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Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Experts rule out submergence, MP town relieved


BHOPAL, JANUARY 7: For many in Madhya Pradesh, development brings up images of the Sardar Sarovar Project and displacement. Harsud town’s story could probably change that.

Living under the dread of submergence since the Supreme Court cleared the way for the Narmada Tribunal Award, the 25,000-odd residents of the town in Khandwa district have just heard that it
will be saved.

The experts of National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) believe there is a way to ensure that the people of Harsud and 100 other villages do not meet the fate of those of 200-odd other villages, which will be totally submerged once the Indira Sagar Reservoir comes up.

‘‘After a detailed survey, we have found that the town is situated on the edge of the reservoir and not the centre,’’ NHPC Managing Director Yogendra Prasad informs. ‘‘We can save it by building a guide bund around it.’’

Instead of spelling its doom, the project may eventually turn out to be a boon for the residents of Harsud. A centre of anti-dam activities, the town has been seeing little development work for the past few years, with people even stopping repairs of homes expecting these to washed away. Now, that could change.

‘‘Since a 900 sq km area reservoir shall be near Harsud, the location of the town shall become like Bhopal’s, with tremendous potential for natural development of forests, fisheries, water sports and tourism,’’ Prasad says.

In fact, he adds, the Indira Sagar Reservoir will be 40 times bigger than the Bhopal lake. ‘‘You can imagine what that will do to the town’s social and economic life!’’

Protection of towns with guide bunds is not new. Prasad gives examples of London and Amsterdam in Europe and Delhi and Lucknow nearer home to prove this.

Holland’s capital Amsterdam lies below sea level, but it has been protected and saved for 300 years by means of guide bunds. These have also protected London from Thames for 200 years. Similar bunds on both sides have protected Delhi from Yamuna for over 100 years and Lucknow from river Gomti for 50 years.

Prasad, who is also chairman of the Narmada Hydroelectric Corporation (NHDC) — a joint venture of the Madhya Pradesh government and NHPC — said a preliminary survey showed that Harsud could be saved from inundation by constructing a guide bund on 40 per cent of its circumference. The remaining would be adjoining high grounds.

Besides sparing people the pain of rehabilitation, the construction of guide bunds is also expected to save the government Rs 150 crore it would have otherwise spent on replacement and resettlement. Prasad says this could translate into a reduction in the rate charged for electricity produced by the Indira Sagar Project.

The save Harsud plan also envisages construction of two concrete tanks to ensure 24-hour drinking water supply to the town. Besides, Harsud will be connected to a railway station by a 15-km, double-lane metal road and another road would be provided in place of the existing rail route joining it to Khirkhiya village.

‘‘This will give a boost to Harsud’s business and economic activities,’’ the NHDC Chairman forecasts.

He further points out that under the Madhya Pradesh government’s resettlement and rehabilitation policy, project affected people have the right to grow crops on land rendered available by depletion of water level in the reservoir. Prasad believes that with water available, and with land being free for four-eight months here, agricultural production on it could shoot up two-three times.

The NHDC has now accelerated work on the project, which has been stalled for 10 years, almost ever since it was set up in August 2000.
‘‘Our target is to commission India Sagar by March 2001. We’ll start generating 500 MW power by that time and add another 500 MW worth of generation in the next year,’’ says Prasad.

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