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Sardar Sarovar dam, industrial effluents in South Gujarat "adversely affecting" fish catch in Narmada estuary

Fisherfolk near the Narmada estuary
By Our Representative
Is the anti-dam sentiment downstream area of the Narmada river finally beginning to raise its head in Gujarat? This is the impression gained by senior activists of Delhi-based NGO, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), and Ahmedabad-based NGO Paryavaran Mitra, who visited areas next to the Narmada estuary. An interview-based analysis by Amruta Pradhan of SANDRP, based on the visit, suggests that fisherfolk particularly are clearly feeling the pinch of the obstructions in the Narmada river, especially by the dam, which is situated about 126 km on the upstream.
Pradhan quotes Kamalesh Madhiwala, an advocate, to represent the sentiment of the fisherfolk: “Yield of hilsa has drastically reduced after the Sardar Sarovar dam was built. There has been a reduction of 65 to 70 per cent. Overall water level of the estuary has gone down. Post-monsoon, the river becomes so dry that we can walk across the riverbed. This had never happened in the past before the Sardar Sarovar dam was built.”
In fact, Pradhan was told, a decade ago there used to be 70 to 80 types of fish varieties available in the estuary. Now they get only about 10 to 12 fish varieties. Earlier, along with hilsa many other riverine species like prawns, mahseer etc. were equally important, but all these “vanquished” in after the dam. Now the fisher people’s income is solely dependent on hilsa which is very sensitive species.
Accompanied by Bhupat Solanki of the Paryavaran Mitra, during a meeting with locals it was also revealed that people, especially fisherfolk, are also sharply attacking the industrial development in South Gujarat, especially in Bharuch district for a drastic reduction in the yield of hilsa, the most important fish which remains the main source of their livelihood.
Apart from the dam, Pradhan says, the Narmada estuary is “facing growing pressures from industrial estates. Bharuch district has 13 industrial estates with 137 medium- and large-scale units of chemicals, textiles, plastics, fertilizer sectors. Industrial estate of Dahej, which is in close proximity to Bhadbhut, releases its untreated effluent in the sea near Bharuch. This is affecting the overall water quality of the estuary", affecting the fish catch. The Petroleum and Petro-Chemical Industrial Region (PCPIR) in the region has further accelerated things, they feel.
Meanwhile, the view has gained that with the proposed construction of the barrage on the Narmada river, next to Bhadbhut, at the cost of Rs 4,000 crore, things would only further deteriorate. On July 7, 2014 local fisherfolk organized a protest rally at the district magistrate’s office and more than 4,000 fisher people were a part of this. This is our fourth rally opposing the project. 
Boats in the estuary
Pradhan quotes Praveen Madhiwala, a fish trader and exporter, to say, “If the dam at Bhadbhut comes up, hilsa will be finished. Not only that, but the dam will prove to be destructive to the entire estuary.” The explanation, is this: “Tidal flow of water spreads 60 km from sea shore to upstream of the estuary. They are planning to build the barrage just 25 km upstream of the sea shore. What will happen then to the incoming salt water during high tide?”
Madhiwala adds, “It is bound to spread laterally along the barrage spreading in the coastal region and will be destructive to the settlements along the coastline. Calculating all these numbers on paper is very different than experiencing the destructive power of sea. We know what the sea can do.”
The fisher people’s cooperative, Bhadbhut Matsya Udyog Sahakari Mandali, said Pradhan, is preparing to file a public interest litigation (PIL) “challenging the barrage project”. At stake is the “livelihood of more than 30,000 people.” Praveen Macchi, a fisherman, is quoted as saying that “the overall salinity of the estuary has gone up due to severely restricted freshwater flow into the estuary. Fish diversity has reduced and riverine fish movement is obstructed due to SSP. Hilsa would be available till December-January.”
He says: “Narmada has been hilsa’s favoured habitat. Earlier hilsa was found in Tapi estuary near Surat as well. But after the Ukai dam was constructed, only two to five per cent of hilsa arrive at the Tapi estuary. Lives of fisherfolk in the estuary have been devastated. The problem of livelihood of these people became so serious that there are instances where women of the community had to get into prostitution.”

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