In his first mega gift to the home state Gujarat, prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday granted permission to raise the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada to its full height of 138.62 metres. This is also first major policy decision of the 10-day old BJP-led NDA government.
Clearance to install 16.7-metre high sluice iron gates on the dam to reach the full height needed for hydropower generation came from the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that was holding it back since past eight years despite repeated pleas of Modi as then Gujarat chief minister.
The decision comes after many years of clasic conflict between the pro-environment and pro-development groups which has attracted attention of green groups the world over. Social activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan chief Medha Patkar who led a herculean struggle against the project for nearly two decades said the decision was not taken in a democratic manner. The NBA's stand is that around 2.5 lakh people are affected in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh from this dam
"The decision has not been taken in a democratic manner. The government has not consulted the ministries concerned. The government has neither given us any hearing nor has it taken any time nor made any attempt to know the ground reality, before deciding to go forward with Sardar Sarovar Dam construction to its final height. Can the height be raised in violation of law?" Patkar questioned.
Union Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharti, however, denied these allegations. Bharti said the decision to raise the height of the dam was taken based on the report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on the rehabilitation of displaced people.
"Social Justice Ministry has given its report and they are 100 percent satisfied…. All the responsibilities they have to commit they have done. They have full satisfactory report in this meeting today. That is why the decision was taken by the Water Resources Secretary," said Bharti while adding that the four States, which are concerned over the issue, were also consulted over the issue before the final decision.
Clearance of the dam's height is only one part of the demand of the Gujarat government. The Sardar Sarovar Project needs hefty funding to lay down canals since the dam water is yet to reach more than half of it command area. Sixty per cent of the total 75,000 km of major and minor canals to reach the dam water to far off places is pending.
The cement concrete works up to 121.92 metres was completed back in December 2006 and all that remained was putting the gates on it. Modi ordered clearance after Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel reminded him about the pending demand yesterday.
Officials of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam Limited (SSNL), who accompanied the chief minister Anandiben Patel, gave a presentation to the Water Resources Ministry officials on funding required for launching the mega work of laying down the network of canals. They also sought a commitment from the Centre to reimburse 90 per cent of the cost since it is an inter-state project that qualifies for such grants under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) as also the Desert Development Programme (DDP).
The mega dam conceptualised by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel back in 1947. Its foundation was laid by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961 but a dispute between the governments of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh led to formation of a tribunal that gave award only in 1979.
The actual construction began in 1987, only to be stalled again in 90s. The Medha Patkar led NGO Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) launched a massive agitation and then knocked at the door of the Supreme Court to stop the dam at 85 metres in 1995. The NBA is again active against clearance to the full height of the dam. .
Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has already commenced work on the dam today itself after the clearance. She had recently met Modi urging him to intervene in the matter.
When the decision came, Anandiben Patel left a programme in Junagadh to the dam site. "Heartfelt gratitude from the people of Gujarat to PM Narendra Modi. The decision pending has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa Gaye hain!!," she later tweeted.
While activists like Patkar questions the efficiency and requirement of dam, the government authorities feel that the Sardar Sarovar Project comprising of dam, canal network for irrigation and hydro power station, is one of the largest water resources project of India covering four major states - Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan – will benefit lakhs of people.
As per the government, the project envisages hydro-power generation of 1450 MW to be shared by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In addition, it will provide irrigation benefits to 17.92 lakh hectares in Gujarat and 2.46 lakh hectares in Rajasthan. The government claims that benefitted areas covered are desert and drought prone Kutch, Saurashtra in Gujarat as also Barmer and Jalore in Rajasthan. The Project is also expected to supply drinking water in 135 urban centers and 8215 villages in Gujarat and two urban centers and 1107 villages in Rajasthan.
As per the government of Gujarat, the lead time required for the works would be around 30 months.