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Thursday, May 17, 2001

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The Indian Express North American Edition


Row over who’ll foot the bill for Narmada water

Bahsir Pathan

Gandhinagar, May 16: The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) and the Gujarat Electricity Board have slapped bills totaling Rs 9 crore on the Gujarat Water Supply Board (GWSB) for drawing and supplying the Narmada waters to drought-hit areas through the Saurashtra pipeline.

The SSNNL has slapped a bill on the Board, demanding that the latter pay over Rs 4 crore to the Nigam for pumping out water from the Narmada dam and supplying it to the drought-hit parts of Saurashtra and the water-starved cities of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot.

The Water Board has also taken a dig at the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) for sending it an electricity bill of about Rs 5 crore for operating pumps installed at the dam site to draw water from the Narmada reservoir.

Speaking to the The Indian Express on the SSNNL bill, a senior Board official said: ‘‘It is really unfortunate that the SSNNL has sought to levy water charges from the Water Supply Board at the rates of 50 paise per 1,000 liters, despite the fact that the Board is making the best use of the Narmada waters for drinking water purpose in this critical period, which otherwise would have drained into the sea.’’ The official added that the Board had decided to pump out the Narmada waters and supply it to parched areas through the ambitious Saurashtra pipeline only at the behest of the government, keeping in view the plight of millions facing the acute drinking water shortage in these areas. The SSNNL therefore, has no business to recover water charges from the Board, he asserted.

In fact, by undertaking to supply Narmada waters, the Board has saved several crores of rupees which the concerned municipal corporations and municipalities would have had to incur for providing drinking water through tankers, he argued.
The official also criticised the GEB for handing out an electricity bill of about Rs 5 crore to the Board for operating round the clock as many as 86 pumps to draw water from the Narmada reservoir. ‘‘The Board is supplying 30 million gallons of the Narmada water per day to the GEB for running its thermal power station at Wanakbori. If the GEB does not withdraw its power bill, we will be compelled to levy water charges from the GEB,’’ he said.

What appears to have irked the Water Board most is the fact that the GEB has issued the power bill for the month of March at the rate of Rs 15 per unit, about three times higher than the ususal domestic rates.

Responding to a query, the official said the Water Board would soon take up with Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel both the issue of water and power bills slapped on it and request him to ensure that the entire electricity bill is waived. In fact, the Board has helped the SSNNL to test the functioning of its main canal by making the Narmada waters flow through it.

On the other hand, SSNNL Chairman, Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, justified the Nigam’s decision to levy water charges from the Board, saying that ‘‘It is the duty of the Board to supply drinking water to the people living in the drought-hit parts of Gujarat’’.

‘‘The SSNNL has already spent over Rs 40 crore on the construction of irrigation by-pass tunnel (IBPT) to enable the Board to pump out the Narmada waters and supply it to the water-starved areas of the State. The Board should not have any hassles in paying the paltry sum of Rs 4 crore as the water charges to the SSNNL,’’ Chudasma contended.

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