadav and Medha Patkar*
Several newspapers in Gujarat have reported about the Arabian Sea ingress up to 40 Kms and depleting width of the river Narmada near Bharuch city, exposing the severe environmental impacts of a series of dams built upstream. This clearly indicates the serious impact of Sardar Sarovar in Gujarat on to agricultural land, famers, fish workers as well as the industries in the Dahej coastal areas. It was always an anticipated and expected impact of building a monstrous dam and stopping the huge water flow of Narmada coming from a distance as long as 1300 km.
In past, whenever Narmada Bachao Andolan raised the issue of downstream impacts of the SSP and demanded thorough study of environmental impacts and preparation of mitigation plans, as also mentioned in the conditional clearance to Sardar Sarovar project granted in June 1887; the model answer by the Gujarat officials including the technocrats and politicians was that ‘we have studied those enough, and in any case those impacts would start coming up years later and hence we would take care of, when it happens.’
However, it is obvious that the impacts have already begun and taken a serious turn, as indicated from the news and statement coming from Gujarat even before the dam is complete and the gates are closed, since Gujarat has not cared to ensure required environmental flows for the downstream population. With Madhya Pradesh lifting away big chunks of water (172 crore liters / day through just two of its mini links) for its industries Sardar Sarovar and downstream may be left without the estimated water supply.
Today itself, the Dam which the C M of Gujarat and P M himself have pushed at all costs, (granting clearance in June 2014, days within coming to power), the sea has begun entering into the river bed of Narmada substantially affecting the farms, the ground water i.e drinking water, irrigation and industrial water. In short the 41 kilo meters between Sardar Sarovar and the estuary at Bharuch is going to be drought affected and drought prone due to the river being stopped with 139 meters height- Sardar Sarovar.
Will the government of Gujarat hear the first ever cry raised by none other but Mr. Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for ‘Saving Narmada in Gujarat’?
The downstream population of eight lakh is today facing the drought due to water turning saline and thereby not potable and unusable, affecting the livelihoods and life itself. However, it will not be even two months and the very region will face flood, as they have for several years during monsoon. Such a cycle of drought and flood is to be faced by no other state but Gujarat.
While the farmers as well as more than ten thousand families of fish workers would find it difficult to survive and continue to stay in generations old habitats and they would be added to the large mass of project affected families due to the SSP upstream and will have to be categorised as the downstream impacted families. NBA realizing this for long have been including them in the long list of Project affected, which was ridiculed and challenged by the political elites of Gujarat, capitalizing the ignorance of people including the affected population.
Today, mother river Narmada, it is reported, is shrunk to 400 meters instead of 1.5 kilo meters, near Bharuch city, but will someone do anything? For those who are shocked at this, must also learn from the official documents and meeting minutes of the environmental sub groups of Narmada Control Authority which, which have strongly stated that the river would flow within 3 meters width in certain summer months. Hilsa, the rare species of fish, it was reported, may soon disappear, as it can’t be replenished through artificial breeding and regeneration.
All this and much more is yet to come. Gujarat can save its people from the impacts even if it is not bothered about submergence without full and fair rehabilitation of 2,50,000 people who continue to live upstream area in the densely populated villages of Madhya Pradesh. For saving the downstream affected families at least, Gujarat and its own leadership at the Centre, must not close the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam in order to protect the nature and the people. If the governments, exhibiting political expediency, fail to care then there is no doubt there will be a renewed Narmada Bachao Andolan, once again on the land of Gujarat.
*Narmada Bachao Andolan