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THE MAHESHWAR DAM
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Informed and compelling opposition to the project, the refusal of project authorities to allow questions or admit shortcomings and divided opinion within its own establishment forced the World Bank to initiate an Independent Review of the SSP. The report of the Independent Review, released in June 1992 [Morse and Berger 1992] shows clearly that the SSP is flawed, perhaps fatally. Though touted as one of the most studied projects by its proponents, the report of the Independent Review demonstrates that the project authorities have failed to collect basic data for most aspects of the SSP. Thus, the stated benefits of the project should be thought of as optimistic assertions based on wishful thinking rather than on scientific appraisal.

As an outcome of the report of the Independent Review, the World Bank started having serious doubts about continuing its funds; when it became clear that it was likely to withdraw, the Indian Government in a face-saving gesture, cancelled the remainder of the World Bank loan. The withdrawal of the World Bank has served to sharpen the suspicion that the critics of the SSP are right. In light of these developments, it is imperative that a comprehensive review of the entire project be carried out.


THE STATED BENEFITS

The SSP is often described as "Gujarat's lifeline". For forty years, the project had the stature of a sacred cow as people believed the claim that it would "drought-proof" Gujarat. To this end the project authorities claim that they will provide drinking water to 40 million people. In addition the project is supposed to irrigate 1.8 million ha of land spread over 12 districts in Gujarat (see Table 1, Map 1). The SSP is planned to have an installed capacity of 1450 MW of power. Several other minor benefits are touted for the project, including flood control, employment generation, "environmental enhancement", tourism, recreational facilities and improved fisheries. Irrigation is to lead to increased production of foodgrains and oilseeds, reducing the need for imports.

We will examine each of the main benefits (drinking water, irrigation and power) separately. However, any discussion about project benefits must begin by establishing one basic fact : How much water is available for use in the Narmada?

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