(Feature image:- This is the second time in the six months that Rautdih village has become inundated by the breach of ash pond embankment in Bokaro. ToI, Oct. 09, 2022)
Most mining companies make dams to store the semi solid slurry waste from the mines. Similarly most thermal power projects have fly ash dams to store the fly ash slurry. These dams store highly toxic slurries but there is little happening by way of regulation, monitoring or compliance at design, construction or operation level. Many of these dams breach or overflow, leading of release of the toxic slurry in the downstream areas. These dams do not even come under monitoring of Central Water Commission or under the dam safety act passed by the parliament. Despite accidents happening with huge adverse consequences, there is no accountability.
Bahut kathin hai dagar chunav ki; kyo bhar lau pipe-link se ye mataki….
Hype vs Reality of Narmada Kshipra Pipeline Project
The Narmada Kshipra Simhastha Project is to be dedicated to the people of Malwa by former deputy Prime Minister L K Advani on Feb 25, 2014. Significantly, it is happening in absence of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
The full page advertisement (going on daily during Feb 23-25, 2014 at huge public expense) and the hype that is being created by the Madhya Pradesh’s BJP government around pumping of around 5000 litres of Narmada water per second from a small Sisalia tank through 47 km long pipeline involving four stage pumping and releasing in the bed of dry KshipraRiver needs to be put in correct perspective. Madhya Pradesh government calls it river linking that too “the first-ever river linking project of the country” (see Madhya Pradesh Govt press release dated: Jan 9, 2013). Such claims are not only a fraudulent presentation, possibly aimed to create a hype in view of the upcoming elections, but are factually wrong in many ways. In MP itself, Indore and Bhopal [both outside Narmada basin] have been getting water from Narmada river through such pipeline schemes for many years, Indore is now getting water through third phase of the scheme). More importantly, the project will not be able to deliver most of the benefits it claims.
The hype The Madhya Pradesh government claims this is “Making possible what seemed impossible”. It is not clear since when has pumping 5 cumecs water through piple-line become impossible in India. It is claimed to be “Realizing the dream of former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Bajpeyi” (wrong spellings in the official MP govt advertisements). It is not clear when did Mr Vajpayee say that it was his dream to achieve pumping of some water through 47 km long pipeline. The project achievement, the advertisement claims: “First phase of restoring Malwa’s legendary prosperity successful”. This claim actually takes the cake and much more! What happened to Malwa’s legendary prosperity? Did they need piped water from another basin for that? How can such a limited quantity of water from another basin at huge cost achieve that?
Some over-enthusiastic MP government officials are claiming (see press statement dated Nov 27, 2012) that this project will also link Narmada with Ganga and some water from the project will go right upto Allahabad! It is just god’s grace that they did not claim it will also help Bangladesh in achieving greater food production!
The reality But first let us understand what this project is about. The water that will be pumped from Sisalia tank will reach there from NarmadaRiver: through one of the right bank canals of Omkareshwar dam. So the path of the water will be: Narmada river – Omkareshwar dam – common water carrier canal – right bank canal – Rising main of Omkareshwar project Phase IV – Sisalia tank – pump station (PS)-1 – Rising Main (RS pipe) 1 – BP Tank 1 – Gravity Main (GM) 1 – PS-2 – RM-2 – PS 3 – RM 3 – BPT 2 – GM 2 – PS 4 – RM 4 – tank – (Ujjaini village) Kshipra river. Secondly, how much of the water that is released from the dam will reach the consumers? There are no assessment of this in public domain, but considering the long path of the water even after reaching the Kshipra riverbed and considering huge evaporation losses and seepages into the dry riverbed and aquifers below, only a small fraction, less than a quarter of the water pumped, would reach the consumers.
