While Narmada dam’s gates have been closed, canal network remains incomplete. Why celebrate?

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-19 at 21.00.40Gautam Thaker*

Pursuant to approval from the Supreme Court, 30 gates of the Narmada Dam have been sealed. Presently the height of Sardar Sarovara Namada Dam is of 121.92 meters and same will increase to 138 meters, which will result in rise of water storage capacity by 74% and rise in electricity generation by 40%. The water storage capacity of the dam will be enhanced to 4.73 million acre feet. Power generation will reach 1450 MW. Benefits of water will be available to Saurashtra, North Gujarat and Kutch. While the Gujarat government is making all these claims, the actual facts are quite otherwise.

The Gujarat government declares that after fitment of the gates, drinking water, irrigation water and water for industries will reach every nook and corner of the state and the problem of water scarcity will be over throughout Gujarat in the coming years. Yet, the fact is, and the rulers quietly admit, it may take some more time till the benefits of Narmada reach people. Reason? A big part of the canal network is still incomplete.

The work of minor canals is pending up to the length of 3419.48 km whereas work for minor sub-canals is pending up to the length of 22577.35 km. Thus, since the canals are incomplete, how will water be supplied? It should be noted that the entire scheme is based on canals. Who will explain to the government that water is not going to be supplied through pipeline or lift irrigation? Has any calculation been made about electricity expenditure?

Recently there was talk of impounding Aaji dam of Rajkot, taking water level up by 9 feet, when the Prime Minister visits the city. It was decided that water would be brought from Machchu Dam through a 31-km-long pipeline. Nobody calculated how much of electricity would be wasted on it, at a time when irrigation waters are not being supplied to farmers. Is this an example of good governance?

It is indeed difficult to state as to how long the ruling BJP in Gujarat will continue to misguide and befool people with ceremonial celebrations in the name of ‘Public Dedication of Narmada’, ‘Narmada Festival’ and ‘Narmade Sarvade’. As of today, since the work of canal network to the extent of 22,577.35 km length is still pending, it is needless to celebrate by holding such kinds of festivals. It is not understandable as to why the canal work has been pending even when the same party’s rule is prevailing in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The Gujarat government has to recover thousands of crores of rupees from all these states. Even when Gujarat is facing debt liabilities of approximately Rs 2 lakh crore, the Chief Minister or government officials are not making any earnest effort to recover the balance dues.

As major chunk of the electricity from the Narmada dam is to be taken away by other states, hence where is the point of talking about Gujarat’s development? As was announced in the course of the budget session of 2017 in the Assembly, the following amount is due from the three neighbouring BJP-ruled states:

Madhya Pradesh: Rs 3,798 crore

Maharashtra: 1,281 crore

Rajasthan: 558 crore

Will this approximate sum of Rs 5,000 crore ever be realized by merely writing letters? Can the Prime Minister ask the Chief Ministers of these three states to pay up these dues to the Gujarat government? The Gujarat government is not even able to pay money of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme to labourers, as the government is facing financial crunch. In this backdrop it is indeed strange why the dues are not being recovered.

Leaders like us, who have extended help and cooperation through ‘Narmada campaign’ constantly for four decades for fructification of the Narmada Project, really feel very much let down in the face of the pending works of canal network and non-resettlement or non-rehabilitation of the project affected oustees, especially those belonging to Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It is not fair for the rulers of Gujarat to plan celebrations around Narmada. It is unfortunate that the rulers of Madhya Pradesh have toured different spots for such celebrations, even though there is no reason to celebrate.

The canal laying job in Gujarat has been done haphazardly. Neither the contractors, nor the government, appear to be sincere. In the course of budget session in the assembly this year, it was informed that during the span of 5 years, between 2011 and 2016, 35 incidents of breaches of canal have occurred in Mahsana, Banaskantha and Patan districts. Canals have not breached due to rains but because of inferior quality of construction. In Banaskantha district alone, 29 incidents of damage to the canals have occurred. Neither any assistance nor compensation has been offered for this. Thus, on one hand, farmers do not get irrigation water, on the other, with the inundation of water due to breaches in canal in the above districts, farmers have to suffer heavy financial losses.

At the time of scarcity, the predicament of villagers becomes worse. For Dalits and the poor, it becomes almost impossible to get water. In cities, just about 200 to 300 litres of water per head is being supplied, whereas it is as low as 30 to 65 litres in villages. Due to this, Dalits and the poor are worst hit. In many of the villages, water is fetched at the mercy of others. The fate of the rural women is worst hit because they have to fetch water from a long distance by carrying pots over their heads.

Even though a huge amount of Rs 51,000 crore has been spent on the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, water has till this date not reached at the doors of farmers. The Gujarat government, while making tall talks of ‘development’ over the last 14 years, has not built canals. How can water reach to the targeted beneficiaries?

As the work of sub-branch canal is pending to the extent of 22,577 km, the government should pay attention to finish it on time. Through this only water can reached farms for irrigation. The excuses advanced by the government for not constructing canal network include non-acquisition of land, railway crossing, and failing to get consent from departments controlling supply of gas, oil, telephone, and electricity. There is also lack of nod from the forest department to allow canals to pass through forests and sanctuaries. As the government of the same party is ruling both at the state and the Centre, all such sanctions should be available overnight, but the state government appears to have failed in its task of doing so.

When the Narmada Project was conceived, at that time there was a clear understanding that water would be provided first of all for irrigation purpose, and then for use by people in general, and lastly to industries. But in place of that the cycle is running in the reverse order.  Most of the water is being taken away by industries. Looking at the statistics there is no accounting of water being discharged into the canals. If the government gives data about water supply from Narmada dam, one would easily find that water was being supplied to industries instead of to farms.

The only solution to all this is to lay down canal network, and not supply water via lift irrigation or pipeline. And for this it is essential to put in place social process by setting up water societies on the lines of housing societies.

*General secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, secretary, Narmada Abhiyan

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