(Above: Fish workers protesting with black flags in boat rally on Oct 8, 2017 when Prime Minister came to lay foundation stone for the Bhadbhut Dam)
Guest Blog by MSH Sheikh
The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) is managing the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat over River Narmada. Recently the Narmada Control Authority has allowed the closing of all 30 gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the river Narmada at Kevadia Colony, which will help raise level of water in the reservoir to 138.68 meter from the present 121.92 metre. The decision will help swell the dam’s live storage from 1.27 million acre feet (MAF) to 4.73 MAF.
However, despite the increase in capacity of the dam the release of freshwater downstream from the dam is very less, when it is there, compared to the flow in the River 10 years back. The Dam authorities believe that the release in the downstream is wastage of the fresh water, they have no value for the 150 km of Narmada River downstream from the dam. Now they are building Garudeshwar Dam, downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, so that they can stop even water released during power generation at River Bed Power House to flow downstream to the Narmada estuary.
The authorities have no study or plan to sustain the river downstream of the dam with continuous release of freshwater. The decrease in water flow has resulted in the devastation of environment and ecology of River Narmada, Estuary and the Gulf of Cambay. The Narmada is the biggest west flowing river which had the continuous freshwater flow necessary for the fish breeding throughout the year. The flow has come down drastically which is merely 20 meters at present at Chandod in winter in the downstream of Dam, when the width used to be 250-300 m before the dam. The non release of the fresh water has made the tidal water intrusion much deeper than before. The salt water is affecting the farmer and fisherman. The farmers on the river bank cannot take the river water for agriculture as it has no dilution of freshwater. Tidal effects are depositing the silt in to the mouth of river from Bharuch to Dahej creating the various islands of mud in last few years. The morphology of the river and riverbed is totally changed due to the decrease of river flow.
There was a delta of river Narmada when the Sardar Sarovar dam was not constructed which was called Aliyabet having lush green “AAL” grass. The villagers of the northern and southern portion of the river were grazing the animals on it. After the construction of dam and non release of adequate fresh water the delta of Narmada has totally disappeared. The southern portion of the delta has merged with land and created a desert. Very less area now has tidal effect. The decrease in the river water level has made the entire estuary very shallow. The fishermen are having no adequate depth inside the estuarine mouth. Uneven topography is permanently changing the River Estuary and Delta. So the dam has played major role in changing the geographic condition of the entire area and reduced the freshwater fish, reducing the fish catch in the delta hugely, already.
The fisherman who were fishing before the dam from Hansot to Kantiyajal in 20 kms stretch in southern portion of the delta are having no river at all as it is merged in land and became the desert. The Pagadiya fisherman has to go 20 kms away from their native village for fishing in coast situated at west side. Now the boat fishing is limited between the Dahej to Bharuch region which was previously available on both side of the river and in the creeks network in delta. The dam has changed the entire coastal ecology while creating permanent long term effects on topography. No mangroves are available on the Aaliya bet and No Aal grass is available in the 40 sq kms area of delta which was lush green earlier. The Pagadiya fisherman has permanently lost more than 50 sq kms of inter tidal zone on which they were dependent for fishing before the SSP dam.
Proposed Bhadbhut Dam and its impact The proposed Bhadbhut Dam project which is supposed to be part of the Kalpasar project is planned with these aims:
- To protect the fertile land from salinity ingress
- To protect the river banks from erosion and
- To provide the road connectivity between Hazira and Dahej industrial estates.
The reduced release of water from the Dam has resulted in hugely reduced river water flow and right now in the downstream the river is mostly dried up and lost its characteristics as a river. The river banks are filled with silt and it has lost its natural beauty. To sustain the fresh water in the river and the development of the religious Ashrams, the state govt has proposed this Bhadbhut dam to reduce the impacts caused by their illegal act of non release of adequate water from Sardar Sarovar dam.
The location of Bhadbhut dam is falling within the CRZ area. The map prepared by National Center for Earth Science Studies Thiruvananthpuram, one of the authorized agency of MOEFCC has shown the CRZ area very deep inside the up steam of the proposed site. The present EIA report and maps are showing the end of the CRZ line at Bhadbhut village, which is totally wrong.
The fisherman are opposing the Bhadbhut dam as they are fishing in the flowing river during tidal water in the river and estuary. The closer of the estuary at Bhadbhut will shorten their fishing ground and breeding ground of Hilsa fish which is one of the major fish species in Narmada river and estuary. The movement of the water flow will stop, which will result in stopping of breeding of the species which requires the brackish water area where the salinity varies. The Macrobrachium Rosernbergii prawn which come from fresh water to estuary for breeding will not breed in fresh water reservoir. So the species loss will be a major threat to riverine environment. The Nikora region is tribal belt and people are collecting some of the seeds of this prawn and sell for their livelihood by traditional methods. They will loose their livelihood and resources completely if the Bhadbhut dam is built. The dilution is totally nil in the estuary as no fresh water flow is there. In this situation the continuous round the clock release of the chemical effluent in to the River mouth is worsening the water quality. There is huge water pollution from Ankleshwar, Jhagadia, Panoli and Dahej industrial estate reaching the estuary through subsea pipelines. So the fishery is at risk in present scenario and after the proposed dam it will further worsen the situation.
There are about 25,000 fish workers in the Narmada River, Estuary and coastal part of Bharuch Dist. The barrage will separate the estuarine and riverine system permanently. The fish ladder proposed will not serve the purpose as only the fish will pass through it but will not find the brackish water in the dam and its breeding cycle will not be complete. So the future of Hilsa and Prawn is at risk and this species may face existential problems.
The dam will also create very high siltation in the mouth of estuary which will create problems of un even surface in breeding- fishing zone and navigational problems for fishing boat. The major economic threat is due to the creation of reservoir of fresh water as the freshwater has limited number of fish species and its market rates are very low – Rs 80 to 100 /kg in comparison to estuarine species which fetches between Rs 300 – 1200 /kg with varied range of fish. The fisherman are opposing the barrage project as their very livelihood is at stake. They had no option but to oppose the laying of the foundation stone of the Bhadbhut Dam on Oct 8, 2017 by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi at Bharuch. The fisherpeople took out boat rallies with black flags and the fisherwomen took out silent march.
On World Fisheries day on Nov 21, 2017, we appeal to the Gujarat and central government to:
- cancel the Bhadbhut dam,
- Ensure sufficient flow in Narmada river downstream of Sardar Sarovar and proposed Garudeshwar dam all round the year to not only ensure stoppage of salinity ingress and dilution for pollution, but also survival of fisheries livelihood for the thousands of fisher people
- Compensare the fisherfolk that have already suffered due to the reduced flow of water in Narmada river downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam since the reduction of flow.
We hope the authorities will listen to the just demands of the over 25 000 fish workers dependent on Narmada river, but also listen to the need of the river and biodiversity of the river.
MSH Sheikh (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Brackish Water Research Centre, Surat