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Narmada waters from dam meant for irrigating Gujarat's parched fields; producing power 'last priority'

By Rajiv Shah

With the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), the powerful inter-state body working under the Government of India, having unanimously decided to raise the Narmada dam to the full reservoir level (FRL), 138.68 metres from 121.92 metres, a new apprehension is starting to grip the top Gujarat officialdom. Expressing the new fear, a senior official wondered, once the dam reaches its FRL, will the two neighbouring states, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, allow Gujarat to draw as much water as it wants for irrigation – at the expense of power being produced at the dam? Of would they raise objections, as they are more interested in power than irrigating Gujarat’s parched fields?
A senior Gujarat government official has told Counterview, “Our stand on the issue is very clear. Once the dam reaches the FRL, we would want waters to be flown into the Narmada main canal in full capacity, instead of waters going waste towards downstream through the river-bed power plant of the dam, which should ideally produce 1,200 MW of water from its six Japan-manufactured turbines. We think that there is no reason why so much of water should be allowed to flow down the Narmada river towards the sea, especially because Madhya Pradesh is on verge of fully utilising its share of Narmada water by building several irrigation projects on the river, even as producing a huge amount of power at the Indira Sagar Dam.”
Indeed, the Gujarat government has reason to worry. Only at FRL can 1,450 MW of power be produced to full capacity – 1,200 MW from the river-bed power plant, the rest, 250 MW, from the canal-head power plant. And only at the FRL can the strong force of water would make the turbines rotate to produce full capacity of power, of which Gujarat’s share, under the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) award, is just 16 per cent, while Madhya Pradesh is to get 57 per cent, and Maharashtra 27 per cent. “Why should Gujarat be interested in power?”, wondered an official.
Officials confirm, till now, Gujarat was not interested in raising the dam only because it knew that by raising the dam height only the two neighbouring states will gain. As for Gujarat, enough water at the current dam height -- 121.98 metres – would be available for irrigation for an incomplete Narmada canal network. However, officials claim, with canal networking on fast track, Gujarat would need “considerably more water from the Narmada dam” than has been hitherto the case. “If water is allowed to flow down the Narmada river through the turbines, we will not get more than half the water necessary for irrigation”, one official conceded.
While Himanshu Thakkar, a well-known environmentalist on dam-related issues, believes that the issue will not arise now as it would take at least three years for the Narmada dam to reach FRL, during which time the Gujarat government will install gates, which is the last step for dam construction, a senior Gujarat official insisted, “We will have to be prepared for opposition from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra on this issue. Our main aim should be to keep water stored in the reservoir at FRL, which could be used in times of need, instead of allowing all of it to be drained down the river.”
Meanwhile, anti-dam Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar in a statement has sharply criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talking about inclusive growth during his recent speech in Parliament, but actually doing just the opposite in allowing the dam’s height to be raised. “It is absolutely obnoxious that the new government has not given us any hearing, nor has it taken any time, nor made any attempt to know the ground reality, before deciding to go forward with Sardar Sarovar Dam construction to its final height.”
“Sardar Sarovar Dam at its present height itself has 2 lakh people in its affected region, so if the height is raised by installing 17 meters high gates, the densely populated villages in Nimad Madhya Pradesh with houses, farms, shops, temples, mosques, standing crops etc. will face a watery grave”, she has said, adding, “Adivasi villages in the hills in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat inhabiting hundreds of families are also to be further submerged. Altogether not less than 2.5 lakh people, farmers, fishworkers, potters, shopkeepers will face deluge and devastation, without rehabilitation, if the height is raised from 122 meters to 139 meters!”

Comments

Himanshu Upadhyaya said…
Every time a decision to raise the height is taken, we are told that it will store more water, hence more water will be available to be utilised for irrigation.
Please kindly note that the Narmada mail canal originates from 110 metes level. Gujarat could utilise 9 MAF water (what has been granted to it as per NWDTA) even if dam height had not gone beyond this level.
Recall that book written by Suhas Paranjape and K J Joy titled, Making Sardar Sarovar viable? It was argued that Gujarat can get much more irrigation even with 110 meters high dam if it invests into protective irrigation model. am copying my e mail to both of them.
Also one might have seen what Himanshu Thakkar wrote on SANDRP blog yesterday.
To me it appears that the intent is not to spread irrigation and drinking water (that SSNNL offiicial will fail to explain if that was the case, why the canal construction is not yet over and why has Gujarat govt in recent times, de-commanded some parts from irrigation benefit, by letting the govt acquire the land to bring in SIRs and Petro-Chemicals complexes.
Joy KJ said…
Yes I broadly agree with what Himanshu has said. I do not think that the height of the dam needs to be increased and Gujarat is in a position to take water anywhere int he planned command area with the existing height. So why is that Gujarat pushing for increasing the height?

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