Narmada Samachar: 15 November 2002


All this (and more) news can be accessed via the Press Clippings page at:
The NBA press releases are accessible at:

Archives of Narmada Samachar are accessible at:

Narmada Dams

Gujarat debentures, bonds downgraded ;
The Economic Times; Nov 10, 2002

NGOs plan protest against power tariff hike ;
Deccan Herald; Nov 07, 2002

Inter-linking of rivers under serious consideration: Vajpayee ;
Outlook; Nov 01, 2002

Govt in the dark about Narmada ;
Times of India; Oct 29, 2002

Modi charges Cong with failure on development of rural areas ;
Outlook; Oct 19, 2002

MP Govt runs out of ideas on use of gas victimsí fund ;
Hindustan Times; Oct 17, 2002

Medha Patkar not averse to enter electoral politics ;
Outlook; Oct 11, 2002

NBA Press Release

Invitation to "Bijli Bachao - Azadi Bachao Yatra", 15th to 30th November, 2002 in Madhya Pradesh against anti-people, Asia Development Bank inspired power sector reforms in Madhya Pradesh ;
NBA Press Release - Nov 08, 2002

Jan Sangharsh Morcha to organize Bijli Bachao - Azadi Bachao Yatras through the state in protest against the proposed electricity tariff hike; CAG finds that MPSEB has wantonly wasted Rs. 70 crores ;
NBA Press Release - Nov 06, 2002

Madhya Pradesh Government must withdraw the anti-people second tariff petition and cancel agreement with Asia Development Bank; Huge protest rally in Mandleshwar on the 26th of October marks beginning of state wide struggle ;
NBA Press Release - Oct 21, 2002

News Clippings

IFCI to tighten screws on defaulters ;
Hindustan Times; Nov 02, 2002

... The crisis-ridden development financial institution, IFCI, has decided to tighten its grip over the defaulting companies. In that endeavour, the institution has requested the disinvestment ministry to disqualify the Essar group from bidding for Shipping Corporation of India. In another project - Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation (SMHPC), which has hit a roadblock, IFCI has asked the promoters S. Kumars group to raise funds to complete the financial closures. ...

SC asks Centre to consider linking major rivers by 2012 ;
Outlook; Oct 31, 2002

... Expressing concern over the Centre's plan to link all major rivers in the country by the year 2043, the Supreme Court today asked the government to immediately constitute a task force to consider achieving it by 2012 to effectively control flood and drought situations....

Politicking over Tehri dam ;
Deccan Herald; Oct 31, 2002

... Fresh controversies are plaguing the 2400 MW Tehri hydel project thanks to two ministers of the N D Tiwari government in Uttaranchal. ...

Voices to be heard ;
Deccan Herald; Oct 27, 2002

... It is in the writings of Arundhati Roy and Taslima Nasreen that Malathi Rao finds voices of politically committed writers who fight against all kinds of State injustice and crimes against the weaker sections of society ...

Book Review: The Narmada dammed ;
Deccan Herald; Oct 27, 2002

... There has always been a strong element of romanticism in the discourse on development that post-Independence India has produced. Year after year, millions of school kids are initiated into it by textbooks that remind them of Nehruís ecstatic declaration at Bhakra Nangal ...

First Narmada valley project dedicated despite protest ;
Central Chronicle; Oct 25, 2002

... Defying strong opposition by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the first irrigation project of Narmada valley, Maan Irrigation Project, with estimated cost Rs 142.27 crore is almost complete. In fact, the Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav directed the officers to expedite construction work so that it could be completed soon. ...

Drought as teacher ;
The Hindu; Oct 22, 2002

... What is required now is to take a three-dimensional view of groundwater and see each aquifer as a common property resource. ...

Rs 3.42 cr MPSEB scheme for oustees approved ;
Central Chronicle; Oct 20, 2002

... Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav reviewed the progress of rehabilitation works connected with Narmada Valley Development Projects. Yadav, who is also the chairman of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), approved a Rs 3.42 crore scheme prepared by MP State Electricity Board (MPBSE) for the supply of electricity to 14 rehabilitation sites where Sardar Sarovar Project oustees are to be rehabilitated. Yadav was reviewing the progress of projects under NVDA at a review meeting held here the other day. ...

Water Ministry pays lip service to people's participation ;
The Hindu; Oct 18, 2002

.... The Ministry of Water Resources' consultation with NGOs and experts on an action plan on the National Water Policy here today turned out to be a mere lip service. Of the 60-odd select NGOs invited, only about 20 turned up. They too were outnumbered .....

Water policy plan draws flak ;
The Times of India; Oct 17, 2002

.... The water resources ministry may be hankering to evolve an action plan for what it describes as the "effective implementation" of the national water policy, 2002 which was adopted by the National Water Resources Council headed by Prime Minister Vajpayee in April .....

CM orders review of Narmada project ;
The Times of India; Oct 13, 2002

.... Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has ordered a cost-benefit review of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada river. In a meeting held with representatives of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) last week, Mr Deshmukh said the state would not invest any more money in the project till the review is complete. ....


The Narmada dammed ;
Sucheta Dalal;Rediff; Oct 23, 2002

Other Dams

Sold down the river ;
Guardian; Nov 09, 2002

Work on TTD's sub-surface dams apace ;
The Hindu; Nov 08, 2002

China's Three Gorges dam ;
Guardian; Nov 07, 2002

President to lay foundation of Myntdu Leiska hydel project ;
The Assam Tribune; Oct 23, 2002

Dams threaten Cambodia's "floods of fortune" ;
Environmental News Network; Oct 22, 2002

Feature Article: What A Lovely Water War! - Dilip D'Souza

Rediff - Oct 14, 2002

Had they been two belligerent countries, recent words and deeds in two populous southern states might make you think that they were going to war. A man drowns himself; demonstrators attack vehicles registered in the other state and trains heading there; films are banned; the two chief ministers speak about each other in terms reminiscent of graffiti in public toilets.

