907 km from parliament

In the past two months, India has revisited its most contested dam, the Sardar Sarovar Project. While people affected by it in Madhya Pradesh remain stranded, Gujarat has more water than its canals can distribute. An analysis by padmaparna ghosh and s v suresh babu

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

907 km from parliament

SubmergenceHere is a social drama with the most complex of plots. The dramatis personae of the Sardar Sarovar Project (ssp): four state governments with a multiplicity of departments; threea Union ministries with ministers, bureaucrats and technocrats; a tribunal of three retired high court judges that gave an 'award' in 1979; the most long-standing anti-dam movement; the Supreme Court; now, the prime minister's office.

In the drama's three-decade history, logic has been defied with absolute uniformity. ssp affects millions -- with displacement and the promise of water -- but has been approached with epic non-seriousness. The latest act unfolded on March 8, 2006, when the Narmada Control Authority (nca) approved an increase in the dam's height from the existing 110.64 m to 121.92 m. This was at a meeting called by the government of Gujarat, the state that gains the most from the dam. Two days later, Union water minister Saifuddin Soz issued a statement. He called the decision premature, voicing fears over relief and rehabilitation (r&r) in Madhya Pradesh (mp), where lots of people would be displaced by the rising backwater. Maharashtra, too, is in the firing line.

Down to EarthThe Narmada Bachao Andolan (nba) went into overdrive. Its pre-eminent leader, Medha Patkar, went on a fast, after protests proved ineffective. Moral pressure on the government increased. So, on April 6, prime minister Manmohan Singh sent three ministers to mp to assess the state of rehabilitation. Their report of April 9 was a scathing iteration of what is commonly known but seldom acknowledged within government -- the people to be displaced by the backwater have actually not been resettled.

Soz convened a meeting of the Review Committee of the Narmada Control Authority (rcnca) on April 15. He chairs this committee, which includes the Union minister of environment and forests and the chief ministers of mp, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The meeting couldn't reach a decision because the vote was split along party lines. The two Union ministers and the Congress chief minister of Maharashtra voted against nca's clearance. The chief ministers of the three remaining states -- ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) -- voted in favour of raising the dam height. The committee left the decision to the prime minister.

In the meantime, nba had moved the Supreme Court to stay construction on raising the height. On April 17, the court heard the petition, asked the four state governments to respond and deferred the matter to May 1. It has made it clear that construction will stop if rehabilitation isn't completed. Both opponents and proponents of ssp claimed victory.

The Union government iterated its desire to complete the dam and rehabilitate the displaced. It offered to form a committee to look into r&r in mp, which the court accepted. On April 24, the prime minister announced the three-member committee. Headed by former comptroller and auditor general V K Shunglu, it includes Jayaprakash Narayan of the ngo Loksatta in Hyderabad and G K Chadha, former vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Its tenure is three months.

On April 21, in an unrelated development, the sc issued a notice to the Gujarat government in response to a petition by Kutch Jal Sankat Nivaran Samiti, an ngo. It wants Gujarat's Kachchh region to get its share of Narmada's waters.

The problem: a labyrinthine bureaucracy, and uncrunched numbers. T he secretary to the Union ministry of water resources chairs nca. It includes three secretaries from Union ministries (power; environment and forests; social justice and empowerment) and the chief secretaries of mp, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In case of a dispute, the matter is referred to rcnca. In dire cases, the Union water minister can stay decisions of rcnca -- but only if approached by one of the state governments or Union ministries.

Every time the dam height is to be increased, clearance must come from two sub-groups of nca: the r&r sub-group, chaired by the secretary to Union ministry of social justice and empowerment; and the environment sub-group, chaired by the secretary to the Union ministry of environment and forests (moef). The r&r sub-group's decision is based on action taken reports filed by the three states where land gets submerged: mp, Maharashtra and Gujarat. But the reports don't go straight to the sub-group. They have to be verified by the grievance redressal authorities (gras) formed in each state in accordance with orders from the Supreme Court. These are headed by retired judges of the Supreme Court or a high court. Because the responsibilities of the rehabilitation sub-group and the three gras have not been defined, nobody has credible figures on the number of people affected by submergence.

