What separated Maheshwar Ghats on the mighty Narmada from most other rivers I have seen was the sheer gaiety and joy which people were experiencing, jumping in the Narmada. The beautiful, jutting steps of the ghats were designed (and used) like diving boards by men, boys and women. For someone who had just seen a dry Godavari and drier rivers of Marathwada, this mirth was therapeutic. Ferry Boats and laidback ferrymen were relaxing on the river, bobbing up and down rhythmically. In the distance was a tiny sailboat, held together by white fluttering sails, zipping through the waters at a startling speed without the din of a diesel engine. A fisherman and his daughter were returning to their village, taking stock of their catch.. Occasional fish rose above the waters and glistened in the evening sun. Continue reading “नदी के बदले नदी दे सकते है? ..on Maheshwar, Narmada and fishing communities of India”
Jawaharlal Nehru who famously celebrated large dams as “temples of modern India” later termed them as “disease of giganticism”.[i] The fascination wore out after witnessing the huge sacrifice of the vulnerable and unfulfilled promises. Government of India however has continued with the worship of giant structures such as big dams, ports, hydropower projects etc. Even after nearly seven decades of independence, ‘engineering approach’ still dominates the idea of river planning which views river as an entity to be engineered and planned for irrigation, hydropower, industrial and urban water use rather than as a living eco-system. 17 study models that were displayed at Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS) open house day at Khadakwasla near Pune on June 14, 2016, its completion of 100 years of existence, stood testimony to this. Continue reading “CWPRS: A 100-year-old institute remains uni-dimensional; has no achievement to show”
The State will now seek a Rs. 4,300-crore package for providing succour to over 16,000 drought-affected villages. Earlier State Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Eknath Khadse had declared over 14,708 villages drought-affected. He now said that the State’s assessment by October 31 showed that drought-like conditions also prevailed in 1,420 villages in Buldhana district in Vidarbha, and they would be added to the list of drought-affected villages.
People of a village in Morigaon district of Assam fish in groups to celebrate ‘Kati Bihu’ on Sunday. The festival is closely related to agriculture, celebrated on the first day of the Kati month of the Assamese calendar. It is that time of the year when paddy grows in the fields and cultivators work hard for a good harvest.— Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar, The Hindu
Sardar Sarovar Dam gates can’t be closed till last person displaced is rehabilitated: SC.
CIC tells centre to give Polavaram project info to RTI applicant
Scrap Renuka dam if Centre-HP row can’t be sorted out: SC
State orders release of Godavari water to drought-hit Marathwada
HC Bombay directs inquiry into release of Gangapur dam water for Shahi Snan at Kumbh Mela
Bhama Askhed dam project: Agitation turns violent
Pinjal-Gargai dam project in Mumbai faces protests
Amid heated arguments Nashik Municipal Corporation approved additional Rs 36cr for Makane dam plan
Nothing covert about it: We think of northeast India only as a frontier (12 June 2015) BRILLIANT and yet VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING piece from Nitin Sethi: “Take the case of dams in Himalayas. The religious value of Ganga for us in the mainland forces governments to at least pretend to save the river and the people around it from the contract and concrete driven madness. But the same governments do not think twice about displacing entire cultures that flourish in the Brahmaputra basin building the same bumper to bumper dams on the Brahmaputra basin, bending rules regulations and policies for ‘strategic interests’. The irony is lost on us when we cordon leftover lands of these cultures in ‘compensation’ for the loss of ‘India’s’ wildlife and forests to the inundation that follows… We govern their homelands like a frontier – sending out-of-favour governors and officials on punishment postings.” http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/nothing-covert-about-it-we-think-of-northeast-india-only-as-a-frontier-115061200799_1.html
Hydropower: Down to a trickle (10 June 2013) Uttarakhand flashflood put a fresh spanner in the works amid concerns over climate change and its impact on rainfall and on river flow and its patterns, which in turn may have an impact on plans for hydropower generation. Most of India’s hydropower potential falls in seismic zone 5, a region classified as highly vulnerable to high-intensity quakes. Even among green projects, hydro takes top billing. In March, during the first half of the Budget session, power, coal and renewables minister Piyush Goyal admitted in the Lok Sabha that uncertainties in the hydropower sector were keeping investors away. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/hydropower-down-to-a-trickle/#sthash.72LEpqvn.dpuf
NORTH-EAST: Activists in Arunachal Pradesh oppose Centre’s plans to build dams on Siang river (12 June 2015) Very apt: “”on the one hand you are diligently busy in Clean Ganga and Save Ganga and on the other hand you are planning a disaster on Siang sitting at Delhi. ” The forum’s general secretary Oyar Gao also raised the issue of the river’s sanctity saying that the Siang is referred to as Aane (mother) in the same manner as Ganga Maiya.” http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/47642482.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
Pungent fishy smell is the first thing that grabs your attention in Bhadbhut village in Bharuch District of Gujarat, which lies on the estuary of the mighty Narmada River, as it meets the Arabian Sea. Every alternate shop in every small lane sells fresh fish and by 11 in the morning, first lot of fresh fish is ice packed in thermocol boxes, all set for far off places like Kolkata and Delhi. Before I was told, I saw for myself that fishing in the Narmada Estuary is the backbone of coastal Bharuch district.
Just 5.15 kilometers from here is the planned Bhabhut Barrage on the Narmada River. What will happen to Bharuch if barrage is constructed? This is the reason why I am here. To understand the implications of this barrage on lives of thousands of fisherfolk from this estuary and on the famed Hilsa fish, that mysterious silver river migrant, on which the fishing economy depends nearly exclusively.
Hilsa is a marine fish that arrives in the brackish water of estuary for spawning normally inhabiting the lower region of the estuaries and the foreshore areas of the sea. For India the peak upstream migration of hilsa in most of the rivers is generally in the monsoon months of July and August and continues upto October or November.
Bhadbhut barrage will be constructed at 5.15 km downstream of village Bhadbhut and 25 km upstream of river mouth. It is part of a gargantuan Kalpasar project pushed by the State Government. Kalpasar (pragmatic critics hold that Kalpasar is in fact an abbreviation of Kalpanic Sarovar, an imaginary reservoir) project which is supposed to be one of the biggest in the world proposes to construct a 30 km long dam (one of the longest in the world) across the Gulf of Khambhat between Bharuch and Bhavnagar districts[i]. The reservoir is supposed to trap the water of twelve rivers that empty their water in the gulf, including Narmada, Mahi, Sabarmati, Dhadar and some Saurashtra rivers. It is expected to create a reservoir of 2000 sq km area, over five times the area of Sardar Sarovar, the reservoir capacity is expected to be over 10 billion cubic meters, that is larger than the SSP reservoir capacity. The project is being pushed ignoring serious issues like hydrological-geological-structural feasibility and needless to say, it’s impacts on environment and fisherfolk. The project will destroy the coastal and deltaic fisheries and wetlands.
As SANDRP has been highlighting for some time now, riverine fisherfolk are one of the most disadvantaged and deprived sections in the dam debate throughout the country. It is no different in Narmada. Livelihood of the fisherfolk from Narmada Estuary has been threatened by several industrial estates established across the district and is now on the verge of being destroyed. Yield of Hilsa has been steadily decreasing (from 15319 tonnes to 4866 tonnes during 1993 to 2004[ii]) since commissioning of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) canal and power house in 2006. SSP is built on the Narmada River about 130 km upstream from the estuary. Another dam, Garudeshwar Dam, is under construction downstream from SSP.
