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The Projected Objectives of SSP and the Feared Impacts

SSP is the costliest and the most massive multi purpose project taken up in our country so far. According to the claims of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam Ltd., the apex body constituted to oversee the implementation of the project, 1.8 lakh hectares of land will be irrigated by this project along with the generation of 1450 MW of electrical energy. More than the raw figures, the promise of providing water to the 40 million people in the Kutch and Saurashtra part of Gujarat and the Barmore and Jallur districts of Rajasthan (which are described as perpetually drought affected) remains the most attractive objective of SSP. But there are many in the world, not only environmental activists and human rights supporters but many highly competent economists, pIanners and technocrats who along with the directly affected oustees from the SSP view this as the most horrendous social, economic and ecological designed disaster being implemented in the world today. The following few highlights though like the proverbial tips of the iceberg themselves are shocking enough:

Does this project actually bring under agricultural production more land than the better quality land submerged or otherwise taken out of socially productive use?

The SSP and the NSP together will destroy more than 1,27,000 hectares of fertile agricultural lands and rich natural forests directly through submersion. The more than 75,000 km long canals of SSP, the most extensive network of irrigation canals in-the world envisaged so far, would alone require more than 80,000 hectares of land. Over and above so much of productive land permanently destroyed ,there will be the enormous extent of land needed for the project colonies, power houses, power lines, roads, quarries etc. This enormous land modification is being carried out currently with absolutely no environmental impact assessment, without paying any heed to directives from the Supreme Court, directions from the NWDT nor following the guidelines of the Ministries of Environment and Social Welfare.

Are the areas proposed to be irrigated through SSP really capable of supporting intensive canal irrigated agriculture?

The land which is being submerged is actually the most fertile lands which had been under cultivation for centuries under fairly stable and viable landuse which never needed artificial irrigation. On the other hand extensive stretches of the Command Area where water is proposed to be taken through the costly canals are areas with black cotton soils, highly susceptible for waterlogging or very dry sandy soils susceptible to salination.

Is it really ever possible to successfully relocate and rehabilitate such a large human population belonging to fragile, distinct, diverse cultures?

The SSP reservoir will directly destroy under submersion 37,000 ha. of land. Canals, weirs, dykes, colonies for project staff, land to be protected immediately around the vicinity of the reservoir to prevent siltation, and for compensatory afforestation, forest land which will have to be developed into a Wildlife Sanctuary after evicting the local resident tribal societies will all together result in the displacement of more than 10 lakh people. A very significant proportion of the population which will be displaced are tribal societies. These tribal groups with very distinct cultural identities cannot easily adapt to any means of survival and in any place other than what they had been traditionally accustomed to. Our past experience and the current trends leave no doubt as to the fact that there is neither the political will nor the land or money even to merely physically resettle them. In today's cruel competitive world we all know that once such fragile human societies so deep rooted in their surroundings are uprooted they perish in no time. We can forcefully relocate communities but we can only rarely rehabilitate even individuals and never for sure human communities of such complex dimensions.

Are there objectives for the SSP other than those stated ?

A close look at the SSP proposal brings to light basic technical fallacies, exaggerated notions of water availability etc. which makes it appear as though the proponents of the project were doing their level best to make it out as a profitable investment. This itself casts doubts on the professed objectives of the very project. Even in planning the project, it appears as though no one was intending for an equitable allocation of the benefits from the project along with upholding social justice. The first project proposal populistically promised many things such as making available drinking water for cattle to the extent of 30 litres per cattle per day. But the final proposal does not mention allocation of drinking water for cattle at all. Although it was mentioned earlier that there would be fixed ceiling for irrigation water for sugarcane (a crop consuming disproportionately more water than any other), this provision was not mentioned ever again. But already licenses for seven new sugar factories have been issued in the command area.

What is going to be the actual final cost?

The almost certainty of the fact that in spite of the enormous investment even a small fraction of the professed objectives cannot be achieved becomes obvious to anyone. It is clear that economically SSP is going to be a gigantic losing investment. According to the World Bank's current estimates the construction costs of SSP alone will come upto about Rs.34,000 crores. Independent estimates put the figures as high as Rs.44,000 crores. The drinking water supply schemes linked up with the augmented water availability are not included in this figure. After the withdrawal of the World Bank and the Japanese Government monetary assistance, even if all the money earmarked in the Gujarat's Five Year Plan for irrigation and electricity generation are diverted for SSP it will not be adequate to complete the project. As it is, SSP spending is 53 - 63% behind schedule and it consumes 80% of Gujarat's irrigation budget. Only about 10 - 20% of the total project costs has been spent so far and hence it is wrong to conclude that the project is now a fait accompli and cannot be reviewed. The SSP cornered mass support in Gujarat by promising a permanent solution to the severely drought affected Gujarat particularly Saurashtra and Kutch. Although the project authorities have liberally promised waters for the whole of Kutch and Saurashtra, if the anticipated quantum of water becomes available (which itself is uncertain). The project promises drinking water for 948 villages in Kutch and 4877 villages in Saurashtra. But surprisingly there are only 877 inhabited villages in Kutch and 4727 villages ! Apparently in their generosity the project authorities were inflating all the figures which could have depicted SSP as a most desirable developmental measure. Earlier the water was promised by A.D 2025. But more recent advertisements prepone that date to A.D.2000 itself, knowing fully well that even the sketchiest of plans nor fund sources for drinking water supply schemes are yet to be invented. It is now obvious that the project itself will never get completed nor will water flowing through the canals ever reach these villages located at the very extreme tail end of the distributaries. At the same time work on the dam continues taking away all the money badly needed for rural developmental schemes in Saurashtra and Kutch including drinking water supply schemes which would have fructified immediately. On the other hand the SSP canals will remain promises for decades yet to come and the chances are that they may never materialise at all in Saurashtra!

Beginning of Organised People's Resistance

Gradually over the last few years, individuals, many small local groups and organisations such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) supported by scientists. technologists, economists, social scientists and some politicians along with global environmental organisations have studied critically all aspects of the SSP and generated a considerable amount of information which is adequate to make any one of us take a stance against the project. Going beyond opposing this project, the path of enquiry of this movement is now leading to critically opposing the consumer culture, lifestyles and goals of modern civilization, the inequality and injustice which have become so much a part of the current world order and suggests as an alternative vision for the future a life of simplicity, frugality, tolerance based on biospherical justice. But the most potent issue which has drawn attention to the project and precipitated public resistance to it is the inhuman way in which the project affected people are being dealt with. The SSP is at present a boon for a handful of contractors,officials and politicians. In future if completed it may be profitable for a few more people. But from the very first day of implementation of the project all through there is a growing multitude of very ordinary poor people whose lives have come crashing down.

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