Down to Earth The history of affected people goes back to 1969, with the creation of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (nwdt). This was to settle conflicts among states on issues like sharing water and electricity, the cost of rehabilitation, and the dam's final height (see box: Fuzzy logic). The tribunal gave its 'award' in 1979. It estimated project-affected families in mp at 6,147 in 158 villages; 456 families in 27 villages of Maharashtra. Gujarat was to rehabilitate villages in the irrigation command of the dam. For families unwilling to undergo migration, Gujarat was to pay mp and Maharashtra the cost, charges and expenses for establishment of the rehabilitated villages. Recognising that Gujarat would benefit the most from the dam and suffer the least displacement, the state was to pay the entire cost of rehabilitation in mp and Maharashtra. The issue, though, is not the money. It is the land to buy with that money.

Each family, the tribunal said, that would lose more than 25 per cent of its land would be allotted as much irrigable land as it would lose -- subject to the ceiling in the respective states, but not less than two hectares (ha). In the next 25 years, the number of people likely to be displaced has increased; so has the cost. But land has not. Off the record, officials complain the biggest mistake was to offer land for land. Social activists say the tribunal's award was an example in humane treatment of those who pay the price of development.

What award?
The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the tribunal's award as the basis of dispute settlement. In 2000, it lifted a six-year stay on dam construction. The majority judgment of the three-judge bench ruled: "There is no reason now to assume that these authorities will not function properly. In our opinion, the court should have no role to play."

In 2005, after hearing a case filed by dam-affected tribals, the apex court decided that each major son of each displaced family should be considered a separate family, and be entitled to at least two ha. It also settled the entitlements of those whose land might get temporarily submerged -- either by a flood or displacement in the future, when the height of the dam was raised to the maximum permitted. The court insisted no distinction should be made between the temporarily and permanently displaced. This increased the number of affected families sharply. This also meant mp's estimates of the number of affected families were significantly lower than what fitted the court's category.

The court said no submergence should occur without every affected person being rehabilitated. The tribunal's award had also emphasised that, "In no event shall any areas in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra be submerged...unless... arrangements are made for the rehabilitation of oustees." The court also ruled that irrigated land be allotted to each affected family at least an year before submergence, and full resettlement be completed at least six months before submergence.

But the award and the judgments did not wash. If mp were to rehabilitate the 24,421 families estimated to be displaced if the height of the dam was increased to 121.92 m, it would have to allocate 50,000 ha. All mp has at present is about 5,000 ha, in small parcels spread over eight districts.

Land-for-land rehabilitation was not feasible, but none of the states have had the gumption to say so in court. In 2000, the three states submitted to court full details of land for rehabilitation. mp claimed it had enough land, though not in large allotments. It claimed to have resettled most of the families, with only 3,818 families remaining. So, mp theoretically needed only 8,000 ha. This, too, wouldn't be required, it assumed, as most families would prefer to resettle in Gujarat.

The state also earmarked 12,218 ha by reducing grazing land ceiling in each village from 5 per cent of the total village to 2 per cent. mp's gra didn't buy this, saying grazing land wasn't suitable for rehabilitation as it is would create social tension between the rehabilitated and villagers inhabiting that area. But two years later, mp launched a scheme to distribute grazing land recovered to landless dalit s. The state continued claiming it had enough irrigable land.

Therefore, it never bothered to buy private land for disbursal. Uday Verma, vice-chairperson of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (nvda, the state's implementing arm), says, "If we try to buy private land now, prices will go up and it will be very expensive."

Only recently has the state begun to admit, reluctantly, that it does not have enough irrigable land. In 2002, mp had proposed to nca that the land-for-land provision must be amended. In May 2003, it told its gra it didn't have sufficient cultivable land. Its answer was special rehabilitation package (srp) -- cash for land, so that families could buy land. Maharashtra also started offering cash for land. In 2004-05, mp came up with another variation: at least four ha of non-irrigated land, instead of two.

