Himanshu Upadhyaya

We witness the drowning of reasoned arguments under the din of propaganda masquerading as opinion of honourable academicians

While there have been reports that Gujarat has failed to utilise the impoundment in the reservoir, academicians choose to ignore themShortfall in capacity utilisation due to unexecuted distribution networks, canal works and pitching workIgnoring the protests will pronounce the deathknell for the last straw of democratic ethos

The protest demonstration by Narmada Bachao Andolan entered the 29th day on Saturday. Meanwhile, the ongoing construction work to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam from 110.64 to 121.92 metres continues.

Following a field visit of a few affected villages by three Ministers on April 12th, the Centre called for a meeting of the Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority. (The meet held on Saturday ended in a deadlock, prompting Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz to recommend to the Prime Minister suspension of the work on the project.) Once again we are going to witness the drowning of not just fertile farmlands and thickly populated villages in the Narmada valley, but also of reasoned arguments under the din of propaganda masquerading as opinion of honourable academicians who argue that raising the dam height to 121.92 metres is the only way to bring drinking water benefits to millions.

While there have been reports from civil society organisations and Comptroller and Auditors- General stating that Gujarat has failed to utilise the present impoundment in the reservoir, honourable academicians choose to ignore them. From 1991, Gujarat has used the emotive power of thirst to push the dam ahead and create a rift between achhatgrast (scarcity affected) and asargrast (dam affected). However, it is time to wake up to the truth that these hollow claims do not bear the scrutiny, and endless repetition of propaganda will not quench the thirst of Saurashtra and Kachchh.

The ambitious Sardar Sarovar Narmada Canal Based Bulk Water Transmission Project began in 1999-2000 and was scheduled to be completed by 2002, but was lagging behind due to "defective planning and lack of coordination among different agencies" and not because of litigations or non raising of the dam height, as borne out from the findings of the CAG reports for the year ending March 31, 2003 and 2005.

Audit scrutiny also pointed out a clever trick of the establishment to hide the true costs of the gigantic Sardar Sarovar Project. It was found during the audit that expenditure on the drinking water supply is being booked not on the balance sheets of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, but on the balance sheets of the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board and the Gujarat Drinking Water Infrastructure Limited.

The Saurashtra Pipeline Project was first brought to the drawing board in 1996 with a master plan that talked about augmenting the Mahi Canal-based Water Supply Schemes by supplying 211 MLD (million litres a day) water from Narmada Canals to 1860 severely affected villages of Ahmedabad, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts. Similarly a second route was based on the Maliya Branch Canal of the Sardar Sarovar project with a distribution network through 869 km-long pipelines to supply 500 MLD water to 1342 villages/ towns in Jamnagar, Kachch and Rajkot districts.

Audit scrutiny of the implementation and performance of these projects pointed to the failure of Gujarat to utilise the water available from the impoundment created. As per the CAG report on Gujarat (civil) for the year ending March 31, 2003, "The gross average daily intake during the two years of its operation (December 2000 to November 2002) was 119.80 MLD against the envisaged capacity of 287 MLD (i.e. 42 per cent of capacity utilisation) only. Of the envisaged coverage of 1860 villages/ towns, benefit reached only to 543 villages. So, even after two years of execution, at the cost of Rs. 464.17 crores, benefits could be derived to the extent of 44 per cent of the envisaged population only." Further putting a scanner over the utter failure of Gujarat to provide hygiene to its people, the CAG report goes on to state, "of the 1.51 million beneficiaries, 1.42 million (i.e. 94 per cent) in 503 villages/ towns was supplied with raw water as there was no filtration arrangements at the headworks, exposing them to the risk of contacting water borne diseases."

The major contention of the audit findings was that shortfall in capacity utilisation was thanks to "a large number of unexecuted distribution networks, canal works and pitching work at Pariej." The CAG report clearly pronounced a note of despair when it said, "there was no prospect of optimum utilisation of the capacity of 287 MLD created, in the foreseeable future." Answering this contention, the Gujarat Government took a position as late as on July 2003 that, "network systems are lengthy and it would take more time to implement," while on the lack of filtration facilities, it said, "funds had to be mobilised for creating filtration facilities and these works were in progress." A government that boasts of being able to mop financial resources necessary to raise the dam height by five or 10 metres at a regular interval every year was facing financial crunch when it came to provide filtration facilities, even after two years of execution of the drinking water supply project! And yet, if honourable academicians like Y.K. Alagh are to be believed, we shall ignore the protests by affected persons whose homes and hearth are going to be drowned, since thousands of villages in Saurashtra and Kachchh have started getting Narmada water! Three years have passed by since the audit report making these comments on the Saurashtra Pipeline Project entered the public domain, without much furore in the Gujarat Assembly, and honourable academicians kept arguing in favour of raising the dam height.

Delay in execution

The CAG report on Gujarat (civil) for the year ending March 31, 2005 covers the implementation and performance of the second route of Sardar Sarovar Canal-Based Bulk Water Transmission Project. In Para 3.2.8.3 {lt}http://3.2.8.3{gt} the CAG mentions that due to the delay in the execution of distribution works, "only 29 per cent of the installed capacity of water was used and only 415 of 1342 targeted villages/ towns (i.e. 31 per cent) were covered. Elaborating on this, the CAG states, "as a result of the delay in the execution of the distribution works, the gross daily intake from May 2003 to June 2005 was 145.17 MLD (29 per cent) against the envisaged capacity utilisation of 500 MLD." The report also put under the scanner six water supply schemes, taken up for execution during the period of the audit review that were incomplete.

Ineffective control

Putting the blame on the failure of the GWSSB as well as the consultant in the monitoring and execution of works, the CAG held them responsible for "ineffective internal control resulting in cost and time overruns and deprival of benefits to the targeted population." And still, honourable academicians like B.G. Varghese would quote verbatim from the official propaganda to impress upon the readers that affected people protesting the raising of the dam height without rehabilitation and resultant submergence are the ones to be blamed for cost and time overruns!

The decisive moment has arrived in the Narmada debate, and ignoring the protests of displaced people from the Narmada valley would pronounce the death knell for the last straw of democratic ethos. If the state decides to be indifferent to the Gandhian way of struggle by an indefinite fast and crush this non-violent protest by midnight swoops as we witnessed last week and put charges of attempt to suicide on fasting satyagrahis, while stopping the ongoing dam construction, then by default it privileges and invites violence.