Environment-unfriendly project dangled as poll sop in Gujarat

although Gujarat continues to be engulfed by the Sardar Sarovar dam controversy, yet the state government has embarked on an even more ambitious mega venture that throws up several environmental concerns

 
By Mahesh L
Published: Monday 15 March 2004

One for the poll: CM Narendra< (Credit: CMO Gujarat)although Gujarat continues to be engulfed by the Sardar Sarovar dam controversy, yet the state government has embarked on an even more ambitious mega venture that throws up several environmental concerns. On February 5, chief minister (cm) Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Rs 54,000-crore Kalpasar multi-purpose tidal power project at Bhavnagar. Eyebrows are also being raised over why a project that was conceived 20 years ago has been unveiled now, when Lok Sabha elections are round the corner.

What stokes suspicion further is the fact that numerous perceived benefits of this venture have been brazenly highlighted (see box: Projected gains). Among these are the transformation of the Gulf of Khambat into a 2000-square-kilometre (sq km) sweetwater reservoir, the generation of 5,580 mega watts of tidal power (enough to make Gujarat a power-surplus state), and the bridging of the 225-km stretch between Saurashtra and south Gujarat. It is another matter that the project will be completed in 2020 at the earliest.

The main objective of the project is to harness the excess waters of Narmada, Mahi, Sabarmati and Dhadar rivers, all of which meet in the Gulf of Khambat. It aims to turn the gulf into a sweetwater lake three times the size of Sardar Sarovar. The gulf will be separated from the Arabian Sea by constructing a 64.16-km-long dam between Ghogha in Bhavnagar and Hansot in Bharuch. The project will be executed through public-private partnership, reveals state irrigation and water resource minister Narottam Patel.

However, some political parties and environmentalists are opposing the venture. "It is not feasible. The government has not published the findings of its studies," alleges opposition leader Amarsinh Chaudhry. Nafisa Barot, an activist who favours small dams and rainwater harvesting, says the likely gains are being exaggerated.

The state government has conducted six intermediate studies on the techno-economic feasibility of the project. One of the reports states that "...sub-sea drilling carried out (during the) pre-feasibility study has identified possibly inadequate conditions for founding of...major structures in Narmada river's mouth...". In view of the earthquake of 2001, it is even more imperative that detailed studies are carried out to assess the load-bearing capacity of the seabed before commencing work.

There are several other worries, too. It is estimated that the dam will endanger over 20,000 hectares of mangrove forests. While the government claims that there will be no submergence, it admits that resources will be displaced. At the same time, Pradeep Khanna, chief conservator of forest (wildlife), adds: "We cannot say for sure, as the state government has yet to carry out an environmental impact assessment."

Doubts have also been expressed about the efficacy of converting the gulf into a sweetwater lake, given that it is heavily polluted. According to Vadodara-based non-governmental organisation Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, the gulf is getting increasingly contaminated due to waste discharged by the industrial belt of the Golden Corridor. The pipeline project at Ankleshwar is likely to result in dumping of more effluents into the gulf. But Gujarat Pollution Control Board chairperson K Bhanujan claims that the situation is "not alarming".

Anil Kane, chairperson of the Indian Wind Power Association and the brain behind the project, is of the opinion that there will be no negative impact on the environment. Barot, however, puts a poser: what will happen to the people depending on the sea for their livelihood? She says that a dialogue should have been initiated with the residents of the area where the dam will be constructed.

Kalpasar is a Gujarati word meaning 'a lake that fulfils wishes'. The big question is: will the project live up to its name?

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