Money for land
nca cleared srp in 2005, a move that was widely called the most blatant violation of the tribunal award. nvda has fixed the cash-for-land price at Rs 2,78,000 per ha. Half of the amount is to be given to the family before the registration of the land it wants to buy, with the remaining being paid after the land is transferred. mp says 3,879 families have accepted srp till date, and are satisfied.

As a visit to the villages shows, this is not necessarily true. In Pichodi village, Sukhlal Mona got half the money. But he hasn't been able to buy land. So he is still in the village. About 400 families are still there, though government records show all have been rehabilitated. Complaints of corruption and hassles in money disbursal are common.

Is it too expensive for the villagers to buy private land? Verma doesn't think so: "The compensation amount that we are offering is sufficient to buy cultivable land in the state. The calculation is based on the market value of irrigated area in Sakalda, part of the command area." Another senior official says compensation being paid is about Rs 1,00,000 per ha, enough to buy land. There are other figures also, and each official claims it is sufficient to buy land. The land and pricing issue gets more complicated when the number of affected families is calculated.

Down to Earth Bad arithmetic
The tribunal's 1979 award had estimated the number of project-affected families in mp at 6,147 in 158 villages and 456 families in 27 villages of Maharashtra. Now, the number stands at 24,421 just in mp -- and this was before the 2005 court order, when the temporarily displaced hadn't been included.

The inconsistencies in these numbers ought to have been settled by the gras. But in mp it is crippled by the absence of resources to ascertain claims. In the interim report of June 30, 2000, G G Sohani, the retired judge in charge, complained that lack of infrastructure prevented him from carrying out his duties even when maximum displacement was in mp. He said he had to inspect 591 parcels of land -- he managed 14.

In the village of Pichodi, Sohani isn't a popular name. "What will gra do? Nothing. Even when we complain against improper rehabilitation, Sohani asks us to go complain to the nvda and wait. He says we should approach gra only if nothing happens for two months. It is impossible for a poor farmer to make innumerable trips to Bhopal and Indore," says Sitaram Awasia of Pichodi. As of now, there are about 5,000 pending applications with gra.

Technocrats involved with the project have a completely different take: that dam construction and rehabilitation should not be linked. They say even if there are deficiencies in rehabilitation, these can be dealt with later when the submergence happens. They insist on the benefits of water reaching millions in Gujarat, and consider the displacement of a 'few thousand' a sacrifice worth making. The reality of this claim lies in Gujarat.

Deep flow

GujaratWhen cleared by the Planning Commission in 1988, ssp was to cost Rs 6,406 crore. By 2000, delays spiralled the cost to Rs 9,000 crore. Gujarat's share of the cost jumped from Rs 4,904 crore to Rs 6,800 crore. The full cost, including the canals and interest payments will be around Rs 30,000 crore.

P K Laheri, cmd of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (ssnnl, the executive arm of the project in Gujarat), says, "Rs 21,000 crore has been spent on the project by April 2006. While Rs 13,000 crore has gone on the dam and its distribution network, the remaining is for debt servicing." In short, debt service has cost the state Rs 8,000 crore till date; a dismal arrangement, given the budgetary allocation for the ssp of Rs 900 crore in both 2003-2004 and 2004-2005.

In 1990, the state borrowed from the market (bonds and public deposit collections), raising an estimated Rs 10,000 crore. Arjunbhai Modhvadia, leader of the opposition in the assembly, says, "Even without the dam reaching the desired height, the state is losing Rs 2.2 crore per day on interest." He points out that Gujarat is the third most indebted state.

ssp has also been eating into public funds. Gujarat has cornered a lion's share of the Union government's Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme. It got 24 per cent (Rs 4,315 crore) of the total Rs 18,157 crore disbursed by the Centre between 1996 and 2006. Of Rs 4,315 crore, Gujarat spent 80-91 per cent on ssp. The project was designed as a business model. Money was to be recovered through the supply of water and power. In 1990, it was estimated that income from irrigation and power would start flowing in from 1995-1996; by 2000, recoveries would be Rs 371 crore. The former didn't happen, and cost recovery is next to nothing.

