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Alamatti concerns

Print edition : Aug 17, 2002 T+T-

Even as questions about the rehabilitation and resettlement of project displaced people remain unanswered, the Karnataka government initiates steps to store water up to the full reservoir level of 519.6 metres in the Alamatti dam.

THERE is one question that increasingly preoccupies about 150,000 farmers and others living on the banks of the river Krishna in Karnataka's Bijapur and Bagalkot districts: when will the State government start storing water to the full reservoir level (FRL) of 519.6 metres in the Alamatti dam? When that happens, their lands and dwellings will be submerged by the backwaters of the dam, which is an important component of Karnataka's Upper Krishna (irrigation) Project (UKP) and has so far cost Rs. 194 crores.

The S.M. Krishna-led Congress(I) government, which since 2000 had been threatening to store water up to an FRL of 519.6 m, directed UKP irrigation officials through a notification to initiate measures to store water up to a higher FRL during the current monsoon season. (In April 2000, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court permitted Karnataka to raise the height of the dam to 519.6 m. Karnataka had requested permission to raise the height to 524.256 m.) But will the government stick to the decision, which may not be popular? More important, are the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) packages for the project displaced families (PDFs) and the infrastructure for the utilisation of the stored water in the form of a network of canals and lift irrigation schemes ready?

Whether the Government will stick to its notification will be known by early September when storage of water would have to be completed. But it is not clear how far it has progressed in the areas of the utilisation of the water and R&R. According to officials at Alamatti, storage up to an FRL of 515.6 m, a mark that was achieved last year, will not take much time. But progress thereafter would be gradual - "centimetre by centimetre"- since new areas would be submerged. The officials averred - though the claim is contested by others - that much of the canal network was ready. A senior engineer told Frontline that over 360,000 acres (144,000 hectares) would be irrigated by the dam in 2000, up by about 120,000 acres (48,000 ha) from the figure last year.

Officials also say that the R&R plan is more or less ready, with only a few bottlenecks yet to be cleared. However, some of the affected people and a growing number of politicians disagree. They want storage of water to be put off by another year. But given that full utilisation is still some distance away, can the Karnataka government afford to do that?

For Karnataka, storage up to an FRL of 519.6 m at the Alamatti dam is crucial if it is to use its share of Krishna water as determined by the Bachawat Award. According to experts, an FRL of 519.6 m would facilitate a storage of around 123 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of water (gross storage) at Alamatti. This together with the storage of 37.8 tmc ft at Narayanpur (a balancing reservoir downstream of Alamatti), would take care of the 173 tmc ft that Karnataka currently envisages to use under the UKP.

The Bachawat Award, given by the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) in 1973 and 1976 went into the allocation of water among the riparian States of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. As per Scheme 'A' of the award, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra are entitled to 811, 734 and 585 tmc ft of water respectively in any water year, on the basis of 75 per cent dependability flows.

The Tribunal, constituted under the Inter-State Water Disputes (ISWD) Act of 1956, ruled that the unused quantum of water as of May 2000 would come up for reallocation, along with any surplus quantum. It permitted Andhra Pradesh to use the unutilised quantum with the proviso that it shall not acquire any right over and above its share of 811 tmc ft. While Andhra Pradesh had over the years gone ahead with the construction of irrigation projects in the Krishna basin which included several irrigation canals and schemes, successive governments in Karnataka did precious little to plan and speed up projects.

However the fear that the quantum of unutilised water would be treated as surplus resulted, during the last seven years, in some increased funding from the Karnataka government for the Krishna basin projects. The aim was to utilise fully and establish a right over the State's share of 734 tmc ft. The storing of water to an FRL of 519.6 m at the Alamatti dam is a step in this direction, with the Karnataka government hoping that it can eventually (after the creation of another tribunal by the Government of India under the ISWD Act) store water up to the 524.256-m mark.

