|Its clearly a case of fallen idols.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehrus "temples of modern India" have failed to deliver
and the old faithfuls now have to contend with a new, young band of sceptics. As the
debate over large dams versus traditional methods of water harvesting continues, the rosy
picture painted by the architects of these temples is gradually losing its colour. A
cursory look at the report card of some of Indias major and medium irrigation
projects reveals that despite their ever-burgeoning project cost, they have miserably
failed to achieve their projected potential. Data obtained by Outlook from the ministry of
water resources show that in certain cases, some of these dams and canals dont
irrigate even an inch of land.
The reasons for this
may vary from lack of infrastructure and funds to peoples resistance. But the end
result is clearly disappointing. Sources in the ministry of water resources say that in
some cases the project is ready but is not being used to its full capacity due to the lack
of an efficient canal network. With each passing year the cumulative cost of the project
spirals up, running into hundreds of crore of rupees without any apparent benefit.
Sardar Sarovar in
J & K
Tehri in UP
In this light, the argument of the inevitability of big
dams like the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) or the Tehri dam comes under sharp scrutiny.
The anti-dam lobby argues that when the created potential (what is meant to be achieved)
of already existing projects is becoming hard to achieve, what is the guarantee that the
hopes being raised by the proponents of big dams will not prove to be a farce. Says
Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dam, Rivers and People: "They have
created the projects but they have not been able to utilise their full potential."
The pro-SSP lobby, or for that matter even the Gujarat
government, has been maintaining that big dams have become inevitable. The fact that what
the existing projects actually achieve is far less than the projected potential (see
infographic on page 29) provides a solid ground to the anti-big dam lobby which says mega
projects eventually turn out to be white elephants.
Nirmal Sengupta of the Madras Institute for Development
Studies has conducted a comprehensive study of the potential utilisation of major
irrigation projects. In his study, prepared for the World Commission on Dams (WCD),
Sengupta observed: "As per the irrigation department data, 13.7 per cent of created
potential in major and medium irrigation projects in India is unutilised. According to the
land use statistics collected by the revenue department, underutilisation is about 25 per
Sengupta claims that if the full potential of the existing
major/ medium projects is used, at least 40,52,000 hectares of land may be brought under
irrigation. Another 40,29,000 hectares can be irrigated by using the full potential of
But some figures present a depressing scenario. Work on the
Jamrani dam in Nainital district of Uttar Pradesh began in 1975 with an estimated cost of
Rs 61.25 crore. The project was supposed to irrigate 66,000 hectares of land. But 25 years
later-and with the upgraded cost estimate of Rs 280 crore-the achieved potential is only
21,000 hectares. The Gosikhurd project in Maharashtra began two decades ago with an
estimated cost of Rs 461.11 crore. It had the projected irrigation potential of 2,50,800
hectares. In the eighth plan the cumulative cost of the project has increased by five
times. Achieved potential: zilch.
Similarly in Madhya Pradesh, the Rajghat II project began
in 1975 with the project irrigation capacity of 1,16,600 hectares. Twenty-five years later
the cost went up from Rs 309.21 crore to Rs 523.41 crore. But the achieved potential
remained only 9,000 hectares. Subarnarekha in Bihar (Rs 1,428 crore) had the projected
potential of 236.85 hectares when it was conceived around 1975. In the last 25 years the
cost of the project and its upgradation has gone up to Rs 2,376 crore but it has also
failed to achieve the projected target.
Even more striking is the attitude of the state governments
who have an interest in not declaring a project complete. Once a project is over, the
Planning Commission stops funding it. Therefore, in some instances the state governments
declare their projects as ongoing so that the inflow of funds from the Centre, needed for
the maintenance of the completed project, doesnt stop. The most telling example
probably is the Nagarjuna Sagar dam in Andhra Pradesh. This project began in the late
1950s and was estimated to cost Rs 91.12 crore. Four decades down the line its still
on even though it has more or less achieved its ultimate potential of irrigating 895.28
thousand hectares of land. The latest add-up cost has run into Rs 1,000 crore.
Thakkar says that the solution doesnt lie in large
dams. According to him, the poor maintenance of the dams also affects their potential
adversely. It is a known fact that some of the dams have collected huge amounts of silt
resulting in less quantity of stored water. According to reports, a 38-foot high dam in
Gujarat has 28 feet of silt. That means a dam which has the capacity of storing 38 feet of
water holds only 10 feet water. The project irrigation capacity will naturally go down.
The question that begs an answer, therefore, is: what is
the rationale of going in for mega projects for the development of agriculture when the
already existing projects are lagging far behind in achieving their projected objective?
As the country reels under one of its worst droughts, the question becomes even more
important. Rosy pictures dont really make reality any less harsh.
By Rajesh Joshi