The 1979 tribunal award gave Gujarat 9 million acre feet (maf) of the overall water availability of 28 mag at the maximum dam height of 138 metre. Of this 0.86 maf was earmarked for domestic and municipal use in 135 towns and 8,215 villages, and 0.2 maf for industry. The rest would irrigate about 1.8 million ha in 3,112 villages of 73 talukas. Even this allocation has not been reached, because the delivery systems have not been built.

Laheri attributes delays and debt-servicing to the anti-dam movement; the comptroller and auditor general (cag) thinks otherwise. Its 2004-2005 report slammed the state; it had mismanaged the physical and financial planning of the drinking water scheme. cag also blamed lack of coordination among different agencies for the lag on the Narmada Canal Based Bulk Water Transmission Project, a drinking water project for towns and villages, slated for completion in 2002. cag's 2003 and 2005 reports also pointed out wasteful expenditure in pumping water from ssp in 2000-2001 and then in 2003.

With such a huge financial drain, will Gujarat have the funds to complete the project? "This is an emotional issue, and the government will find resources from all possible quarters," says Digant Oza, a journalist and activist in Ahmedabad. Says A S Bharati, director, command area development, ssnnl: "The plan is to complete the canal network by 2009-2010. Meeting this deadline will require Rs 7,000 crore over and above the cost of the main canal.

All about diversion

The drama over increasing the dam’s height has hidden the fact that the irrigation network is way behind schedule. Officialdom attributes the delay in completion of the main canal to cement shortage. But it is believed this is deliberate — delay in making canals to take water to Rajasthan, makesmore water available to Gujarat for more time. Rajasthan is supposed to get irrigation water for 58,000 ha of the planned 75,000 ha (when the dam rises to 121.92 m), but taking the water all the way to Rajasthan needs a 74-km canal from the Gujarat border. To this point, ssnnl has to construct the 458-km Narmada Main Canal (see table: All benefits delayed).

ssnnl officials also assure water can flow to Rajasthan if the dam is 110 m, but with a critical proviso.

This can happen if the canal network is ready. At 121.92 m (the height presently under dispute), 1.4 million ha could be irrigated — roughly 47 per cent of Gujarat’s irrigated area (including groundwater) — estimates the government. But by December 2004, after Rs 958 crore had been officially spent on all canal networks, only 370 km of the proposed 458 km of the main canal was completed; only 24 of 48 branch canals were completed. According to Bharati over 0.1 million ha was irrigated directly with Narmada water in 2005-2006. Another 0.2 million ha was under indirect irrigation by filling Narmada water into reservoirs and irrigation networks. 0.3 million ha were irrigated, at Rs 21,000 crore, or roughly Rs 7 lakh per ha. “Gujarat is interested only in the dam, not in the irrigation network and accessories,” complains Modhvadia. “Even as the dam is completed, we are not reaping its benefits.”

Not just delivery

Irrigation systems require canals, and management systems to ensure that all farmers get water and use it optimally. Originally, the project envisaged a highly organised water delivery and accounting system for the Narmada command area, including optimal delivery of water and construction of sophisticated technological infrastructure from farm to field, to regulate the flow of water according to requirement, and build in awareness through the institutional framework. Its current policy is to provide water to villages, conditional to forming waterusers’ associations (WUA), that seek to distribute water equitably. The government had mandated forming such bodies before the release of Narmada water. Participatory administration of irrigation systems was also an objective.

Clearly, this is again an area where much more needs to be done. If this happens, irrigation delivery and usage will be more efficient. But WUAs have complaints (see box: A betrayal).

Says Laheri, “About 1,500 WUAs have been registered and we want 6,000 associations. Six months after the commissioning of the system, they will be handed over the responsibilities.” Not everybody buys Laheri’s optimism. Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Kendra in Vadodara says, “Except a few, WUAs exist on paper.” Laheri dismisses this as false.

