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Don't make much of power benefits from Narmada dam; nod for full height "fraught" with inter-state dispute

Suhas Paranjape
By Our Representative
In the years to come, will the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada river no more remain an inter-state project, as has been widely claimed? If so far Gujarat government officials have been saying this (read HERE), of course of the record, now a senior water resources expert has suggested that this may well happen once the two states – Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh – fully utilize their share of water. Suhas Paranjape, who has long been associated with people’s movements on sustainable development, has told Counterview that the benefits of power – the factor which makes SSP inter-state – will not last forever, and the neghbouring states should better realize this.
In a mail to Counterview, Paranjape has said, much is made of the power benefit from the Narmada dam. However, he warns, “We should note that power (other than run of the river) is a transitional benefit.” Basing on his analysis of utilization of water from Narmada, he underscores, if Gujarat picks up nine million acre feet (MAF) share of the Narmada water, and Madhya Pradesh picks up its share of 18 MAF, as awarded, there is going to be no water left for power. “Power benefit accrues only so long as some share of water of the states is unutilized. So we should not make too much of it”.
Under the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) award, Gujarat is supposed to get just 17 per cent of the 1,450 MW of power that will be produced at the river-bed power plant (1,200 MW) and the canal-head power plant (250 MW). Significantly, power distribution is the only major factor which makes the SSP inter-state. As for irrigation, Gujarat is the only beneficiary of the SSP on getting one-third or nine MAF of water of the Narmada river. Rajasthan is supposed to be getting very little of water from the SSP – just about 0.5 MAF.   
At one point, even Gujarat government officials said the state was “not interested” in taking the dam height beyond 121.92 metres, where it was stationary for so long, because it knew that, at this height, not much power can be produced, and water could be utilized at will. The force of water to ensure that six the Japan-produced turbines run in full capacity has to be pretty strong in order to produce 1,200 MW of power, and this can happen only in case the dam height reaches full reservoir level, 138.68 metres. With the permission for raise the dam height by putting up sluice gates given by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA).
Producing power would, however, mean allowing huge amount of water to flow down the Narmada river, cutting into water flow into canal to irrigate Gujarat’s parched lands. According to an estimate by a senior official, if power is produced to full capacity, canals wouldn’t get enough water, it would mean Gujarat may be able to irrigate half of the land it is supposed to irrigate from of the Sardar Sarovar  dam’s water – just about 9 lakh hectares (ha) as against 18 lakh ha, which is supposed to be cultivated once the Narmada command area is fully developed.    
 Paranjape, in his mail, has also said that at the present 121.92 metres dam height, “Gujarat can easily utilize its share of 9 MAF waters the tribunal has awarded.” Irrigation to full capacity is possible “without raising the height of the dam any further if they systematically plan to combine local storages with Narmada water”, he adds. However, he thinks that consequences of raising the dam height have not been fully understood – its adverse impact would be felt on Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra the most, especially in the immediate upstream of the Narmada dam.
“As we go higher, the valley gets shallower and shallower, and for every metre reduction (in dam hegith) the benefit in terms of submergence saved is much larger. It makes sense to stop where we are now (around 120 mtres in the gorge portion) and trade off the power benefit against saved submergence”, Paranjape advises the Madhy Pradesh government, adding, it should make a strong plea against raising the dam, “because it is going to be affected by submergence, not Gujarat.”

In fact, Paranjape insists, Madhya Pradesh should “offer to forgo the power benefit, as it once contemplated”, adding, “If that happens we also bypass the issue of gates and their technology”, an issue which has become a hot subject of debate among Narmada engineers (clear HERE). He adds, “Up till now there was a possibility of incremental additions to height. Now because of the gates, the decision will have to be 120 or 138, a 0-1 decision, no intermediate height is possible within the design with gates. Because of this it is even more urgent to stop right now and think hard on ways to utilize Gujarat 9 MAF share and not bother with power issues.”

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