Are people here in the estuary aware of the scale of the Kalpasar project? What do these local fisherfolk have to say about this? How have they been coping with the impacts of SSP?
On the lack of study of the downstream environment, the first paragraph from the chapter on this issue from the report of the Independent Review of the Sardar Sarovar Project instituted by the World Bank is worth quoting in full [iii]:
“From the Sardar Sarovar dam to the ocean, the Narmada River runs for 180 kilometers through a rich lowland region which represents about 10% of its catchment area. In the course of our environmental review we sought information that described the ecology of this lower reach of the river, the estuary, and near shore region in the Gulf of Cambay. We hoped to find a description of the aquatic ecosystem, including parameters indicating the quality and quantity of water and its seasonal changes, biological species, processes, and resource linkages. We looked forward to finding a systematic treatment of flow regimes and geomorphology. We expected to find systematic documentation of resource use, from drinking water to fisheries. We thought there would be documents establishing the kinds of physical, biological and socioeconomic changes to be expected as the Sardar Sarovar Projects are brought on stream and more and more of the natural flow is stored, used or diverted out of the river. We looked for a set of ameliorative measures that would be implemented to mitigate impacts. We thought these measures would be scheduled to begin with phased development of the Sardar Sarovar Projects. We hoped they would also be related to the cumulative effects of other developments on the Narmada further upstream, in particular the Narmada Sagar Projects, and to the expansion of industrial activity in the downstream rive basin in Gujarat itself.
In all our expectations we have been disappointed.” (Emphasis Added.)
The paragraph speaks eloquently and what it says it true even till date.
Eager to find answers to these questions, I along with Bhupat Solanki a volunteer from Paryavaran Mitra, an Ahmedabad based NGO, first met Praveen Madhiwala, a fish trader and exporter. As I explain the purpose of my visit to him, his first reaction is “if the dam at Bhadbhut comes up, Hilsa will be finished. Not only that, but the dam will prove to be destructive to the entire estuary.” He explains, “Tidal flow of water spreads 60 KM from sea shore to upstream of the estuary. They are planning to build the barrage just 25 KM upstream of the sea shore. What will happen then to the incoming salt water during high tide? It is bound to spread laterally along the barrage spreading in the coastal region and will be destructive to the settlements along the coastline. Calculating all these numbers on paper is very different than experiencing the destructive power of sea. We know what the sea can do.”
Destruction of Hilsa and other fish by Sardar Sarovar
Kamalesh Madhiwala, an advocate from Bhadbhut adds further. “Yield of Hilsa has drastically reduced after Sardar Sarowar Dam has been built. There has been a reduction of 65 to 70%. Overall water level of the estuary has gone down. Post monsoon the river becomes so dry that we can walk across the riverbed. This had never happened in the past before Sardar Sarovar.” When asked about the claim by Narmada Control Authority that it constantly releases 600 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the dam[iii] to maintain the health of the river and the estuary, he says “We don’t think water is released from the SSP. There is no mechanism to monitor this. If you approach government they will show you on paper that they release 600 cusecs of water every day. But no one maintains the on ground data.” According to him the SSP has affected overall fish variety of the estuary as well. “A decade ago there used to be 70 to 80 types of fish varieties available in the estuary. Now we get only about 10 to 12 fish varieties. Earlier along with Hilsa many other riverine species like Prawns, Mahseer etc. have been commercially equally important which Sardar Sarovar has vanquished. Now the fisher people’s income is solely dependent on Hilsa which is very sensitive species. Reduction of water flow in the river immediately affects the yield of Hilsa. Even though Hilsa is available only for about 4 months of the year, 70% of the income of fisherfolk at present is from sale of Hilsa alone.”
Farcical EIA of proposed Bhadbhut barrage by NEERI
Kamalesh Bhai also points out several lacunae in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report that National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has prepared for Bhadbhut Barrage. “The entire study has been an absolute farce. First of all none of the local people were aware of any such study going on. It also grossly underestimates the total population of fisherfolk that will be affected by the Bhadbhut dam.” The report considers the total number of fisherfolk residing in 21 villages to be 12,638 based on more than a decade old data from Census 2001.[iv] According to Kamlesh bhai the actual population residing in the estuary region whose livelihood will be affected by barrage is close to 35 to 40 thousand!
SANDRP had sent detailed critique of the EIA to the Gujarat State Environment Impact Assessment Authority before the public hearing for the project held on July 19, 2013. An excerpt from the critique:
“Unclear objectives of the project The objectives of the project stated in the EIA of the project are:
- Protection of water quality of Narmada river from salinity due to tidal influence and checking the problems of salinity ingress and deterioration of ground water quality in the upper reaches of Narmada river;
- Storage of the regulated release of water from SSP and runoff from free catchment for irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply;
- Flood protection of about 400 sq km low lying area covering 17 villages on the left bank of river Narmada;
- and Road connectivity between left and right banks, shortening route from Surat/Hajira to Dahej region.
The EIA agency has uncritically accepted these objectives, without assessing if the barrage with low water storage can really fulfill the second the third objective and considering the low salinity level reported by the EIA (mainly based on data provided by the project authorities, again uncritically accepted by NEERI), is the first objective relevant. The fact that the Kalpsar department played such an important role and the fact that it is public knowledge that the barrage is part of the propose Kalpsar project should have been taken note by NEERI. NEERI should have also questioned as to why is this small part of the larger Kalpsar project applying for such piecemeal clearances which is actually in violation of the Supreme Court orders. It should be added here that the Kalpsar project had applied for the TOR clearance from Union Ministry of Env and Forests. The project came up before the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects. SANDRP had then sent a letter to the EAC, saying that based on information provided, the project should not be considered for clearance. In its 41st meeting in Sept 2010, the EAC declined to give TOR clearance to the project, saying that the documentation provided are highly inadequate and need to be more holistic and uptodate pre-feasibility report needs to be provided. The project there after has not gone back to EAC.
However, a small part of that same project, the Bhadbhut barrage is now proposed before the Gujarat State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (http://seiaa.gujarat.gov.in/).”
An edited version of letter about the inadequacies of the EIA report sent from Paryavaran Mitra director to Gujarat Pollution Control Board which has been published by Counterview states that the report fails to assess severity of impact on Hilsa and other migratory fishes and instead tries to imply that fishing activity is only a part time employment for fisher community, which is entirely incorrect.[v] The report proposes fish ladder as a mitigation measure with no specific details. Fisherfolk are not impressed. “Tell me madam, have you ever seen a fish climb a ladder?” asks Kamlesh bhai laughing.
While a fish ladder may or may not work (it is not likely to work for Hilsa and other important fish species, it has not worked anywhere in India so far), the fisher folk are not wrong in ridiculing it. Fish ladders have never been taken seriously by the proponents who put them in. Case in point is Farakka Barrage in West Bengal, where too, a fish lock was supposedly made for Hilsa. It has not been operated for over a decade and current officials have no idea that such a thing exists.