It could be teething problems. But much needs to be done. Jayesh Talati has done a survey on behalf of the International Water Management Institute. He says, “A study in 12 villages of the SSP command reveals 62 per cent farmers did not know the purpose of forming WUAs; 82 per cent were unaware of the bylaws of the associations.” The association at Rasulpura in Savli tehsil of Vadodara was formed three years ago with 12 members. Bhupatsinh Ratilal Padiyar, its chair, says, “There are 70 farmers, but nobody is interested in paying and becoming a member of the association.

wua is not in the picture at all. All dealings are between ssnnl and farmers. Our intervention would lead to conflicts."

Good model
Then there is Sakariya village in Wagodiya taluka of Vadodara. The wua there was formed with 27 members. It has 110 now. Its managing committee and the dairy cooperative of the village are the same, and so have a greater say. Sachin Oza of the ngo Development Support Centre says, "In villages we are working in, institutions are ready, but the physical structures are not. In other places it is the other way round." He adds that associations have to be empowered to take critical decisions.

" ssnnl has introduced a 15 per cent discount for advance collection of tariffs by the associations, and 10 per cent discount for recovery. Besides, the government invests a one-time Rs 560 per ha per association to operate and maintain funds," says Bharati. The one-time wua fee is Rs 71 per ha.

Cropping water
Part of the participatory strategy is to decide on a suitable cropping pattern, for most efficient use of water. A plan has been made by the Narmada Planning Group (npg), a multi-disciplinary team of experts appointed by ssnnl. But here, too, the state of implementation has important lessons.

For instance, the crops suggested for Savli tehsil in Vadodara district are cotton, wheat and jowar , with little emphasis on tobacco and paddy. But in Rasulpura village, of the same tehsil , farmers do the opposite of what scientists advice. They grow tobacco. Now, farmers are planning to shift to even more water-consuming crops like wheat and paddy.

"Research and modelling studies in the Narmada command area show the benefits from ssp would decrease if the prescribed crop pattern is not followed," says eminent economist Y K Alagh. "This being the first large irrigation season, we did not insist on adjusting the cropping pattern," says Bharati. The fact is that farmers will grow crops that make economical sense. They will be unwilling to follow the recommended crop pattern because water is not valued in money terms -- it is either not priced adequately or the price isn't collected.

Absence of cost recovery
In Sakariya, small canals were ready before the last irrigation season. Water was allocated from the tail end to the head to ensure equity. Rameshbhai Patel, president of the wua here, is all praise for the ssnnl officer, because he explained the irrigation schedule. But according to the plan, distribution is left to farmers' discretion. Naginbhai Chotabhai, a farmer, says, "More than 85 per cent farmers waste water."

ssnnl officials maintain that the water being supplied at a particular delta (depth of irrigation water) will restrict use. Bharati says, " ssnnl will be able to do this once the gates and flumes are in place." The delta will depend on agroclimatic region and can vary from 350-650 mm. "These are initial stages of irrigation. We require at least three years to stabilise," Bharati explains.

"Nobody needs to tell Gujarat farmers how to manage water and agriculture," says Laheri. But Oza warns: "There is surplus water now as the command area is not developed. As stakeholders increases, the quantum of water will also come down."

Costs and benefits
Laheri says the ssp command is designed for 138 m, not 110 m or 121.92 m: "Let the system be complete. Only then will we be able to see the benefits.

The pricing of water is key. The plan is to charge differential rates — less (or more) in Kachchh (at the tail end) as compared to Vadodara (close to the dam). In addition, delivery of water at the higher reaches will require pumping — like the Saurashtra and Kachchh branch canals. So the true cost of water will be much higher. “At present the ssnnl charge is Rs 270 per ha per watering for a delta of 450 mm.

This was earlier Rs 157,” Bharati says. This, government sources say, translates into roughly Rs 11 per kilolitre.