Unaffordable cost of water Thirdly, this pipeline project involves pumping through 47 km long pipes that would raise the elevation of water by about 348 m from Sisliya (228 m) to Ujjaini (576 m) through pipelines of 1.8 m diameter. This involves use of at least 27.5 MW of power. The power bill of this project would be Rs 118.92 crores per year as per the MP Govt Public Relations Officer (PRO), power cost would be Rs 9 per KL for the pumping of 362 MLD (Million Liters per day). Even if 35% (very optimistic assessment) of the water were to reach the consumers, just the power cost of the raw water reaching the consumer would come to Rs 24 per KL (kiloliter). If we add the cost of maintenance, replacement cost, staff costs for the Narmada Kshipra Pipe Project (NKPP) and also the cost of treatment, distribution of the water to the consumers, the cost of the water that would reach consumer will multiply, would surely go much above Rs 50 per KL. Compare this to the water rate of Rs 5-10 per KL that average urban consumer in India is paying. Which of the rural or even urban consumer is going pay this kind of water bill? Here it may be added that the Rs 432 crores of the project cost is not even included in this water rate. More importantly, do we need this project for drinking water needs of Malwa? Such high head pumping schemes have proved unviable elsewhere too.
It maybe added here that Kshipra river is today in highly polluted state. About 4 lakh liters of polluted water is entering the Kshipra river from Dewas city and industries, affecting villages of Ujjain, Dewas and Indore, and also Hirli dam and even groundwater. The Madhya Pradesh government has completely failed to ensure that such illegal dumping of polluted water is stopped. Now pouring this pipeline water to the polluted Kshipra water would only mean more quantity of polluted water.
Inappropriate use of Omkareshwar Project’s water and funds The administrative approval for the project dated Oct 19, 2012 says the cost of the project will be taken from Omkareshwar Project Unit II (Canals). Now this raises many questions. Firstly, it is clearly wrong to include the cost of the NKPP in the Omkareshwar canal cost. Secondly, this component was not included in the Omkareshwar project as approved by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Water Commission or the Planning Commission. Adding this component to the Omkareshwar project would change the scope of the project and which should entail a fresh clearance from all these authorities. Thirdly, the Omkareshwar project canals get significant funding from Union of India under AIBP (Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme) and using that project money for such completely new component is clearly wrong, also from audit and accounts point of view. We are sure CAG will take due note of this and disallow such practices.
Similarly, diversion of water from Omkareshwar canal has angered the farmers and they have filed an Interlocutory Application in Indore bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court, asking for stay on inauguration of the project. While the HC has not provided a stay, it has remarked that command area of the project cannot be changed. As Rehmat of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra said, these projects are also creating new conflicts, which also happened in case of Veda dam in NarmadaValley. More conflicts are likely to come up in future.
No Impact Assessments, no participatory process There has been no social or environmental impact assessment for this project at any stage. The project also escaped need for environmental clearance using the loophole (which has been questioned for years now) that drinking water projects do not need environmental clearances and hence environmental or social impact assessment or management plans or monitoring or public consultations. In fact, since the project was funded from Omkareshwar project fund, use of that loophole itself is fraudulent. From the statements of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and former deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and others, they seemed quite sure about the project being beneficial. Why then they did not have any participatory processes and impact assessments? Incidentally, Mr Advani laid the foundation stone for the project on Nov 29, 2012, strangely at Ujjaini, where no significant work of the project was to happen, leave aside starting of the work where normally, foundation is laid! Did the project have inappropriate foundation?
That the project had adverse impacts was apparent even from Govt of MP Press statement of March 21, 2013, which said: “Families who are growing water melons for generations at Kshipra river’s originating point Sisliya reservoir urged Shri Agrawal to give them assistance since they will no more be able to grow water melons due to all-weather filling of Sisliya reservoir due to the project and their livelihood will be affected. Shri Agrawal assured to consider these families’ demands sympathetically.” It is not clear, what decision, Mr K L Agrawal, then chairman of NVDA, took about these and other affected people, it has not been brought out in public domain. There was also forest land affected in construction of the pipeline. There will also be issue of huge energy footprint and hence carbon foot-print of this water. These are only a few of the environmental issues related to the project.
