Narmada has been killed in Gujarat, say activists

Members of Vadodara-based non-profit say the river downstream of Sardar Sarovar is now seasonal and carries only seawater and sewage

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Monday 15 April 2019
A drain carrying effluents flows into the Narmada near Bharuch. Photo: Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti

The Narmada river, central India’s mightiest, has been deliberately killed in its last stretch, with grave consequences for farmers, village residents and especially fisher folk, allege members of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a Vadodara-based non-profit. 

The Narmada originates in the Amarkantak hill in Anuppur district of Madhya Pradesh. It flows for 1,077 kilometres (kms) within Madhya Pradesh. The next 35-kms stretch of the river forms the boundary between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The next 39 kms form the boundary between Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the last stretch of 161 kms is in Gujarat before the river empties into the Gulf of Khambhat just downstream of Bharuch.

"In its last 161 kms, the Narmada, instead of being a perennial river has been converted into a seasonal one, is dry and carries seawater with some industrial pollutants and untreated sewerage, has high chemical oxygen demand (COD), total dissolved solids (TDS) and low dissolved oxygen (DO) and the groundwater near it has deteriorated," reads a letter the Samiti wrote to a number of nodal agencies including the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the Union Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR).

“The Narmada has been killed. An irreversible situation had been reached, despite repeated complaints, despite assurances. It is a deliberate failure by the state. We will fight with legal means and take this matter to its logical conclusion,” Rohit Prajapati, activist and member of the Samiti told Down To Earth.

The non-profit also mentioned that it had carried out an investigation April 6, 2019, testing the water of the river between Nand village, upstream of Bharuch and Bhadbhut village downstream, just before the river estuary in the Gulf of Khambhat.

The study found TDS in the river between Nand and Bhadbhut to be in the range of 647—5,000—20,000—25,500 milligram per litre (mg/l). The normal level, according to river norms is 500 mg/l. COD in the same stretch was in the range 40—100—150 mg/l, whereas it should be nil. DO was between 4.49 and 7 mg/l, whereas it should be greater than or equal to 5 mg/l.

“Our present investigation reveals that the Government of Gujarat and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change have grossly abdicated their responsibilities,” the letter read.

The non-profit attributed a number of actions on part of the agencies to be behind the sorry state of affairs.

The non-profit blamed various completed and upcoming projects on the river including the Sardar Sarovar Project, Garudeshwar Weir, Statue of Unity and tourism projects near the statue for diminishing the flow of the river downstream.

“The concerned authorities assumed, without any credible study, that 600 cusecs (Cubic Feet per Second) of water released would be enough for the downstream river. NCA, MoEF&CC and MoWR strangely agreed to this assumption and allowed water release, that too from the Godbole Gate and NOT the dam, as it should be,” noted the Samiti’s letter.

It continued, “Moreover, the authorities agreed that this quantum would not be from Gujarat’s share for Narmada waters. Which means the Gujarat Government today is releasing no water for the downstream river and goes through the motions of writing letters to MoEF&CC asking for more water, rather deciding to release water from its own share, as it should have been.”

The lack of water has had a number of effects. The Narmada in Gujarat is known for its fish stocks including the famous Palla fish (known as Hilsa in eastern India). The lack of water threatens sea water ingress which could cause the fisheries to be destroyed. It could affect as many as 10,000 fishing families, the letter noted.

The sea water ingress also threatens the water supply and irrigation use of over 210 villages and towns and Bharuch city.

The members of the study group also took a ground water sample near Nikora village, just 100 metres from the river bank. The sample was taken at 110 feet below the ground surface. It had a TDS of 1,610 mg/l. “This indicates sea ingress in the Narmada that does not have any fresh water in the river,” the letter noted.

The letter enumerated a number of demands including immediate discharge of 4,000 cusecs of water from the SSP to the river downstream, an immediate stop on the discharge of effluents into the river, monetary compensation to farmers and fisher folk, stopping of work on projects like the Garudeshwar Weir and the Bhadbhut Weir and implementing the February 22, 2017 order of the Supreme Court as well as National Green Tribunal order dated August 3, 2018 in letter and spirit.

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