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Lack of environmental concern "endangers" Narmada dam's 48,000 ha catchment area in Madhya Pradesh

Medha Patkar discussing environmental issues at NCA, Indore
Counterview Desk
In a letter to the Union environment secretary, well-known social activist Medha Patkar has apprehended that thousands of hectares (ha) of catchment area in the upstream of the Narmada dam in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat still remain “untreated”, putting villages and towns situated next to the river in peril if the dam’s reservoir is filled up to the brink.
Patkar’s letter, running into about 4,000 words, comes amidst reports that the Government of India is all set to fill up the Narmada dam up the full reservoir level (138.64 metres) during the next monsoon by allowing the Gujarat government to close down the radial gates installed on the dam.
Pointing out that this would cause “a serious damage to environment and the riverian communities”, Patkar, who heads the anti-dam Narmada Bachao Andolan, says, completion of the environmental work “is highly important”, as it is the “pre-conditional” for achieving the final dam height.
Giving figures, Patkar says, as per a Madhya Pradesh report, 47,684 ha of catchment area is yet to be treated, with large areas vulnerable to flooding and therefore remains “highly degraded”. Further, Maharashtra has an untreated area of 9547 ha.
Insisting that catchment area treatment is particularly essential “to prevent soil erosion and siltation”, Patkar says, she is “utterly shocked” that the Environmental Sub-Group (ESG) of the Narmada Control Authority, which is the final authority of allowing the Narmada dam to become fully functional, has not taken into account the “massive illegal sand mining that has been on for last five years.”
Pointing out that huge areas have been leased out in village after village in the districts of Badwani, Dhar, Khargone and Alirajpur by the mining department of Madhya Pradesh, Patkar says, “The environmental impacts causing damage/loss due to sand mining in the catchment of the Narmada dam is before National Green Tribunal’s Bhopal bench.”
Saying that sand mining is “directly draining” and degrading the catchment area, Patkar says, “The illegal mining, which is resulting in demolition of river banks and the natural embankments, is threatening villages and existing civic amenities”, making them vulnerable to floods and water logging.
Narmada dam oustees protest at NCA office, Indore
Not only has the ESG failed to look at the catchment area, Patkar says, even the environmental impact on the downstream of the Narmada dam has been summarily ignored. “Gujarat is facing massive sea ingress up to 30 km, leading to major problem of salinization of surface and ground water, destruction of top soil and closure of industries for days and weeks”, she says.
Another issue which needs to be looked into, says Patkar, is the need for seismological monitoring centres which should be functional at nine places on the banks of Narmada river, yet they are not functional at some spots. Pointing that the Narmada dam is situated on a faultline, she adds, “The centres at Kukshi and Badwani are lying close and almost dead for years.”
Then, says Patkar, there is the failure to look into the impact on healthcare measures. “Maharashtra is the only state where there is a floating dispensary on a big barge donated by the European Commission, though running irregularly”, she says, adding, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have nothing in this respect.
“Neither medical services on boat, nor upgraded primary health centres (PHCs), are seen in the villages in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat”, Patkar says, adding, “Hilly communities of adivasis have been left for themselves for reaching out to the dispensaries, spending hundreds of rupees to reach hospitals by boats and private jeeps.”
Finally, the letter regrets, as for protecting the historical sites, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been left its study half way. This has happened despite the fact that there are “various articles published in the archeological journals on the pre-history archaeology of Narmada have concluded that Narmada is the oldest civilization in the world and the only places where the remnants of all ages right from the Paleolithic age are available here.”

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