“The NEERI EIA is a complete copy paste job. It has several incidences of plagiarism. It mentions names of places that are found nowhere in this region. This region also comes under PCPIR[vi] project. The PCPIR EIA report does not talk about impact on Hilsa at all!”- Bhupat Bhai adds. “That’s true” says Kamlesh Bhai. “Even after the NEERI completed the report none of the local people had any idea about the project and its impacts. Now we are raising awareness. On 7th July 2014 local fisherfolk organized a protest rally at the District Magistrate office and more than 4000 fisher people were a part of this. This is our fourth rally opposing the project.” When asked if any compensation is being offered for those getting affected by the barrage, I am told none. According to them in the entire argument about the barrage, its impacts etc. there is absolutely no talk about compensating the fisherfolk. They also raised their voices in the public hearing of the project. 1500 farmers and fisherfolk attended the public hearing on July 19 and walked out soon after sharply registering their protest against the proposed project and naming it as “anti-people”.[vii]
When we arrive at Praveen Macchi’s house, his door is adorned with images of Silvery Hilsa. His family has been involved in fishing from generations. When asked about estuary’s overall condition after SSP he confirms the facts stated earlier by Praveen Bhai and Kamalesh Bhai. “We don’t think water is released from SSP and even if it is, it is so meagre that it is nearly useless. The estuary receives water only when the dam overflows. In 2014 the dam overflowed only once which was as late as September. Other than dam overflow only other source of water is releases from River Bed Power House of SSP, leakage from below the dam wall and some water from downstream streams.” Fish yield of this year is about 30% lower than last year when the estuary received water from dam overflow 4 to 5 times in year. “Now water from SSP has been diverted for hydropower generation. After power generation at Canal Head Power House water is released into Narmada canal instead of river/ estuary.”
Pressures on Narmada estuary and livelihoods of thousands
When asked as to how does the Hilsa survive without freshwater water released in the estuary, Praveen Bhai explains “As of now Hilsa arrive at least during monsoon as the river stretch of 130 KM holds rain water. If Bhadbhut barrage is built there will be no free flowing river stretch to support fish breeding. Yield of Hilsa will be hard hit and so will be the fishing industry. Entire population dependent on fishing will lose its livelihood.”
Praveen Bhai told me that the fisher people’s cooperative ‘Bhadbhut Matsya Udyog Sahakari Mandali’ is preparing to file a Public Interest Litigation challenging the barrage project. Is livelihood of more than 30000 people getting affected reason enough to argue for stoppage of the project? Will the courts understand this implication? They did not when impact of SSP on fisher people was argued earlier. Let us hope judiciary is more sensitive to the fisher people’s issue this time.
Praveen Bhai further informs that the overall salinity of the estuary has gone up due to severely restricted freshwater flow into the estuary. Fish diversity has reduced and riverine fish movement is obstructed due to SSP (Sardar Sarovar Project). Hilsa which would be available till December – January is now seen hardly till September as the salinity levels rise rapidly after monsoon. Says Praveen Bhai: “Narmada has been Hilsa’s favoured habitat. Earlier Hilsa was found in Tapi estuary near Surat as well. But after the Ukai dam was constructed only 2 to 5% of Hilsa arrive at the Tapi estuary. Lives of fisherfolk in the estuary have been devastated. The problem of livelihood of these people became so serious that there are instances where women of the community had to get into prostitution.”
The Narmada estuary is already facing growing pressures from industrial estates. Bharuch District has 13 industrial estates with 137 medium and large scale units of chemicals, textiles, plastics, fertiliser related industries etc. Industrial estate of Dahej which is in close proximity to Bhadbhut releases its untreated effluent in the sea near Bharuch. This is affecting the overall water quality of the estuary. Praveen Bhai points out to a very peculiar phenomenon. A completely different genre of crime has evolved in the industrial estates near Bharuch where youth blackmail the companies when the companies discharge untreated effluent into the sea. The companies, hand in glove with police, bribe the blackmailers for keeping quite. Effluents meanwhile go untreated in the river and sea. This is also true of effluents from Ankaleshwar and other industrial estates. The SSP has worsened this situation due to drastic reduction in freshwater flow that earlier used to dilute the industrial, urban and other effluents.
Concerns of fisherfolk We now move towards the banks of Narmada to meet artisanal fisher people there. Boats which can contain upto 5 to 6 people are parked along the banks. Since it is a noon time, hurry burry of fish packing is settling down. One by one tempos from the market are arriving and picking up the packed fish. As we talk with a bunch of fisher people, their worries and concerns tumble out. Several issues emerge while talking to them.
“Government is all set to build a dam destroying our livelihood. As it is government is not extending any kind of support to us river fisherfolk. No bank provides us with loans” one of them speaks.
“Yield of fish has also reduced due to reduced water level of the estuary. Sea water gets contaminated by the untreated effluent that Dahej & other Industrial estates disposes in the sea. This sea water that is highly contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals enters estuary during high tide. This polluted water has also affected the overall fish quality and there is hardly any freshwater from upstream to dilute it because of the dam. Earlier single Hilsa fish used to weigh more than two kilograms. Now it hardly weighs one to 1.25 kgs” says another one.
“With all this polluted water how will the fish grow? It naturally starves” says yet other.
“If Bhadbhut Barrage comes up, Hilsa will no more come here. Our livelihood will be destroyed. Government is not even offering any compensation. No one has been compensated for the impact we have already felt due to the SSP.” They all keep talking anxiously.
They further inform that several farmers in Bharuch who have lost their land in PCPIR project or other industrial estates have shifted to fishing creating more stress in the industry that is already facing a steep decline. Farmers, who are new fisherfolk lack the traditional skills or patience and often fence the estuary and sea with fishing nets in hope of catching Hilsa, which prevents the fishermen’s traditionally used small boats from entering the sea. As they speak, every concern raised is met by a nod by the entire group.
Contrary to this scenario the EIA report summary by NEERI states “… the fresh water storage in upstream of the barrage will provide a favourable environment for intensive fresh water fishery and provision of fish ladder with shiplocks would enhance the fishery activities and fetch greater economic benefits to the people.”[viii] Fisherfolk when asked about this conclusion show the other side of the argument. Fisheries department floats tender for fishing in the dam reservoir. Only big contractors can afford to obtain the contracts. “It’s not a job for small fishermen like us. If the dam comes up all these small boats you see will vanish” they say.
Other than the threatened livelihood, the fisher families in the estuary are also facing several other issues. Wells of fresh water now contain saline water. Many of them used to rely on Narmada River for drinking water. Since the river has gone dry after SSP, they no more receive drinking water from Narmada River. As the water from the estuary has reduced, the wells which have traditionally been an important source of drinking water are now dry or saline. Villages which are closer to the sea are experiencing saline water and also polluted chemical water ingress. “Many of us are having skin problems because we have to go in the chemical water.” I wonder with fishing industry plagued with so many problems if younger generation is at all willing to continue in the same occupation. When asked about this they tell me that for now the traditional skills is the only real education the younger generation has.
Many of them have protested the project at the public hearing. “We all are opposing the dam. Building dams might to do good for contractors, but what about us? Are we not people?” they ask.
The proposed Garudeshwar Dam on Narmada immediate downstream of SSP will further stop the water flow to estuary as it is designed to pump back to SSP the water released from River Bed Power House. The fisherfolk here do not know about this, nor has the government bothered to tell them or do any impact assessment or prepare any rehabilitation or management plan. The only hope is the petition lying before the National Green Tribunal against the Garudeshwar Dam.
