Sunday, September 29, 2013

Work on Garudeshwar weir, which is part of Sardar Sarovar project, begun "without necessary clearances"

By Our Representative
Has the work for the Garudeshwar weir, proposed about 12 km downstream of the Narmada dam, begun without necessary environmental and social impact assessment clearance of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)? It would seem so, if one looks closely at the letter written by a senior member of the NCA to its chairman. The letter states, the weir would adversely impact downstream fishing activities as also the environment, about which “no assessment” appears to have been made so far.
Addressed to Dr V Rajagopalan, chairman, Environmental Sub-Group (ESG) of the NCA, and secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, this official, Shekhar Singh, who is member, ESG, has expressed surprise over the Government of India and Gujarat government decision to start work for construction of the Garudeshwar weir, which is part of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river without, obtaining necessary clearances.
The construction of the weir has begun despite the fact that the NCA has “not cleared” its environmental and social impact, it states. Singh says, he was forced to write the letter in his capacity as a member of the ESG of the NCA to draw Dr Rajagopalan’s attention on the issue because the ESG was “mandated to look into environment aspects of all the components of the Sardar Sarovar Project.”
He adds, 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, was envisaged by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award of 1979.”
However, as far as he knows, “the environmental and social impacts of construction and operation of Garudeshwar weir (GW) have never been brought before the ESG of NCA.”
Singh says, in his estimation, “the construction and operation of the weir 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.”
He underlines, “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.”
According to Singh, “However, I do not know whether there has been a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and social impacts of the weir 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.”
Referring to the Annual Report of the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee for the year 2011-12, particularly pages 54-55, Singh says that the report suggest it was “decided in the 79th meeting of Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) on March 16, 2012 that evaluation bids for construction of Garudeshwar weir committee decided to approve the recommendation of the PSC to accord approval of the revised cost estimates of Garudeshwar Weir amounting to Rs 438.18 crores.”
Singh adds, “It further decided to award the work of construction of Garudeswar weir as recommended by the  SSCAC's permanent standing committee in its 103rd meeting to the lowest bidder Rithwik Project Pvt. Ltd, Hyderabad amounting to Rs.299,43,36,391.50 (23.0884% below the estimate) for the construction of  Garudeshwar weir subject to the condition that an additional performance guarantee for the difference equivalent to estimated amount and quoted amount i.e. Rs 7 crore is to be obtained from the bidder prior to issuance of work order towards lower rate for gate works, which shall be released only after the completion of the entire gate work.”
Based on this, the work was recommended to be taken up by the Gujarat government “in compliance of all statutory clearances”, asking it to "to take further follow up actions.”
Meanwhile, expressing concern that “the work of construction of the GW has begun on the ground”, Singh emphasises, “If this is correct, I find this problematic as ESG has not yet cleared the construction of this weir.” Based on this, he has asked chairman, ESG to:
1. Ask the Government of Gujarat (GoG) to immediately stop construction of the GW. All other activities related to the GW should also be stopped.
2. Ask Gujarat government and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd to submit the full feasibility report, environment and social impact assessment report including impacts during construction and operation of the weir to the ESG and seek clearance of the ESG for this work.
3. Ask Gujarat government not to start any work in this regard till the ESG clears this.

Villagers to protest on October 2

Meanwhile, a senior environmentalist, Rohit Prajapati of the Prayavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, has said that despite the letter, written in March 2013, the Gujarat government has begun the construction the Garudeshwar weir without any of the nearby villagers having knowledge about it. " Prajapati has said, an environmental public hearing is a must, without which the construction cannot begin.
Opposition to the weir has come amidst efforts to convert the whole region from Kevadia colony, where the Narmada dam is situated, to Garudeshwar, about 12 km stretch, into a tourism hotspot. "People from about 70-odd villages around Garudeshwar have decided not to accept the decision on weir lying down. They do not accept the proposal of the Kevadia Area Development Authority's proposal to convert the region into a tourism spot", Prajapati has said in a statement.
A protest rally to be organised at Indravarna village on October 2 will particularly highlight the plight of the six villages, whose land was taken away for the Sardar Sarover project. The people of these villages feel that the land was allocated by them was for the project, and not for any tourism purpose. Besides, they have not been paid compensation on par with other oustees of the Narmada project.

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