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Where Have The Narmada
Waters Gone?

By Himanshu Upadhyaya

07 October, 2007

It was the month of May four years ago. The Gujarat government invited journalists to the land of parched throats, Kutch, to cover an event. The message that the establishment wished to send across was significant: Rejoice, Narmada waters have reached Kutch!

As always, euphoria masked important questions: How many of the towns and villages projected as beneficiaries had begun to receive the water? Did any of these municipalities possess filtration plants to treat it? The celebrations on water distribution were also presented as a final rebuttal of any doubts about the due standing for the Sardar Sarovar dam itself.

However, amidst the celebratory din of a well-managed media event, a local correspondent of The Indian Express VT Mistry, asked an official about the costs involved. The reply was revealing: "For the first phase the money has come from Asian Development Bank's Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Assistance, and we do not know from where the money will come for the second phase of the project".

Later that year, it became clear that the claim made amidst much fanfare that the Narmada water will be reaching Kutch, was not really based on solid grounds. Gandhidham -- located close to Tappar Dam which was filled up to the brim in the monsoon -- reported acute water scarcity in October. Whatever happened to the water supply schemes based on th Tappar Dam? Besides, in Bhuj, the last town to get piped Narmada water in August 2003, the supply lasted for barely a month. Officials of Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) told various municipalities in Kutch that the supply was halted because the Narmada canal up to Maliya was yet to be line with cement lined.

Four years later, it's the month of May again and if we care to place our ears on the ground, the message is very clear, Alas, Bhuj is still suffering from water scarcity. A news story in the Ahmedabad edition of The Indian Express on April 27, reported, "Irregular and inadequate supply of piped water from Narmada has left Bhuj residents exasperated. However, Narmada water board officials says Bhuj civic body is yet to pay for the piped water, and hence, the alternate and controlled supply of water."

In its long history, the drinking water "benefits" of the Sardar Sarovar project have always emerged strongest when the dam project has been gripped by controversy. The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal allocated Nine million acre feet of water to Gujarat in 1979; 1.06 million acre feet out of this allocation was meant for "domestic and industrial use". However, in the absence of any detailed planning, the number of villages which were promised Narmada water was actually zero in 1979.

The number of villages, which were promised Narmada water, went on rising mysteriously as the ruling forces in Gujarat sought to exploit the emotive power of thirst. In 1979, it was zero, in 1983-84 it was 4,720, in 1990 it jumped to 7,235, and more recently, it has been promised to 8,215 villages and an additional 135 towns and six municipal corporations.

The zeal to take Narmada's water to parched throats in drought-prone villages from Kutch and Saurashtra was so compelling that the chairman of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, at one point had to confess, while replying to an inquiry by the World Bank appointed Independent Review Mission, that "the number of villages to be served in Kutch and Saurashtra are statistical figures which include 236 uninhabited villages ".

Surreptitious u-turn

This year, on March 30, an audit report on Gujarat (Commercial) for 2005-06 was tabled in the Gujarat assembly. The audit findings reported that in deviation from the Master Plan, the Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited had commissioned and executed a sub-project NC 14 (Narmada Main Canal - Gandhinagar) at a cost of Rs 39.39 crore for supplying 255 million litres per day (mld) of water to Gandhinagar city, Thermal Power Station at Gandhinagar, etc. at the cost of depriving drought-prone regions.

Further, it was found that while going by Indian Standard (IS) Code of basic requirement for water supply, drainage and sanitation, the domestic water requirement for Gandhinagar should have been 49 mld, the city had actually received 90.10 mld Narmada water, that is, almost double the standard requirement. The audit pointed out that such a diversion was at the cost of depriving the drought-prone villages the benefit of drinking water from the Narmada dam.
The audit report also scrutinised what was the true story of the much touted claim of Narmada water reaching Kutch. It pointed out that in deviation from the Master Plan that envisaged supply of 232 mld of water for Kutch, of which 45 mld was meant for industrial use, industries in Kutch were actually allotted 61.91 mld water (more than one third excess allocation than what was envisaged in the Master Plan) as per figures available as on March 31, 2006.

When this fact was pointed out in July 2006, the management of the Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited (GWIL), and the Gujarat government replied that the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) had increased in May 2006 the allocation for industrial water from 0.2 maf (674 mld) to 1.0 maf (3369 mld) from which the excess allocation would be adjusted. A five-fold upward revision in the allocation of Narmada water for industries, bringing down municipal and domestic allocation from 0.86 maf to 0.06 maf, was effected through a decision by SSNNL in May 2006. An entire year has passed since the decision was taken surreptitiously without consulting the people of those villages promised with drinking water benefits from Narmada.

During 1999-2000, Saurashtra was hit by drought and severe water scarcity that triggered water riots when farmers protesting against the diversion of water from the Falla dam in Jamnagar district had to face police firing in December 1999. Next year in October the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to the construction of the dam and allowed the height to be raised to 90 metre.
In January 2001, the Gujarat government decided to lift the available water from the Sardar Sarovar Dam and supply it to the Pariej and Kanewal tanks through Mahi Canal System. The scheme estimated to cost Rs 40.10 crore was executed in January-February 2001 at a cost of Rs 48.15 crore.

An audit report by the CAG on Gujarat (civil) for the year ending March 31, 2003 reports that during audit it was found that "during February-June 2001, 258.59 million cubic metres (mcm) of water was lifted from the Sardar Sarovar Dam of which only 52.20 mcm was supplied to the Saurashtra Pipeline Project through the Mahi Canal System. The remaining (206.39 mcm) was supplied for Thermal Power Plant of GEB at Wanakbori, Vadodara Municipal Corporation and industries situated in the municipal corporations of Vadodara and Ahmedabad districts, contrary to the stipulation of government orders in January 2001.

Thus the Saurashtra Pipeline Project utilised only 20.18 percent of the water, but GWSSB was made to bear the entire expenditure of Rs 48.15 crore. No recovery for the water charges from the corporations and industries concerned was carried out, the CAG report said. The report also points out that during August-October 2002, GWSSB had pumped 63.56 mcm of water from the Narmada canal into the Vallabhipur branch canal at a cost of Rs 19.63 lakh, although there was no link established between the Narmada canal and Navda/Vallabhipur sumps. Thus, the entire expenditure turned out to be an utter waste.

Reviewing the so-called benefits from the Narmada dam, the audit report for the year ending on March 31, 2005 covered three districts —Ahmedabad, Amreli and Bhavnagar — and showed that against the envisaged coverage of 1,860 villages and towns, the water reached 543 villages (that is, 29.19 percent coverage). The audit scrutiny found that the gross average daily intake during two years of operation (December 2000 to November 2002) was 119.18 mld (that is, 42 percent capacity utilisation) against the envisaged capacity of 287 MLD .

The CAG's audit report for the year ending on March 31, 2005 once again reviewed the performance of drinking water benefits from the Narmada dam in three districts -- Kutch, Jamnagar and Rajkot. The performance review showed that contrary to the government's claim of having covered 1,342 villages and towns, the water had reached only 415, (that is, 31 percent coverage). Pinning the blame for this shortfall on the delay in execution of works, the CAG states that "the gross average daily intake during May 2003 to June 2005 was 145.17 million litres a day (29 percent capacity utilisation) against the capacity of 500 million litres a day."

This May, the message emerging from the land of parched throats is very clear. The promise of drinking water benefits from the Narmada dam are high in propaganda, dry on performance and deadly silent on participatory democratic decision making. So who will show the inevitable traffic sign to the SSNNL: No U-turn allowed?


For details refer to Water Canals or Treasury Drains?

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