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Explained: What is Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project & why are tribals in Gujarat protesting against it?

What is the Par Tapi Narmada river link project, why are tribals protesting and how will it affect the BJP government in Gujarat ahead of assembly elections?

Written by Kamal Saiyed , Edited by Explained Desk |
Updated: March 22, 2022 4:33:03 pm
Tribals protest against Tapi-Par-Narmada river-linking project in Vaghai taluka in Gujarat on Friday. (Express Photo)

On March 21, the tribals in Gujarat will hold a public meeting in Kaprada in Valsad district to protest against the Centre’s Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project. This will be the fourth such protest meet after the first on February 28 in Dharampur of Valsad district, the second one on March 5 in Vyara of Tapi district, and the third meet on March 11, in Dang district.

What is the Par Tapi Narmada river link project, why are tribals protesting and how will it affect the BJP government in Gujarat ahead of assembly elections? The Indian Express explains.

What is the Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project?

The Par Tapi Narmada link project was envisioned under the 1980 National Perspective Plan under the former Union Ministry of Irrigation and the Central Water Commission (CWC).

The project proposes to transfer river water from the surplus regions of the Western Ghats to the deficit regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. It proposes to link three rivers — Par, originating from Nashik in Maharashtra and flowing through Valsad, Tapi from Saputara that flows through Maharashtra and Surat in Gujarat, and Narmada originating in Madhya Pradesh and flowing through Maharashtra and Bharuch and Narmada districts in Gujarat.

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The link mainly includes the construction of seven dams (Jheri, Mohankavchali, Paikhed, Chasmandva, Chikkar, Dabdar and Kelwan), three diversion weirs (Paikhed, Chasmandva, and Chikkar dams), two tunnels (5.0 kilometers and 0.5 kilometers length), the 395-kilometre long canal (205 kilometre in Par-Tapi portion including the length of feeder canals and 190 km in Tapi-Narmada portion), and six powerhouses.

Of these, the Jheri dam falls in Nashik, while the remaining dams are in Valsad and Dang districts of South Gujarat.

An official of the Ukai dam explains how the excess water in the interlinked Par, Tapi and Narmada rivers which flow into the sea in the monsoon would be diverted to Saurashtra and Kutch for irrigation. “During the monsoon season, the water which is supplied to Saurashtra through the state government from Sardar Sarovar dam will be saved and used for other purposes. Presently the water of Sardar Sarovar is used in urban areas and for irrigation in Saurashtra”, says the dam official.

Centre’s role

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Gujarat, Maharashtra and the central government on May 3, 2010, that envisaged that Gujarat would get the benefit of the Par Tapi Narmada link project through en-route irrigation from the link canal and in the drought-prone Saurashtra Kutch region by way of substitution.

The Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the project was prepared by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) in 2015 and modified on the intervention of the Gujarat government, through letters the then chief minister wrote in 2016. The chief minister had suggested to include the command area of five projects proposed, namely: Ugta, Sidhumber, Khata Amba, Zankhari and Khuntali; irrigate tribal areas en route right side of link canal by lift; lift irrigate tribal areas of Dang and Valsad districts directly from the reservoirs; explore possibilities of irrigation in the tribal areas of Chhota Udepur and Panchmahal districts from Narmada Main Canal on substitution basis; provide drinking water for all villages of Dang and Navsari districts and villages of Kaprada and Dharampur talukas of Valsad district and provide for filling up all possible tanks in the area under the project’s cover.

The Gujarat government had, in December 2016, proposed providing a pipeline system instead of open canals to “avoid/minimise the land acquisition in tribal areas” as well as to reduce evaporation and seepage losses. A letter dated January 18, 2017, by the secretary, Gujarat government, to NWDA suggested revision of the DPR on these lines.

How will the project affect villages?

According to a report by the NWDA, about 6065 ha of land area will be submerged due to the proposed reservoirs. A total of 61 villages will be affected, of which one will be fully submerged and the remaining 60 partly. The total number of affected families would be 2,509 of which 98 families would be affected due to the creation of the Jheri reservoir, the only one in Maharashtra, spread over six villages. In Gujarat, 793 families from 17 villages will be affected by the Kelwan reservoir, 563 families by the Dabdar reservoir across 11 villages, 379 families by Chasmandva reservoir spread over seven villages, 345 families would be affected by Chikkar reservoir across nine villages and 331 families would be affected due to Paikhed reservoir spread over 11 villages.

The affected villages are located in Surgana and Peint talukas in Nashik and Dharampur taluka of Valsad, Vansda taluka of Navsari and Ahwa taluka of Dang districts in Gujarat.

“The affected families may lose their lands or houses or both in the submergence when the reservoirs are created”, says the NWDA report. As per the report, the affected families would be compensated for the loss of their lands and houses and those whose houses are submerged, would be resettled.

Irrigation benefits

The surplus water proposed to be diverted through the estimated Rs 10,211 crore Par-Tapi-Narmada link project is expected to irrigate an area of 2,32,175 hectares, of which 61,190 ha is en route to the link canal. The command area of five projects on the left side of the canal as proposed by the Gujarat government is about 45,561 ha which will be irrigated by gravity through a link canal. The 36,200 ha on the right side will be by lift irrigation. The link project will take over 76710 ha under the command of the existing Miyagam branch canal of the Narmada canal system. The Narmada water thus saved will be used to irrigate nearly 23,750 ha of tribal land in Chhota Udepur district and 10,592 ha in Panchmahal district, on the right side of the Narmada Main Canal (NMC). About 42,368 ha area in the Saurashtra region will also be covered.

An official of the Ukai dam, on condition of anonymity, said the project aims to harness the excess water that flows into the sea by interlinking the rivers. This will also help in containing regular flood-like situations in the rivers in Valsad, Navsari, Surat and Bharuch.

What are the tribals’ fears?

The districts where the project will be implemented are largely dominated, by tribals who fear displacement. Three public meetings have already been oragnised by the tribals to protest the project. The fourth meet will be held in Kaprada in the Valsad district. After Kaprada, one more public meeting is due to be held at Mandvi in Surat district, the date for which is yet to be announced.

The movement is backed by Samast Adivasi Samaj, Adivasi Samanvay Manch, Adivasi Ekta Parishad and Congress MLA Navsari Anant Patel.

Political implications

In her Union Budget speech this year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman indicated the Centre’s renewed push for the river-linking project. The announcement has the ruling BJP worried as the state goes to polls this year.

The BJP leaders say that if the river link project is not put on hold it will affect the party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly elections.

Several BJP leaders from South Gujarat including MLAs from Valsad, Navsari and Dangs have even made representations to chief minister Bhupendra Patel and state BJP president C R Paatil about the anger among tribals.

On March 3, several party leaders met Chief Minister Patel, state cabinet ministers, and Paatil, where they were assured that the state government will make representations to the Centre on this issue.

In the 2017 assembly election, the BJP won the tribal-dominated assembly seats of Kaprada, Dharampur, and Dang. There are 28 seats in Gujarat reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) which the BJP aims to win this year, The party has also announced several schemes for tribals in the state budget.

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