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Summary: The diverse range of environmental impacts of major river projects requires a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before any project can be considered for clearance. This fact has been recognised in India at least since 1975, when the Central Water Commission issued its guidelines for studies on river valley projects. The SSP, like all other such projects in India, was not subjected to such an EIA prior to clearance : the study passed off as an EIA in the early 1980s was only a preliminary statement of impacts. Even now, over a decade after work on the project site started, and seven years after receiving conditional environmental clearance, a comprehensive EIA of the SSP is lacking.

Major river valley projects are known to have large-scale impacts on the physical and biological environment (Hildyard and Goldsmith 1984). Direct impacts are felt in four broad regions:

  • upstream of the dam (submergence and catchment areas);
  • downstream of the dam (riverine and estuarine ecosystems);
  • command area (canal impact region);
  • areas away from the above three regions where project-related activities are carried out (e.g. resettlement areas).

It is imperative that any proposed river valley project go through three steps regarding these environmental impacts:

  1. A complete environmental impact analysis should be conducted before the project is considered for clearance, and the results of the analysis be used for judging the viability and desirability of the project.
  2. If the project is considered viable and desirable on social, economic, environmental, and technical grounds, it is necessary to take preventive and ameliorative measures related to the negative environmental impacts. This requires complete workplans and their implementation.
  3. Finally, once the project is built, it is important to constantly monitor the environmental impacts, and the measures taken to address them.

These three steps (prior impact analysis, implementation of environmental workplans, and post-construction monitoring) are now well-accepted parts of the planning process of river valley projects the world over. We examined the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) from the point of view of such a planning process.

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