|Narmada dam, with gates atop|
Setting aside fears of large-scale submergence in Madhya Pradesh, top Gujarat government insiders have authoritatively stated that the crucial permission to close down the gates of the Narmada dam will surely be obtained by June 2017, ahead of the monsoon season, in order to store as much water as possible during the rainy season up to the full reservoir level, 138.64 metres.
Considered crucial for the state assembly polls, scheduled for December 2017, insiders quote circles close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to say that he would take a final call on the matter by mid next year "following environmental and resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) clearance from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, as also the Narmada Control Authority (NCA)."
The NCA permitted Gujarat government to raise the dam's height to 138.64 metres in June 2014 by installing gates, but ordered these should remain open till the clearances were obtained. If the gates are closed, the water storage capacity, which is 1.4 million acre feet (MAF), would reach more than 6 MAF, as an additional 4.75 MAF capacity would be added.
As the installation of gates is complete, the state government is now waiting for the crucial permission to close them down.
A senior state official, talking with Counterview, set aside the anti-dam Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) contention that the Jha Commission report, which it claims has "exposed" large-scale corruption in R&R of Madhya Pradesh oustees, might become a major hurdle in closing down the gates.
The gates closure -- which would raise the dam's reservoir by a massive 16 metres -- is stuck because of the "failure" to obtain R&R clearance, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, where the Jha commission report is claimed to have found a massive rehabilitation scam.
According to reports, claimed to be based on the Jha commission findings, at least 15,000 families in the submergence area would still need to be resettled in Madhya Pradesh. The NBA, however, claims that not less than 45,000 families from 195 villages would be displaced if the water storage is increased by closing down the gates.
Strongly disputing the reported calculations, which are said to be based on the Jha Commission report, a senior Gujarat official said, "The Jha commission report has been prepared in a very roughshod manner", adding, "There is little reason to make it a stumbling block in closing the dam's gates."
The official underlined, "The commission was set up in 2008 under Justice SS Jha, and it took seven years for the report to be completed. However, it virtually did not work for as many as six years. In the final report, all that it does is to give instances of corruption, which could be handled. However, nowhere does it say as to what percentage of oustees remain to be resettled."
Meanwhile, the official said, the Gujarat government is all set to complete the entire Narmada project within two years, including and difficult most difficult part – the serpentine sub-minor canal network, which provide water to the far-off villages.
“If till 2014, just about 24,000 km of sub-minor canals were built, over the last two years, we have succeeded in building another 24,000 km of them. Of these, to avoid any land acquisition, we have laid down underground pipelines for about 15,000 km”, the official said.
He insisted, “This has meant creating an irrigation potential of 12 lakh hectares out of 18 lakh in the Narmada command area in Gujarat. Of this, farmers are already irrigating on eight lakh hectares.”
The sub-minors get water after water is released in 460 km long main canal, starting at the Narmada dam, and passes through branch and sub-branches canals. While the work for the main was completed a few years ago, that of branch and sub-branch canals is mostly over, except in the Kutch region.