Narmada dam: Is Madhya Pradesh govt’s rehabilitation claim genuine?

Bhopal: Have the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments misled the Supreme Court and the nation on the rehabilitation of the people displaced by the construction of dams on river Narmada? The Madhya Pradesh government recently set apart Rs 5.51 crore to provide emergency relief to people in the submergence area of the dams. This has raised questions whether the government’s claim that all evictees have been rehabilitated is genuine. While Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti had earlier sought to gloss over the issue saying the social justice ministry’s reports show the rehabilitation had been completed, critics are now demanding that the reports be made public.

However, several other serious issues crop up when it comes to dams on the Narmada. The latest controversy regained currency after Narmada Control Authority allowed the Gujarat government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in that state from 121.92 metres to 138.62 metres by installing gates on it. The Madhya Pradesh High Court later stayed the operation of the order that came less than a month of the Modi government assuming power.

 Narmada dam: Is Madhya Pradesh govt’s rehabilitation claim genuine?

Overflowing Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam on Narmada river at Kevadia Colony of Narmada District some 200 km from Ahmedabad on 29 August 2011. AFP

The deficient flow in the river led to another question on whether a taller Sardar Sarovar dam would slake the parched fields of Madhya Pradesh or meet the power generation needs of Gujarat. Was the government driven by just political greed? Bountiful rain last fortnight partly bridged the season's deficit. But the demands of the Sardar Sarovar and its Madhya Pradesh cousins, the Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams, are far from met. All reservoirs are low on volume and much of the crisis is man-made. Sardar Sarovar water level was reduced to 25 percent and Indira Sagar had run down to 7 percent in June due to merciless generation of power in February. This was done apparently to gain an upper hand in the general elections. Narmada Control Authority (NCA) ignored the warnings about weak monsoon while over-generating power.

The decision helped the Modi government show what the UPA government could not decide for years it decided within weeks. However, only 20 percent of water is utilized now while two lakh displaced people are still to be rehabilitated. Even the raised dam can’t help the Gujarat reach waters to deficient regions of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch in the absence of necessary canal distribution network. With the network in place the water could have reached the region even without raising the height of the dam. The state has only readied a third of the 75,000 square km network which involves construction of canal, branch canals, minor and sub-minor networks. The Gujarat government that had set out to reach water to 9,633 villages and 157 towns is yet to work to provide distribution lines to 4,427 villages and 42 towns.

The NCA had also not bargained for the legal hassles that followed its sudden decision to raise the height of the dam. The Supreme Court rejected the NCA’s request to take over the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) plea challenging the decision to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam being heard by Jabalpur High Court. The NBA had sought a stay citing the SS Jha commission’s enquiry into corruption in rehabilitation of the dam-affected families and the right to life and livelihood of two lakh people still residing in the submergence area. The high court had set up the Jha commission in 2008 and Madhya Pradesh government just ignored its existence. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd of the Gujarat government also pleaded with the High Court to allow it to continue with the construction of sluice gates on the dam.

Emboldened by Narendra Modi's ascent to power the social media hounds profusely abuse the NBA activists. They go as far as suggesting that the dam evictees should find their own living elsewhere as Modi’s development agenda would brook no resistance.

Though Madhya Pradesh is expected to get 57 percent of the power generated from the Narmada projects the entire grandiose vision is being fulfilled at its cost. The worst part is the submergence by the projects would cost Madhya Pradesh one of its most fertile agricultural and rich forest areas. Madhya Pradesh government had also quoted hydrological data calculated for 50 years to show that the average availability of water in the river is 22.50 million acre feet (maf) as against the original estimation of 28 maf. It has quietly withdrawn all protests.

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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2014 21:12:15 IST