Laheri says ssnnl spends Rs 100 crore on operation and maintenance, though no break-up is available. ssnnl maintains that since the delta is specified, the charge is volumetric. In future, charges will be based on kilolitres of water consumed by the wuas. A high-powered committee comprising the secretary, water supply, secretary, Narmada, and other experts has been formed to look into this matter.

At present wuas struggle to recover costs. For instance, Chandra Nagar and Rasulpura villagers are not willing to pay as the water is pumped from the branch and minors at huge costs. But in Sakariya, Rs 70,000 was collected as water charges. Here the finances of the wua and the milk dairy are linked. Bharati says, “The last season’s recovery was almost 50 per cent.”

Bhupatsinh of Rasulpura says, “The farmers are relying on tube wells which run on power. Once the irrigation network is laid, canal water will be cheaper, and hence more people will be ready to pay.” Oza says, “People should be told the rationale behind the tariff rather than trying to sell water and recover the cost. This is where ssnnl is losing out.”

Too expensive

Drinking water was a late entry into the SSP. Says Indira Hirway, director of the Ahmedabad-based Centre for Development Alternatives (CFDA), “It was decided in 1990-1991 to use water from Narmada to provide dependable water supply to the regions of Kachchh, Saurashtra and North Gujarat.” As per the calculations of the NPG, of the 1.37 maf non-agricultural demand in 2021, only 0.75 maf was to be met through the Narmada canal system. After accounting for losses, the gross demand on the this system works to around 1 mag. Local sources would provide 0.48 mag, and 0.14 by recharge withdrawals based on groundwater.

But this was the original plan, which would cover 4,000 villages. R B Seth, additional secretary, department of water supply, Gujarat, says, “In 2005 more villages were added, taking the total to 9,633 villages and 131 towns. It was decided that the gap between demand and supply would be made up by pumping excess flood water from Narmada and Kadana to existing water supply reservoirs.” P A Gadani, member secretary, Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB), puts the current status as: “ 2,044 villages and 54 towns have been covered (see map: Will the dam serve them all?). Of the 2,700 km bulk lines planned, 1,600 km have been laid. Targeted date of completion is March 2009.” As against the promised 3,582 mld supply by 2021, officially 650 mld is being supplied. But in many places, there are complaints about unreliable delivery. So increasing demand may create more problems. Gadani estimates that water demand will touch 2,000 mld by 2009.

New water distribution

Under the project, government agencies are responsible for bringing water to the village. The distribution network within the village is the responsibility of water committees, pani samitis, based on the same principle as the equitable water distribution movement of Maharashtra. The water supply system will provide 70 litres per capita per day (lpcd) to rural areas and 100-140 lpcd to urban areas depending on the presence or absence of sewerage system. But Gadani admits that based on the existing and projected demand, water will be limited. He says, “Beyond 2020, water will be available at 46 lpcd.” This is because while allocation remains the same, more towns and villages are being added. Thus the government seems trapped in a situation where it has made drinking water a priority, and so must look for a source for that water, and the money.

Currently, regularity of supply varies from place to place. A joint monitoring by CFDA and Pravah (a network of ngos working on water issues) found that Narmada-based water supply is not reliable: “In the last three months of the survey, 51.2 per cent of the villages received water on alternative days. About 13.5 per cent received it twice a week and 7.5 per cent once a week. Another 2.3 per cent villages received it once in 15 days while 5 per cent receive it highly irregularly.”

Village Sandhida in Dhandhuka taluka in Ahmedabad illustrates another dimension of the supply system: caste dynamics. The lower caste is deprived of its rightful share. Also, only 25 per cent of villages surveyed by CFDA and Pravah had water committees. Those existing also had very limited capacity. Arvind Panot, regional co-ordinator, Pravah, says, “Participation is defined as we will give water and you give tariff.” Nafisa Barot, of Ahmedabad-based NGO Utthan adds, “Over the years Narmada has been hyped as the lone source and this has led to decline in dependence on local sources.”