And all this, over water.

What could be more mundane, and yet more fundamental to life? Far and away the most abundant substance on our planet, the irony of water is that it is getting ever scarcer for ever more of us. Yet an even greater irony may be that it probably doesn't have to be so scarce. It's the hare-brained way we use it that makes it so. If that doesn't change, we can look forward to more than just toilet talk by chief ministers.

If you thought that the Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu was a recent one, think again. There have been arguments over the water in that river for two centuries now. Tribunals and agreements, imperial powers and homegrown governments, all have come and gone, but one thing doesn't change in the southern reaches of our country: the tension over the Cauvery water. Some eight years ago, to much fanfare, Jayalalithaa even went on a farcical chief ministerial fast to force a settlement. Farcical, because solicitous -- or shall we say pliable -- doctors pronounced her too ill to continue fasting, if I'm not mistaken, within a few hours of when she first declined food. But farcical most of all because it brought no resolution of the wrangle.

As we know today.

The dispute is simple. Karnataka wants to use the water in the river for irrigating its water-starved areas. Dams have been built on the Cauvery for this purpose; effectively, they control the flow of water in the river. This worries Tamil Nadu. For its farmers who depend on the Cauvery for water are really dependent on how Karnataka releases water through those dams.

But what complicates things is that water from dams is traditionally used thoughtlessly. This is because it is supplied to farmers at absurdly low rates. They pay nowhere near what it has cost to bring it to them, nowhere near what would make them use it wisely. As a result, they pour it onto their fields with abandon, growing water-intensive crops like sugarcane and cotton in areas which, left to themselves, might even be worthless for agriculture. A team from the Cauvery River Authority reported on a trip along the river recently that "field[s] not best suited for sugarcane cultivation had been planted with sugarcane." (The Times of India, October 8).

This is typical. But by no means is it a phenomenon unique to India. The American southwest, for example -- the states of New Mexico, Arizona and California -- is really no more than an enormous desert. But it is also now one of the great cotton and fruit-growing areas of the world. Thanks to rivers dammed and their water brought from hundreds of miles away, you can find vast fields of cotton there, besides miles of fruit and vegetable orchards. To use this water, farmers pay, in some cases, less than a thirtieth of its true cost.

The problem in India, as in the USA, is that if farmers were told in advance that they would have to pay the actual cost of the water they use, they would not support building the dams that supply them the water. Thus if governments want to build dams -- and few governments can resist the temptation to do so -- they must promise to heavily subsidise the water they will supply to farmers. So farmers get water so cheaply that they have no incentive whatsoever to use it well. This is why dams invariably encourage the waste of water. (Another irony here is that a major argument to build dams is this: how can we allow river water to flow "wastefully" into the sea?)

This is what has happened on the Cauvery. Using cheap water from dams on the Cauvery like Mettur and Kabini, farmers in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu grow crops like sugarcane in abundance. At times of scarce rains and lower flows in the river, they feel threatened. Naturally. How will they feed those constantly thirsty stands of sugarcane? How will they earn enough to eat, to live?

Spurred on by the breed of politicians who put them in this situation to begin with -- by delivering practically free water to them -- they channel their frustration across the state border at people who speak another language. So in Karnataka, Tamils become the villains; cross the border to find that Kannada-speakers are rogues. Almost as if the problem lies in the language rather than in the myopic approach to river water. (How many of our vexing problems would we have to actually solve, as opposed to learning to point fingers at convenient scapegoats, if we all spoke one language?)

A solution to this impasse is impossible as long as it is left solely to politicians, who have their own professional compulsions, to find one. I don't mean this only in the sense that it is hard to rely on politicians. I mean it also this way: that as long as water remains a political tool, we will have wrangles over the Cauvery.

So what's the answer? The only one that occurs to me, and it won't happen at rock-bottom rates, is to make water-users think about the water they use. This removes politics and its practitioners from the equation -- though I feel sure they will look for ways to climb back in. It also gives tangible shape to the idea of paying fairly for water.

Two Pune scientists, Suhas Paranjape and KJ Joy, once suggested just such a scheme as an alternative to the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river. They proposed

"to make the availability of [Narmada] water conditional on the adoption, by the beneficiary villages, of regenerative, sustainable and equitable water use, thus opening up a path to self-sustaining prosperity." As a condition for getting water, they wanted farmers to adopt an alternative cropping pattern that would make best use of that water. About one third of the water would be devoted to food grains; another third to agro-forestry; the last third would be used for 'marketable produce' like fruits and vegetables. This way, beneficiaries would give over part of their land to what Paranjape and Joy called 'permanent vegetative cover.' As they wrote:

"We have therefore included the provision of permanent vegetative cover on 1/3rd of the service area as one of the minimum conditions to be accepted by the water users' group in return for the provision of basic service." I don't mean to pronounce that this is the definitive answer to Cauvery, or Narmada. But I do mean to draw your attention to the philosophy behind this proposal. Think of the value farmers will place on water when it comes to them not at absurdly low rates, but with conditions like these attached. Think of the value of making users of water aware of the responsibility that using water places on them.

Think, finally, of what such an approach to water might do to numbingly familiar conflicts on the Cauvery.