Restore large areas affected by sand mining throughout the catchment area of Narmada dam

sandAn excerpt from a Narmada Bachao Andolan letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India

As you may aware, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), based in the valley of Narmada, has also been following the long process and works pertaining to the compensatory and mitigatory measures considered as preconditional to the construction and submergence of the massive dam project.

As the impact would be large scale, you would agree, any lapses on the part of the authorities, whether in planning or implementation, would cause a serious damage to environment and the riverian communities. The NBA therefore has been raising issues of compliance, based on its field work, information and analysis, including the appraisal of reports and plans submitted by the state level officials as well as the review reports by the NCA. It is in this context that we would like to submit here with our comments on the minutes of the 49th meeting of the ESG held on 31st August 2016.

The above minutes and the discussion on the review of status of environmental work at the final dam height, you would agree, is highly important, since this is the final stage of dam project, and hence it is preconditional that full compensation is attained and regular and long term monitoring is set in place before the water is ponded up to the final height – the full reservoir level (FRL).

We hope, therefore, that yourself as chairman and all the members of ESG would take our feel review seriously and undertake your own assessment through special field visits, apart from getting an independent assessment carried out through reputed agencies.

As per a Madhya Pradesh report 47,684 ha. of catchment is yet to be treated and that too in phase 2, which is a freely draining and highly degraded area.

It is surprising that while the balance area is to be treated, as per the agenda notes of the 49th meeting, 98709 ha. out of which 56746 ha was the balance in Madhya Pradesh, while the coverage within the few days could not be almost 10,000 ha. The balance CAT for Maharashtra was supposed to be 9,547 ha. as per the agenda notes, while the minutes report the balance area to be 2,950 ha. only to be completed during 2016-17.We are also surprised that Gujarat reports the freely draining highly degrade area to be 500 ha. only in the phase 2 area, while the Maharashtra has 77,568 ha. in this phase. The figure for Maharashtra is reported to be 77,568 ha., and at least 43125 ha. after deducting the untreatable area. This may be kindly reviewed.

Moreover, we know that almost no CAT work for SSP was carried out during the last decade or so and the works undertaken earlier have hardly sustained to be able to conclude that catchment is so treated as to prevent land erosion and siltation.

We are utterly shocked that ESG received no information either from the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) or the NCA regarding the massive illegal sand mining that has been on for the last 5 and more years. You may know that both these authorities are very well informed through our correspondence since the last few years. A petition was filed and heard before the Hon’ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh since 2014 that the lands acquired by and transferred to NVDA for the Sardar Sarovar dam, should be used for as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA). Yet, land were leased out in village after village in the districts of Badwani, Dhar, Khargone and Alirajpur by the mining department.

This being a ‘colourable exercise of power’ the Hon’ble High Court passed a stay order dated 6th May 2015  (in W.P. Number 18183/2014), which declares a stay against sand mining in the acquired areas. The matter related to the environmental impacts causing damage/loss due to sand mining in the catchment of Sardar Sarovar Project is before the National Green Tribunal (NSG), Central bench, Bhopal.

Various orders have been passed by the NGT since 12th October 2015 onwards (in O.A. Number 78/2015), which would inform you and ESG regarding the serious noncompliance and the resultant scenario in the phase I of the catchment area that is directly draining, which is also much degraded. The illegal mining has resulted in demolition of river banks, the natural embankments next to the villages, and the existing civic amenities.

This has caused floods in the reservoir during monsoon, and the problem gets aggravated because of releases from the other large dams in the upstream. The fishes are killed, leaving the fish workers without livelihood, and the water cycle, including subsurface sources of water, land, air and tree cover are adversely affected.

How come the NCA doesn’t report this scandal, nor does it disclose the malafied work undertaken by NVDA and the sand mafias? The preventive measures under CAT thus are rendered redundant, while the illegality is being permitted through the acts of commission and omission, and use laws to the natural wealth and the State Exchequers is an offence under section 13(1)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Will the ESG undertake an urgent review of the above four districts with our participation and direct an immediate halt to illegal sand mining in the lands in the name of NVDA, computing the huge magnitude of losses, and punish the culprits?

It is very clear that huge catchment of SSP is not treated and the reservoir has not been protected so far. The ESG cannot conclude that the condition of CAT has been fulfilled without a thorough assessment of the works done over the years. There is a need to assess the status of CAT today and the expected additional work (not a small scale at all), including restoration of the large pits of sand mining, even as compensating the losses throughout catchment area of Narmada and the draining tributaries.

Please refer to the reports, interim and final by Devendra Pandey committee till 2010, as that is the only latest assessment by an intra-disciplinary committee appointed by your own ministry.

—  MedhaPatkar, Bhagirath Dhangar, Ranvirsinh Tomar,Kailash Yadav, Mohan Patidar, Shama Machhuhara, Adv. Shabir Khan, Mukesh Bhagoria, Sanovar B. Mansoori, Rahul Yadav

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