The project was in fact approval through a hurried process without any involvement of either the people of the NarmadaValley or the people of the Malwa. The introductory note of Govt of Madhya Pradesh’s Narmada Valley Development Authority claims: “The Malwa region of M.P. had been reeling under acute water scarcity since about 3 decades. The ground water was plummeting at fast pace and experts had opined that if such conditions prevails, the whole Malwa region shall transform into a desert. The life line of M.P.-Narmada was the only option to feed the water to Malwa…” Similarly, MP Information Department Press Release says: “…the Chief Minister concluded that the crisis can be solved only through Narmada water.” Amazing claims, since there are areas within Malwa that are even today have no water shortage, as can be seen from the screenshots from the film on water harvesting work done in Malwa. However, more importantly, is there anything to substantiate this standard “only option” theory? Why did the government not have a participatory process for arriving at such a conclusion? Also, if Malwa was once prosperous, without needing water from outside, why has it come to this stage now? Why not tackle those reasons? Why did Kshipra, a perennial, sada nira River became, seasonal, polluted River?
As Planning Commission member Dr Mihir Shah recently wrote, the 12th Five Year Plan proposes paradigm shift in Urban sector sector: “Each city must consider, as the first source of supply, its local waterbodies. Therefore, cities must only get funds for water projects, when they have accounted for the water supply from local waterbodies and have protected these waterbodies and their catchments. This precondition will force protection and build the infrastructure, which will supply locally and then take back sewage also locally.” The NKPP clearly violates this norm.
Story of proven alternative: Jal Khet However, this conclusion of There Is No Alternative (TINA for short) is typical phrase used by authorities to shut down any questions or debate. There are many Options for the Malwa region, but to see something that has been proven by the people of Malwa on ground, see a 25 minute film Jal Khet by Anjali Nayar, done for the International Water Management Institute, the film synopsis says: “In this awe-inspiring tale of innovation and courage, watch how the district administration joined forces with the villagers to bring water to this arid land. Soon the entire district would come under the throes of change in a massive effort to resolve its own problems, and many other fascinating and unforeseen changes would be discovered to have accrued. The perseverance of these people is a testimony to the enormous human capacity for resourcefulness and resilience.” Note that the district administration and the state were involved in this effort! Even the United Nations recognised this Bhagirath Krishak Abhiyan as best practice of water conservation for food security, as recently as in 2012. There should be no doubt that there are better alternatives than the Narmada Kshipra pipeline project.
The Bhagirath Krishak Abhiyan work was simple: create farm ponds in Dewas district villages in Malwa that will harvest rainwater and provide source for groundwater recharge, irrigation and drinking water. The scheme started on a slow note, but has picked up over the years and has led to construction of over 4500 ponds, recharging groundwater, increasing water and food security and making the people so confident that they say they will never have water shortage. The biodiversity in the area has increased, with lots of birds and some wild animals too coming to the area. While there could be some questions about the claims of the district collector and other government officials, there is little doubt that if such works are implemented with honesty and participation, they can bring significant change.
Is this Interlinking of Rivers? Is this part of ILR? The whole hype bringing in Vajpayee dreams etc seems designed to imply that the NKPP is part of the controversial and discredited interlinking of Rivers proposal. This is clearly far fetched and a major stretch on the credulity of all concerned, considering the scale, manner and cost of the ILR compared to a water pipeline project like NKPP. While it does involve transfer of some water from one basin to another for drinking water and the NKPP, like the ILR itself is of seriously doubtful justification, optimality, desirability and sustainability, there can be no comparison of NKPP with the ILR. Moreover, in ILR scheme of things, Kshipra, being part of Ganga basin, is surplus basin, and Narmada, claimed to be a deficit basin, is supposed to get water from Par and Tapi rivers! It seems we are seeing a case of Ulti Ganga here too, compared to ILR!
