Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to dedicate to public the third link of Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation (Sauni) Yojana by formally welcoming Narmada water to Aji dam in Rajkot on Thursday. Recently, Narmada Control Authority permitted Gujarat government to close floodgates of Sardar Sarovar Dam and thus increased its storage capacity from 1.25 million acre-feet (MAF) to 4.75 MAF. In an exclusive interview with GOPAL KATESHIYA, Minister of State for Water Resources (independent charge) Nanu Vanani talks about the Sauni project, not being affected by the increased capacity of the dam, its escalating cost and elaborate events. Excerpts…
After the gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam are closed, how much floodwater will be available for the Sauni project?
Sauni will get one MAF floodwater. The dam gets over 28 MAF water. Gujarat was allotted 9 MAF. But there was additional 4 MAF. Eventually, it was decided that Gujarat or other participating states, if they claim a stake, would get that water. Accordingly, Gujarat drew plans for using 3 MAF of that water. It was decided to divert 1 MAF each to north Gujarat through Sujalam Sufalam scheme, Saurasthra through Sauni project and Kutch.
You have said in the past that floodwaters of rivers like Mahi and Sabarmati will also be channelised for Sauni project. Is the infrastructure in place?
No, but that is part of the concept of Sauni project. Floodwater of Mahi and Sabarmati drains into the sea. We shall create structures for channelising the water. It is part of the plan of the Narmada dam project as well.
Will the government be able complete Sauni within the proposed deadline of 2019 end?
The pace, at which we are working, gives us confidence that we will be able to complete the project by 2019. Work orders have been issued for the third and last phase of link-I. Work up to Shetrunji Dam has been awarded under link-II. From there on, the diameter of pipeline reduces and there will be single pipe only instead of the two parallel ones in the first two phases of each link. Therefore, work for third phases will be speedier. Similar is the case of link-III and IV. Most probably, we shall start planning the third phase of these links and work will start on them before phase-II works are over.
When Narendra Modi announced the project in 2012, he had estimated project cost to be Rs10,000 crore. In 2013, by the time the project got administrative approval, the cost had gone up to Rs10, 861 crore. When foundation of this project was laid in 2014, this had shot up to Rs12,166 crore. Now, the government expects the project cost to be Rs16,638 crore. Why this cost and time overruns?
There are two reasons ? general price rise and another is that the project estimate was prepared taking into account schedule of rates prevailing then. When market prices go up than the rates, contractors quote higher amounts. When we floated tenders for first phases, we got quotations 45 per cent above the rates. So, we cancelled the tenders and invited fresh bids. Again, the quotations were around 13 per cent higher. Later, price of steel came down and therefore bids for second phases have been approved for five per cent over the scheduled rates.
So, is the estimate of Rs 16,638 final?
Now, there is no question of cost inflation in second phases since work orders worth Rs 6,400 crore have already been issued. In third phase, there is a possibility of two to five per cent variation. Overall, there could be variation of five to 10 per cent in project cost.
The length of pipeline network was estimated 1,125 km when the project was launched. But now it has touched 1,265 km. Will it go even further?
Some plus or minus is possible. For example, link-II has started pumping water to Bhimdad Dam in Botad district. After that, farmers of a village near Bhimdad came to us and requested us to lay a 2 km pipeline so that a small dam in their area could get Narmada water. We granted the request.
So, will the government accept such demands in future also?
Government always thinks positively. But it has to assess its technical and economical viability. Thirdly, we have also to assess if there is additional water available to fill up that extra dam. Therefore, we have stopped accepting demands of filling major dams or ponds, which are not part of the project. We want to fill up 115 dams first as planned.
Second phase works were for laying parallel pipelines. But only single line has been laid from Machhu-I Dam to Aji-I Dam. How will the second line be laid?
We made exception in the link-III, second phase work between Machhu and Aji to ensure that Rajkot gets Narmada water for drinking purpose at the earliest. Therefore, a single line was laid first. Now, another parallel line will be laid, for which work order has been issued.
The government has already availed of Rs 3,000 crore loan from NABARD. How the government proposes to manage rest of finances?
As of now, the government is making budgetary allocation for the project. Availing of bank loan is a continued process.
Timings of major developments in Sauni have generally coincided with elections. Is your party trying to seek political mileage?
Like availing bank loan is a continuous process for the government, elections are also a continuous process in democracy. There will be election to Lok Sabha, state Assembly, local bodies. Does this mean that no new projects can be announced? We will be wrong if we make announcements at election time but do not work on them later.
How much importance does the state government and BJP attaches to the Sauni project?
We have accorded top priority to water in Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat. We have been seeking constant feedback from our party workers on the implementation of Sauni and other projects. Water is the solution to all their problems.
But Congress has repeatedly been asking if the BJP has built a single dam during its long reign.
For dam construction, there needs to be proper sites. Wherever such sites were available in Saurasthra, Kutch and north Gujarat, we have built small dams and ponds. If there are no new sites available, the only option we are left with is to strengthen the existing dams. When we announced that 115 dams of Saurashtra would be filled with Narmada water for irrigation, Congress dismissed it as mere talks of Sheikh Chilli, saying it was not possible.
So is there potential in the state for construction of new dams?
There are some sites. For example, a small dam is possible in Santhali village in Amreli. However, due to issues in acquiring land of farmers and the new land acquisition Act, it is apparently not viable economically. Survey is going on for four to five minor schemes. But there is no potential for building a major dam now.
But on the other hand, there is under-utilisation of existing irrigation potential?
We have adopted multi-pronged strategy. We are trying to enhance availability of irrigation water and area. The government has now focused on efficient use of water through micro-irrigation scheme. The subsidy to farmers for developing drip irrigation system has been increased from 50 per cent to 70 per cent this financial year. This will save water and in turn, will lead to an increase in area under irrigation. Secondly, we have decided to line almost all the canals by 2019. The biggest project we have undertaken is in Saurashtra. There are around 200 dams and water flows directly to fields through gravity canals on the ground. But now, we have decided to cut these canals deep into the ground. Farmers will have to lift water from canals now. This will persuade them to use water judiciously as drawing water from canal will cost them. The command area of canals, which have been modified in this manner, has almost doubled. Work of cutting canals of 15 dams is in progress. We shall shortly perform the ground-breaking ceremony for cutting the canal of Bhadar Dam.
But will it not lead to farmers demanding more electricity?
If there is water, everything else takes backseat. One of the reasons outlined by the PM for opting for pipeline canal for Sauni project was to prevent water pilferage. But people have been opening valves of Sauni pipelines on their own and consequently police have to be deployed.
How does government justify the cost of pipeline canal?
It is true, we have to deploy police even along the Sauni pipelines. This is beginning of the project and pipeline management system is not in place. Pipeline canal is certainly costing more but it is bringing water.
The state has spent about Rs 26 crore in organising events to inaugurate various links of Sauni. The inauguration of link-III in Rajkot is expected to cost an additional Rs 12 crore. Isn’t this waste of money?
It is a matter of opinion. For me, these are events, which generate awareness on water conservation. So, it is not waste of money.