NBA Press Note

October 13, 2000

Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!


SSP Not A Solution for Drought; No Land for Oustees - No Compromise on Dam Height would be Possible

The Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) continues to be a battle field, even after 20 years. The main construction on the dam is stalled due to the stay order of the Supreme Court and the final judgment is awaited. However, the happenings in the fields, more than nature's wrath, actions by the state governments on the one hand and misconceived notions and allegations based on SSP's relevance for the drought-affected in Kutch-Saurashra (Gujarat) on the other, keep the controversy burning. The tribals and peasants in the three states are compelled to fight a fiery battle on all fronts.

Drum beating on drought as a creation of Narmada Bachao Andolan is not new. As always, SSP continues to be used as a mirage for the people in the drought-affected regions of Gujarat and to an extent, Rajasthan. NBA has to stress time and again that SSP as per its original plan, is not for the real needy regions but will serve the industrial belt and water intensive cropping including sugarcane for sugar industries in the central Gujarat. Mere 2% of water allocated to Kutch at the tail end of the canal will never be available as there is less water in Narmada than estimated. Narmada Sagar has fallen behind by a decade and those in the first stretches of the canal network would take away the largest magnitude of benefits.

[ Web Editor's note: Related newsclipping: SSP no use for Saurashtra, admits CM ]

The latest announcement by Gujarat Government to use the waters from the partial pondage due to half-built SSP needs to be analysed in this context. Since January, as per the plans announced by the Minister for Narmada Project (Gujarat), waters would be lifted and carried to Ahmedabad city, parts of central Gujarat and Saurashtra. NBA always referred to the technical feasibility of lifting the reservoir waters to be carried through canals to the distant regions, including Kutch. This was not acted upon by the Government only to push their demand for raising the dam-height. But only an express canal that would avoid any allocation to the regions on the way could help achieve. The already skewed dish of benefits had no allocation for Ahmedabad, Baroda or any other city and yet only 1.6% of Kutch's and 9.24% of Saurashtra's cultivable land was falling in the SSP command. With Ahmedabad city included in the list of beneficiaries, even if for this year's apparent water crisis, Kutchis would have to leave all hopes of received their due share. The plans also indicate water to be taken to the villages in Saurashtra but there is no technical feasibility plan ready as yet and either pipelines or minor canal network in that region is absent.

While the people in Kutch-Saurashtra had switched over to people-oriented, participatory water harvesting measures that proved their worth in many many villages, the new adhoc surface water supply plan would again, it is feared even by the activists and NGOs, kill the initiative. However, NBA would prefer to caution the drought affected regions but also wait and watch the results of Gujarat if it succeeds in its effort and achieve just distribution of not just the ponded but flood waters in monsoon too can be lifted and stored in the decentralised ponds all over the state. NBA always suggested the technical feasibility of taking waters to distant areas which could have been done 4 years ago.

In the valley, drought and death has no response from the government

The situation in the Narmada Valley too is full of challenges. The drought has struck the valley too and the govts don't have any plan for the tribal communities, living on the banks, in the Satpudas, since generations. In all the three states (there are hundreds of tribal families in Gujarat villages too, who are either left out of rehabilitation or cheated in resettlement and hence had to return back), there are thousands who are determined not to move out for the ill conceived project.

The drought has resulted in total failure of crop this year, severe sickness, and even death toll. While this, from time to time, becomes a media issue, all parties and politicians as also bureaucrats are absolutely callous and non-responsive to NBA's demands for employment guaranteeing schemes of land, water, and forest conservation. The present government too has been no different than the ones in the past.

Watershed Development: NBA's alternative plans

After its first successful micro-hydel project in Domkhedi, success in saving many chunks of good forest in Satpuda villages, running Jeevanshalas (life schools) and a few small experiments in water and energy, NBA is now to launch watershed development programs beginning from the tribal villages in Maharashtra (Nandurbar) and Madhya Pradesh (Jhabua) through the new organisational wing, Rewa Ke Yuva (Youths of Narmada). Training by experts begins from Oct 15th to be immediately followed by action.

No land for rehabilitation....again proved

The M.P government's claims in the affidavits filed before the Supreme Court, of land availability for rehabilitation of 35,000 and more affected families still in the SSP submergence area are proved false time and again. Even after the hearings in the Court are over, during our discussion with Digvijay Singh, the Chief Minister, on Sept 5th with 2000 PAPs as witnesses, and on Sept 20th, he accepted with the Minister and officials of Narmada Valley Development Authority that there is no cultivable land available in M.P. for rehabilitation of SSP oustees. It is also clear from the mess and murder in Narmada Sagar where one PAP on fast in protest of the betrayal in the payment of compensation died recently.

In Maharashtra, with 3500 tribal PAPs occupying the Akkalkuva taluka offices for two days on Sept 7th and 8th, officials couldn't show the land for rehabilitation. Later however, they swiftly sent notices to only 3 villages including Domkhedi, the stronghold of NBA asking them to come and take the land. When village representatives with activists went to see the same, officials conferred they had no cultivable land at the claimed sites where there are already families suffering without land being allotted.

With a major flaw of 3 meters in submergence level surveys found out by an Engineering Consultant, ex-IITian, Dr. Ravi Kuchumanchi, the number of PAPs will be much higher and escalate by thousands. NBA's case before the court has already pleaded with strong data base and analysis that 2 lakhs of people affected by canal, colony, sanctuary or downstream impacts, not recognised as PAPs. There too will have to have rehabilitation packages for as per recommendation by each of the Review Committee, appointed by the World Bank and Govt of India.

With all this pending even after 20 years since decision on SSP was made (1979) when 75% and more of the project-affected people are still in the valley, some even after facing partial submergence, the total lack of land-resource and capacity on the part of the govts to resolve this massive human crisis as in resolving the national water crisis is more than established. No compromise on any intermediate height that would sacrifice the tribal region first and then the farming villages in the fertile plains of M.P., even if secretly tried by M.P., Maharashtra and Gujarat govts hands-in-glove, will, therefore, be acceptable to NBA. Let justice accrue, lest the poor - tribals and dalits, peasants and labourers - will lose all hope for survival.

Medha Patkar