90 metres, Narmada dam not yet over the hump
of dam oustees takes a backseat as NBA and MP govt wage a war of
words with Gujarat
Yogesh Vajpayee & Darshan Desai
Bhopal/Gandhinagar, June 25: IT IS not even a year, and the
Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has come full circle. On October 18
last year, after a stalemate of six years, the Supreme Court had
lifted the stay on SSP construction and opened the floodgates for
much rejoicing in Gujarat. Seven months down the line, scales are
out, the talk is back to metres, and the only thing rising is temperatures
in Madhya Pradesh and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).
This time, the dam of protests burst after Gujarat government built
three-metre humps over the spillway blocks of the SSP, whose height
stands now at 90 m. Under the SC ruling, any increase in dam height
beyond 90 m has to be cleared by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)
after ensuring that the people whose lands would be inundated as
a result had been properly rehabilitated.
While Gujarat insists that the humps will not change the submergence
feature of the dam, MP and the NBA contest this. Brought closer
by the issue, both are now talking of how this will add to the woes
of dam oustees. The NBA has threatened a fresh agitation from July
5 and also plans to move a contempt application saying the Gujarat
move violates the SC order.
MP too is knocking on SC doors. Having failed to block the Gujarat
move at the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee and the
Narmada Control Authority in May this year, it is now insisting
that its 1999 suit in the SC for creation of a new Narmada tribunal
The Vice-Chairman of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA),
Ravindra Sharma, says: ‘‘The humps were constructed in the past
— in 1995 and again in 1999. Each time, it caused inundation of
villages.’’ The NVDA expects that this time, there would be additional
pondage in over a dozen MP villages during the monsoon and that
the tribal village of Dubkheda would be permanently inundated.
An MP official adds: ‘‘The rub is that they announced the decision
in May, leaving us little time to arrange for resettlement and rehabilitation.
This is a blatant violation of the Naramada Tribunal Award and the
SC’s decision that the rehabilitation and resettlement of Project
Affected Families (PAFs) should be completed six months before the
dam height reaches a stage threatening their submergence.’’
MP has now put together a contingency plan — temporary sheds are
coming up in Alirahput tehsil of Jhabua, high-strength motor boats
are being posted to evacuate people in case of an emergency and
a control room has been set up to monitor the situation. But, as
the MP official admits, ‘‘At best, it will be a makeshift arrangement.’’
Meanwhile, the dam is inching along at a snail’s pace. It has gone
up by just 2 metres — to 90 metres — since the SC clearance and
not an inch since January. If work continues at this rate, the dam
won’t be raised to its full height of 138.68 m till 2005.
The reason for this is the tardy rehabilitation. As per the SC orders,
the NCA is to clear any 5-m increase in the dam’s height after approval
from the rehabilitation & resettlement sub-group and the environment
sub-group. Their nod for an increase above 90 m is awaited since
January. Both states, of course, blame each other for this.
Gujarat is supposed to shoulder the principal burden of rehabilitation
— 460 families have to be resettled at this stage — though MP villages
would be the worst affected. In all, 193 villages in MP, 33 in Maharashtra
and 19 in Gujarat are likely to be affected.
An MP official claims: ‘‘Gujarat was supposed to settle all the
PAFs from MP and Maharashtra wiling to come there so that the benefits
from the SSP were shared by the people dislocated. But they are
not doing it.’’ An action plan worked out in 1993 provided that
of the 33,014 PAFs, 14,124 be resettled in Gujarat. The latter was
supposed to develop 82 rehabilitation sites, but has so far developed
only 39. An MP official also claims that their demand that the PAFs
from MP be resettled as a village unit is being ignored.
Gujarat says the ‘‘ground reality’’ is different. In January and
March, the state government claims to have issued notices to oustees
in MP, inviting them to resettle in Gujarat and giving them time
to inspect the land being provided to them. While Bhupendrasinh
Chudasama, the chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Limited, says
the process of showing them the land is on, he insists the rehabilitation
to raise the dam height to 95 m would be over by month end.
Chudasama also believes that MP would complete its part of the rehabilitation
by October, so that by year end, the dam height could be raised
to 95 m. While this alone is a tall order, he adds: ‘‘By year end,
1,456 oustee-families, to be affected at the height of 100 m, will
have been resettled.’’
By all accounts, this is a very optimistic picture. Even if the
rehabilitation is completed in time, the two sub-groups and then
the NCA will need to certify this. The earliest the construction
could begin is in October, to be completed in December. Then there
would be the 100-m hurdle to cross and rehabilitation (this time
of 996 families) to be undertaken.
The NBA is already claiming that there is not enough land to rehabilitate
all the families, quoting Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, who is
on record stating that the plight of the project-affected cannot
be fully mitigated. ‘‘This is why we are against raising the dam
height unnecessarily because it won’t lead to any additional irrigation
benefits to Gujarat. We have even offered to compensate Gujarat
for any loss from our share of power and want the entire issue to
be resettled by another tribunal,’’ he says.
The issue of the humps has again brought the NBA and Digvijay on
the same side of the fence — one wants the dam scrapped, the other
revised. Earlier, the CM had rolled out the red carpet for NBA backer
and author Arundhati Roy’s famous ‘Rally for the Valley’. NBA leaders,
however, deny an unholy alliance.
‘‘We are against all big dams,’’ says one Andolan leader. ‘‘Though
we have common points on the SSP, we are against the MP government
on other river valley projects in the state. And we are equally
unhappy with MP’s rehabilitation and resettlement packages.’’
But across the border in Gujarat, the dispute seems a total waste.
The rains have been kind, and the SSP dam is overflowing with water
for the first time this season. But all that the drought-prone Saurashtra,
Kutch and north Gujarat regions can do is gaze at the water falling