Environment Impact Assessment · Gujarat · Narmada

Why Sardar may have been uncomfortable with the 600 feet statue

Consider the facts: The 600 feet tall statue of Sardar Patel that the Prime Minister of India will inaugurate on Patel’s Birthday on October 31, 2018 is situated bang in the middle of the Narmada river. To take up such unprecedented construction in the middle of the river would require, at the least, environment clearance, since the construction would have huge impacts on the river. No such clearance was sought or given. It would have required environmental impact assessment, environmental management plan, appraisal, public consultations, monitoring and compliance. NONE OF THIS HAPPENED.  Continue reading “Why Sardar may have been uncomfortable with the 600 feet statue”

Gujarat · Narmada

India’s Dam Mania gives acche din for Dam lobby and Gando Vikas

(Above: Protest in Bharuch on Oct 8, 2017 when Prime Minister laid foundation stone for Bhadbhut Dam on Narmada)

“Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe” is these days a super hit song in Gujarati, which literally means “Development has gone mad”. In the just concluded Garba (form of traditional social dance in Gujarat) festival, this was hugely popular this year through out Gujarat. The song became popular, even before Prime Minister of India celebrated his birthday on Sept 7 by declaring completion of an incomplete Sardar Sarovar Project, heaping totally unnecessary, unjustified and unjust displacement on 40 000 families of Narmada Valley and killing the largest west flowing river of India. So much for the river rejuvenation claims his government has been making since May 2014. As if to complete the process, they have started another dam on Narmada, few kilometers downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam, at Garudeshwar, even without any environmental impact assessment. Continue reading “India’s Dam Mania gives acche din for Dam lobby and Gando Vikas”

Narmada

Narmada Estuary: Hilsa, other Fish and Fisher people need protection

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.

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Bhadbhut Village

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.

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Hilsa

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.

Narmada Estuary
Narmada Estuary

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.

FIELD VISIT:

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.”

Hilsa ice packed to be transported
Hilsa ice packed to be transported
70% of the income of fisherfolk is from sale of Hilsa
70% of the income of fisherfolk is from sale of Hilsa

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.

Cover Page of the controversial NEERI EIA of  Bhadbhut Barrage Project
Cover Page of the controversial NEERI EIA of Bhadbhut Barrage Project

“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]

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Protest March organized on 7th July 2014 (Photo by Kamlesh Madhiwala)

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.”

Hilsa used as a decorative element
Hilsa used as a decorative element

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.”

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If Bhadbhut barrage is built there will be no free flowing river stretch to support fish breeding

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.

Gujarat Government Map showing Kalpasar and Bhadbhut project locations
Gujarat Government Map showing Kalpasar and Bhadbhut project locations

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.

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Fishing boats along the banks of river Narmada

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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.

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Fisherfolk from Bhadbhut

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 amrutapradhan@gmail.com

(Based on field visit September 2014 by the author.)

END NOTES:

[i] https://sandrp.in/dams/Why_Modis_54000_crore_legacy_project_KALPSAR_is_doomed_Nov_2010.pdf

[ii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/collapsing-hilsa-can-the-dams-compensate-for-the-loss/

[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

[v] http://counterview.org/2013/07/18/environmental-impact-assessment-report-on-bhadbhut-suggests-project-is-pro-industry-lacks-sensitivity-towards-fisherfolk/

[vi] PCPIR: Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region, see: http://gujaratpcpir.org/

[vii] http://www.counterview.net/2013/07/fisherfolk-walk-of-out-public-hearing.html

[viii] P. 15 of Executive Summary of EIA Report by NEERI

Madhya Pradesh · Narmada

Why is This Dam being constructed? Is this not an example of Big Dam Fundamentalism?

Imagine that a state government wants to build a Big Dam, with height of 31.75 m on a Big River. The River has already seen a large number of dams, agitations, controversies and legal disputes.

This dam is going to cost several hundred crores of rupees, just the initial civil works’ cost is Rs 299.43 Crores[1] out of approved construction cost (alone) of Rs 438.18 Crores[2].

But this dam will not provide any irrigation. Not supply any water to anyone. Will not do any flood control. Will not be a net generator of power. In short it can claim none of the benefits that a standard dam project claims.

And yet it will have fairly serious impacts. Hundreds of hectares of fertile, useful land will be destroyed. River itself and biodiversity of the river will be destroyed. In the downstream too there will be huge adverse impacts. Hundreds of tribal families will be adversely affected. Almost all of them have been affected by an upstream dam project. The government has refused to answer any of their concerns. The people are already agitated and have declared their opposition[3],[4] and have also legally challenged the project.

