n July, rice sowing is at its peak in Nardawe village, nestled in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. The fields are emerald and the farmers are busy. But a mere mention of the Nardawe Dam halts this frenzied activity.

This dam is being built on the Gad (a small west flowing) river in Kanakavali taluka of Sindhudurg district by the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation. Its administrative approval was granted in 1989 for Rs. 32 crore. By 2007, the cost shot up to Rs. 446 crore. By June 2012, Rs. 311 crore had been spent. It is supposed to store 123.74 million cubic meters water with a proposed command area of 12, 530 hectares. Its total submergence is 625 hectares, affecting nearly 4,000 people. One village is totally affected (Jambhalgaon) and four others (Nardawe, Yavateshwar, Bhairavgaon and Durganagar) are partially affected. Actual work on the project started in 2001 and according to a White Paper on irrigation projects in Maharashtra, 61 per cent work is complete.

The project requires environmental clearance as per the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 1994, which was in effect when construction work for the dam started. Legally, work cannot start on the dam without it. So 61 per cent work done so far is illegal. The project affects 34 hectares of forest land and hence requires forest clearance. It does not have a final forest clearance either. Violating the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, work on the project went on. Individual and community rights of people dependent on forest areas, also, are not yet settled. This is serious as there is a strong local dependence on forests.

All the villages affected by the Nardawe Dam fall under Ecological Sensitive Areas as per the Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats and the entire Kanakavali taluka was considered as Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) - I by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Report (Gadgil Panel Report). The report has recommended that no large dams should be built in ESZ I. According to the High level Working Group Report on Western Ghats, peoples’ consultations are a must prior to starting work in such areas.

The executive engineer of the project has admitted that the project has neither an environmental nor a forest clearance. He added that Nardawe’s case is not unique and that many projects in Maharashtra indulge in similar violations! The project has just applied for Terms of References (TORs) for Environmental Clearance with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The agency, which is now doing Environment Impact Assessment of the project, the Pune-based Science and Technology Park (set up jointly by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and the University of Pune in 1988) did not point out the illegality of work; they also did not refuse to be a party of such a violation. When South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People talked to the agency’s official involved in this work, he conceded that this is indeed a violation, but again said that this is common!

Letter written by the State’s Upper Secretary, Irrigation Department dated November 23, 1994, claims that the proposal of building canals to the dam appear to be inefficient in terms of cost and irrigation potential. The letter asked the executive engineer to change to cropping pattern that would require less water. With this letter, canals have been cancelled and Kolhapur type weirs are being installed, but they only had antagonistic effect of increasing the cost.

So far, no resettlement has taken place of the over 1,000 families affected by the dam; the villagers, too, have refused to move out of their homes. To force the affected families from their homes, the administration has stopped construction and repair of basic civic facilities in the affected villages since 2001. The administration’s response has been that local opposition is the main reason behind the delay. Actually, project work has been going on irrespective of local protests.

According to the villagers, weirs built downstream of the dam are largely unused because the farming depends mainly on monsoon rainfall and groundwater. According to the Economic Survey Report of Sindhudurg district in 2012, the area actually irrigated by major projects is a mere 158 hectares (0.31 per cent) and for medium projects is 82 hectares (0.2 per cent)! Minor projects seem to have done better with 4,619 hectares irrigated (36 per cent).This eco-sensitive region receives more than 2,500 mm of rainfall, and has a thriving tradition of decentralised water management systems and intricate water sharing arrangements at the community level. Temple tanks in Dhamapur and Nerur stand testimony to this.

The Konkan Irrigation Department has been violating environment and forest norms with impunity, without any action from the State or Central government. In Sindhudurg itself, the Talamba major irrigation project is ongoing without a Final Forest Clearance while work on the Sarambale irrigation project, in a wildlife corridor, was also started without a forest clearance. If the meager benefits of these projects are weighed against the ecological, social and economic losses to local communities, environment and public exchequer, large dams like Nardawe have no case.

(The writer is a member of South A sia Network on Dams, Rivers & People [SANDRP], Pune)

Similar to other dam projects in Maharashtra, 61 per cent work on the Nardawe Dam in Sindhudurg district has been completed without an environment or forest clearance