Sudarshan Iyengar, Director, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, on the Sardar Sarovar Project
In a talk delivered by you in the Capital recently, you criticised the Narmada Bachao Andolan's (NBA) approach. Why?
For the greater common cause, some people have to pay the price. The NBA should understand that there is no alternative before the government. NBA activists doubting the benefits which will flow from the project is understandable, but their denying the benefits altogether is a little immature. The question of rehabilitation of tribals always remains a hot subject. No one likes to be uprooted, but neither does one like battling odds all one's life. NBA activists claim that big dams are never set up to provide drinking water, and even if they are, the water is siphoned off by industries before it reaches villages. The fact is, dams built solely for irrigation purposes have developed into sources of drinking water the world over.
According to you, how necessary is the Sardar Sarovar dam?
In Gujarat, Rajkot receives water once in six days. The water table in north Gujarat has descended by a depth of 200-300 m. Going by the World Bank's findings, if water is not made available by 2021, there will be tremendous socio-economic hardships.
How will the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) be beneficial to the people of Gujarat?
The water of the Narmada, regulated through the SSP, will, besides being used for irrigation purposes in drought-prone areas, provide clean and saline-free drinking water to 135 urban centres and 8,215 villages in Gujarat. Besides, the project promises to generate cheap hydroelectric power, which will enable the area to grow industrially and economically.
What about reports alleging that big dams, including the SSP, have resulted in 40 million people being uprooted from their homes nationwide?
Detailed surveys of the submerged areas show that the total population affected by the SSP in the three states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh put together is 1,27,446.
How does the Gujarat government plan to compensate tribals affected by the SSP? And what about the submergence of thousands of hectares of forest land?
In 1997, the Gujarat government put in place a relief and rehabilitation programme, which includes compensation both in cash and kind for the tribal families affected by the project. Against the submergence of 4,523 hectares of forest land in Gujarat, compensatory afforestation of 13,950 hectares of land has been done prior to reservoir filling.