However, we do not know full social or environmental impacts of the dam, since such an impact assessment has never been done. The work on this project according to the government started in Feb 2013. Any such dam project would require impact assessment, management plan, public hearings, environmental appraisal, clearance, monitoring and compliance mechanism. But this one had none of it and does not want to do any of it! It does not have even a Rehabilitation Plan. Not even one on paper, as most such plans are.

Majority of the purported benefits of the project are supposed to legally go to another state, but that state has said it does not want the dam, nor does it want to share costs or benefits. And still the state government has started work on the dam.

We are used to telling a lot of bad dam stories. But this one seems to be a unique one.

Why does the state government want to build this dam? What are the benefits and for whom? Why is the Union Environment Ministry allowing such an illegal dam? Is this not dam fundamentalism?

Ok, enough of mystery. Let us understand what this project is about.

Garudeshwar Dam This story is about Garudeshwar dam[5] on Narmada River in Bharuch district in Gujarat. With height of 31.75 m, it is a major dam, since any dam above 15 m height is considered big dam by national and international definitions. The Garudeshwar Dam will create a huge 12 km long reservoir.

Ongoing work at Garudeshwar Dam site. Photo: SANDRP
Ongoing work at Garudeshwar Dam site. Photo: SANDRP
Sardar Sarovar Dam in the upstream of Garudeshwar dam. Photo - SANDRP
Sardar Sarovar Dam in the upstream of Garudeshwar dam. Photo – SANDRP
Map of Garudeshwar dam  affected area. It also shows the Sardar Sarovar on right side.  Photo: SANDRP
Map of Garudeshwar dam affected area. It also shows the Sardar Sarovar on right side. Photo: SANDRP

It is proposed just downstream from the most controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam Project (SSP). The SSP is being constructed under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. The Garudeshwar Dam is proposed as part of the power component of the SSP, to act as downstream storage when the 1200 MW River Bed Power House (RBPH) of SSP will act in a Pump Storage Supply (PSS) mode. This means that Garudeshwar Dam’s basic function is to store the water released from RBPH during peak hour power generation. This water stored in the Garudeshwar dam is then to be pumped back to the SSP reservoir during off peak hours. Pumping the water back to the reservoir typically takes about 20% more power. This is in comparison with the power generated when a unit of water was released from the upstream dam (SSP in this case) during generation mode. It means that Garudeshwar Dam will be net consumer of electricity. This kind of project could have economic viability when there is additional tariff for power available during peak hours, which is not the case today. In absence of such valuation, such projects are not even economically viable.

According to the NWDT award, Madhya Pradesh gets majority, or 57% share in the power benefits (and costs) from SSP, Maharashtra gets 27% and Gujarat 16%.

Another objective of the Garudeshwar Dam[6] is to create a reservoir surrounding Statue of Unity, being propagated as the world’s highest statue on a small island 3 km downstream of the SSP Dam.

None of the required Statutory clearances obtained The minutes of the 80th meeting of SSCAC (Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee, the statutory interstate body to coordinate construction of SSP, it is chaired by Secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources and includes senior officials of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, in addition to Narmada Control Authority) held in March 2013 notes on the issue of Garudeshwar Dam, “The work to be taken up by GOG in compliance of all statutory clearances. The committee accordingly directed GOG to take further follow up actions.” It was no secret to SSCAC that GOG had taken no clearances, how could then SSCAC wash its hands off with such a statement?

As per Supreme Court Order of Oct 2000 (Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union of India and Others), as also earlier statutory orders under NWDT, the sanction of Rehabilitation Sub Group and Environment Sub Group of Narmada Control Authority is to be obtained prior to every stage of work related to SSP. No such sanction has been obtained by these authorities. In fact, as per letter written by Shekhar Singh, a member of ESG of NCA on March 24, 2013, there has not even been impact assessment of the Garudeshwar Dam, which is necessary before ESG can consider clearing the work on Garudeshwar work:

“Garudeshwar weir, to be built 12 km downstream of the SSP dam with a live storage capacity of 32.9 Million Cubic Meters is a component of the Sardar Sarovar Project, as was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979. However, as far as I recollect, the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA. In my estimation, the construction and operation of the GW will have significant social and environmental impacts, since it will entail a reservoir of about 12 km in length and unknown width and submergence area. The weir will have the potential of affecting the fisheries in the immediately surrounding areas and also of affecting the downstream river and its biodiversity, and other related aspects. This is especially because the weir will control the flow of water and silt downstream. However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the GW and its contribution to the cumulative impact of all the projects and activities in the area. And if there has been, I do not believe that this has been put up to the ESG for its approval.”

