The Narmada dam (Sardar Sarovar Project) needs a review not funds, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar said here on Tuesday, slamming the Gujarat government's push for seeking permission to raise the height of the dam when over 2 lakh families of tribals, farmers, fish workers, artisans and traders still occupied the submergence zone.
Interacting with the Indian Women's Press Corps here, Ms. Patkar criticised the State government for its demand from the Centre for funds or for adopting the project as a “national'' project which would be contrary to the Centre's own reports and findings that speak of non-compliance with the rehabilitation and environmental safeguard measures.
There are thousands of displaced families, including tribals who have lost their lands and habitats and are yet to be given land entitlements in the basin States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Large-scale corruption in rehabilitation and resettlement of oustees exposed by the NBA led to the court appointing a judicial commission of inquiry in Madhya Pradesh. Yet the Narmada Control Authority, which is a Central authority, is unwilling to take a position on the irregularities leading to derailment of the rehabilitation policy, she said.
According to Ms. Patkar, only 30 per cent of the canal network of the project has been constructed in over 30 years, while 66,000 km length of canals remain unbuilt, “not due to opposition by the NBA, but because farmers are unwilling to part with 30,000 hectares of land that would submerge and due to absence of command area development plans.”
Despite the pondage attained by submerging tribal lands, forests and communities, not more than seven to 10 per cent of the available water is being utilised by Gujarat. “Moreover, with much of the water supplied to cities, especially Gandhi Nagar, the Kutch residents have moved the Supreme Court demanding their due share. On the other hand, Maharashtra is demanding Rs.1,800-crore compensation from Gujarat, for loss in allocation of power, while Madhya Pradesh, also a BJP-ruled State, has also not got its share of power, but is keeping mum.''
In the face of resistance by farmers, Gujarat is now toying with the idea of an underground canal. It plans the costly lift irrigation to reach Narmada waters to Kutch and Saurashtra in whose name the dam was conceived.
Ms. Patkar said the investment clearance for SSP was Rs.6,406 crore in 1988. The project cost now is Rs.45,000 crore and is expected to escalate to Rs.70,000 crore by 2012. Under its Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme, the Centre has allocated the largest sum of Rs.5,000 crore to Sardar Sarovar and yet the Comptroller and Auditor-General reports have indicted the State on its utilisation.
“If ever there was a need, it is now to assess the costs and benefits of this mammoth project. In the face of all the violations and non-compliances, the Centre must go in for a review of the project that is a drain on the ex-chequer without the commensurate benefits.''