None of the three riparian States has so far requested the Centre to constitute a new tribunal to decide the allocation of surplus water. Since the formation of a tribunal is not in the interest of both Maharashtra (which, by reason of being the upper riparian State, accesses water first) and Andhra Pradesh (which uses water far in excess of its share under Scheme A), it is entirely up to Karnataka to set the ball rolling. According to irrigation experts, Karnataka is still hedging its bets because it still has not been able to put in place projects for the utilisation of its allocation of 734 tmc ft. (Currently the figure is about 650 tmc ft)

This fact is known to local politicians. J. T. Patel, who represents Biligi, in the State Assembly, said: "It is up to the government to solve the people's problems. I hope that since the minimum R&R facilities are not yet ready, we can store water next year." Apparently, Patel, who belongs to the Congress(I), does not want to be too critical of his own party's Chief Minister's decision. However he added: "But I have to see to my people's cause first." P. H. Pujar, the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator who represents Bagalkot, also says that storage should be put off for the moment.

The plan to store water at the Alamatti dam to an FRL of 519.6 m (that is a backwater level of 521 m in the affected areas) has not been easy for either the large number of affected people or the government. R&R in the UKP up to an FRL of 519.6 m - at both Narayanpur (R&R here was completed in 1982) and Alamatti dam areas involves the rehabilitation of nearly 300,000 people of 178 villages and around 25,000 people of Bagalkot town.

The government has either already initiated or is in the process of initiating procedures to acquire 69,076 structures and, 138,629 acres of land in rural areas and 4,500 structures and 150 acres in the urban areas. With a backwater level of 521 metres in mind, it has been more successful in convincing the rural folk to move out. While 150,000 rural people (around 28,000 PDFs) have been relocated at 136 centres (ranging between 40 and 600 acres (240 hectares each) hardly 7,500 people (1,200 PDFs) have so far moved out of Bagalkot to their new home town of Navnagar (also called New Bagalkot).

Dr. S.M. Jaamdar, Commissioner, R&R and Land Acquisition, and ex-officio Secretary to Government, Revenue Department (UKP), said: "The people in Bagalkot who are still reluctant to move are those looking for a double benefit. We acquired and paid for 3,600 structures in Bagalkot (in lieu of which) 7,000 sites have been allotted at Navnagar. Of the 4,500 PDFs affected in Bagalkot town, around 3,000 have built houses and are in a position to shift. But so far only 1,150 have occupied their houses. The rest are staying on, reaping the benefit of having two houses." According to Jaamdar, most of the problems arise in rehabilitation measures because many people think of R&R programmes as "development and welfare programmes, not as rehabilitation programmes".

Jaamdar, who is credited even by critics with much of the progress in R&R in the UKP, also attributed the "complex eligibility matrix" for much of the chaos in the allotment of sites in urban areas. He said: "The rules framed in 1993 for allotment for urban PDFs were deliberately made confusing so that even a person losing a square foot of land at Bagalkot would be entitled for a big site as compensation."

Jaamdar denied accusations that while many PDFs were left out, tenants were given sites, and that many people did not get sites of their choice and had to look for land in the non-PDF section of Navnagar.

The seeking of World Bank assistance for the project meant that the government has to resort to strict and often costly measures. While the PDFs of Bagalkot town intent to wait apparently until the very last moment, some farmers, mostly those with large holdings, also stay on to make the most of the fertile lands. Several of them told Frontline that they still cultivated lands for which they had taken adequate compensation years ago.

G. N. Patil, Chairman of the Bagalkot Town Development Authority (BTDA), a body set up exclusively to coordinate R&R work in Bagalkot, said: "Unless we start to fill water (at Alamatti), people won't go." Rehabilitation and compensation have so far cost the government Rs. 2,000 crores.

As is the case with most mega projects, successive governments in Karnataka committed blunder without a clear idea of how to solve the R&R tangle. Adding to the complexity of the problem was the fact that none of the affected people wanted to leave behind the land/house or business that was inherited from his/her forefathers.

LOCATED off the Raichur-Belgaum State highway, Navnagar was designed by architect Charles Correa. Spread across 4,320 acres (1,728 ha) of land, of which 1,400 acres has been developed, Navnagar is divided into 63 sectors. Fifty-six of these are exclusively for PDFs and seven are for non-PDFs. From being a ghost town in the late 1990s, Navnagar has developed, in the words of officials, into "a clean, self-contained township with broad roads, schools, parks, underground drainage, water supply, modern sports facilities, banks, and so on."

However, it still faces teething troubles, mainly of a logistical nature. To begin with, it is 6 km away from Bagalkot. A trip to the town by bus costs nearly Rs.10. G. N. Patil, said: "We have been trying to talk to the government about concessional fares." However, PDFs, as part of a package offered to them, have for the past three years enjoyed subsidised bus fare. The worst-hit among the urban PDFs are those such as barbers, tailors and cobblers as they have lost custom.

