ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Breaches in Narmada Command

Despite a number of breaches in the Narmada main canal over the years, command area ecological concerns are simply not being paid enough attention by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 26, 200821Assessment (EIA) before starting work on such projects, the dam authorities like the NHPC andNEEPCO commissioned suchEIA surveys when the work was well under way and in one instance when it was near-ing completion. This is an extremely seri-ous violation of law and of the human rights of the indigenous people of both the states. Further, it appears that in order to get favourable reports, these authorities ordered such surveys to be limited to a distance of 7 km downstream, whereas adverse consequences of dam-building were observed as far as 100 km downstream.In the name of compensating the people for their losses, huge sums of money were ceremonially handed over to some MLAs and MPs of affected areas, and that was the last the people heard about the money.DeceptionAll in all, this appears to be a case of deli-berate and wilful deception and malfea-sance on enormous scale against the small and scattered tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and the rural people of Assam, reminiscent of the worst excesses of the colonial regimes. Indeed it is almost like a govern-ment waging war against its own people.All this is being carried on under the flamboyant banner of development. At present the total demand for electricity in the whole of Assam comes to about 800 MW, and that of Arunachal a mere fraction of even that, whereas the projected output from those dams will exceed 20,000MW. It follows that it is not concern for develop-ment of this backward region but eagerness to meet the insatiable hunger for power for industrialised states further west that drives the furious pace of the dam-building. Corporate houses like Reliance,GMR and D S Constructions are also in the race to make a fast buck by investing in these projects on a public-privatepartnership (PPP) basis. Indeed, Bamang Anthony of Arunachal Citizens’ Rights, anNGO, as-serts: “The government is auctioning off Arunachal Pradesh without the consent of its people. Our land and water rights are being transferred to large companies to generate hydro-dollars for the elite.” Of course the infrastructural costs will be borne by the public partner in the PPP.The scenario has lifted a corner of the veil that covers the functioning of Indian democracy. Using the fiction of “represent-ative government”, numerous indigenous communities are being cheated out of their rights, and hosannahs to the “rule of law” cover up flagrant and widespread violation of law and human rights by government agencies, including the most basic right to life. The driving force behind these scamsis the sheer lust for lucre. Corporate interests seem to have hijacked the state. Likewise there seems to have been a degradation of the role of science since scientists have agreed to conduct EIA surveys after work on dams has already made considerable progress. Some scientists have knowingly or unknowingly doctored their findings to suit the demands of their paymasters. This degeneration of science in the service of a corporate state isseenatits disgraceful worst when some scientists join the chorus of government functionaries claiming dams would help control floods.At a function, where a so-called “Vision Statement on the North-East” was re-leased a few days after the meeting in Gu-wahati the prime minister professed that big dams might not be the answer to the problems of the north-east. If so, is he going to scrap them or at least put the projects on hold? There appears to be little chance of that. It is one of those routine state-ments from government circles to apply balm to the pain of a distressed people. And what about the radical democratic opposition parties? They too have joined the band-wagon of progress. Is the banner of “civil society” to be held up by assorted NGOs alone? Did Hegel have such an idea in his mind when he used that term?Breaches in Narmada Commandhimanshu upadhyayaOn June 11, 2008, eight villages (Sujatpura, Todmalpura, Bavjipura, Narsinhpur, Nani Kadi, Balasan, Kaswa and Shedadi) in Kadi tehsil of Mehsana district were flooded following a 30-metre long breach in the Narmda maincanal. Nearly 2,100 families were forced to shift to safer places after 2,000 acres of farmland was submerged. The water that gushed from the breached canal caused heavy waterlogging in the affected area.1 The administration had disbursed Rs 40,000 cash and Rs 6,10,000 as compensation for houses damaged in Sujatpura, while the survey of fields to assess damages was going on at the time of writing this.2 While the government announced a high-powered technical probe to investigate the entire stretch of the Narmada main canal, the opposition Congress made allegations of corruption and demanded a Central Bureau of Investiga-tion probe. Two English newspapers did raise questions on a recent inspection of the main canal in May and asked why the earlier canal breaches were ignored.3 The Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar stated that the breach exposed the manner in which work on the Narmada dam was being done, at the cost of quality and safety.4 There are also indications that a meeting of the environment subgroup of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) took a serious view of this while reviewing the environment compliance report (ECR) submitted by the Gujarat government.5 In 2004, this author had argued that adequate attention needs to be paid to Despite a number of breaches in the Narmada main canal over the years, command area ecological concerns are simply not being paid enough attention by the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam. Himanshu Upadhyaya ( is with Intercultural Resources, New Delhi.
COMMENTARYjuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly22addressing command area ecological con-cerns in the Sardar Sarovar project (SSP).6 Having outlined how the command area development (CAD) authorities had evolved in the mid-1970s, the article also discussed the review of this mechanism to address command area ecological concerns draw-ing from the comptroller and auditor gen-eral’s (CAG) performance analysis of the same and asked four questions about the Sardar Sarovar dam.(1) When monitoring centres required to be set up to keep close watch on CAD activities were not created in any of the 37 irrigation projects, can the SSP be any different?(2) When authorities failed to construct field channels to the extent of 23 per cent (1992-93) and 80 per cent (1997-98) while expenditure on the same was in excess by 43 to 46 per cent for these 37 irrigation projects, can SSP be any different?(3) WhenCAD activities were delayed by 2-18 years in the case of 37 projects, what inspires confidence that inSSP they will be carried out pari passu?(4) When shortfalls in ‘warabandhi’ (rota-tional water supply) works ranged be-tween 34 per cent (1992-93) and 83 per cent (1997-98) in these 37 projects, can SSP be any different?Soon thereafter in an article in the agri-culture special issue of the Economic & Political Weekly that year, Tushar Shah pointed out that there exists an institu-tional vacuum in the command area of the SSP. Shah did refer to the article cited above but appeared to brush aside concerns there-in by simply trying to portray as if this author was harking back to the CAD mechanism whenSSP command area ecological con-cerns would be taken care of by the par-ticipatory irrigation management. While in the summer of 2004 there were several reports7 that talked about canal breaches, inadequate feeder and minor canals and non-functioning water users associations, making one sceptical about the progresson canal network and institutional mechanism, Shah8 appeared to celebrate the Sujalam Sufalamschemefloated by chief minister Narendra Modi in February 2004 to use the Narmada waters for recharging ground-water in north Gujarat.While the thinking on appointing a new authority for Narmada command area hadstarted in September 2003, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) had initiated field surveys in November 2003 and there was no master plan covering all the activities to develop the command area, as revealed in the CAG audit report for Gujarat (commercial) for the year end-ing March 31, 2007. It is pertinent to state that theCAG audit made this comment while indicting SSNNL for having incurred premature investment on cement lining of Vallabhipur branch canal in the absence of corresponding command area develop-ment. The CAG audit also pointed out that SSNNL had stipulated that the first phase of the command area – i e, 4.46 lakh hectares from the dam till Mahi river – would be fully developed by the year 2009.9 Further, the agenda notes to the environment sub-group meeting that was scheduled on December 26, 2003 stated: “the proposal for command area development works CALL FOR PAPERSEMPIRICAL STUDY OF RESERVATIONS IN INDIAN HIGHER EDUCATIONAs part of the Pathways to Learning program of The Ford Foundation, the Institute of International Education invites proposals from scholars and practitioners for contributions to an edited volume on the working of Affirmative Action/Reservations in Indian Higher Education (above Senior Secondary level). Papers should be unpublished, based on original empirical research, and highlight issues emerging from policies and the concrete experiences of individuals, institutions and groups. Selected contributors must submit finished drafts no later than March 31, 2009, to be discussed at a conference in April. Final versions must be delivered by mid-June 2009, after which contributors will be paid an honorarium. Limited additional funds may be available (on need basis) for research related expenses. Interested persons should submit a 500 word abstract (in English or any other Indian language), along with evidence of prior research and engagement with the subject, and full contact details by 25th August 2008 to: Post Box No. 3020, Lodhi Road Post Office, New Delhi 110003. A soft copy may please be sent by email to:


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