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Thursday 23 December 1999
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Water minister stands up for big dams

The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: In a first, Union water resources minister and his officials on Wednesday openly made a strong pitch for big dams, particularly Sardar Sarovar, saying early completion of this dam would be a ``service to the nation'' and generally dismissing disadvantages and objections as having been blown out of proportion.

Minister C P Thakur, flanked by his minister of state, secretary and Central Water Commission chief A D Mohile, addressed a news conference on the advantages of big dams, saying they were trying ``to prepare sufficient ground to expedite'' before the Sardar Sarovar case comes up in the apex court again on February 8. They are hoping for a ``decisive'' verdict.

``If all goes well,'' said Thakur, ``we will try to complete it in two years.'' If it had been completed four years ago, it may have brought the same prosperity to states like Gujarat as the Bhakra dam did to Punjab and Haryana.

What of the disadvantages or losses? Salinity, waterlogging, displacement, rehabilitation? In the case of Sardar Sarovar, the fact that one of the states involved, Madhya Pradesh, wants dam height reduced and says it doesn't have the land to rehabilitate everyone? Much of this was dismissed as ``misinformation''; smaller dams, it was said, can only supplement the effort.

At the end of aggressive questioning, Thakur conceded, ``We're changing our mind about rehabilitation; we must rehabilitate first.'' Two, irrigation water should be adequately priced for direct benefits. At the moment, farmers aren't paying or get it free; this encourages waste and contributes to waterlogging. Three, if rivers can be interlinked, it would be like having 17 Bhakra-Nangal dams.

But big dams, said one and all, provide ``benefits for generations after generations.'' They enable assured irrigation, hydropower generation, control floods, provision of drinking water, ecological improvement, enhanced production of oxygen and generation of employment.

Mohile said existing dam capacity may have to be more than doubled 50 years from now. ``If this is to be done, the bulk has to come from major and medium dams.''

And generally, the higher the better. Says the ministry: ``Other things being equal, doubling the height of dam increases the volume of water eight times and power potential 16 times. Alternatively, for any given amount of storage, the higher the dam, the smaller will be the area submerged.''

The Economic Times


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