Dodgy arithmetic over Narmada waters

Published: Monday 30 April 2007

Down to Earth On March 6, 2007, Union minister of state for water resources Jai Prakash Yadav told the Rajya Sabha that in case Madhya Pradesh was not able to utilise its share of the Narmada waters, the surplus would go to the Sardar Sarovar River Bed Powerhouse in Gujarat. This was as per the Narmada Water Tribunal's verdict, the minister claimed. The tribunal had, in 1979, stipulated water allocations from the Sardar Sarovar Project for Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. It had assessed, with 75 per cent certainty, that 34,537.44 million cubic metres (mcm) would be available from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Of this, it allocated 22,511.01 mcm to Madhya Pradesh.

But Madhya Pradesh, if the union minister is to be believed, has not utilised this share. So, he advocates diverting water to Gujarat for power generation and other purposes.Other purposes? Let me quote what the minister told the Rajya Sabha: "Surplus water utilised by the concerned state governments for recharging groundwater by diverting it towards Rajasthan and Saurashtra."
Watersheds, not dams The minister's pronouncements bother ecologists on two counts. First, do we build big dams and submerge thousand of hectares (ha) upstream to recharge groundwater? And then, what happens to those parts of Gujarat that lie along the Narmada downstream if the state decides to divert allocated as well as surplus waters available at dam sites elsewhere?

If recharging groundwater or even revitalising rivers is the intent, one needs to concentrate on watersheds, and not on dam rivers. Moreover, we do not even know if Rajasthan and Gujarat have the infrastructure to divert surplus water by changing its natural flow.
More money Let's probe Gujarat's case. On February 16, 2007, the Ahmedabad edition of The Indian Express reported that despite the Sardar Sarovar Dam's height touching 122-metres--enough to generate all the acclaimed benefits--the branch canal network is still incomplete. A 101-km stretch of the main canal is still under construction, and of the 38 branch canals to be made, 23 are complete or nearing completion, and another seven under construction. Tenders are to be issued for the rest, this year.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government has asked mps from the state to ask for additional central assistance amounting to Rs 700 crore to complete work on the remaining 101 km of the main canal.

But, then where has all the money, given to the state government under the centre's Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (aibp), gone? A look at aibp funding to state governments shows that Gujarat has received the highest--Rs 4,492.53 crore from 1996-97 to 2005-06. The Sardar Sarovar Project has, in fact, received more aibp funding than any other project in India: a whopping Rs 3,920.74 crore.

A performance review of aibp by the Comptroller and Auditor General (cag) of India had, in 2003, raised concerns on the way the programme's funds were being utilised. cag had found that authorities in Gujarat had managed to create 142,000 ha of irrigation potential, barely 7 per cent of the roughly 1.8 million ha envisaged by the Sardar Sarovar Project. Worse still, only 26,830 ha--just 19 per cent of the created potential--was actually utilised.
Fruitless diversion Gujarat has also diverted Narmada water by canal-based pipelines for providing drinking water to parched villages and towns.However, performance reviews by cag--of operations between December 2000 and November 2002, and operations between May 2003 and June 2005--suggested that capacity utilisation was 42 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.

So the question that arises is: has Gujarat been able to utilise its share of the Narmada, even as it seeks special central assistance of Rs 700 crore? Sound bytes from P K Laheri, chairman, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited--a Gujarat government-owned dam building corporation--indicate where the money possibly went. Laheri said, "We are getting all the money needed to finish the work. The only problem is with the interest side of the funding."

What imperils the development of irrigation benefits in India? Which are the parties that have an interest in keeping things in limbo? Aren't the answers too obvious?

Himanshu Upadhyaya is with Intercultural Resources, New Delhi

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