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Sardar Sarovar gate closure without resettlement is "inhuman, unjust" decision: Will SC intervene?

Counterview Desk
Statement by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People:
On June 17, 2017, a PIB Press Release from Union Ministry of Water Resources announced, “Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has cleared the final raising of Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) in Gujarat by lowering of gates and impounding of water in the reservoir upto its Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of EL 138.68 mts.
The NCA which met under the Chairmanship of Dr. Amarjit Singh, Secretary (WR, RD & GR) considered all aspects of environmental and Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) issues.”
The gate closure will lead to submergence and displacement of lakhs of tribals and farmers of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, without even proper resettlement as legally required. There is also no justification for the decision as the canal infrastructure necessary to use the additional water that the dam will store with increase in height from 121.92 mts to 138.68 mts is not even ready.
Unfortunately, this is happening under the active encouragement of all the arms of Union and state governments and also active supervision of the highest judiciary.
As the press release dated June 17, 2017 of Narmada Bachao Andolan rightly said, “The level of falsehood involved in the decision taken by NCA on the closure of Sardar Sarovar gates is unprecedented.” Worse, the media has been spreading such lies about resettlement of Narmada affected families, which even the government has not claimed: “A total of 46,840 PAFs have been resettled in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.”
Let us look at some examples of the unprecedented falsehood in the PIB PR from the Union Government. It said: “The clean (hydro-power generation) would increase by present 1300 MW to 1450 MW with increase in annual generation by about 1100 Million Units (i.e. about Rs.400 crore per annum). In addition, this additional storage would irrigate about 8 lakh hectares. Additionally, about one crore population would get assured drinking water. As it is well known, the Sardar Sarovar Project would primarily meet the water requirement of drought prone and desert areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan.”
Let us see the reality of this claim.
Since canal infrastructure till the fields is not ready, the claimed irrigation cannot happen, till this canal infrastructure is in place. This will take years to build and farmers are not ready to either give land or share costs.There is sufficient water even today to take care of the drinking water needs, so to say that this will become possible due to gate closure is complete falsehood.
It is well known that SSP is for the drought prone areas only in namesake. The drought prone areas are the last and least priorities. The water first went to already water rich central Gujarat region, where canals were also first built and they are getting all the water they need. The Kutch canal that the PM inaugurated less than a month ago had to be closed down soon due to the damage due to the poor quality of work. The very fact that the Kutch canal was last to be built says a lot about the priority of Gujarat and the Centre.
Power generation cannot increase by 1100 MU, since the amount of water available for power generation will decide how much power generation is possible. The additional storage is supposed to be used for water use in Gujarat, and that water goes through the 250 MW canal head power house, and that cannot run the 1200 MW river bed power house.
The PIB PR than says: “Prior to clearance by NCA, the Environment Sub-group of NCA chaired by Shri Ajay Narayan Jha, Secretary (MoEF&CC) reviewed the implementation of Environment Safeguard Measures on May 01,2017 and after observing substantial progress, recommended Phase-II proposal of lowering down of the gates and impounding of water in the reservoir to FRL of EL 138.68 mts. The Environment Sub-group has also asked the State Governments to complete leftover works by June 30,2017.”
This is actually an admission of illegality. Firstly, “substantial progress” is a subjective term and an admission that work is far from complete. In any case, permission cannot be given pending completion of work, permission can only be given AFTER completing the environmental management tasks.
This lack of completion is further substantiated by the PR saying that the ESG on May 1, 2017 “asked the state governments to complete the works by June 30, 2017." This shows that the ESG permission was illegal. In fact, the SSP project requires 77.235 ha of additional forest land for submergence in Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh, for which it has yet to get the Forest Clearance. The Forest Advisory Committee that appraises such proposals was to consider the proposal in its meeting on June 15, 2017, but could not have cleared it since the proposal was not accompanied by any compensatory afforestation plan, compliance of Forest Rights Act, Wildlife Action Plan, Rehabilitation Plan, among others.
In any case, Forest Clearance comes in two stages and final clearance comes only about a year after the first stage clearance and the land cannot be used (submerged in this case) without getting final clearance.Gujarat is also illegally building Garudeshwar Dam and Statue of Unity downstream of the Dam, but has not applied for or received any environment clearance or ESG clearance.
Further, the PIB PR of MoWR on June 17, 2017 says: “The Resettlement and Rehabilitation sub-group chaired by Smt. G. Latha Krishna Rao, Secretary (MoSJ&E) reviewed the progress of R&R and the opinions received from Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs) of the States of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra on June 16, 2017. The State Governments have assured to address all issues of Project Affected Families (PAFs) on priority basis in accordance with Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award, liberalized policies of the State Governments and Supreme Court Order dated February 08,2017.”
This is again admission that the rehabilitation work is not complete and “State Governments have assured to address all issues of Project Affected Families (PAFs) on priority basis”. This is an admission of failure. Without actually completing the land based resettlement as per NWDT award, that too at least six months prior to submergence, the RSG could not have given clearance for closure of gates. If it has given such a clearance, than that is clearly illegal.
It is clear from above that the decision of NCA, ESG and RSG is illegal and Gujarat should not have closed the gates. We hope the Judiciary will take immediate cognizance of this to restore some semblance of faith of the people in the courts as the track record of the courts even on R&R issues is far from confidence inspiring. The Uttarakhand flood disaster was at its peak on June 17, 2013, where dams played a major role as the SC appointed committee showed.
The decision of the central and state governments in closing the gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam seems like invitation to another major dam induced disaster. Let us see the SC comes to the rescue of the nation this as they did through the order dated Aug 13, 2013 in case of Uttarakhand.

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