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'Discussed' with Modi, Gujarat Rann Sarovar proposal for Kutch runs into rough weather

Old Surajbari bridge, proposed spot of the dam to "stop" sea water ingress 
By Rajiv Shah
Top Saurashtra industrialist Jaysukhbhai Patel’s by now controversial proposal to convert the 4,900 sq km Little Rann of Kutch area, an eco-sensitive zone – a UNESCO biosphere, world’s only wild ass reserve, and a nesting ground of lesser flamingoes – into a huge sweet water lake, called Rann Sarovar, has suffered a major roadblock. At least three Central agencies have expressed serious doubts about its feasibility.
While Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani is said to be positive about the proposal, which has been opposed by the salt producers in the Little Rann, as it would take away their livelihood, as also by environmentalists, Central agencies, including the Central Water Commission (CWC), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) have raised doubts on it on technical and environmental grounds.
The proposal -- to be implemented in two phases -- requires "harvesting" the water of rivers draining into Little Rann of Kutch such as Banas, Sarawati, Rupen, Umai, Chandrabhaga, Phulka, Godra, Kankavati, Brahmni, Macchu and may other minor streams by constructing earthen bunds.
And since the Rann allegedly remains submerged during monsoon and early winter months, so says the proposal, the 1.26 km stretch along the Old Surajbari Bridge could be dammed to prevent sea water ingress to ensure water remains in the Rann for all 12 months. And, the sweet water stored could be used for cultivation in the region, which encompasses 78 villages of 12 talukas of Kutch, Patan, Surendranagar, Rajkot and Jamnagar districts.
Floated more than a year ago after the industrialist, who claimed last year that he “discussed” his “dream project” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, both of whom were reportedly “positive” about it, documents in possession of Counterview show, CWC has particularly objected to the project saying it lacks clarity.
Minutes of an internal meeting under the chairmanship of SK Sibal, chief engineer, design, North-West Unit, CWC show that the top Central body took the view that there are “major shortcomings and/or lack of clarity” in the Rann Sarovar proposal “as regards provision of spillway, hydrology/water availability and sedimentation studies, structural safety, environmental and ecological sensitivity of the area etc.”
The wild ass
According to the minutes, the “proposal is silent on any spillway arrangement that may be required to be made as per proper hydrological studies”, adding, “The proposal speaks about coefficient-based virgin yield only and, as such, actual water availability at project site is not known.”
Then, say the minutes, “There is no mention in the proposal about the potential evaporation loss from the reservoir so created due to low humidity levels in the area”, or “possibility of damaging effect of splashing sea waves on the embankment due to high winds.”
The minutes further say, the project area is a “deltaic region”, hence “huge silt coming from rivers is required to be estimated based on sedimentation studies”, adding, “Arrangements for de-silting/flushing of sediments are not there in the proposal without which life of the project may be considerably reduced due to silting.”
Then, they say, the proposal lacks “details regarding flood water management and sediment/silt management, particularly during monsoon”, as also “modalities of utilization of water”, “measures for conservation of natural habitat of Asiatic Wild Ass, flamingos and other migratory birds during and after the execution of the project.”
Pointing out that this “may be a major cause of concern" for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the minutes also talk of “post-project employment aspects (i.e. shift from traditional salt production to farming)”, even as the need to examine “the gradual siltation of the reservoir/pond so formed will raise the ground level in the pond area”, which “would lead to increased flooding in upstream area.”
CSIR, commenting on the project, says, it was a “huge techno-economical challenge”, raising four major issues with regard to the proposal. These are: Climatic factors of the area range between “semi-arid and arid”; “relative humidity is about 25%”, hence the area “is ideal for salt production”; it is a “seismically active place”; and the area is a “UNESCO biosphere reserve and nesting ground of lesser flamingo.” 
Seismic map (left) of Rann of Kutch
As for CGWB, it says that the proposed site area has clay and silt “with inherent salinity”, its “ground water level is five to 20 metres below ground level (mbgl) with salinity and with total dissolved solids (TDS) of 2500-10,000 mg/litre”, adding, “In isolated packets ground water level is 40 mbgl and ... TDS 1000-2000 mg/l.”
Continues CGWB, “Hydro-geological setting of that area is of clayey substratum, which will not allow vertical percolation of groundwater”, hence the proposal is “not suitable for recharge of fresh ground water.”
The objections have come after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) sent the proposal by Jaysukhbhai Patel, managing-director of the Ajanta Oreva Group, early this year to the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry, which in turn forwarded it to the CWC for comments.
Meanwhile, CWC, which also discussed the proposal with the industrialist, along with another expert – Dr Anil Kane, former vice chancellor, MS University, Vadodara, who claims to be one of the proponents of the proposed sweet water lake by damming the Gulf of Khambhat, called Kalpasar – is learnt to have decided to play safe, putting all onus for the project on the Gujarat government, saying, water is a “state subject”.
It recommends formation of a state government committee to study the feasibility, consisting of secretary, Narmada, Water Resources, Water Supply & Kalpsar Department of the Gujarat government as chairman, with experts from different disciplines to study hydrology, sedimentation, design, environment and coastal protection, and ground water.

Comments

BT said…
A well studied story. Time will tell whether the project is successful or not but the point you raised for livelihood of salt producers as well as the salt workers of this arid area is right because all communities belonging to Koli, Muslims etc.are totally dependent on it. Government must keep in mind for their rehabilitation or any alternatives. You know that my native Bhabhar is not far from this Rann of Kachchh.
Uma said…
A businessman involved in such a project means he is only out to make money. Leaving the decision to the state government means he will win in the long run, spelling the ruin of the area.
Madhu Menon said…
I read the article with lot of interest because i visit Little Rann of Kachchh at least 5-6 times a year and might have introduced a hundred thousand youngsters in to the uniqueness of the place. The project proposed by a business man is just a dream for him but might ened up as a nightmare for thousands of people who are dependent on this ecosystem for their livelihoods. The I'll conceived project also will put hundreds of micro organisms in troble and lakhs of migratory birds disoriented. Thanks for writing an article on otherwise "less important" subject.

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