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The troubled course

Print edition : Oct 28, 2000 T+T-
V. VENKATESAN

THE genesis of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) dates to February 1961, when the Government of Gujarat gave the administrative approval for Stage I of the Narmada Valley Project. The project was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961. In September 1964, a high-level committee of engineers, headed by A.N. Khosla, then the Governor of Orissa, was constituted to draw up a master plan for the optimum and integrated development of the Narmada water resources. The Khosla Committee sub mitted its report to the Centre in September 1965, laying down certain basic guidelines. The master plan envisaged by the committee included 12 major projects in Madhya Pradesh and one, Navagam, in Gujarat.

The Khosla Committee report was not implemented owing to disagreements among the States concerned. In July 1968, the State of Gujarat complained to the Centre, under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, against Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, on the use o f Narmada waters. Acting on the complaint, the Centre constituted a Tribunal headed by Justice V. Ramaswamy, retired Judge of the Supreme Court, and referred the dispute to it. In October 1969, it referred to the Tribunal also the issues raised by Rajast han.

In July 1974, the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and the Adviser to the Governor of Gujarat reached an agreement. According to this, the quantity of water in the Narmada available for three-fourths of the year was to be asse ssed at 28 million acre feet (MAF). On August 16, 1978, the Tribunal announced its Award, and it gave its final order in December 1979, after hearing the States and the Centre. The height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was determined at Full Reservoir Level-4 55 ft. The Award provided that no submergence of any area would take place unless the displaced people were rehabilitated.

The Tribunal fixed the allocation among the States as follows: Madhya Pradesh 18.25 MAF; Gujarat 9.00 MAF; Rajasthan 0.50 MAF; and Maharashtra 0.25 MAF. It created an inter-State administrative authority, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), to ensure co mpliance with and implementation of the decisions and directions of the Tribunal. It also directed the constitution of a Review Committee consisting of the Union Minister for Irrigation (now Water Resources) as Chairperson and the Chief Ministers of Madh ya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan as members.

The NCA constituted various discipline-based subgroups. In all, the Award envisaged 30 major dams, 135 medium-sized dam projects and more than 3,000 minor dams. The major terminal dam, Sardar Sarovar, was to be in Gujarat, the remaining 29 being in Madhy a Pradesh.

The benefits expected to flow from the SSP were estimated as follows:

Irrigation: 17.92 lakh hectares of land spread over 12 districts, 62 taluks and 3,393 villages (75 per cent of which is considered drought-prone) in Gujarat; 73,000 hectares in the arid areas of Barmer and Jalore districts of Rajasthan.

Drinking water: Drinking water facilities to 8,215 villages and 135 urban centres in Gujarat. Of these, 5,825 villages and 100 urban centres of Saurashtra and Kutch are outside the command area. As many as 881 villages affected by high fluoride content w ere expected to get potable water.

Power generation: The estimated generation was 1,450 megawatt.

Besides, the SSP was expected to provide protection against the advancement of the Little Rann of Kutch and Rajasthan deserts.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests accorded environmental clearance to the SSP on June 24, 1987, subject to certain conditions. On October 5, 1988, the Planning Commission approved the investment of an estimated Rs.6,406 crores, with a directi on to comply with the conditions laid down in the environment clearance. Construction started in 1987. In August 1993, the Ministry of Water Resources constituted a five-member group (FMG) headed by Dr. Jayant Patil, Member, Planning Commission, to hold discussions with the Narmada Bachao Ao Andolan (NBA) on issues relating to the SSP. In January 1995, the Supreme Court asked the FMG to submit a detailed report on the issues of height, hydrology, R&R and environmental matters. In April 1995, the FMG (it had become a four-member body, as the Chairman quit because of ill-health) submitted a report. It was not unanimous.

The submergence zone of the SSP can be divided into two areas: 1. A fully tribal, hilly area covering the initial reach of about 105 villages, with mainly subsistence economy. It includes 33 villages of Maharashtra, 19 of Gujarat and 53 of Madhya Pradesh .

2. Mixed population area in the plains of Nimad, which has a well-developed economy and which is connected to the mainstream. This area includes about 140 villages in Madhya Pradesh.

The figures regarding the project-affected families/persons (PAFs) so far rehabilitated and those remaining to be rehabilitated are generally disputed, with the State governments concerned describing as exaggerated the figures released by the NBA. Accord ing to the Centre and the States concerned, the project would affect only 245 villages in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh owing to pondage and backwater effect corresponding to one-in-100-year flood. The total number of PAFs was estimated at 40,8 27. Of the total number of tribal PAFs (17,725), only 9,546 have been resettled, says the majority judgment of the Supreme Court.