River Narmada from Indravarna village which will be affected due to  construction of Garudeshwar dam. The map on the ground speaks volumes about locked between two dams and a river in reality.
River Narmada from Indravarna village which will be affected due to construction of Garudeshwar dam. This image speaks volumes about Narmada, the river in reality and the river locked between two dams as there in the map. Photo: SANDRP

Similarly, since it is a work under SSP, the R&R policy of SSP is suppose to apply to the people affected by the Garudeshwar Dam. This also means that a R&R Plan have to be prepared and consent of the affected people taken and R&R completed a year before the construction work, which too has not been done, nor a sanction of RSG of NCA taken.

The reservoir upstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam has been declared eco sensitive zone and protected area. The Garudeshwar Dam will create a reservoir that will be affecting the river close to the SSP Dam and thus will be within the eco sensitive zone and legally, such a work requires clearance from National Board of Wildlife, but such a clearance has not been taken.

Since Garudeshwar Dam is proposed in tribal area, consent of the gram sabhas is also legally required. No such consents have been taken.

Thus, the work that has been going on is completely illegal.

State benefiting the most, questions need for the Garudeshwar Dam Official documents obtained by SANDRP under RTI Act shows that GoMP has repeatedly shown their disagreement with the need for Garudeshwar Dam. Here are a few instances from official records. Strangely, in spite of this clear disagreement from a majority beneficiary state, the decision to go ahead with the project was taken by Gujarat and endorsed by SSCAC. The other statutory bodies like the Narmada Control Authority and its Environment Sub Group and Rehabilitation Sub Group were not even consulted.

  • June 2011 The minutes of the 101st meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in June 2011 noted, “Summing up the discussion the Chairman observed that the extent of disagreement is now so acute that the very need of Garudeshwar Weir is being questioned.”
  • July 2011 The events thereafter moved rapidly. Following a request letter of GOG on July 21st, 2011, Secretary to Union Water Resources Ministry (also chairman of SSCAC and NCA) called a meeting of participating states on 25th July, 2011. At this meeting, Madhya Pradesh continued its disagreement with the need for the Garudeshwar weir, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting[7], providing reasons of their opposition: “The representative from Govt of MP also informed the stand of their government on the construction of the said weir mentioning that State of Madhya Pradesh will become surplus in power by the year 2014 and as such, Madhya Pradesh may not like to avail such a costly peak power. According to their calculations, the tariff for peak power may be more than Rs 6 per unit. In view of this, State of Madhya Pradesh is not in the favour of the proposal of the Garudeshwar Weir requiring the sharing of the cost of construction and the energy required for reversible operations.”
  • The response of the Secretary (MoWR) was strange[8], “GOMP to review their stand of surrendering their share of peak hour power generation by reversible operation on RBPH machines and confirm about the same for further course of action.”
  • The fact that GOG and Union Govt (even as opposite parties were ruling the state and the centre, showing amazing collusion of pro dam fundamentalism) were so much hand in glove that the secretary, brushing aside the objections of the majority beneficiary state of MP, decided to push unwanted dam down the unwilling state’s throat: “Secretary (MOWR) while concluding the meeting, stated that the construction of Garudeshwar Weir needs to be taken up urgently & completed expeditiously…”.
  • March 2012 The Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) pointed out in their letter dated 21.03.2012 to SSCAC[9]), “there is no mention about Garudeshwar Weir in the NWDT Award”.
  • The GoMP also made it clear in this letter that GoMP does not concur with the proposal in view of “the change in power tariff scenario”.
  • Aug 2012: The 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC records on this agenda Item no 104-5, “The representative of GOMP conveyed that, at this stage, they don’t agree with above decision and a note of dissent in this regard will be sent soon.”

So the state that was supposed to get 57% benefits and also pay same proportion of costs, has refused to concur with the scheme.

Status of work According to the Agenda notes for the 81st meeting of SSCAC held on March 28, 2014, till Dec 2013, 6.88% of excavation was the only physical progress on the Garudeshwar weir. Financial Progress achieved was even less, at 3.19%.