Many residents and prospective residents of Navnagar complained of the lack of an underground drainage system, shortage of water for construction purposes, non-availability of house sites of their choice and a lack of sustained commercial activity. Veerana Charakimath, president of the Bagalkot Chamber of Commerce, said: "The government has shifted the Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee yard to Navnagar, but the wholesale markets are here in Bagalkot. There is no bank or adequate security at the new yard."

The shifting will also cause problems for the residents of Bagalkot. For example Bagalkot's only government hospital will now be located at Navnagar, leaving the poor who would continue to live in Bagalkot in a quandary. They will have to take a bus to reach the hospital. Schoolchildren have also been affected. Teachers of a school run by the Kalidasa Educational Society in Bagalkot (the building of which will be submerged) complained that though they had relocated a part of their campus to Navnagar, few children had opted to go there. A piquant situation will arise also when the Bagalkot Municipality shifts its offices to Navnagar, a town over which it has no administrative powers.

Although identifying PDFs was easier in the rural areas, the process was not free of problems. As at Navanagar, villagers complained of lack of roads inside their colonies; the threat of diseases such as malaria; poor quality of the drinking water and the drainage system; and the lack of grazing grounds and crop lands.

Over the years, the quantum of the compensation package offered to the farmers for their land has also gone up substantially. While it was Rs.45,000 and Rs.20,000 an acre for wet and dry land respectively when the acquisition process started two years ago, it went up periodically after the constitution of the price advisory committee. Now the rate of compensation is Rs.148,000 for wet land and Rs. 70,200 for dry land an acre. S.S. Pattana Shetti, general manager (land acquisition), UKP, said: "The enhanced price has meant that almost 90 per cent of the people are going in for the consent award. This has helped them get their compensation faster and, for us, quickened the acquisition process. We have also eliminated middlemen, organised gram sabhas in the villages and handed out cheques directly."

A sore point, according to Vasanna Desai, president of the Krishna Santastara Hitarakshana Vedike (Krishna Refugees Welfare Committee), has been the denial of compensation for structures that came up after a ban was imposed on construction in areas that the government had identified for acquisition. Desai said: "Some of these structures were already there, but compensation was denied for them because the owners could not prove that they had been built before the 4(1) notification (under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894) was issued. Also, compensation was denied in the case of many temporary structures. The government has to look at these with a humanitarian bend of mind." But, as Shetti said, as per the Land Acquisition Act the government can only compensate "land and things attached to the earth or permanently fastened to the earth".

Desai added that while it was true that resettlement was going ahead, "economic rehabilitation of the PDFs was yet to be done". He said: "With farmers losing land and the government being in no position to give alternative land, income generation schemes are the need of the hour. The government must expedite work on the proposed broad-gauge railway line between Gadag and Bijapur." But the region where acquisition is in progress has no industry, save a couple of sugar factories. Coupled with the fact that the available labour force is unskilled and there is precious little by way of minerals or other raw material resources to be tapped, the chances of industries being set up are bleak. Even the Agro Tech Park set up at Navnagar by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board in a bid to tap the region's agricultural produce such as oil seeds and grapes has not found any investors.

A bank manager in Bagalkot pointed out that the quantum of crop loan disbursed in the region had come down substantially over the past three or four years, as had term loans given to buy tillers, fertilizers, pumpsets and so on. Many farmers said that they would practise draw-down cultivation (cultivation of the land when the river waters recede during the summer months) wherever it was possible. Some have managed to hire to till at around Rs.1,000 an acre a year. The rural rich have managed to buy land or even migrated to the towns and cities.

According to Jaamdar, this could cause a problem since the region, which has had a semi-feudal system, will now suddenly find itself without influential leaders. He said: "Their absence creates a vacuum. There are also bound to be other adverse social consequences (because of the rehabilitation) in the long term. But what I have observed is that even when the farmers spend around 15 per cent of their compensation amount on wasteful expenditure such as on marriages, celebrations and birth and death ceremonies, they still invest the rest of the money in land when they can procure it. They also go in for fixed deposits." He said that the region practised 'two-season agriculture', which was not dependent on rain. That, together with the irrigation potential that the dams at Narayanpur and Alamatti promised, could help things look up, he pointed out.