Raise in SSP-dam height will only increase submergence: Medha Patkar

Illegal and unjust decision of NCA-MOEF to submerge 200,000 people
News is just round the corner that the Environment Sub Group (ESG) of the Narmada Control Authority (ESG) has accorded further permission for erection of 17 mts high gates on the Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSP) in Gujarat that will take it from its present height of 122.92 mts to its final height of 138.68 mts. There is however, ‘assurance’, that has emerged from the April 1st meeting of the ESG that there shall be no additional submergence by such a move and that the permission has been sought only after compliance of all the environmental conditions, that have not been complied with over the past 20 years !! It has also been stated that the gates shall remain in an ‘open position’ until such time that the catachment area treatment is not fully treated. Read more

Newspapers have quoted Gujarat’s officials as having stated that the Dr Devender Pandey Expert Committee Report (Feb 2009-2010) on the (non)implementation of the environmental safeguard measures of the Sardar Sarovar and Indira Sagar Project was not even discussed during the ESG Meeting!! This in itself shows how the decision to raise the height was taken more on grounds of political expediency, throwing the law and clearance conditions as also expert opinion to the winds! The intention is clear – to give a false boost to the Modi Government in the 50th year of the State and show the unyielding SSP as a ‘boon’ and raise the bar of threat of displacement in the lives of 2 lakh people in the Narmada valley.

The green signal by the ESG-MoEF and the NCA for raise in height is in total violation and contempt of the clearance conditions as also four Supreme Court Judgements and would jeoparidise the lives of tens of thousands of families and deteriorates the ecology further. It is significant to note as to how
Government which has been resorting to ‘tall talk’ of climate change at international fora has dumped such a crucial expert report back home, in a most irrational and unjust manner. Who benefits and who loses from such political decisions is a question to be asked and answered?

The Committee had, after considering comprehensive presentations and data mostly from Government’s own sources as also from some non-official scientific agencies recommended that there shall be no work on the dams and canals until all the environmental conditions become pari passu (simultaneous) with the construction work in order to ensure mitigation of the negative impacts on the environment and to guarantee sustainable benefits.

The manner in which this Report has been suppressed due to pressure from Gujarat’s politicians reeks not just of their undemocratic insensitivity, but goes against the soaring public debate and media reportage on the failure of the white elephant within Gujarat itself. The BJP Government of Madhya Pradesh hand in glove with the Modi Government is all out to submerge its adivasis and farming communities and in fact imperil the entire Narmada valley with these giant dams. Even as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have hardly attained any benefits, the rehabilitation of thousands of affected people in these states has also become a political act today!

At a time when the costs of the Project have shot up to 10 times, with just 10% of the benefits having accrued, when only 10% of the reservoir waters are being harnessed, only 30% of the canals have been built over 30 years and Gujarat’s own farmers are unwilling to give 30,000 hectares of land for the canals, the political expediency to push a failed project ahead will simply destroy the valley and its rich eco-biodiversity, submerging a whole civilization, far from adding to Gujarat’s ‘economic prosperity’ ! Even the latest Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General has made scathing remarks against the total misuse of crores of rupees funds, diversion of money away from irrigation, contractual corruption and economic indebtedness that the Project is ‘submerged’ in today!

People from the valley will not silently watch such political machinations and unjust decision-making but will demand cogent answers. Thousands of adivasis and farmers who have only been ‘rehabilitated on paper’ till date will wait and watch if the Rehabilitation Sub Group of NCA will also accord like permission, despite the fact that the rehabilitation is far from complete and a massive judicial corruption against crores of corruption is on! When the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited itself issued a letter in 2008 stating that there shall be increased submergence by raise in height, who is to guarantee that there will be no submergence and who will buy this lie?

There are still 45,000 families in the villages in the submergence area with thickly populated communities; agricultural lands, horticulture, schools, shops, dispensaries panchayat bhavans, temples, mosques and ghats, the negative impacts on whose lives would be irreversible.

NBA strongly condemns this decision to accord permission to raise the SSP height and demands that all the conditions on the basis of which the environmental clearance was granted to the Project are fully complied with. Not an inch of submergence will be tolerated in violation of law. This is the challenge that thousands of people from the valley are to pose as they embark on an indefinite ‘Jeevan Adhikar Yatra’ from the 11th of April.

Medha Patkar

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