Narmada River - Early Background and Dispute

Early Background and Dispute

Investigations for harnessing the Narmada waters started around the time of independence, when Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission (CWINC) identified several storage schemes and in 1948 the Khosla Committee prioritized the proposals and named Tawa, Bargi, Punasa and Bharuch projects (the last three on the main stem of the river) for preparation of reports. The reports were ready by 1963. A parallel study of the Hydropower potential identified 16 sites with a potential of 1300 MW. While the project in Gujarat called Baruch Weir project (for which Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone in 1961) went through a series of modifications and improvements with a reformed scheme at Navagam village to extend benefits up to the Rann of Kutch, but following the bifurcation of the erstwhile Bombay state into Maharashtra and Gujarat states and Gujarat’s intent to raise the height of the dam at Navagam to maximize storage benefits at the cost of submergence of potential hydropower sites in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, created a dispute between the states. This resulted in an impasse in the implementation of the agreed projects at Navagam in Gujarat, Punasa in MP and Bargi dam in MP and power benefit sharing among the states; with MP refusing to ratify the agreements. To break the logjam, a high level Committee was appointed by the Government of India(GOI) in September 1964. In 1965, the Committee prepared a Master Plan for the basin which involved construction of 12 major projects in MP and the Navagam dam in Gujarat. It provided priority to irrigation over power; irrigation of 2,630 square kilometres (1,020 sq mi) in MP, 400 square kilometres (150 sq mi) in Maharashtra, 460 square kilometres (180 sq mi) in Gujarat and 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 sq mi) in Rajasthan. The storages it recommended in MP involved Bargi, Tawa and Narmadasagar (Punasa) while its proposed Navagam high dam would submerge the hydelpower project sites of Jalasindhi (in Maharshtra) and Harinphal (MP) but without any more submergence than would be caused by the three dams if separately constructed. Gujarat endorsed this proposal but Maharashtra was not willing to go by it. After intense parleys failed to resolve the problem, GOI decided to set up the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) in 1969 under the Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956 to adjudicate on the dispute relating to sharing of water of the inter–state river Narmada and its valley.

Tribunal award.

After ten years of deliberations, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) gave its award in December 1979. The NWDT, considering the development of the water resources of the basin as a whole, gave its award, allocating share of water and Hydro Power of the Sardar Sarovar Project.

The Tribunal’s final order determined the utilizable quantum of Narmada waters to be 27,000,000 acre feet (33 km3) at 75% dependability and allocated it to the four states, as in Table below, including share of power benefits. It also stipulated the share of water when utilizable flow was in excess of 28,000,000 acre feet (35 km3). The Navagam dam height was fixed at full reservoir level (FRL) 460 feet (140 m) with a maximum water level of EL feet. The Full Supply Level of the Navagam canal was fixed at 300 feet (91 m). The cost sharing formula among the states and the consequent requirement of release of regulated releases from the Narmada Sagar dam by MP was also spelt out. The resettlement and rehabilitation package was also clearly specified with all costs to be borne by Gujarat for all resettlement and rehabilitation work of people affected in the three states and also for relocating any ancient or historic monuments, places of worship or idols likely to suffer submergence.

Party States Allocated share of water % share of power
Madhya Pradesh 18,250,000 acre feet (22.51 km3) 57
Gujarat 9,000,000 acre feet (11 km3) 16
Maharashtra 250,000 acre feet (0.31 km3) 27
Rajasthan 500,000 acre feet (0.62 km3) Nil
Total 28,000,000 acre feet (35 km3) 100