I come back with more questions than answers. Praveen Bhai’s home, with his welcoming door adorned with the silvery Hilsa remains in my thoughts for a long while.
Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP email@example.com
(Based on field visit September 2014 by the author.)
[iii] Page 277, Sardar Sarovar: The Report of the Independent Review, Resource Futures International Inc, Canada, 1992
[iv] P. 10 of Executive Summary of EIA Report by NEERI
[viii] P. 15 of Executive Summary of EIA Report by NEERI
There is a rush of riverfront development schemes in India. We have heard of Sabarmati Riverfront development being drummed many times, followed by the proposed rejuvenation of Ganga, supposedly on the lines of Sabarmati.
What does Riverfront Development entail? Is it River Restoration? Are the millions of rupees spent on Riverfront Development schemes justified? Will it help in saving our damaged rivers?
A cursory glance at the existing river restoration/ improvement/beautification schemes indicates that the discourse revolves mainly around recreational and commercial activities. It is more about real estate than river. Activities that are promoted on the riverfronts typically include promenades, boat trips, shopping, petty shops, restaurants, theme parks, walk ways and even parking lots in the encroached river bed.
Pioneering project in Riverfront Development was claimed to be the Sabarmati Riverfront Development project of Ahmedabad city which was supposed to be designed based on riverfronts of Thames in London and Seine in Paris. The project which began as an urban development project is lately being pushed as a role model for many urban rivers in India. This kind of riverfront development essentially changes the ecological and social scape of the river transforming it into an urban commercial space rather than a natural, social, cultural, ecological landscape. Is it wise to go for this kind of development on riverfronts? What does it do to the river ecosystem, its hydrological cycle? What does it do to the downstream of river? These questions need to be explored before accepting the current model of riverfront development as replicable or laudable.
Reclaim and beautify!
Most of the currently ongoing projects lay a heavy emphasis on beautification of rivers. Riverfronts are treated as extension of urban spaces and are often conceived as ‘vibrant’, ‘throbbing’ or ‘breathing’ spaces by the designers. Concrete Wall Embankments, reclamation of the riverine floodplains and commercialization of the reclaimed land are the innate components of these projects. Quick glimpse at various Riverfront Development Projects confirms this.
Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project
Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project of Ahmedabad city which is presented as a pioneer in urban transformation has been proposed by Environmental Planning Collaborative (EPC), an Ahmedabad-based urban planning consultancy firm, in 1997 and envisaged to develop a stretch of 10.4 km of the banks on both sides of the river by creating concrete embankment walls on both banks with walkways. A Special Purpose Vehicle called the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd. (SRFDCL) was formed in the same year for implementation of the project. The financial cost of the initiative was estimated to be in the range of around INR 11520 million. Around two thirds of this amount has already been spent.
Construction of the project started in 2005. The project sought to develop the riverfront on either side of the Sabarmati for 10.4 kms by constructing embankments and roads, laying water supply lines and trunk sewers, building pumping stations, and developing gardens and promenades. Mainstay of the project was the sale of riverfront property. Land along the 10.4 km stretch on both the banks was reclaimed by constructing retaining walls of height ranging from 4 to 6m. 21% of the 185 ha of reclaimed land which was developed by concretizing the river bank was sold to private developers for commercial purpose. Activities hosted on this reclaimed land were recreational and commercial activities like restaurants, shops, waterfront settlements, gardens, walkways, amusement parks, golf course, water sports and some for public purpose like roads etc. The sale of reclaimed land created by the project is expected to cover the full cost of the project. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) claims that the after the project “river has added vibrancy to the urban landscape of Ahmadabad with its open spaces, walkways, well-designed gardens along with activities which contribute to economic growth.”
Even though the project has been modeled as “best practice” by several financing institutions, it has also drawn severe criticism for poor rehabilitation of the displaced (rehabilitation happened only after High Court orders following a public interest petition) disrupting the nexus of shelter, livelihood and services of urban poor, lack of transparency in the execution and for tampering with the carrying capacity of the river. No Environment Impact Assessment of the project has been conducted nor any credible public consultation process held.
Sabarmati channel has been uniformly narrowed to 275 metres during the riverfront development project, when naturally average width of the channel was 382 metres and the narrowest cross-section was 330 metres. In this attempt of “pinching the river”, the original character of the river is changed completely from seasonally flowing river to an impounded tank illegally taking water from Narmada Canal. River banks have been treated as land that is wasted on which value could be created by reclaiming and not as seasonal ecological systems with floodplains as an integral part of its flows (Baviskar 2011). Seasonality of the river is destroyed and fauna and avi fauna on edges have been damaged. No thought has been given for protection, sustenance or enhancement of the riverine ecosystem. The water that is now impounded in this stretch is not even Sabarmati river water, but Narmada River Water, on which the city of Ahmedabad or Sabarmati has no right, it’s the water meant for drought prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat.
The River Sabarmati itself was a perennial river till the Dharoi Dam in the upstream stopped all water at least in non Monsoon months, making the river dry. The stretch flowing through Ahmedabad was carrying the mostly untreated sewage of Ahmedabad city and toxic effluents from the City and district industries.
In the name of Sabarmati River front development, no cleaning of the river has happened, the project has only transferred the water from both banks to the river downstream from Vasna barrage, which is situated downstream from the city. The Vasna barrage stops and stores the water released from Narmada Main Canal that crosses the river about 10.4 km upstream from the barrage. Thus this 10.4 km stretch of the river now holds the Narmada water and huge losses from the stretch are losses for the drought prone areas.
The reclaimed land and the narrowing of the channel have been tampering with the carrying capacity of the river. The project was stalled during August 2006 to March 2007 due to heavy floods. Prior to the floods, the river’s maximum carrying capacity was calculated at 4.75 lakh cusecs on basis of the rainfall over last 100 years. The floods however proved the calculation wrong. National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) and Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IITR) were asked to re-evaluate the project design, in the light of the river’s carrying capacity, and see whether the execution of the project would damage the river’s ecology. Report by the NIH, Roorkee in 2007 said “the calculations did not take into account any simultaneous rainfall over the entire catchment area”. This means that the carrying capacity was based only on the water flow from the Dharoi Dam (which is upstream of Ahmedabad City) and not from other places in the river’s catchment until Ahmedabad that also contribute to the volume of water in the Sabarmati. This report states that the riverfront development is “not a flood control scheme”, and that the municipal corporation will have to work out other measures to meet the impending challenge of floods.
The project is also heavily criticized for the poor rehabilitation of the evicted slum population. Large scale eviction was being carried out in an utmost non-transparent manner. A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Gujarat High Court by Sabarmati Nagarik Adhikar Manch (SNAM) or Sabarmati Citizens Rights Forum, supported by several other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to ensure that the rehabilitation plan was shared with them and to bring transparency to the process. According to the high court orders, at least 11,000 affected families were to be rehabilitated and resettled by AMC. Demolition drive went on without ensuring rehabilitation. Over 3,000 people have moved to a marshland in the outskirts of city with negligible compensation, little & infrequent access to drinking water and minimal sanitation facilities.
“The ecology of the river is being transformed to satisfy the commercial greed of a select few,” said Darshni Mahadevia of CEPT, expressing concerns about riverfront ‘beautification’.
