Ending Gujarat’s eight-year-long wait, Chief Minister Anandi Patel on Thursday announced that the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has given approval to raise the height of the dam to 138.62 metres, which, on its completion, would allow the state to get three times more water for irrigation.
The government can go ahead with installation of sluice and radial gates at the Sardar Sarovar Dam and take its height to its full reservoir level at 138.62 metres from the present 121.92 metres and increase water holding capacity by 74 per cent from 1.25 to 4.75 acre feet.
Also, the state will have to speed up its long pending canal network, without which the additional water quantum will be of no use. Although the project started in 1982, 40 per cent of its nearly 75,000-km-long canal networking work is still pending. In absence of the complete canal network, despite water availability, there will be little chance that it will reach the parched areas of Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat to meet its full irrigation capacity of over 18 lakh hectares.
So far, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has achieved irrigation potential of up to 10 lakh hectares. However, its actual irrigation potential, owing to incomplete canal network, is only around 3 lakh hectares, limited to central and south Gujarat.
The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) officials said that the installation of gates and building of canal network will go on simultaneously. SSNNL Managing Director J N Singh Said, “By 2015, the canal network will be complete.”
So far, only the 540-km-long main canal from Kevadiya Colony in Narmada district to Rajasthan via north Gujarat has been built, besides, 37 of the total 38 branch canals for withdrawing water from the main canal to other areas. Land acquisition and design of sub-minor networks have caused the delay. While in south and central Gujarat, land acquisition was done through compensation to farmers, the same model has not been received well in other areas.
Over the years, the project cost has risen from Rs 6,406 crore in 1988 to crossing the Rs 40,000 crore mark. The Gujarat government has been insisting for a couple of years that the Centre should provide 90 per cent grant for the Desert Development Project under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program (AIBP) of SSP.
SSNNL, a government undertaking, completed constructing the 121.92-metre dam in 2006, which is 96 per cent of its total concrete structure. Since then, construction work at the dam site had come to standstill in the absence of a go-ahead from the NCA, which had been empowered by the Supreme Court in 2000 to allow raising of the dam’s height from time to time, following clearance from Relief and Rehabilitation and Environment sub-groups. The dam covers Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
However, as the state government celebrated the decision, social activist Medha Patkar, who heads the Narmada Bachao Andolan, cried foul and said it was not taken in a democratic manner.
“The government has neither given us any hearing nor has it taken any time nor made any attempt to know the ground reality before deciding to go forward with Sardar Sarovar Dam construction to its final height. Can the height be raised in violation of law? The decision has not been taken in a democratic manner. The government has not consulted the ministries concerned,” Patkar told the media in Mumbai.
The decision to raise the dam’s height was taken during a meeting in Delhi on Thursday. Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said that the decision was taken based on the report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment that the rehabilitation of displaced people would be taken care of.
“Social Justice Ministry has given its report and they are 100 per cent satisfied with the rehabilitation measures being adopted…All the responsibilities they have to commit to, they have done…That is why the decision was taken by the Water Resources Secretary,” Bharti said, adding that the four concerned states were consulted on the issue.