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17 February, 2010

Will the Namada project be pushed through at the cost of 200,000 people?

The following is a statement issued by the Namada Bachao Andolan on Saturday:

Gujarat’s politics on Narmada is at its peak once again trying its best to grab 11,000 crore rupees of financial ‘assistance’ from the central government. After environmental clearance was received in 1987, Gujarat went ahead pushing the dam height without planning either the canals or the command area development. Having completed only 30% of the canals in 30 years, the Gujarat government announced a few months ago that it will not build the remaining 70% of the canal network, with many contradictory statements, sometimes favouring the canals and at other times the pipeline!!

Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi finally announced the appointment of a committee of water resource persons, mostly former bureaucrats, headed by B.N. Navlavala, a former Planning Commission member, to review the feasibility of laying pipelines (three feet underground), in lieu of the massive and expensive canal network, based on economic, social and environmental criteria. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had already appointed an Expert Committee in 2008 to assess and approve as also monitor various environmental studies / plans of Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar dams. This committee recently received submissions on the Command Area Development (CAD) plans of Madhya Pradesh and heard presentations of some officials from MP and Gujarat as late as on 31-01-2010, but it is yet to approve the same.

Can Gujarat have it own way against Environmental and Rehabilitation Sub-Groups?

Although raising the height of the dam has not been permitted by the Environmental Sub Group (ESG) led by the MoEF and the Rehabilitation (R&R) Sub-Group led by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, (MSJE) of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), the Modi Government is known to be pursuing all kinds of political strategies and machinations to get Central clearance for raising the dam to its full height of 138.68 m by erecting gates at one go! It wants to bypass all the pre-conditions put forth while sanctioning the gigantic dam and disobey the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2000 (NBA vs Union of India and others) in terms of completing the social and environmental measures. It is clear that the vicious attempt is to take over the process of monitoring by these two Sub-Groups and the upcoming Interim Report of the Expert Committee of MoEF, which is expected any day, in the backdrop of serious violations and non-compliance.

The Narmada Basin is a huge catchment area. The three states; Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have not done the preliminary work necessary to sustain the dam throughout its planned life without getting silted, after having submerged living villages, best land and forests. Canals in Gujarat cannot be dug nor can the waters flow in them, unless and until the CAD plans are finalized and approved by the Environment Ministry. This has been a known condition as stated in the Guidelines issued by the Central Water Commission and River Valley Guidelines (1985) of MoEF. Without implementing these conditions, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is sure to go the Bhakra way. The Government of India’s own findings way back in 1991 have established that the much-trumpeted Bhakra Nangal Project, which was pushed through without following the command area guidelines, led to degradation of a massive 2,50,000 hectares of land in Punjab and Haryana.

Will political expediency Gujarat frustrate the right moves of MoEF?

The MoEF has the necessary mandate and the responsibility to ensure that the plans to prevent water logging and salinization i.e. ensure drainage or conjunctive use of surface and ground water; to prevent negative impacts on health and on flora and fauna including cropping pattern are to be in place sufficiently in advance of the canal construction and irrigation. These were the conditions set when the project was cleared by the Rajiv Gandhi government with a lot of hesitation and under pressure from Gujarat, as stated in the records of the Prime Minister’s office (1986-87) submitted before the Supreme Court in 2000 and reported in the Apex Court’s judgment as well. Therefore, Secretary, MoEF had to write to the Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) in November 2007, stating that the canal project of Sardar Sarovar must not be funded till the full compliance is ensured. Moreover, a categorical decision was taken in the 41st Meeting of the ESG, in January 2005 itself to forbid Gujarat from carrying on irrigation until the plans are approved.

It is also to be noted that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh himself wrote to Narendra Modi on August 6, 2009 regarding such serious non-compliance on these issues and seeking full compliance of his state on the pari-passu conditions (simultaneous implementation with dam not achieved) imposed since the environmental clearance of 1987. Considering all this, the Government of India cannot pro-actively violate the right moves by its own Ministries and facilitate sanction of more funds for the Project unless all the social and environmental protective measures necessary for saving the land, livelihood and life of the people in the Narmada valley as well as in the command area are undertaken and completed.

What will MP gain out of Sardar Sarovar after ‘Jal Samadhi’ of 200,000 people?