The project that has converted the Sabarmati River into an urban space by reclaiming nearly 200 ha of land and has sustained by borrowing water from Narmada Canal today is claimed to be a role model for many riverfront development projects in the country. Should this model really be replicated? Many of the rivers like Yamuna, Ganga, Mithi, Brahmaputra etc. that are being ‘developed’, have had a flood history which is being ignored in the process. With having no regards to the hazards of floods, several riverfront projects are being pushed across the country by different government agencies.
The fact that even after a Riverfront Development Project, Water Quality of Sabarmati downstream the Vasna Barrage is extremely poor and the cosmetic treatment of flowing water stretch at Ahmedabad is actually water from Narmada, which was promised for the drought hit regions of Kutch and Saurashtra, highlights the contradictory and superficial nature of such Riverfront development schemes.
Yamuna Riverfront Development inspired from Sabarmati Model
Recently the newly elected BJP led Central Government sent a team of bureaucrats to Gujarat to study the feasibility of replicating the successful model of the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project for cleaning the Yamuna. Despite the concerns about flooding of Yamuna, the team is exploring ways of replicating Sabarmati Model. In 2009, the Sheila Dikshit administration was also planning channelizing the Yamuna and putting up a waterfront like Paris and London with recreational facilities, parking lots and promenades etc.
Reclamation of the floodplains to create a concrete riverfront, like in Ahmedabad, could be ecologically unsound and even dangerous for Delhi that is already extremely vulnerable to floods. The sediment load in Yamuna is very high. The non-channelized river rises by over four metres during peak monsoon flooding. Risk of flooding will increase multifold for a channelized river. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change last year put Delhi among three world cities at high risk of floods. Tokyo and Shanghai are the two other cities.
An expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) to examine the Yamuna River Front Development Scheme of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) recommended that DDA should scrap its ambitious plan for developing recreational facilities, parking lots and promenades.  The committee was formed following order from National Green Tribunal which was drawn in response to a petition filed by activists and Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan convener Manoj Misra. The committee pointed out that recreational spots located in active floodplain areas would kill the river and cause floods in the city. About the Sabarmati Model Being followed, CR Babu, Chair of the committee said: “There is no Sabarmati river. It’s stagnant water with concrete walls on two sides. The floodplains have been concretized to make pathways and real estate projects. It cannot be replicated for our Yamuna”.
The committee report says the Yamuna Riverfront Development scheme will reduce the river’s flood-carrying capacity and increase flooding and pollution and it recommended a ban on developmental activity in the river’s Zone ‘O’ and its active floodplains on the Uttar Pradesh side. It also said that a 52-km stretch of the Yamuna in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh be declared a ‘conservation zone’ as restoring the river’s ecological functions is heavily dependent on the environmental flow through this stretch, particularly in the lean season.
Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, dismisses the Sabarmati solution saying “We cannot call it a Sabarmati model… It’s like a mirage created for a brief stretch. Let’s be clear about it. If the Delhi bureaucrats have gone there to learn from the Gujarat model, it’s up to them to figure out if it can be implemented. I cannot call the Sabarmati project a river rejuvenation project – it’s more of a real estate project… That is not advisable for Delhi.” 
Another important aspect which does not feature at all during the talks of Yamuna Riverfront Development is the massive displacement that will take place. Over a dozen unauthorised colonies are located on the riverbed. These colonies which have been in existence for over 40 years will have to be uprooted which again may lead to Sabarmati like situation where urban poor are brushed aside to serve interests of real estate developers and urban middle class.
City of Noida on the other hand has decided to go ahead with the Rs 200 crore Yamuna Riverfront Development Project that Greater Noida Authority (GNA) has been planning. The project involves developing recreational facilities like parks, Yoga centres, picnic spots and sports centres, polo grounds, golf course etc. on Hindon and Yamuna floodplains. Officials from GNA claim that these facilities will be for recreational purpose and will be developed without disrupting the natural flow of Yamuna. Here again the project has nothing to do with sustaining, cleaning, rejuvenation of the river.
Ganga cannot be ‘developed’ as Sabarmati
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a promise during his election campaign in Varanasi to clean up Ganga. The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) was shifted from the environment ministry to the water resources ministry. New name for the Ministry of Water Resources is Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation. Uma Bharati was assigned with this specially created ministry for cleaning Ganga by the PM. “If Sabarmati can be cleaned, all other rivers can also be made better.” print media has quoted Uma Bharati. Ms Uma Bharati seems to have no idea that Sabarmati has NOT been cleaned, the Sabarmati project just transferred the polluted water downstream of the 10.4 km stretch. Can Sabarmati Model be replicated at Ganga? Even if it is replicated, will it help the cause or river or river rejuvenation? The answer is clearly a BIG NO. A number of apprehensions have been raised in this regard. “The so-called Sabarmati model won’t work for the Ganga. The Sabarmati has neither been cleaned nor rejuvenated,” Openindia News quotes Himanshu Thakkar, environmentalist and coordinator of SANDRP. He further points out that
Sabarmati Model survives on water from Narmada canal in the stretch of 10.4 km which flows through the Ahmedabad city. This is not possible in case of Ganga.
Priority for the river rejuvenation is restoring its water quality, freshwater flow and not riverbank beautification. More than Rs. 5,000 crore (some estimates this figure to be over Rs 20 000 crores) has been spent on cleaning the Ganga in the past 28 years. The Ganga Action Plan was launched in 1986 and was in 1994 extended to the Yamuna, Gomti and other tributaries of the Ganga. The second phase of the Ganga Action Plan was launched in 2000 and NGRBA was created in 2009. The plan however has not achieved what it set out to achieve. Water quality for Ganga River has been declining and is unfit even for irrigation or bathing. Potable use is out of question. The count of harmful organisms, including hazardous faecal bacteria, at many locations is more than 100 times the limit set by the government. The water’s biochemical oxygen content, which is vital for the survival of aquatic wildlife, has dipped drastically. Any “cosmetic treatments” will not work for Ganga, like they have not worked for Sabarmati.
Several Riverfront Development Projects springing up across nation
While there are experts opposing replication of Sabarmati Riverfront Project on Ganga and Yamuna River, there are several other riverfront projects which are inspired by the Sabarmati Project and which are being pushed without any kind of studies or impact assessment. Their possible impacts on the riverine ecology, flood patterns, downstream areas etc. are going unchecked.
Brahmaputra Riverfront Development Project: Another “multi-dimensional environment improvement and urban rejuvenation project” that is set to come up with plans for reclaimed river banks is on Brahmaputra River in Guwahati. While on one hand the city is struggling to cope up with the flood prone nature of the Brahmaputra River, State Government of Assam plans to take up an ambitious project to develop the city riverfront named ‘Brahmaputra Riverfront Development Project’ under the Assam Infrastructure Financing Authority. The riverfront project will be implemented by the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) in phases. Foundation of the beautification project was laid by the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in February 2013. The project plans to achieve maximum possible reclamation.While the plan talks of revitalization of the river ecology and Strengthening of riverbanks through soil bio engineering it has several urban features on its agenda like promenade, Ghats, Plazas and Parks; buildings, conference facilities, Parking lots, ferry terminals, Bus and para transport stops, Urban utilities and drainage, Improved infrastructure for floating restaurants, Public amenities; Dhobi Ghats, etc.
Will such a huge real estate development leave any room for river or its revitalization?
