Gandhinagar (Gujarat): In a significant decision, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has cleared an eight-year-old proposal to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam by 17 metres, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel announced Thursday.
"The NCA has granted approval to raise the dam height to 138 metres," Patel said at a function in Junagadh Thursday afternoon, even as anti-dam activists protested the move.
"Heartfelt gratitude from the people of Gujarat to Hon. PM Narendra Modi. The decision pending has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa gaye hain!!" she confirmed on Twitter, before leaving to Kevadia for a visit to the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) site.
The decision will come as a boon to Gujarat, which regularly faces water crises because of deficient or sparse rainfall, though Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by social activist Medha Patkar and the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) bitterly criticised the move.
The NCA permission will allow the dam height to be raised from the present 121.92 metres to 138.72 metres and the work is expected to be taken up after the monsoon.
The decision comes just a few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office.
However, the NBA and SANDRP have questioned the decision which they claim could lead to submergence of thousands of hectares of land, displacement of lakhs of tribals and farmers in three states - Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
"It is shocking that all the officials of the central and state governments and all the concerned ministers (including Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, Social Justice Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in addition to Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh chief ministers) have toed the line dictated by Prime Minister Modi and the Gujarat government in this regard, within two weeks of new government taking over," said SANDRP's spokesperson Himanshu Thakkar.
He said that no additional rehabilitation could have been accomplished in these two weeks, which seems to indicate that a political decision has been taken without considering the ground realities, merits or justification of the decision or necessity of the decision.
"The Sardar Sarovar Dam at its present height itself has two lakh people in its affected region. So if the height is raised by installing 17 meters high gates, the densely populated villages in Nimad (Madhya Pradesh) with houses, farms, shops, religious places, and standing crops will face a watery grave," said Patkar in Mumbai.
"It is an absolutely obnoxious contrast that the new government (headed by Modi) has not given us any hearing, nor has it taken any time, or made any attempt to know the ground reality, before deciding to go forward with SSP dam construction to its final height," Patkar added.
SANDRP claimed that Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from the Narmada River without increasing the height and are not able to use even 20 percent of the water already available at the present height.
"This is clearly unnecessary, unjust and unwarranted decision that is not likely to have even a legal sanction. The only additional benefit that the height increase can provide is about 10-20 percent additional power generation in which Gujarat's share is only 16 percent, while 57 percent goes to Madhya Pradesh and the rest 27 goes to Maharashtra," Thakkar pointed out.
SANDRP said that if Gujarat had built the necessary canals and water distributions in Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat, Narmada River waters would have reached these regions even eight years ago, without increasing the dam height as permitted by NCA Thursday.
Today's decision came barely 48 hours after tribals under the NBA banner led a huge protest march to the Nandurbar collector in Maharashtra demanding proper rehabilitation for 1,000 tribal families who are yet to be rehabilitated with land, houses, plots, irrigation and other facilities.
The NBA has also demanded full-fledged health facilities and rationing with regularity and boat service in every village, because people have faced death or destruction without these since last year.