Narmada’s real culprits

A report by Milind Ghatwai, 'The means to block or release a dam' (IE, September 19), commenting on not just the latest Jal Satyagraha in the Narmada Valley, but the overall costs and benefits of large dams on the Narmada River and the Narmada Bachao Andolan, has compelled me to respond. The lack of updated information and accurate data on the Narmada projects as well as the impact of the people's movement has led the author to conclude, without figures or detailed analysis, that while the struggle has achieved a good deal for the dam-affected, it has also cost much in terms of deferred benefits. The author, not so new to the NBA and Narmada, should look into the chronology of big dam projects like Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar to learn how decades were lost in interstate conflicts over Narmada Valley development projects.

The Sardar Sarovar project (SSP) was stalled during the decade-long tribunal proceedings from 1969-79 and so were other projects not permitted by the ministry of environment and forests, the official sanctioning agency. Rightly so, due to the enormous and irreversible social and environmental costs. Massive displacement, along with the permanent loss of natural resources and damage to the ecosystem, would require compensatory and mitigatory measures.

Does the author suggest that projects can go on without full compliance on these, damaging the catchment, shrinking the river itself and thereby reducing benefits? Should the projects not protect the command area to be irrigated from waterlogging and salinisation? If so, then taking a position that, without legal and fair compensation, no project work should continue so as to avoid irreparable loss to either people or nature has only helped gain development benefits, but with justice and sustainability.

Let the author also review his far-from-perfect statistics. The Indira Sagar dam is to destroy, through submergence, more than 93,000 hectares (ha), including prime agricultural land and forests, and a few more thousand hectares through canal excavation, only to achieve irrigation for 1.23 lakh ha of cultivable land. Is this justifiable? The Supreme Court's ruling against raising the dam height for the SSP in 2000, or not filling of water beyond a court-approved level in Omkareshwar or Indira Sagar, is not the Andolan's whimsical or irrational diktat, but the outcome of serious violations of the law.

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