Tendency to flood is an important feature of River Brahmaputra. The river also has one of the highest sediment loads in the world. Every year during the successive floods, most of the areas in the valley of Assam remain submerged for a considerable numbers of days causing wide spread damages. In a phenomenon as recent as June 27, 2014 Guwahati experienced heavy downpour for 15 hours, setting off flash floods. Half of the city was submerged under flood water. The authorities blamed illegal encroachments on watersheds across the state capital for the flash floods, which had choked the natural outlets for the gushing water. National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Roorkee; upon being requested by the GMDA; is carrying out a study which includes river shifting analysis for studying stability of the river banks, flow variations to determine the perennial water depth, estimate of floods of various return periods for design of river embankments, estimate of water surface profiles employing hydro-dynamic river flow model and design parameters for river embankments. The Bramhaputra Riverfront Development Project however has been inaugurated even before the requisite studies have been completed.
Gomti Riverfront Development Project in Lucknow: The project by the Lucknow Development Authority is based on the Sabarmati Riverfront Model. It plans to “beautify” Gomti River between Gomti Barrage and Bridge on Bye-pass road connecting Lucknow-Hardoi road and Lucknow-Sitapur road, a length of about 15 Km. According to the Technical Bid Document released by the Lucknow Development Authority, the Riverfront Project has no component of water treatment or river restoration, but is a landscape-based development project, which will also look at “reclaiming” the river banks for activities like shops, entertainment area, promenades, etc. The inspiration for the project swings from Thames Rivefront in London, to Sabarmati in Gujarat, depending on the political party in power.
In all this discussion, there is no mention of maintaining adequate flow in Gomti, treating sewage, conserving its floodplains, or any other ecological angles.
River Improvement and Restoration are also about real estate!
For many government agencies, ironically, not just river beautification, but the idea of river improvement and restoration is also about channelizing rivers and providing recreational facilities.
Pune Rivefront Project: Pune Municipal Corporation, the Pune city also known for chronically polluting Mula and Mutha rivers that flow through the heart of the city, has sanctioned a River Improvement Project, under the aegis of JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission). The Project envisages channelizing the river, introducing barrages to maintain water levels, development of riparian zone as entertainment and shopping groups, even Parking lots, introducing navigation in the river etc. There are several issues with this “improvement” project. Firstly, it is not planned according to the once in a hundred years flood in Pune, it plans to constrict the river further, thus encroaching the riverbed. Creation of stagnant pools through barrages will result in backwater effect on the many nallahs that join the river. These Nallahs routinely flood in rainy season and additional backwater in these nallahs will worsen the situation further. The project does not say a word about treating water quality, but envisages to build drainage lines inside the riverbed and carry the sewage out of Pune city limits. This hardly qualifies as river rejuvenation or restoration. A case has been filed against this project in National Green Tribunal.
Goda Park (Godavari Riverfront Project) in Nashik, Maharashtra: Godavari emerging from the Brahmagiri Hills in Nashik is famed not only for being one of the longest rivers in India, but also because Kumbh Mela is held on its banks every 12 years in Nashik. Nashik and Trimbakeshwar have had no dearth of funding for cleaning Godavari. They have received funds from the National River Conservation Directorate as well as JNNURM. Despite this, Godavari is extremely filthy in Nashik. Ignoring the pressing issues of water quality, Nashik Municipal Corporation and a specific political party have been hankering after beatification of Godavari’s banks. In fact, the project has been handed over to Reliance Foundation by the Nashik Municipal Corporation without any public consultations or discussions. As per reports, the components of this 13.5 kms long project will be laser shows, musical fountains, rope-way, multi-purpose meeting hall, garden, water sports, canteen, etc.
In the meantime, there are several court orders against Nashik Municipal Corporation pending about severe water pollution in the River including Ram Kund where holy dip on Kumbh Mela is supposed to be taken.
Mithi Riverfront Development: Stretch of 18 km of Mithi River flows through city of Mumbai. Course of Mithi has been modified throughout the city to host range of activities. On 26 July 2005, the river flooded some of the most densely populated areas claiming nearly 1000 lives.
After these catastrophic floods, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) made a plan to “restore” the river. BMC and MMRDA’s definition of restoration involves desilting, beautification and building of a retaining wall. Stretch of 4.5 km of the total six km stretch of the river that falls within MMRDA’s jurisdiction is covered with mangroves. MMRDA has planned to beautify the stretch of remaining 1.5 km (10 Ha) which lies right amidst mangroves by developing a promenade. MMRDA plans developing this project on a PPP (Public Private Partnership) basis. Interestingly, the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Foundation and Standard Chartered bank have been selected for this project.
As per the Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) of the area, the proposed Mithi Riverfront Development Project falls in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) II and III. The proposal was presented to CRZ authority in its 82nd meeting on 10th June, 2013. CRZ authority has not allowed any reclamation or construction activities in this stretch. For Widening, lengthening & reconstruction of the existing bridge CRZ has referred the proposal to MoEF and asked MMRDA to take prior permission of High Court if the proposal involves destruction of mangroves.
Observer Research Foundation, a private, not for profit organization (funded by Reliance India) from Mumbai has come up with a study that recommends a 21-point programme for reclaiming the Mithi, envisaging a single and unbroken river-park corridor spanning across the entire 18-km length of the Mithi with dedicated bicycle tracks, gardens, amphitheatres, sports and recreation.
Riverfront Development is NOT River Restoration
As is evident, the riverfront projects discussed above are essentially river bank beautification & Real Estate Development projects and not helping restoration of the river. The projects aim at comodifying rivers to develop urban scapes. Such riverfront development changes the essential character of the river. Stream channelization and alteration of shoreline disconnects the river stretch from adjacent ecosystems and leads to risks of habitat degradation, changes in the flow regime and siltation.
While the water of the rivers flows in the natural landscapes, there are many processes that are happening. Sediments are carried, fertile land is created along the banks, river channel is widened, flooding, deposition of sediments during flooding, cleansing of river etc. However the urban rivers are alienated from this natural landscape to such an extent that the rivers are reduced to merely nallas carrying city’s sewage and filth.
Flow, connectivity and flood are fundamental characteristics of rivers and rivers need space for that. If these are violated the river water spreads uncontrolled through the habitation causing catastrophic events like Mithi Flooding.
Creating more room for rivers
While Indian cities are busy replicating Riverfronts of Thames and Seine, there are some remarkable projects going on in some other countries which actually talk of giving more room to the rivers during floods. They are trying to restore the river and not beautify, concretize, channelise or encroach on it.
In the Netherlands, such an integrated approach has been adopted for ‘Room for the River Program’. The program is currently being implemented in the Dutch Rhine River Basin of the country.
The programme started in 2006 is scheduled to be completed by 2015. The objectives of the programme are improving safety against flooding of riverine areas of Rivers Rhine and Meuse by increasing the discharge capacity and improving of spatial quality of the riverine area.
At 39 locations, measures will be taken to give the river space to flood safely through flood bypasses, excavation of flood plains, dike relocation and lowering of groynes etc. Moreover, the measures will be designed in such a way that they improve the quality of the immediate surroundings.
While Room for the River programme focuses on flood management in sustainable way, Yolo Bypass is another unique initiative aimed at keeping intact the benefits to the ecosystem without causing a negative impact on water supply. The Yolo Bypass is a flood bypass in the Sacramento Valley located in Yolo and Solano Counties of California State in USA. The primary function of the bypass is flood damage reduction. It is a designated floodway that encompasses 60,000 acres in eastern Yolo County between the cities of Davis and Sacramento. All the properties within the bypass are subject to a flood easement that allows the state to flood the land for public safety and ecological benefit.
