NBA Press Release
  08 June 2009
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Narmada Canal Breach Causes Loss and Chaos Again: No Water Supply to Jamnagar, Kutch, Saurashtra and Rajkot.

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One of the most hotly debated mega projects in post-independent India, Sardar Sarovar Project is increasingly in the news these days not just for the massive reservoir-induced displacement in the face of poor compliance on rehabilitation and environmental fronts and rampant corruption, but more so for the all too frequent canal breaches that are being caused in the 'command area' or 'beneficiary area' of the Project in Gujarat, thereby severely affecting the farmers and leading to exploitation of those dependent on the Narmada waters.

The very fact that even to this day 2,00,000 people in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat are residing on the Narmada river bank, in the SSP submergence area, mostly in the original villages, shows that proper and lawful rehabilitation has not come their way and therefore the project has not been given further permission for the 17 mts radial gates to be installed. But infact the SSP waters is also causing serious problems including water logging and breaches for all those 'beneficiary' farmers and villagers of Kutch and Saurashtra for whom the SSP was trumpeted as the 'lifeline' of Gujarat and they are all turning out to be 'project affected'.

The Narmada canal again breached in the last few days in Rajkot and Surendranagar districts! There was a 35 meter wide breach in the Milaiya branch canalof SSP in Surendranagar, drowning chunks of surrounding agricultural land. Alongside, the canal breach has cut-off water supply to the districts of Rajkot, Jamnagar and Kutch which has left lakhs of people not just frustrated, but are beginning to feel agitated. This is bound to happen when water is sourced from a centralised source and that too by linear mode.

The issue of the Narmada Main canal (NMC) breaching with alarming regularity has been going severely since 2002 when the cement lining of the canal was damaged at 8 spots. Again in 2003, the NMC breached at 2 places. Eighteen villages were virtually marooned due to the canal breach in Pavi Jetpur tehsil in Vadodara district again in 2004 causing crores worth destruction but the affected farmers and labourers have been given no compensation for their crops, land, houses and properties damaged and destroyed, either partially or fully. There was again a 21 metre wide breach last year in the NMC in Kadi tehsil, Mehsana district affecting at least 16 villages badly and many subsequent breaches in the same year. After extensive reportage, Mr. Modi was cornered and had to institute an inquiry into the entire canal system and had to make a public commitment to compensate the affected. But to this day, neither has compensation been fully disbursed to the affected nor has the Inquiry Report been made public (even after one full year!), which the Gujarat Water Resources Minister Mr. Nitin Patel had to concede to in the Legislative Assembly.

This latest breach has once again raised a huge question about the proclaimed command area benefits and the dire status of the SSP command area has again come to the forefront. Repeated breaches, small and big in the long canal network is resulting in submergence of lands and land erosion at many places, affecting crops as well as property and causing a lot of distress to the farmers and nearby villagers. Counting the reasons, the Government had to admit that there has been corruption in the cement lining work of the canal which is of bad quality, causing breaches. At many places, the natural flows are blocked by laying of canals and, therefore, water is to be let out through the discharge outlets made of small pipes into the canals, but silt and at places even plants and weeds have caused stagnation of water in a huge scale near the canals. Besides, "unfinished and poorly undertaken command area development work has been a major contributor", SSNNL officials admit. Accumulation of silt and waste in the canal, pointing to poor maintenance has also caused spreading of more water from the canal, than expected. Furthermore, even during the summer days, Gujarat is able to utilize only 7% of the available water. With all these in the SSP, the unreliability of water supply and non-feasibility of canal irrigation are major issues for all researchers in water management.

Ministers from Narendra Modi to Nitin Patel are trying to find fault with the farmers who are lifting waters from the Narmada, but in reality, with only 30% of the canal work completed and minor canals that would actually take the water to the small and marginal farmers, not in place, even after some lifting of water by farmers, only 10% of the area is being irrigated. The total area under irrigation through SSP was less than 70,000 hectares until 2007, as opposed to the politically projected claim of 8 lakh hectares at 122 mts height, as per information obtained under RTI.

Canal network co-operative societies for administering and monitoring irrigation are not functional in most places. Stopping even lifting of waters would only further expose the unviability of this mammoth project costing 45,000 crores, displacing lakhs and affecting the environment. The reality of SSP is only forcing a rethink and review of this entire project, in which not just Gujarat, but the the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are being confronted with the cost-benefit exposes and the people - adivasis, farmers, fish workers and labourers have invested their natural and human resources .

Ashish Mandloi
Philp Mathew
Medha Patkar