two decades after the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was set up, over a decade after preliminary work started on the project, and seven years after the Government of India gave it conditional environmental clearance.
It is important to note that the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT), set up to adjudicate on the sharing of waters between the riparian states, completely ignored the critical environmental issues of the project. This is despite the fact that the Tribunal's core issues, like the benefits to be expected from SSP and the costs to be shared (NWDT 1979), are inextricably dependent on environmental variables (e.g. state of the catchment, waterlogging potential in the command, and economic loss of forests). Conversely, the tribunal's award regarding the height of dam, sharing of benefits, and others are the primary determinants of the scale and kind of environmental impacts to be caused.
The Tribunal chose to ignore environmental issues despite the existence of the 1975 CWC guidelines as well as several major publications on the environmental aspects of river valley projects in the tropical countries (Ackermann 1973; Farvar and Milton 1973). The "sacrosanct" nature of the Tribunal's Award, which the SSP authorities often quote, must be questioned on the basis of these inadequacies, especially since they directly impinge on the validity of its final conclusions.
In the absence of any directions regarding environment from the Tribunal, have the SSP authorities made their own environmental impact assessment ? A report prepared by the M.S. University, Vadodara, over a decade back (MSU 1983) has often been put forward by project authorities as the EIA for SSP. It is, however, little more than a preliminary statement of the possible impacts of SSP, and that too only for the Gujarat portion of the upstream and downstream areas; it almost completely ignores the command area. The objective of the study, as stated in the document, was to "suggest ways and means of achieving optimum utilisation of the Narmada waters without any appreciable damage to the river ecosystem". Having said this, the study goes on to consider the environmental impact of only the SSP, as if this was already established as the "optimum" way to utilize the Narmada waters. Indeed, if no "appreciable damage to the river ecosystem" was the objective of the study, a major dam could never fit the bill!
The study was based on only 6 months of data collection, that too only in Gujarat (though the impacts are also to be felt in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra), and did not include any seasonal or temporal variance. The reports admits, for instance, in the case of forest loss upstream: "As this bench mark study was conducted during the dry months only, not much of the undergrowth could be observed"; and further: "Viewed in the context of the large area going under submergence, the samples (of flora) appeared to be inadequate" (MSU 1983). A number of critical impacts were mentioned but not studied in detail, includinj micro-climatic changes, loss of flora and fauna, increase of disease carrying vectors, ecological impact of forest loss, and others. And yet, the report gave the SSP the green signal, going so far as to imply that the benefits outweighed the costs. Indeed, even before starting the study, the researchers appear to have taken the project as necessary and