Dam travails

The Supreme Court's order to increase the height of the Narmada dam comes in for criticism. Madhya Pradesh decides to file a petition

Published: Wednesday 31 March 1999

 Writing on the wall: dam oust in response to the Supreme Court's ( sc ) recent interim order allowing the Gujarat government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the Madhya Pradesh ( mp ) government decided to file a petition demanding a fresh look into all aspects of the dam. "Latest hydrological data indicate that the flow of water in the Narmada river is far less than what it was in 1979," said Digvijay Singh, the state's chief minister.

On February 18, a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice A S Anand, Justice B N Kirpal and Justice S P Bharucha permitted the Gujarat government to raise the height of the dam from 80.3 metres to 85 metres (excluding the hump which is to be constructed for the safety of the dam). The court also ordered the Grievance Redressal Authority ( gra) , which was recently formed by Gujarat, to file its interim report on behalf of the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project ( ssp ) by April 9. On the basis of this report the court will consider increasing the height of the dam up to 90 metres. That hearing has been fixed on April 15.

In 1979, the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal had fixed the height of the dam at about 132.9 metres. Their decision was based on an estimate that the Narmada river had about 34.537 billion cubic metres of water. However, the new hydrological data (for about 50 years in conformity with Central Water Commission guidelines) has shown only about 27.753 billion cubic metres .

"The new hydrological data suggests that the height of the dam be lowered," says Digvijay Singh. "The data reveals that the project requires a complete review," says Shekhar Singh, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

Of the three states that will be affected, mp will be the worst hit. Gujarat and Maharashtra are the other two states. An estimated 33,000 families will be affected in mp , most of them in tribal areas. mp is in a piquant situation. The state will suffer a far greater loss.

"The Court did not look into the abysmal conditions of those who have already been displaced," says Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan ( nba ). The appointment of the gra may be a heartening feature, but it cannot compensate for the permission to continue work on the dam. "Even Mokhadi, the first village to be affected, has not been properly rehabilitated," says Shripad Dharamadhikari of nba .

"In the Narmada case there has been a gross violation of conditions that were set at the time of the project as well as those in relation to forests, environment and the protection of ancient sites and monuments," says Rajeev Dhawan, a sc lawyer.

"Even if the grievance committee gives a judgement in favour of the people, not much can be done as by that time the dam work would be almost complete," says Prashant Bhushan, another sc advocate.

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