But than MP is not new to working at cross purposes with the ILR project. It already did that in case of Mohanpura and Kundalia major irrigation projects in Chambal basin in recent months. Both projects are part of PKC (Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal, one of the five prioritized links of ILR) link of the ILR project, but MP is going ahead with the projects independently, jeopardizing the ILR link. And the Central Water Commission is in fact supporting MP in these machinations.
Next phase of Narmada Malwa link? The Madhya Pradesh government is saying that the NKPP is only phase 1 of a larger programme. In next phases, they hope to transfer water from NarmadaRiver to other tributaries of ChambalRiver like the Kali Sindh, Parbati and Gambhir. Those phases will involve much bigger transfer, much bigger impacts, costs and implications. However, the MP govt on Sept 27, 2013, gave in principle approval to full Narmada Malwa link at the cost of Rs 2375 crores and asked the NVDA to prepare Detailed Project Reports for these phases. The next phase is making impossible sounding claims of achieving irrigation to 17 lakh ha, drinking water to 3000 villages and 75 towns, in addition to water for industries!
No information is available as to how much water is to be transferred (earlier estimates said 3 Million Acre Feet of water is to be transferred, requiring over 550 MW of power), in what manner and with what impacts. MP govt is clearly most undemocratic, non transparent and non participatory. There is an interesting clause in the administrative in principle approval, however. It says the project operation and maintenance expenses must be recovered from the farmers! Rehmat of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra based in Badwani suspects this is because the project is part of the application to the World Bank. Going by the first phase costs, the O&M (Operation and Maintenance) costs of next phase are going to be only higher! But farmers have no clue what they are going to be asked to pay! In no state of India are the farmers charged to completely recover the O and M expenses. In this project, it would clearly be impossible, considering the much larger O&M costs of this project compared to standard gravity fed canals. Is this than a ploy to create a water source of urban and industrial areas?
However, besides requiring the statutory impact assessments and clearances, the next phase will also have serious inter state implications for the downstream Gujarat state (even NKPP will transfer 158 MCM of water). Gujarat sees NarmadaRiver and the Sardar Sarovar Project on it as its lifeline. The large no of projects that MP is building and planning to build on Narmada is going to have serious implications for Gujarat. With hydrological basis of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, on basis of which Sardar Sarovar has been designed, already in doubt, Gujarat would be wary of this. Now with these Madhya Pradesh plans of transferring water outside the basin, Gujarat would be very worried! And so would Modi! But as recent Madhya Pradesh decisions have shown, Madhya Pradesh is least bothered about downstream states.
In fact, while the discredited ILR is included in Modi’s Lok Sabha elections agenda, he seems to be missing from the scene at this major ILR moment (Modi also completely forgot about it during his trip to North East, it seems, but that is another story!). May be, Gujarat’s worries at Madhya Pradesh schemes are somewhere a reason for this? It is clear, to paraphrase the words of famous qawalli of yester-years (with apologies to poet Sahir Ludhianwi), Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki… Full page advertisements at public expenses, making unfounded claims about river linking are much easier!
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP [We would like to acknowledge the useful comments provided by Shripad Dharmadhikary and Rehmat from Manthan Adhyayan Kendra and Parineeta Dandekar from SANDRP on an earlier draft of this note.]
Time line of Kshipra Narmada Pipeline Project
April 8, 2007 A global call floated by NVDA to invite EoI for selecting a consultant for DPR
Aug 8 2012 The approval of project was given by the CM, to be completed in one year
Aug 27, 2012 Tenders invited
Oct 12 2012 Official sanction for Rs. 432 Crore was accorded
Oct 19 2012 Approval letter issued
Nov 5, 2012 Contracts signed (not clear who are the contractors)
Nov 29 2012 Mr. L K Advani laid the foundation stone
Feb 25 2014 Project to be dedicated to the nation after time over run of 25%