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Battling for the same turf: Industry may consume Narmada waters meant for drought-hit areas Printer friendly pageEmail this story

Friday, November 24 (Baroda):

As the water table drops lower and lower in Gujarat, it's a battle between industry and the people for this precious resource -- a battle that has begun even before the dam project is complete. IPCL, a petrochemical plant in Baroda's industrial area, will soon be working below capacity. Two successive failed monsoons and hardly any water are the reasons for this imminent and drastic change. It's time for emergency measures. After 20 years, the plant has just dug four new tubewells that will give it almost three million gallons of water a day. But even this is not enough. The plant needs more than eight times that amount and that means serious trouble for IPCL.

Mr. S K Anand, Director Operations, IPCL, explained, "We might have to stop some of our plants in the month of March. Only the plants which consume less water will be kept running. We have started recycling. We use about 25 mgd of water and slowly through conservation we have reduced our consumption to 15 mgd, which is 33 per cent. We are further cutting down, but beyond that is not possible." He leaves his sentence trailing, which reflects the uncertainty of the situation.

But while IPCL may have the muscle to survive, it's the smaller chemical and fertilizer companies that have been most severely hit by the shortage of water. So for hundreds of industries here, the waters of the Sardar Sarovar canal will be a crucial lifeline. Industrialists say that it is their only hope of survival. According to Paresh Saraiya, Director of Transpek India Ltd, "Industry which is drawing water from the borewells will benefit because the overall water table, which is badly depleted, will increase and that will solve quality related problems of water."

On the completion of the Narmada dam, 800 million gallons of water will be available per day, out of which the share of industry is 150 mgd. Industry in Baroda alone uses upto 50-60 mgd and needs more if it has to expand. Many here believe that industry has reached saturation point and that there's no more room to grow. Some industrialists now want the government to change land laws to allow them to turn their excess industrial land into farmland, so that they can use it to grow cash crops.

Mr. Atul Patel, Ex-pres, Fed of Gujarat Ind, said, "When water is available, there are a lot of industries which have got land. They can think of cash crops, though industrial land is not allowed for agricultural purposes. But time is changing and the government may allow them to grow something."

The authorities of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam have repeatedly declared that farmers will not be allowed to grow sugarcane at the head of the canal because it is a water-guzzling cash crop. But industry located in the command area hopes that this will change. Mr. Patel added, "We would definitely look at cash crops, which will get us profit immediately. Depending on the quality of the soil, we can also grow sugarcane."

With the growing demands of industry in the command area of the Sardar Sarovar dam, there are now major fears that the waters meant for the drought hit areas of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch at the tail end of the canal will never actually reach there. This was one consideration that led the government to support research for Kalpsar, a complementary project that envisages building a much smaller dam on the Bay of Khambat without displacing people.

Mr. Anil S Kane, Vice Chancellor, MS University, Baroda says, "As Narmada will supply water to the central portion of Gujarat, about 90 per cent of Saurashtra and 95 per cent of Kutch will not get irrigation water. Of course, they will get drinking water which is a small quantity, but if you want industry to come there and large scale irrigation projects to come, then Narmada will not reach there."

As the many players in the region try to change the rules of the game after it has begun, the story of who benefits and who pays the cost for the Sardar Sarovar dam has still not been fully told.

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