Gujaratis invested in Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project physically, emotionally and financially. They have been terribly let down by the administration.
By Pradeep Mallik
Posted On Friday, March 05, 2010 at 02:56:39 AM
From being a small part of a large province to be recognised as the growth
engine of the country is an achievement to be proud of. When the nation eyed a
growth rate of 10, the target given to Gujarat was 12. Swarnim Gujarat or the
Golden Jubilee celebration is worth it.
In less than a month Gujarat will be entering the run-up to another golden
jubilee. Yes, April 5 will mark the beginning of the 50th year what once used
to be famously described as the “lifeline of Gujarat” – Sardar Sarovar
Narmada project. Should people of the state look at it with the same sense of
pride or despair over it? You make the choice. Nearly 50 years later and Rs
29,000 crore down the dam on the Narmada and the canal across the state, not
even one-third of the network has been completed. According to a quick
calculation, work worth nearly Rs 22,000 crore remains to be completed at the
current price level. If the state government spends Rs 2,000 crore on the
project every year, it will take more than 12 years to wrap it up.
Well, even here doubt lurks. For, the annual rate of progress is just about 3
per cent over the last decade or so. Only 4.17 per cent of the network was
built by 2001. The proportion stands at 29 per cent in 2010. This, despite the
fact that no administration in the past was perched as comfortably as the
present one to move ahead with the works.
Potential beneficiaries have always been more than willing to cooperate with
the government and the Supreme Court in 2000 paved the way for unhindered
construction of the dam under certain just conditions like rehabilitation of
the project-affected families. Frustrated with the sluggish progress, a group
of social organisations came together to look into the state of affairs and
what came out is like a kick in the teeth to all those — beginning Sardar
Vallabhai Patel who initiated the project and got Jawaharlal Nehru to lay the
foundation stone in 1961 to the farmers in Saurashtra and Kutch who put in
blood and sweat into the project.
The people’s investigation committee headed by former Gujarat High Court
judge D G Karia, conducted eight public hearings at places like Dhrangdhra,
Halvad, Rajkot and Jamnagar in Saursahtra, Patan in north Gujarat and Vagra
near Bharuch in south Gujarat. About 3,000 farmers and water-users shared their
experiences. There was no hush-hush business. Such was the anger that many of
them submitted memoranda. Though the shadow of victimisation was very much
lurking — last year the cops had brutalised many of the farmers who had
opposed the government’s move to prevent them from drawing water for
irrigation despite paying fee — all of them went on record and allowed
themselves to be videotaped for documentation. To these farmers, it is a fight
Narmada Bachao Andolan has been blamed for far too long for the delay in the
project and the massive cost overrun. The original project involved an outlay
of just about Rs 6,000 crore. But as it emerged during the committee’s
inquiry, the decision of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigal Ltd, the implementing
agency, to raise funds by issuing bonds that carried interest rate higher than
the prevailing one was a major reason. This is reiterated by Comptroller and
Auditor General’s report, too.
The gullible and passionate people of Gujarat made many sacrifices for the
project. They invested in it physically, emotionally and financially. Supported
by the state machinery they sat on a vigil for weeks on end at the
Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border when some people with some genuine doubts over
the project looked like convincing the rest of the world of the futility of the
large dams. Toughest days are way behind the dam supporters. It is time the
people of the state who invested their personal resources quizzed the
administration on the benefits that were promised at the dam height of 121.62
After about 20 years in journalism, Pradeep Mallik thought he had seen it all.
How wrong he was…