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Fisherfolk walk of out public hearing on Bhadbhut project, say it would adversely affect their livelihood

Officials at the public hearing
By Our Representative
Gujarat government-sponsored environmental public hearing for the proposed Rs 4,000 crore Bharbhut barrage project on river Narmada’s mouth in Bharuch district has proved to a non-starter. While as many as 1,500 farmers and fisherfolk turned up to attend the hearing on July 19, they all walked out, en mass, soon after sharply registering their protest against the proposed project as “anti-people”. The walkout took place immediately after Pravin Tandel, the fisherfolks’ local leader, spoke saying the project would “adversely affect the fish catch, especially Hisla, once the it is implemented.”


Much against the official view that the Hisla catch was on decline, and one need not worry on this score, as found reflected in the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, prepared by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, a Government of India undertaking, the fishermen said this was an incorrect assessment based on efforts to undermine fishery activities on the mouth of the river and beyond. “Currently, Hisla fetches Rs 1,200 per kg, and is our main source of livelihood. To say that fishing is a side activity is a misnomer”, said Tandel.
In fact, the fishermen said, there is even “underestimation on the number of the families dependent on fishing activities.” While the EIA report – on which the public hearing took place – spoke of very few fishing boats, hence there was nothing to worry, the fishermen told the officials present on the occasion that they could well come and see how many fishing boats were there to find out the number of people involved in fish catch. “The officials or the NEERI experts have never cared to interact with the fishermen. They are telling a lie that they have”, said Tandel.
Demanding that NEERI should be “barred” from preparing such “false reports”, the fishermen walked out of the pandal, where the public hearing was taking place, no sooner NEERI officials, backed by Gujarat government officials, stood up to speak. The popular mood was strong – that the barrage was being built to help industry. The NEERI report says, of the 500 million cubic metres (MCM) of water to be made available once the barrage is built, 200 MCM would go to the industries in Dahej and other nearby areas, while 60 MCM for drinking water and merely 10 MCM for irrigation.

Environmentalists wonder why is Bhadbhut not part of Kalpasar project
Meanwhile, two top environmental organizations, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and Paryavaran Mitra have come down heavily on NEERI’s EIA report, saying its objectives are unclear. In fact, both the organizations have particularly stressed that the NEERI report quietly ignores the Bhadbhut project’s links with the Kalpasar project, which is proposed as a huge sweet water lake by damming the Gulf of Khambhat. 
Nowhere does the report state that its main aim is to provide water, through a canal, to supply water to the lake. “NEERI should have also questioned as to why is this small part of the larger Kalpsar project is applying for such piecemeal clearances, which is actually in violation of Supreme Court orders”, says Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP in a report.
Based on this, Paryavaran Mitra said, Bhadbhut should be cleared as part of Kalpasar, and a separate clearance should not be allowed. A few days back, in a strongly-worded letter to the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, under whose auspices the hearing took place at Bhadbhut, Paryavaran Mitra drew attention to the fact that the organization’s volunteers went to the region where the project was sought to be implemented. 
During their interaction the NGOs’ volunteers got the impression that “the affected people in the project impact area were surveyed rather than consulted. In fact, local people said the state government officials did not have any direct meeting with them, nor was any public announcement made for holding such meetings. Clearly, small fishermen were ignored during consultation, and this is a massive complaint about the project.”

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