December 29, 2015 4:15:19 am
In a “U-turn” from the original concept of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project for the command area development (CAD), the Gujarat government has decided to lay underground pipeline (UGPL) instead of the gravity-based sub-minor canal network. The government move overrides the recommendations of an expert group led by B N Navalawala, adviser to the Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on Water
In its report, a copy of which is available with The Indian Express, the group had strongly recommended against UGPL as an alternative to sub minor canals for the Narmada Project. Sub-minor canals were said to be important for the CAD as those would have brought irrigation water to agricultural fields.
The panel’s main argument against UGPL project was limited number of beneficiaries and excessive maintenance.
The government has already started floating tenders for laying UGPL network at a cost Rs 2,000-3,000 crore. The estimated cost of the total project is around Rs 45,500 crore.
The total command area of Narmada Project is around 18 lakh hectare and the success of the project depends on the distribution network, which was originally conceived to be consisting of sub-minor canals of 48,058 km. Most work on the sub minor network was to be completed when the government decided for laying UGPL in the later half of 2014.
In 2010, the Expert Group for Strategy for the Accelerated Development of Sardar Sarovar Project Command Area was formed to assess the viability of UGPL as against sub-minor canal network. The group had studied relevant issues, including the past experiences with UGPL inside and outside Gujarat, before recommending against it.
One of the major reasons for altering sub-minor canal network with UGPL was unavailability of land as farmers were not ready to let go their land for the network.
However, the expert group had its argument against the policy adopted by the government for the purpose. “The SSNNL (Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, which is implementing the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project) has adopted a policy to acquire land for sub-minors on voluntary basis i.e. without making any compensation towards land acquisition from land holders. While in the State, in other irrigation projects and even in the country the land required for the construction of sub-minors is acquired under the provision of Land Acquisition Act, wherein the land owners are given appropriate compensation for land acquisition. This differential policy has become a bottleneck and the main cause for delay in land acquisition, resulting in the delay of project realisation,” the expert group had noted in its report.
“The committee recommends that SSNNL should acquire the land for construction of sub-minors to expedite the development of the command area, under suitable land acquisition procedure as per prevailing policy for other projects in the state,” it said.
“Looking to the vast command area of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, it does not seem advisable to go in for UGPL system. It would be rather practical and techno-economically a viable proposition to find the solution for land acquisition for open channel system. This procedure has been adopted in other projects of Gujarat and practically no difficulty has been encountered for acquisition of land for sub minor canals,” the committee noted.
The committee added, “For a delay of one year there would be an estimated loss of approximately Rs 700 to 900 crore in agricultural production alone besides many indirect losses.”
Besides, it noted that the UGPL system needs more maintenance. Since the farmers’ land has been used for laying the pipeline, it is difficult to excavate and maintain the system.
However, Cabinet minister and spokesperson of the Gujarat government Nitin Patel said, “This work of UGPL is going on and it has saved land of farmers. It is for the benefit of farmers only.”
“Experts might have said no to it for some other reasons,” Patel added, without explaining further when asked about the expert group’s recommendations against UGPL.
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