Shooting costs and declining recoveries

The capital costs of the water supply scheme have increased from Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 8,026 crore (2001 prices). The question is now costs — the electricity cost to pump and the operation and maintenance cost — and how the government will recover them. An analysis by Hirway shows that the operation and maintenance costs of the Narmada-based water supply project are Rs 511.86 crore a year (Rs 339.26 crore as energy costs; Rs 64.21 crore as maintenance costs; the remaining for establishment and operation costs). Talati estimates that, with debt servicing, the actual cost is Rs 12.07-Rs 22.55 per kl. But GWSSB charges Rs 14/person/year for regional water supply schemes and Rs 2, Rs 4 and Rs 6 per kl for villages, towns and cities, respectively. As Gadani admits, “only 20 per cent of costs are recovered.” He adds, “In case of villages true cost would be around Rs 100-Rs 125 per person per year.” But experts like Hirway point out that, including debt servicing, the cost goes up to Rs 200/person per year.

A village covered under the Narmada project pays two sets of charges: first to the GWSSB and then to the pani samiti or panchayat. To the former it pays the cost of bringing Narmada water and to the latter goes the operation and maintenance cost of distributing the water within the village. Dhaniben Daduben of Gogha taluka in Bhavnagar district says, “We are paying Rs 1,150 per connection and Rs 50 per month as household water charges (see table: Left in the red).”

In contrast, the city municipal corporations provide a highly subsidised rate for water. Take for instance Rajkot: it charges Rs 8 per kl for Narmada water. Rajkot receives on an average 50 mld water from the Narmada pipeline for which GWSSB has to be paid at Rs 6/kl. Water supply expenses for the municipality are Rs 28 crore; about Rs 11 crore is what they pay for Narmada water per year. Further down the line, households are charged Rs 600 per year (and the industries Rs 12/kl).

Indeed Narmada water has widened the gap between revenue and expenditure and the municipal corporation responded by hiking the annual tariff from Rs 480 to Rs 600. Vijay Anandkat, city engineer (special) remarks, “The overall cost comes to Rs 5.7 /kl whereas the cost recovered is Rs 1.7 per kl.” The city is fortunate to generate revenues locally through octroi, which it uses to bridge the financial sustainability gap. The municipality guarantees 90 lpcd to 110 lpcd. But in villages such as those in Gogha taluka, no such guarantee exists.

Politicians build in subsidies

While bureaucrats believe the government has the political will to charge, the political leaders are all set to build in more subsidies. BJP leader and mayor of Rajkot Municipal Corporation Dhansukhbhai Bhanderi says, “All towns are collectively asking for reduction in water charges. Government’s response is likely to be positive.” Modhvadia says, “The price of water is our concern. Today’s rates are high and only the rich can pay. We are pressuring the government to bring it down.” Experts like Hirway says, “Narmada water as planned should be a backup for the local resources. With greater dependence on local sources and lesser or little on Narmada the costs can be brought down.” Gadani adds: “Government may not be able to afford subsidies for ever. In the long run villages will also have a volumetric charging.” A high-powered committee is looking into the matter.

Facile promises

Water, it seems, is available in plenty at the moment. This opportunity is being used by the Gujarat government to allocate water for unplanned uses, raising expectations of many. But then how long can this last?

Experts caution that this could lead to misuse or misappropriation. Oza says, “Water conflicts have already started and not because of dam or rehabilitation but because of misuse by the state government. By providing water you are raising expectations and creating rights over Narmada water.”

With a good monsoon, the project can fulfil promises. With a bad one, there won’t be any water. Even the NPG says getting the allocated share would be difficult, because there woudn’t be enough water. Therefore, the Gujarat government shouldn’t run around promising liquid largesse.

The Gujarat government should realise that water can no longer be centrally managed, as it wishes. It is clear that SSP spawns a monopoly, however badly implemented. The Gujarat government is so trapped into singing its praises, that it has no ear for alternatives.

Perhaps there is an alternative. The current imbroglio over the SSP could be provocation enough to facilitate communities to become water-prudent.

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