While the Modi government. is creating its own political pressures and extracting money from the Centre by bringing Members of Parliament together, there is no one in Madhya Pradesh (save the people of Narmada Ghati) to expose the real costs and benefits to the State. It is plain truth that lakhs of people, prime agricultural land, temples, ghats and masjids with thickly populated communities of adivasis, farmers, fish workers etc would be given a ‘Jal Samadhi’ if the Centre’s nod to canal construction is taken ahead. These include thousands of adivasi families from Alirajpur and Badwani districts whose lands and houses are already submerged since 1990s and have not been given the land-based rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh yet.

As far as ‘benefits’ to the state of MP go, the only benefit of power (56%) that was guaranteed (of whatever is generated) through the Narmada Tribunal Award (1979) is not received by the state, as yet. Maharashtra, which is in a similar situation of betrayal by Gujarat, has demanded compensation of Rs 18 billion. Why is MP, which is to suffer double the loss, silent? On the other hand, the state seems ready to pay Rs. 40 billion more, taking to about Rs 70 billion the Balance of Payment for no gain and all loss!

Adivasis challenge Modi’s ‘violence’ and Chauhan government’s silence

While even today there are 200,00 people residing and settled in the Sardar Sarovar reservoir area, there is only ‘rehabilitation’ replete with crude and rude corruption through various forms such as fake registries, corruption in house plot allotment, payment of compensation to ineligible, flawed back water levels etc. Though, through two major MP High Court orders of August 21, 2008 and November 12, 2009, a Judicial Commission of Inquiry under Justice Shravan Shankar Jha was constituted, the MP government has been displaying a very weak political will to combat corruption.

Having experienced submergence of his land, the only means of livelihood, Kishore Manglia from the Adivasi village of Kharya Bhadal in Badwani district angrily says: “Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Modi governments seem to be conspiring together to submerge our generations-old land and are doling it to these dams and companies. Where is our consent? What is our share in this game of numbers? We matter only when our votes are sought, but not once were we consulted when our home and hearths, gods and goddesses went under a watery grave! We will see how far the governments can go ahead with these unconstitutional moves, pushing the dam with corruption and atrocities. Give us land for land or we will not move”.

Sardar Sarovar benefits and costs in doldrums

Today, the entire cost-benefit scenario of SSP has gone haywire, with the costs having sky-rocketed from the original estimate of Rs 42 billion (1983) to Rs 64.06 billion (1988) and to Rs 450 billion and further up to Rs 700 billion (by 2012) as per expert appraisal of the Planning Commission (11th Plan). The new grant for SSP’s canals by the Centre, which is planned to be released till 2015 shockingly indicates that the cost of the project may shoot up to Rs. 800 billion. All this is a gross violation of the Investment clearance of the Planning Commission which should be deemed to have lapsed. With Rs 300 billion already spent, only 7% of the reservoir waters are used and just 70,000 hectares of land irrigated till today.

It is in this context that the Memorandum of Understanding between the Union of India (UoI) and Government of Gujarat (GoG) to grant Rs 110 billion to Gujarat becomes highly questionable as being absolutely against law and justice.. How can the Centre disagree wuth the critical comments by the highest constitutional auditory authority (Comptroller and Auditor General) on the gross mis-utilization and underutilization of crores of funds granted till now? The time has come for the Planning Commission to review the entire project, along with the MoEF and MSJE and put its foot down against any further work and not to financially assist such a devastative project.

MP has one last chance

The Chief Minister, who has time and again displayed his aversion to any dialogue on Narmada should be reminded that the Narmada cannot be saved from pollution, why even destruction, unless the political conspiracy of pushing these giant dams with thousands of kilometers long canal network in the region that is prosperous with best of agricultural and horticultural land with generations-old communities in the most unplanned, unscientific, illegal and inhuman way is stopped and a firm political will is shown to save Narmada and its people which is a treasure and a heritage, for this state much more than for Gujarat.

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has one last chance before the dam is pushed to its full height, killing communities with 200,000 population. Will he utilize it to save the people of his state?

For further details please contact:

Ashish Mandloi
+91 7290-222464
Medha Patkar
+91 9423965153
Surbhan Bhilala
+ 9179148973

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