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Modi model? "Refusal" to build Narmada's micro canals, keep Kutch dry; help industry

By Medha Patkar*
This is the latest photograph of the Kutch Branch Canal (KBC) of the Sardar Sarovar, as of April 8! What does it show, expose, and what memories do you recall? Is it dry or dead? Is it a canal or a carcass of the same?
None has forgotten the fact that the Sardar Sarovar was approved as a dam as high as 455 feet, mainly to benefit Kutch and Saurashtra, and to an extent North Gujarat, as drought-affected and drought-prone regions in Gujarat, the state that pushed for this giant project. KBC was seen as the lifeline of Kutch.
Kutch, the district occupying 24% of the geographical area of Gujarat, was to get the highest priority in the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) water distribution. The length of the Kutch branch canal, which is one of 38 branches of the Narmada Main Canal (NMC), is 512 km.
It crosses a depression, connecting the Little Rann of Kutch, and is supposed to be managed with falls and lifts. For the whole of Gujarat, NMC is supposed to be connected with 4,569-km-long distributaries and 63,990 km of minors and subminors, making a total of 75,000-km network, meant for command area development of the Sardar Sarovar.
The Kutch branch canal offtakes from NMC is at 385.814 km, and it was to serve the whole of Kutch in providing drinking water to all villages in the district as well as irrigation for whatever irrigable agricultural land that is available. Several leaders from Kutch fought for years after Gujarat declared its SSD water distribution details.
Damjibhai Anchorwala, who once supported the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) during the Mumbai action in 1993 (fast for 18 days), had said, Kutch and the valley at two ends which had suffered injustice with commonality. However, soon thereafter, he probably reached a compromise with the Government of Gujarat and changed track, yet continued to assert rights of Kutch.
Keshojibhai Dhedia had a dilemma on whether to go by challenging the government for some time, but otherwise he was the most critical and vocal representative of Kutch, demanding a higher and assured water share. There was an advertisement on "Kutch-ni sathe cchetarpindi" (betrayal of Kutch), published prominently in a Gujarati newspaper, but the advertisement was withdrawn from other editions under pressure.
All this indicates a long story of Kutch, which is also known for its border with Pakistan. Yet it is being painted as absolutely peripheral to the larger command (beneficiary) area of the Sardar Sarovar. It has always been a big question raised by us, NBA, with data and documents we could set our hands on in different phases. Being at the tail end, its exclusion was a well-based suspicion, which has proved to be correct.
Now comes the time to realise what the Modi government in Gujarat and its party in power has done with Narmada. This is partly exposed by Suresh Mehta, former BJP chief minister, who was also a member of the legislative committee in the past that had studied and evaluated dams and their reality in Gujarat. He has spelt out his views during the last two years or so. The reality is still darker.
Facts are as follows:
  • The construction of the micro canal network in Kutch is left behind, avoiding water distribution in its favour for not even 1.6% of Kutch area, as was the initial plan. By doing this, water is preserved for friendly industries.
  • In Kutch, thermal power plants and other industries are diverting and drawing available waters at the cost of water for drinking and irrigation. The whole list of 481 industries came out through the Right to Information (RTI) as beneficiaries from Central to North Gujarat. It has clearly taken a toll of water supply to the needy region, beyond Mahi and Sabarmati. That includes Kutch.
  • With industries having a priority, the Bhachau branch canal in Bhachau in Kutch, proceeding to Mundra, is totally dry, and the canal is breached at many places, demolishing people’s hopes! Water towards Rapar is also providing hardly any irrigation, as there is absence of micro canal network, and pipelines are not in place, which can only take the waters to farms and farmers. Farmers are compelled to take waters through diesel pumps, which leads to wastage without regulation.
  • The cities that are supplied waters, such as Bhuj, also don’t get water for 6 to 8 days many a time. And what about villages? Irregularity has reached a peak, as assessed by studious leaders of the Kutchi Samaj, who are categorically stating that “there is not an acre of agri-land in Kutch that is irrigated through SSD waters till date.”
  • Out of 200 million litres per say (MLD) of water promised, hardly 100 MLD is said to have been supplied, as per the official documents, but the real plight indicates a worst situation! Instead of 50 MLD promised to industries, much more water appears to be diverted to them for sure. People are thirsty and feel cheated.
What the people of Gujarat, and especially Kutch, yet don’t know is this:
  • There was a conscious design of the Modi model not to construct the micro canal network so as to keep the farmers under promise, but cheat them in order to provide dam waters to 481 industries! This list is full of Adanis and Ambanis. They have cornered most of the water benefits. The quantum to each, officially stated, can’t be the final, nor dependable.
  • Another fact is that Madhya Pradesh, which is to get the supply of almost 50% of the Sardar Sarovar capacity (4.3 million acre feet or MAF out of 9 MAF for Gujarat), has changed its plans, in nexus with the Centre, concealing this from the people from Gujarat as well as Madhya Pradesh.
  • Madhya Pradesh was to give the share of its water to Gujarat from the upper reservoirs, Omkareshwar, Indira Sagar and Maheshwar, for the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), while the state has decided to divert waters from those very dams/reservoirs to all main rivers (Kshipra, Mahi, Gambhir, Parvati, Kalisindh and Chambal) across Madhya Pradesh. The six big Narmada link projects are to take away 5,000 to 15,000 litres per second per pipeline project of water! That will surely empty Maa Reva (Mother Narmada)!
  • What will remain to flow into the Sardar Sarovar and to Bharuch, the estuary and the sea, as also Kutch? Both the tail ends -- the dam and the drought-prone area -- will be dry and dead! SSP has already killed alternatives. Who will understand the falsehood in the promises and claims made for years, leaving the people waiting to satiate their thirst since decades?
There are not less than 30,000 families in the submergence villages, with shops, trees, best of agriculture land. The first adivasi song on the Dam and its impacts described the plight of the affected in these words (translated):
The Dam has a big name.
Gifting waters to some and canals to them.
A little gift for us they save,
Eyes full of water we too have...!’

Today, the same can be the song for the ‘drought affected’ area.
The dry canals, on one hand, and the Mother River, on the other, have stopped flowing to the downstream, inviting the sea to ingress and salinize it all. What we have is the dry bed of the reservoir, as the mother river Narmada is almost lost. It gives the following slogan and message:
Unite to fight for what is your right…
Not the Dam but water, that is ‘in sight’, of your own!
Save it as ‘life, livelihoods and your own might.’
---
Leader, Narmada Bachao Andolan

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