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Restless flows Narmada

It is heartening to note a senior leader like Anil Dave welcoming ?anybody working for Narmadaji? with the objective ?to see that the river flowed its natural way? and the apparent support he enjoys from the government of Madhya Pradesh. Hopefully, they will persuade BJP high command to educate their Gujarat counterparts that a river is a complex ecological/social/cultural system revered by people as goddess and must not be treated just as a pipeline to convey water.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2006 18:26 IST

It is heartening to note a senior leader like Anil Dave welcoming “anybody working for Narmadaji” with the objective “to see that the river flowed its natural way” and the apparent support he enjoys from the government of Madhya Pradesh.

Hopefully, they will persuade BJP High Command to educate their Gujarat counterparts that a river is a complex ecological/social/cultural system revered by people as goddess and must not be treated just as a pipeline to convey water.

Unfortunately, the 138-metre Sardar Sarovar dam project over Narmada in Gujarat is conceived precisely on this premise.

Even if Narmada water is made to flow to North Gujarat and Kutch temporarily at a mind-boggling budget, the mega-project will turn into a dysfunctional monument within 30 years due to silting. The only beneficiaries of such mega-dams inevitably turn out to be big-time contractors, corrupt bureaucrats and politicians whose pockets the huge funds are channelled into.

The project that seeks to displace lakh of families can be cost-effective only if SSNNL can get away with wrecking the environment in the name of development and submerging huge tracts of land by paying just a pittance to the affected families (or none at all to thousands of people).

That was okay in Nehruvian era, when hapless people had no capacity to assert themselves.

The Supreme Court has mandated that dam height can only be raised when the Narmada Control Authority (NAC) is satisfied that relief and rehabilitation of every oustee affected by every dam height increase is complete.

Gandhinagar babus had persuaded their counterparts of MP and Rajasthan to differentiate between permanent oustees and people whose land will not be submerged throughout the year. Chaired by a central superbabu who never bothered to ascertain if the ATR was based on the mandate, NCA gave its nod for raising the height from 110 metres to 121 metres.

The Apex court has refused to be fooled by such differentiation. The bureaucrats of Gandhinagar have all along teamed up with political netas of all shades in Gujarat to bleed the people of the state in pursuit of a nonsensical mirage.

The state has already shelled out a couple of billions, originally not provided for, for R&R. More and more payments and the inordinate delay in the project translate into huge cost escalation. Gujarat is sure to go bankrupt if the project is pursued as a prestige issue ignoring economic considerations.

One is baffled that RSS, the socio-cultural organisation to which its ruling party owes its allegiance, remains a mute spectator of the harakiri being enacted.