Environmentalists object Chhattisgarh govt’s move to proceed with Bodhghat project
Environmentalists have raised objection to the Chhattisgarh government’s move to conduct a survey for the multi-purpose Bodhghat project on the Indravati river in a bid to provide irrigation facilities to farmers in the three Communist Party of India (Maoist)-hit districts of the Bastar region.
The project, which is estimated to cost Rs 22,000 crore and likely to generate 300 megawatt (MW) of hydel power, seeks to construct a dam near Barsoor village in Dantewada district to irrigate 3,66,580 hectares (ha) of farmland in Maoist–affected Dantewada, Bijapur, and Sukma districts.
The state government has entrusted the responsibility to conduct the survey, research and obtain requisite approvals from various ministries to WAPCOS Limited, a consultancy organisation and public sector undertaking (PSU) under the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti.
Earlier, though the project had got the environmental nod in 1979 for the generation of hydro-power, when the area was still under an undivided Madhya Pradesh (MP), the work never got started because the then government had felt that the venture was not suited for the tribal-dominated people in the Bastar region.
Now, the project has been modified into an irrigation project that aims to provide water to thousands of parched villages under the Bastar division.
“The project’s survey started a few days ago. Earlier, it was conceived as a hydel project, but the state government stalled it owing to protests among the local tribals in the Bastar division over displacement and deforestation fears. It is being developed as an irrigation project. All necessary approvals will be taken afresh from the Central government,” said Ravindra Chaubey, state minister for agriculture and water resource.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel held a meeting with public representatives of the Bastar region on June 20 to discuss the implementation of the Bodhghat project and also sought their feedback and opinion.
“The CM told us that the people of Bastar have not been directly benefitted for all these years because of the setting up of any new industries and business ventures. However, this project will be a game-changer for the local tribal population,” said a tribal leader, who was present on the June 20 meeting, requesting anonymity.
A senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official, who was also present at the meeting and privy to the development, said that the 300-MW generated from the project would be solely utilised for lifted irrigation, or a mechanised water flow, because the Bastar region has poor irrigation facilities.
“Only 4.6% of farmland in the Bastar division has an irrigation facility. The region suffers from drought, despite dense vegetation. The Bodhghat irrigation project aims to cover 72% of arable land in Bastar in a major fillip to agriculture activities,” Choubey said.
However, the project will also lead to a submergence of 42 villages and wipe out 5,704 ha of forests, 5,010 ha and 3,068 ha of private and government land, respectively.
The bureaucrat said 500 million cubic metres of water would be used for Bastar-based industries.
Activists working for tribal rights in Chhattisgarh said discussions about the projects must be done at gram-sabha level.
“This is a welcome step that the government have started consulting with the public representatives of the Bastar region on the Bodhghat project. The gram sabhas and villagers should also be consulted,” said Alok Shukla, convener, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a pressure group that was formed in 2009 and focuses on people’s issues in the mineral and forest-rich state.
He cited that the project was stalled earlier because of fears over its adverse ecological impact.
“It is the state government’s priority to provide irrigation facilities in the Bastar region, but it shouldn’t happen at the expense of the environment and the local tribal population,” he said.
Manish Kunjam, a local Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and also a tribal, however, claimed that the project is a non-starter, as it wouldn’t be able to provide irrigation facilities in the region.
“The places that the state government seeks to make canals to irrigate the farmlands are inaccessible because of the Maoist insurgency and also the hostile terrain. No official has visited these areas after salwa judum (an anti-Maoist militia) because of the Maoist rebels,” said Kunjam.
He demanded that the state’s tribal advisory committee should first approve the project because it is being constructed in tribal-dominated areas.
Choubey said that CM Baghel has assured rehabilitation of the affected local tribal population and representatives of gram sabhas would also be consulted.
“The displaced will getter better houses and land as compensation than their existing assets,” the minister added.