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River Interlinking: Narmada Part 2?

By Purushottam S. Kulkarni

22 September, 2005

The first Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the Ken-Betawa link, one of the thirty major river linking projects in India, will commence soon. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh signed a MoU and set the river interlinking project rolling.

While I sit wondering about the magnitude, impact and cost of this project, the project already has the backing of the NDA, the UPA and the President of India. No party has opposed it or made an effort to get a reasonable cost-benefit analysis along any axes for it. That comes as no surprise, as no party wants to stop the project and be portrayed as "anti-development" or worse "anti-nationalist" (the term currently doing its rounds). What is amazing, is not the ready support, but the total lack of consideration for other alternatives. No one doubts the irony of droughts and floods occurring simultaneously, but there are several alternative strategies, most noticeably water harvesting and micro-hydro, that have benefited communities. Let me also add, that these are not sporadic happenings, but on the contrary are being actively pursued by many NGOs and people/local village initiatives.

As the government is using the universal betterment as the primary reason, the people are entitled to know what is the governments stand on these alternative techniques, or what has been its evaluation technique and criteria or why it is not considering other strategies. The question is not that, "Why are you opposing bringing excess waters to regions that need it?". A more important question is, "How has it been decided that Interlinking is the answer to water/energy problems?". If the government is so sure that this the correct approach, they should make their plans and criteria of evaluation open to the
public and be ready for debate and discussion. But sadly what we have is a non-transparent policy, with no representation from people that will be displaced and affected directly in policy creation and decisions of the project.

The urban folk are happy as worst case they will not loose anything directly and in the best case are only to gain, albeit a set of different issues like possible raise in taxes etc. The rural folk stand to loose land, existing water resources and their sources of subsistence and economic stability. Given the
track record of the government so far, the resettlement and rehabilitation is shameful and only sent more rural folk to the city slums, where they are facing demolition squads. Given this evil circle, won't it be a prudent idea for the government policy makers to involve the local people, or look for in-situ
policies that are local and small, will cost way less money, avoid monumental possibilities of corruption and be as much effective. Referring to effectiveness, the Sardar Sarovar Dam is currently irrigating 2% of the total land it has submerged [1,2]. Certainly, with its reservoirs full it will provide electricity to Ahmedabad and Baroda, but at what cost, who's cost and to whom? Another study states [1,2], considering the initial cost estimate of the SSP, which since has risen many folds, the same money could have provided an equivalent micro-hydro installation to each and every village in Gujarat.
Did the government even consider that as an option?

Are we heading in the same direction as Narmada? Where as always and as millions have done before, the rural folk will have to face displacement, move to road side slums and make way for "development". Isn't it time for the middle-class, urban masses to stand-up for our fellow Indians and demand answers of policies and projects that are being pushed in their-name? Demand a transparent procedure for policy creation that presents and listens to all possible alternatives and involves local and affected people in its decision making? I would think so and hope that flames of such efforts rise high, else I have no doubt we are going to witness soon, Narmada Part 2: Bigger and Worser.

[1] "The Narmada Dammed: An Inquiry into Politics of Development",Dilip D'Souza, Penguin Books India, 2002.
[2] "The Greater Common Good", Arundhati Roy, India Book Distributor, 1999.











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