it a Dam Good Way?
The downstream project of the Narmada dam will
|I stood on the dry, parched
land and laughed. I shouldnt have, because here in drought-prone Saurashtra and
Kutch, the soil had this mournful look of a sick mother unable to nourish her children.
But I laughed because I had this sudden improbable vision-of lush green fields and full
water tanks, plump cattle and smiling faces of children. I chided myself for dreaming
something that was not to be. The upstream dam on the Narmada cant come up-the
resettlement problem is too huge. There are 60,000-70,000 people involved, railway lines,
Sardar Sarovar Dam: watering hole
But what about the downstream project which, if ready,
wouldve given 16 million acre ft of water a year? The dam is already up to 88
metres, despite the Narmada Bachao Andolans agitation, and only about 100 people
left to rehabilitate. Once the Supreme Court allows building another 8-10 metres, water
can flow to this deficient region and fill up the water tanks.
Why is development always an us vs them issue? Ask anybody
in Gujarat and shell say the Narmada project is the best thing to have happened to
the state. "In fact, if the upstream dam isnt built, the entire virgin river
can flow into Gujarat, adversely affecting MP, a poorer state," says Y.K. Alagh,
former executive vice-president of the Narmada Planning Group. MP, however, even while
slated to get more electricity from the dam, doesnt allow the height to go beyond
Says R.K. Pachauri, director, TERI: "Its
unfortunate that extreme positions have been taken. While dam builders pay lip-service to
resettlement and the environment, ngos seem to be against the dam per se." Adds
Alagh: "The Narmada project is the most scientifically-designed, technically perfect
in this country, earning praise from even Mekong valley experts as the best in Asia. Also,
a pari passu clause in the plan ensures work cant progress without adequate
resettlement and rehabilitation."
Says Alagh: "The common charge is that for a cusec of
water released from the dam, only 0.6 cusec reaches the fields. But thats much
better compared to unlined canals that get only 38 per cent or so. In fact, experimental
projects have proved water availability up to 70 per cent in Narmada. Its actually
like a pipe going up to the fields."
Why is the Narmada project more important than watersheds
and rainwater harvesting, especially when big dams are becoming passe? One, in less than
two out of five years, the reservoirs fill up naturally. This year, only 9 per cent of the
tanks were full. Two, ironically, when it floods in Narmada, its deficient rain in
Saurashtra. The height is a must to lift the depleting water table.
Alagh is confident that Gujarat wont have problems
next year. "Once the water starts flowing in by the monsoons in 2001, when the
Supreme Court allows further construction, and the people can see it for themselves, the
movement will fizzle out." Meanwhile, the delay takes its toll on yet another section
of the poor, including the water-starved-those who are indirectly paying for
Gujarats huge loan burden. Roughly Rs 1,000 crore a year is allocated to Narmada,
while a third of Gujarats borrowing goes to fund it. Why is it that the poor always
pay, development or no development?