Riverfront of Thames in London and Seine in Paris are often cited as successful models of riverfront development in India. However, the ecological as well as social setting of Indian rivers and the challenges that we face are significantly different from these foreign models. A Blind replication will only be wastage of public funds and degradation of the rivers further. Riverfront development projects across the country seem to be alienated from the river, and talk only about its urban banks, trying to achieve cosmetic changes on deeper wounds by encroachment and real estate development on the belly of the rivers. The need of the hour is river rejuvenation and not river FRONT development. Let us hope that we see central place for rivers in all these projects. Moreover, there is neither any social or environmental impact assessment, nor any regulation or democratic participatory decision making process. Such projects will only be at the cost of the poor, the environment, future generation and to short term benefits of real estate developers and a section of urban middle class.
Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP (With Inputs from Himanshu Thakkar & Parineeta Dandekar)
An edited version of this article has been published at: http://indiatogether.org/gujarat-sabarmati-riverfront-development-model-for-ganga-yamuna-environment
 The Mumbai airport has its domestic and international terminals, and its cargo complex along the Mithi River. There are five major railway stations along the Mithi River including Mahim and Bandra on the western line andSion, Chunnabhatti and Kurla on the central line. The upcoming V ersova-Andheri-Ghatkopar corridor of the Mumbai Metro project that also crosses over the Mithi River has two stations planned along the Mithi River at Marol and Saki Naka. There are also several bus stops located close to the river all along its banks.
 The proposal was cleared subject to compliance of following conditions
(i) The proposed construction should be carried out strictly as per the provisions of CRZ Notification, 2011 (as amended from time to time) and guidelines/ clarifications given by MoEF time to time.
(ii) Disposal of debris during construction phase should be as per MSW (M&H) rules. 2000.
(iii) Tidal flow of river should not be obstructed.
(iv) The project proponent should obtain prior High Court permission, if the proposal involves destruction of mangroves or construction falls with 50 nil buffer zone.
(v) All other required permissions from different statutory authorities should be obtained prior to commencement of work
 Nature Conservation by Ketki Ghate, Manasi Karandikar
1 September 2014
Sushri Uma Bharati
The Honourable Minister
Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
Government of India
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Shri Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
2. Shri Alok Rawat, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and ex-officio Chairman of the Narmada Control Authority
3. Shri A. Mahendran, Executive Member (Additional Charge), Narmada Control Authority
We the undersigned are deeply concerned about the recent decision of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam by 16.76 metres taking the height to the designed final height of 138.68 metres.
We think this decision of the NCA is unjustified and unwise. 1) It will cause huge additional displacement, when rehabilitation of the people affected even at the current height is incomplete. 2) As everybody agrees and experience has shown, even at current height, Gujarat is in a position to take the water stored to virtually any part of the designed command area, and can draw its share of water as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) award. Moreover, it has been able to utilise only a small portion of the water available at current height. So there are no compelling reasons for raising the height on this count.
Under these circumstances, the decision taken by the newly formed government at the centre and the NCA to raise the height of the dam within two weeks of oath by the new government is a hasty, unwise and disastrous decision. We earnestly appeal to you and the government to immediately withdraw the decision to raise the height of the dam.
More importantly, the issues related to the dam have festered over more than 30 years of its troubled history because governments have tended to take a legalistic stand rather than initiate an inclusive dialogue on the substantive issues about the project amongst all concerned, particularly those adversely affected. We appeal to you to start such an inclusive process of reflection and dialogue to arrive at a broad social consensus on four critical issues about the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) as outlined below.
1. Height of the dam: What is the height of dam needed for Gujarat to utilise its share of Narmada waters and take water to all its designated command? As already mentioned above, Gujarat is in a position to take water anywhere in the designated command area. There are studies and alternatives which indicate that Gujarat may be able to utilise its share of Narmada waters at current height and no further height increase may be required on this count. Doing away with the installation of the 16.8 meter high gates does not have any structural implications for the dam. So far as power generation is concerned, major power benefit is transitional, falling off as the states utilise their share of water and final residual power benefit is small. Moreover, even today, as per Central Electricity Authority (CEA) figures, at current height SSP generated 5,882 Million Units of Power in 2013-14, which is more than what SSP was envisaged to generate. The biggest beneficiary of power generated at SSP is Madhya Pradesh, but it forms a small percentage of its present power capacity and generation while virtually the entire brunt of massive displacement has to be borne by it. So, it may be optimal for Madhya Pradesh to trade off much of its transitional power benefit with the greatly reduced submergence and displacement with a dam at the current height. Thus there is a distinct possibility that optimal solutions exist at current height and they need to be explored.
2. Equitable distribution, sustainable use and participatory and efficient management of stored water: Given the ability to carry water to all parts of Gujarat at current height, it is more important to concentrate on issues of how water is used now. Criticism on these counts comes from some of the strongest proponents of the project. The project has been criticised, among other things, on account of gross underutilisation of the stored water, irrigation water not reaching the drought prone areas of Kachch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat, diversion of water for unplanned uses (for example, river front development, urban and industrial use south of Sabarmati), non existence of water users’ associations (WUAs) for most part of the command, lack of proper drainage in the command area, and inefficient and inequitable use.
3. Status of displacement and rehabilitation: There is a large gap in the perceptions and articulations of state and various groups and individuals including those from the adversely affected, both about the exact numbers involved as well as about the quality of rehabilitation. While the authorities have generally been claiming satisfactory rehabilitation, there is every indication that the rehabilitation even at current height falls quite short of what is legally required or what basic human justice demands. Since the submergence and displacement that would take place between 121.92 metres and 138.68 metres would be massive, there is every indication that effective rehabilitation would be intractable and virtually impossible. It becomes much more urgent to bridge this gap and come to a consensus on the actual extent and quality of rehabilitation already carried out before causing further massive displacement.
4. Environment and Climate Change: Environment and climate change issues that are important in the long run have not been given due attention. Downstream impacts of SSP on environment and livelihoods have not been properly assessed, environment-flows and requirements have not been studied and management plans have not been formulated or implemented. Climate change experts emphasise the importance to reevaluating the costs, benefits, impacts and optimality of projects and it is high time we initiated studies and discussion on these with respect to the SSP. If rejuvenation of rivers is to receive a central place in water resources development and the Narmada is to remain alive these issues need to be brought into discussion and resolved as soon as possible.
Good governance entails making socially and environmentally just decisions within a deliberative democratic framework and it is the lack of this that has resulted in three decades history of conflict and polarisation around SSP. We sincerely hope you will put us on a path of better governance, the professed aim of the new government, by revoking the decision to increase the height of the SSP from the current 121.92 m to 138.68 m and initiating a comprehensive dialogue on the substantive issues surrounding it.
