ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF THE SSP
The environmental impacts of the SSP have been classified under the four regions mentioned above: upstream of the dam, downstream of the dam, the command area, and other affected areas. The major impacts are discussed below, not in order of their importance, but region-wise. After analysing available information, we feel that the most crucial impact of the SSP is likely to be waterlogging and salinisation of the command area, hence this issue is covered in considerable detail.
Loss of forests and terrestrial biological diversity
Summary: The forests of the SSP submergence zone, while considerably degraded, still contain a large diversity of flora and fauna that is capable of supporting over 70,000 people. Though compensatory afforestation and wildlife conservation measures are being undertaken or planned, there is no feasible way of completely recovering the loss of these forests, or of saving much of the biological diversity that they contain. This is heightened by the fact that compensatory afforestation in the case of SSP is being done in Kutch, an ecological zone completely different from the Narmada Valley. There will therefore be an inevitable loss.
The SSP reservoir will submerge about 39,134 ha. of land, of which 13,743 ha. are forest land. Ilese mixed deciduous forests are often referred to as "degraded", which they are. There has also undoubtedly been considerable loss of the area's biological diversity due to a variety of biotic and commercial factors. Indeed, one (but only one) of these factors was the felling of the forests in the Gujarat part of the submergence zone at the behest of the project authorities themselves: in 1983-84, three years before the project was given envirorimental clearance, 2493 ha. was clearfelled, "looking into the urgency of the project and fearing the submergence of those low-lying areas in case they are not clear-felled quickly"! (NPG 1986; exclamation mark added).
Despite considerable degradation, these forests continue to be an important life-support system for the people in the submergence zone, and still contain a diversity of plant and small faunal life. In the case of flora, for instance, local tribals identify over 150 species that are of economic, nutritional and cultural importance to them ( Baviskar 1992). Apart from economically important species like teak (Tectona grandis), bamboo (Dendrocalamus spp.), arjan (Hardwickia binata), mahua (Madhuca indica), tendu (Diospyros melanaxylon), and salai (Bosivellia serrata), the forest is also rich in ecological terms. A study of the SSP catchment area in Gujarat (an area larger than, and containing, the submergence zone) reported that six