Some recent Developments:

  • Oct 2013 The affected people and eminent Gujarat citizens write to MoEF and GOG[10] to immediately stop illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam. Affected people and their leaders were put under house arrest when Chief Minister and former Deputy PM L K Advani came to the Kevadia Colony to lay foundation stone for the proposed Statue of Unity.
  • Jan 3, 2014 Gujarat Government[11] is considering use of force to suppress the movement against the illegal work on Garudeshwar Dam.
  • Jan 27, 2014 Tribal women of 70 villages to be affected by the Garudeshwar dam go to the site of ongoing work and ask the contractor to stop the work as it is illegal, without necessary clearances, impact assessments and consents.

    Women leading the protest against Garudeshwar Dam. Photo: http://www.counterview.net/
    Women leading the protest against Garudeshwar Dam. Photo: http://www.counterview.net/
  • Jan 31, 2014 National Green Tribunal order (Lakhan Musafir & Anr Vs. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd and others – Application 10/2013 WZ): “We deem it proper to grant three (3) weeks time to Respondent No.1 to file reply affidavit and make it clear that in the meanwhile if any work done, it will be subject to final outcome of the present Application, without claiming any right of equity arising out of execution of construction work and without pleadings in advance of any ‘fait Accompli’.
  • Feb 25, 2014 NGT order: “Learned Additional Advocate General, seeks time to file comprehensive reply affidavit, as regards the nature of project in question. He submits that filing of such affidavit requires co-ordination of various departments and Agencies, which will take certain time. He, therefore, seeks reasonable time to complete the exercise of preparing reply affidavit. He undertakes to maintain directions as regards keeping of equity, in the light of earlier order dated 31st January, 2014.” The application next comes up for hearing on May 9, 2014.
  • April 1, 2014 People of 70 villages affected by Garudeshwar Dam hold protest demonstration in Vadodara.
  • April 14, 2014 Blasting at Garudeshwar village for the dam leads to rock fall on people, endangering lives of children and also shaking of houses.
A milestone on the way to Sardar Sarovar, with the dam in the background. Photo: SANDRP
A milestone on the way to Sardar Sarovar, with the dam in the background. Photo: SANDRP

Conclusion It is clear that Garudeshwar Dam does not have any justification, any impact assessment study, any required statutory clearances, any consents from affected Gram Sabhas and or even from the state which is supposed to get majority of the questionable claimed benefits. This dam seems like a symbol of Gujarat Government’s dam fundamentalism.

The reason as to why the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests is not taking action against this illegal work or why the Union Water Resources Ministry is supporting the work or why the political opposition in Gujarat is silent on this dam is still a mystery. However, under the current circumstances, the project must be stopped immediately. We hope NGT takes this step urgently. It is high time that political parties fighting elections in the area and Gujarat take a stand on this dam immediately.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:
_________________________________

[1] “The letter of acceptance-cum-work order for the construction of Garudeshwar Weir across river Narmada near village Garudeshwar has been issued to agency M/s Rithwik Project Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad by SSNNL, Gandhinagar vide letter No. CPC/ Garudeshwar Weir/ 2011/657-P-II dated 04.05.2012”, as per Minutes of 104th meeting of PSC of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012.

[2] Minutes of 104th meeting of Permanent Standing Committee of SSCAC held on Aug 23, 2012, obtained by SANDRP under RTI.

[3] That the officials knew about the opposition is clear from the Gujarat Samachar clipping of Oct 22, 2012, carrying warning from affected people that if their issues are not settled, the work on the dam will be stopped. This clipping was included in the agenda notes for the 80th meeting of SSCAC held on March 25, 2013.

[4] The minutes of the 105th meeting of the PSC of SSCAC held in Feb 2013 noted on the issue of Garudeshwar dam, “The representative of GOG informed that work is delayed due to objection of the local peoples for giving better R&R package”.

[5] Calling is weir is clearly an attempt to mislead everyone, giving an impression that is a low dam, which it is not.

[6] http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/garudeshwar-weir-could-pave-way-for-sardar-statue/776013/

[7] Annexure 79.2(C).5 with the Agenda for 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012

[8] Agenda of the 79th meeting of SSCAC held in Feb 2012.

[9] Obtained by SANDRP under RTI Act.

[10] http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/tribal-body-demands-scrapping-of-garudeshwar-weir-113102901241_1.html

[11] http://www.counterview.net/2014/01/government-now-considering-to-use-force.html