A. C. Bhagabati,
K. J. Joy,
M K Prasad,
N. C. Narayanan,
Rajeswari Sarala Raina,
Ramaswamy R. Iyer,
Names added subsequently:
V N Sharma
For any further details and follow up please contact:
Ashish Kothari (email@example.com);
Himanshu Thakkar, (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Himanshu Upadhyaya (email@example.com);
K. J. Joy (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Shripad Dharmadhkari (email@example.com);
Suhas Paranjape (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Why this hurry to submerge tribals and farmers under
In a shocking decision on June 12, 2014, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), headed by the secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), & which includes secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) and senior officials of four states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan, have sanctioned, in what The Hindu called “emergency meeting” (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/narmada-dam-to-be-higher-by-17-m/article6108571.ece) installation of 17 m high gates on the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River in Gujarat, taking the effective current height of the dam from 121.92 m to 138.68 m. This has been done after the Rehabilitation sub group (RSG) of the Narmada Control Authority, chaired by secretary, Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) has also cleared this decision. This decision implies submergence of thousands of ha of land and displacement of lakhs of tribals and farmers in three states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, when their rehabilitation, as legally required, has not been done.
Strangely, the government that talks about transparency, had nothing to report on its website (either PIB website or MWR website till 12 noon on June 6, 2014) about this decision, who will be affected, reason for such emergency decision or basis for the decision.
More importantly, Gujarat & Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada river without this height increase and are not able to use even 20% of the water already available to them at the current height. This is clearly unnecessary, unjust and unwarranted decision that is not likely to have even legal sanction. Only additional benefit that increase in height can provide is additional water storage, which will imply about 10-20% additional power generation, in which Gujarat’s share is only 16%: 57% share goes to MP and 27% share goes to Maharashtra.
There is some misinformation that this height increase is required to take the water to Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. This is completely wrong. The Full Supply Level of Narmada Main Canal is 110 m and once water enters this level in the dam, water can be taken to the canals. Once water enters the main canal, it can be taken to the Kutch, Saurashtra and N Gujarat. Based on information we have obtained from SSNNL under RTI, we have seen that Gujarat can get its full share of 9 Million Acre Feet of water at current height and no height increase is necessary. Had Gujarat built the necessary canal distribution system with branch canals, distributary canals, minors, sub minors and field canals to fields in Kutch, Saurashtra and N Gujarat, it could have taken Narmada water to these regions even eight years ago. To suggest that height increase will achieve this is clearly spreading misinformation. Similarly, as far as providing drinking water to the drought prone areas is concerned, height increase is not required to complete that.
Gujarat, in the meantime have increased the share of drinking water (1 MAF) and industrial Water (0.22 MAF) from 0.87 MAF for these combined sectors, at the cost of irrigation, without any participatory or transparent process. (see new share in this report in The Hindu on June 12, 2014: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/a-long-wait-ends-for-gujarat/article6109547.ece).
The claim of Gujarat government that cost of the project has increased because height of the dam has not been raised is completely wrong. The cost of the project is going up (TOI has reported on June 13, 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Narendra-Modi-gives-Gujarat-its-lifeline-Narmada-Dam-height-to-be-raised-by-17-metres-lakhs-will-lose-their-homes-activists-say/articleshow/36453275.cms) that the project has already spent Rs 65369 Crores and ultimate cost is likely to be Rs 90 000/-) because Gujarat government has not been able to complete the canal network and has also been paying huge amounts to service the debt.
It is shocking that all the officials of the central and state governments and all the concerned ministers (including Water Resources Minister Ms Uma Bharti, Environment Minister Mr Prakash Javdekar, Social Justice Minister Mr Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in addition to Gujarat and MP Chief Ministers) have towed the line dictated by Prime Minister Mr Modi and Gujarat Government in this regard, within two weeks of new government taking over. No additional rehabilitation could have been accomplished in these two weeks, which seems to indicate that a political decision has been taken, without considering the ground realities, merits or justification of the decision or necessity of the decision. This does not bode good for the functioning of the new government.
It should be noted here that the installation of gates will take three years, and in any case, for closing the gates, the project will need clearance from Environment Sub Group, RSG and NCA again. Secondly, the gates have been lying in the yard of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) for many years and a question mark was raised about the safety of the gates in a recent meeting of the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee. Now, as The Times of India reported on June 13, 2014 (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Use-of-30-year-old-gates-worries-experts/articleshow/36453333.cms), even former Gujarat Government officials are raising the issue of old technology of 30 year old gates when new technology gates would be also be safer. In view of all this, it may have been better, as Narmada Bachao Andolan has suggested, for the government to first take proper stock of the situation rather than rush into this “emergency” decision on the eve of the monsoon, when no work is in any case possible in monsoon.
It is also shocking that even before the RSG and NCA were to take the decision; Gujarat Government was already busy preparing for celebratory meeting at the Dam site. This shows that the functioning of the statutory bodies has been taken for granted and their decision was pre-determined, as directed by higher authorities.
Gujarat can get its water share without increase in height The new government wants to take the SSP Dam from its current height of 121.92 m to its final design height of 138.68 m. Firstly, there are serious doubts if this height increase is required since it can be shown that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada without this increase in height. Secondly, Gujarat is not even in a position to use more than 20% of the water it already gets from the river at current height of the dam for the purposes for which the project was designed: providing water for the drought affected regions in Kutch, Saurashtra & North Gujarat. On the other hand, urban centres, industrials areas, SEZs, cosmetic river beautification schemes have appropriated a large chunk of SSP waters without legal, democratic sanction or justification. Gujarat really does not have a case for increasing the height of SSP Dam.
Moreover, this will also entail such massive additional submergence, displacement and disruption of lives of tribals and farmers that it is sure to create huge opposition. Narmada Bachao Andolan estimates that an additional 2.5 lakh people will face unjust submergence in three states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The just rehabilitation of already affected people is far from complete, in fact, most of the affected population has not been given minimum 2 ha of land required under the Narmada Tribunal award and subsequent accepted policies.
Mr Modi during his tenure of 13 years as Chief Minister of Gujarat failed to complete the canal network of SSP in the drought prone areas in whose name the project has always been justified. It needs to be noted that the agitation against SSP did not stop Gujarat government from going ahead with construction of canal network. It was not for lack of finances that SSP could not complete the canal network. SSP has been getting largest quantum of money from the Government of India’s Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme ever since the AIBP scheme started in 1996. This support to SSP from AIBP was clearly wrong since SSP was never the last mile project for which AIBP was meant, but the big dam lobby in Union Water Resources ministry and Gujarat government were hand in glove in this misallocation of AIBP money for SSP. In fact, Mr Modi arm-twisted the Planning Commission in 2011-12 to sanction the escalated costs for SSP even when the issues raised by Planning Commission officers remained unanswered.
It is the ineptitude of Gujarat Government under Mr Modi that is on show as to why it could not complete the canal network on drought prone areas in Gujarat. Mr Modi would do well to remember the reasons for that failure before he considers the mega projects agenda as Prime Minister.
Moreover, on SSP, the issues of completing repairs of the damages the Sardar Sarovar dam structure suffered four years ago & related issue of safety of the dam are yet to be resolved and Gujarat has embarked on building another Garudeshwar Dam in immediate downstream without any impact assessments, participatory democratic process or required sanctions. The legality of the Garudeshwar Dam work stands challenged in the National Green Tribunal by the affected tribals.
Conclusion This unnecessary, unwarranted and unjust decision is not going to go down well with any right thinking person. The new government at the center is clearly treading a path that is bound to raise huge uproar and make the common person on street question: for whom and for what purpose is this government working. It would be in best interest of everyone if the government was so confident, to get this debated in the Parliament.
Himanshu Thakkar (email@example.com)