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THE MAHESHWAR DAM
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The major environmental impacts of the SSP should, in theory, have been studied in a comprehensive environmental impact statement before the Sardar Sarovar Project was given clearance. This was necessary to determine whether any unacceptable environmental losses were foreseen which would necessitate modification or rejection of the project. In addition, the magnitude of likely environmental impacts and the costs for their prevention and amelioration needed to be factored into a cost-benefit analysis to obtain a true picture of the financial viability of the project.

Virtually every single river valley project in India has so far ignored these basic principles, years after they have become adopted both internationally and domestically. Indeed, as early as 1975, the Central Water Commission (CWC), Government of India, had issued guidelines for conducting investigations regarding major irrigation and hydro-electric projects (CWC 1975). The chapter on environment in this document clearly states that:

"The planning, construction and operation of irrigation/ hydroelectric/ multi purpose projects have considerable impacts on navigation, fish culture, wild life, recreational aspects and overall ecology of the affected regions. Some of these aspects on the ecology of the region as well as the overall environment are irreversible in nature. It is, therefore, necessary that a careful evaluation is made of these impacts, whether good or bad ..."

The CWC guidelines then demarcated the "minimum surveys and investigations required" (emphasis added), including :

  • effects on fishing downstream
  • area of reserve forest ... as also the estimate of the wildlife population in the area proposed to be submerged, and indications for the possibilities of alternative proposals for relocation of the affected wildlife
  • waterlogging potential, and steps to be taken to mitigate this problem
  • silting/scouring of the river bed
  • impact of flood problem (presumably relating to flash floods caused by sudden releases from the dam)
  • salinity of flow in the river channel (including, presumably, saltwater ingress)
  • A few years later, the Department of Environment and Forests, Government of India, issued Guidelines for Environmental Assessment of River Valley Projects (DOE 1985). These guidelines specify the various studies which are necessary as part of an EIA, including on forests and wildlife in the submergence zone, waterlogging potential, upstream and downstream aquatic ecosystem and fisheries, water-related diseases, climatological changes, and seismicity.

    The SSP authorities claim that their project has departed from previous practice by carrying out such an EIA before seeking clearance. This is far from the truth. A comprehensive EIA of even the major impacts of the SSP is not ready even now, more than

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