Sept 17, happens to be birthday for India’s Prime Minister Naredrabhai Modi. We join the Nation in wishing him Happy Birthday.
But the Prime Minister has also decided to celebrate his 2017 birthday by declaring completion of the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), as several media reports announced[i]. To achieve this, the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam are closed. The reservoir behind the dam is being filled up to raise water level that was so far at maximum of 121.92 m, to Full Reservoir Level of 138.68 m. This will lead to submergence and displacement of habitat of over 40 000 families of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, when their rehabilitation, as required by law, has not happened.
On the other hand, as Suresh Mehta, former BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat, no less, has said[ii], as also NBA and many others including SANDRP[iii] have been saying, Gujarat is not even in a position to use the additional water that would be available due to increase in height of the dam. This is because Gujarat has not constructed the canal network that would take that water to the planned command area in drought prone regions of Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. In fact, the whole project is justified in the name of these regions, but water is going to the Central Gujarat regions, including Ahmedabad (even the water that you see in Sabarmati is Narmada water), Vadodara, Bharuch and Khaira, including Urban and industrial use. This region, that is already water rich, and also socially, politically and economically powerful, is going to become even more powerful.
The 150 km stretch of the river Narmada downstream stands completely destroyed as there is very little water that reaches the delta, which is the case even in monsoon this year. The livelihoods of the 10000 fisherfolk families depending on the fish they catch at the estuary, stands completely destroyed, but there is not even any discussion about any compensation for them, leave aside the question of any rehabilitation.
So the completion of SSP also is accompanied with destruction of the river, biodiversity, people, forest and livelihoods of so many people.
Fill up the SSP by any means! In fact, till Aug 8, the water level of SSP had not crossed the current allowed level of 121.92 m, the water level started rising slowly thereafter. However, the inflow of water from upstream was so low that water level of SSP crossed a meter higher at 122.92 m by Aug 28. In fact, as per the Daily Status Reports of Narmada Control Authority[iv], inflow into SSP Dam suddenly jumped from 495 cumecs (Cubic Meters per second) on Sept 12, to 2518 cumecs on Sept 13, 2383 cumecs on Sept 14 and 2210 cumecs on Sept 15, in anticipation of the birthday, so that when Narendrabhai visits the dam site to formally declare the project complete, the reservoir is seen to have substantial water. Expectedly, SSP water level rose from 126.19 m to 128.5 m by 8 am on Sept 15. How was this made possible?
Madhya Pradesh depletes its water storage so that SSP looks full on Sept 17? The increased inflow into SSP was made possible only by increased outflow from upstream Madhya Pradesh dams like Indira Sagar Project (ISP) on Narmada. ISP, incidentally is India’s largest reservoir in terms of storage capacity.
So the ISP storage level which was already low (about 33%) on Sept 11, was depleted by further 400 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) from Sept 11 to Sept 15, while SSP water level rose by 550 MCM during the same period. All this, so that water level at SSP could look more respectable on Sept 17. Its not known why Madhya Pradesh is ready to lose water from its low storage levels (in fact, the water level at Omkareshwar Project on Narmada is below Minimum Draw Down level throughout this period).
Will Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and MP Govt be held accountable for this by the media and the people?
The abnormally low water levels at ISP and Omkareshwar is also apparent from the abysmally low Power Generation this year[v]. According to CEA (Central Electricity Authority) figures, the 1000 MW ISP produced just 2.97% power in August 2017 compared to Aug 2016 and 520 MW Omkareshwar generated 8.3% power in Aug 2017 compared to same month last year. For the period April to Aug, ISP generated 34.45% compared to the power generated in the same period last year and figure for Omkareshwar for the same period is 42.07%. Funnily, Madhya Pradesh has further sacrificed its water and power availability from these projects for SSP to have respectable storage when the Prime Minister visits the Dam on Sept 17!
Even at SSP, the 1200 MW River Bed Power House has produced NO POWER AT ALL during Aug and Sept (till date). The 250 MW Canal Head Power House too has produced in Aug 2017 21.65% of power compared to the same month last year. For the period Apr-Aug 2017, CHPH has produced 60.95% of power it produced during same period previous year. This means that to fill up the reservoir, even Gujarat is being kept thirsty for water!
Protests all over, but is Judiciary listening? As expected, all this led to protests in Narmada Valley and outside[vi]. One expected that at least Judiciary[vii] and Media would come to support the cause of the displaced population, even if they tow the government’s pro dam line. In Narmada Valley, People are on Jal Satyagarha. But unfortunately, those hopes have also been crushed even in the face of clear evidence of injustice and violations.
As scores of citizens of Gujarat have written in a letter to the President[viii] on Sept 15, 2017, “What an irony! The Narmada Festival and Celebrations incurring crores of rupees, and Gujarat is still thirsty, Madhya Pradesh submerged and Maharashtra troubled! We the Indian citizens from Gujarat painfully raise this question: Why is it happening? We are concerned and therefore protest such festivities brazenly and shamelessly celebrated in the name of the Narmada.”
The Nation would also like to know, is this what you stand for, Narendrabhai? Does this illustrate what you are and what you stand for? We are sure you can find a happier way to celebrate your birthday?
Can you make the occasion a happier one for all? Narendrabhai, it is certainly possible. You can declare tomorrow (Sept 17) morning when you go to the dam site, that: 1. Water level at SSP will not be allowed to be raised further; (2) The water stored above 121.92 m will be used up As soon as possible; (3) Water level behind SSP will not be allowed to be stored above 121.92 m till all the affected people have been properly rehabilitated and the canal network in Gujarat is completed. All the gates will remain open till then.
Sir, this not be a loss to ANYONE, but Gain for EVERYONE, including you. We all hope you can do this as a Birthday gift to the nation.
[i] For example: http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/pm-narendra-modi-to-inaugurate-worlds-2nd-biggest-dam-on-his-birthday-1751142?pfrom=home-topstories, though typically, the reports were highly inaccurate, SSP is not the World’s second biggest Dam, and its work did not start in 1961, but that is another story.