Too many vested interests are holding up developments

It is simple common-sense that there is going to be a severe shortage of water for every type of use. Drinking water itself has become a critical commodity. Even in Bangalore which is well developed and still fast developing, where Cauvery water is supplied there are severe shortage of water in summer months.

The number of villages, urban centres going without assured water supplies are too many to count. Given this scenario, the Narmada Dam agitations and the counter-agitations had only helped to confuse and make extremist stands fashionable. Medha Patkar may be a very admirable leader of great dedication and so too others who are committed to see the Dam stands out as a historic contribution to water starved India.

We state our position clearly. Narmada Dam is the greatest achievement. The number of families likely to be effected due to submergence, based on the 1991 census, is estimated at 40,727,out of which 33,014 are in MP. Gujarat will be required to resettle 14,124 families of the MP in the command area of the project. The remaining 18,890 families will be settled in MP.

The Supreme Court recently allowed the continuation of the construction work on the dam with the condition that at the same time rehabilitation of the affected families are also settled within three months.

This is an inter-state project benefiting Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It had already cost Rs.21, 000 crore and had taken about 20 years. The height of the dam is to be raised to 121.9m and the water benefits are mind-boggling. The live storage capacity of the reservoir will be 5,800 million cubic metre water and will irrigate 17.92 lakh hectares. The availability of water for irrigation will increase five times in Saurashtra and three times in Kutch. Besides massive electricity generation worth Rs.110 crores every year. The dam will supply water to 135 towns and 8,215 villages in Gujarat. Yes, the full reservoir level will submerge 193 villages in MP, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat.

Now, the Centre has appointed a three member team, another new controversy has arisen!
Already the project is two years behind schedule, argues the Gujarat government. It may be right. Construction work is in full swing to raise the dam height from 110.64 to 121.92 metres. MP government contends that the rehabilitation and relief package “is almost complete”. Governments can lie and they do often. In a case like this there must be several gaps. So, all grievances of the affected families have to be attended to satisfactorily.

Given the sort of dam-related ecological issues and the environment groups all over the world, there is some truth in the governments that the NBA anti-dam activists might over-blow the issues and any democratically elected governments have to draw some balance. And that is what the governments have done now to diffuse the situation.

Luckily, the current debate also comes at a time when the 22nd National Water Development Agency (NWDA) saw the irrigation representatives stressing the country are “one”! Water is a precious national resource and natural resources where man-made controversies only create more problems than serving the needs of water-hungry areas and people.

The Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz had called for a broad understanding and reaching consensus on such issues like Inter-state River links.

Interstate river links have become an urgent issue now. The BJP led alliance made a promise but was unseated. Now, the UPA has not brought the issue to the forefront and this is a pity.
Even the regional parties like the DMK and ADMK have no serious long-term vision. They talk of Cauvery river water issue for political points and not for solving the problem once for all and also from a long term point of view. All regional political leaders have to survive by raising the emotions of people, so the Mullaperiya dam, so too the Palar bridge in AP and now the Cauvery in Karnataka.
So, what is special about Cauvery? Every state or interstate rive has to be linked for the larger benefits and for all people of the country.

So, Soz’s call for understanding the recent PM’s initiative to get the MOU with UP, MP for the interstate river links in those states.

The time has come for taking up the much delayed national river link plans for implementation. The time for big projects is now!

A latest editorial in the science journal, Nature, raises the issue of China building big dams in African countries (23, March, 2006).Though the article is a bit biased against contractors and corruption in such big dam construction, there is no serious objection against big dams. In the same issue there is a detailed report on the China built dams in Africa. The Nile River, north of Khartoum in Sudan, a huge dam is slowly taking shape. The billion-dollar Merowe project will more than double the power generation in Sudan and this is one of such dozen new dam projects being built using Chinese money and expertise. World Bank and several governments have praised such big dams in Africa. 10,000 families will be affected and four resettlement schemes are under way.
China itself has been building the world’s biggest dam, Three Gorges Dam, the US 25 billion dollar dam will create a lake of 600 km long and due for completion at the end of the decade. The dam too drew criticism over forcible resettlement of more than half a million people.

The other big dam, in Egypt, the Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960s also causes severe soil erosion and other problems.

But the point here is that around a third of Africa has no access to electricity. Only a few African countries have the political will and infrastructure to implement big hydropower projects.
There is too much irresponsible talk by ecologists and environmentalists against big dams. They don’t come out with solutions to solve the water problems, power problems of the more widespread, deprived sections of societies in some of the most underdeveloped parts of the world.

– V.Isvarmurti

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