The uniqueness of this Award is that a non riparian state – Rajasthan – has been allocated a share of Narmada waters, for meeting the water requirements of the drought prone districts of Barmer and Jalore, which have no other source of dependable water. The work on the project did not start soon since extensive studies were undertaken for project designing and with World Bank getting involved with funding studies and project costs (Loan agreement with GOI of $450 million was signed in May 1985), the Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) package was substantially revised, over and above what was set in the NWDT, and environmental studies had to be undertaken. But the environmental and forest clearances for the projects from the newly formed Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoE&F) involved extensive inter–ministerial and inter departmental discussions (within the central govt and with state governments.) for a substantial period and it was only in June 1987 (almost 8 years after the NWDT award was given in Dec 1979) that the MoE&F gave a conditional approval to the Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar Projects. The Forest clearance was given in September 1987 for Sardar Sarovar only. The clearance also required the work to be done pari passu with the construction of the dams and the filling of the reservoir. In the mean time, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), an inter-State Administrative Authority and the Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee (SSCAC) were set up in 1980 by the Govt. of India in compliance of the NWDT award; the former organization was set up in Dec. 1980 as body corporate with representatives from the four party states and Govt. of India, as a machinery to implement the decisions and directions of the NWDT and the later organization was set up in Sept. 1980 as a statutory body to ensure efficient, economical and timely execution of the Unit I (Dam & appurtenant works) and Unit III (Hydropower works) of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). A Review Committee consisting of the Union Minister for Irrigation (now substituted by Union Minister for Water Resources) as its Chairperson and the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan as its members is also in position to review the decisions of the NCA and the SSCAC, as required. For monitoring and implementation of various environmental activities effectively, independent machinery of Environment Sub-Group is functioning since Nov.1987 under NCA. Similarly, for monitoring the progress of the resettlement and rehabilitation of project affected people, R&R subgroup is also functioning under the NCA. At the state level, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNL) in Gujarat has the mandate to implement and manage the Sardar Sarovar multipurpose project. In Madhya Pradesh, the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) is vested the responsibility for implementation of the projects.

The overall plan for development ultimately conceived involves 30 major dams including Sardar Sarovar (21 irrigation, 5 hydropower, and 4 multipurpose), some 135 medium dams, and over three minor dams in M.P along the main stem of the river and its 41 tributaries to utilize its allocated share of 18,250,000 acre feet (22.51 km3) before 2025 (within 45 years of the NWDT award). In addition to power generation and irrigation within the basin, water was allocated for domestic and industrial water uses and for multipurpose trans–basin diversions to: Son River and Tons River basins in eastern MP, drought prone areas of Saurashtra, Kutch, northern mainland in Gujarat, and southern Rajasthan. Irrigation benefits to the extent of about 40,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi) to 50,000 square kilometres (19,000 sq mi) (of drought prone and scarcity areas) and power generation of 2,600 MW were also envisaged. Thus, the Narmada river development is envisaged as a multi state program for development of hydropower and irrigation dams and their associated irrigation networks. In 1961, the original project envisaged irrigation of almost 2 million acres (8,100 km2) in West India at a cost of $100 million. By 2011, it had escalated to $3 billion.

Even though the tribunal award resolved the initial issue of water sharing, however, the height of dam, benefit sharing and the mode of settlement of project–affected people caused serious difficulties in implementation, particularly of the Sardar Sarovar dam (the terminal dam on the river). Project–affected people agitated under the banner of the dedicated NGO – The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). The NBA followed up by Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India. The NBA questioned the benefits claimed from the major projects, challenged the resettlement and rehabilitation packages for project affected people of the reservoir submergence and canal affected zones and its implementation. It also rejected the environmental impact assessments made and the remedial actions taken by the project authorities. This challenge created worldwide attention to the major development activity planned in the valley. It urged the World Bank to withdraw from the project and the intense world wide pressure resulted in the Bank mounting an Independent Review Mission (IRM) called the Morse Mission to review the SSP. But the IRM’s report was neither accepted by the Government of India or the World Bank. Finally Government of India decided to terminate further drawals from a remaining $180 million World Bank credit from the Bank with the firm resolution that the project would be completed within the national resources.

The Supreme Court has also deliberated on this issue for several years but finally upheld the Tribunal Award and allowed the construction to proceed, subject to conditions. The Court introduced a mechanism to monitor the progress of resettlement pari-passu with the raising of the height of the dam through Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRA) in each of the party states. The court’s decision referred in this document, given in the year 2000, after 7 years of deliberations, has paved the way for completing the project to attain full envisaged benefits. Some of the court’s decisions are essential to be quoted here (quoted in italics), to set at rest many of the distorted or incorrect versions being presented in several of the linked Wikipedia articles on this subject.

*When such projects are undertaken and hundreds of crores of public money is spent, individual or organisations in the garb of PIL cannot be permitted to challenge the policy decision taken after a lapse of time. It is against the national interest and contrary to the established principles of law that decisions to undertake developmental projects are permitted to be challenged after a number of years during which period public money has been spent in the execution of the project.

*Having failed in its attempt to stall the project the petitioner has resorted to court proceedings by filing this writ petition long after the environmental clearance was given and construction started. The pleas relating to height of the dam and the extent of submergence, environment studies and clearance, hydrology, seismicity and other issues, except implementation of relief and rehabilitation, cannot be permitted to be raised at this belated stage.

*It is the Relief and Rehabilitation measures that this Court is really concerned with and the petition in regard to the other issues raised is highly belated.

*The cost and benefit of the project were examined by the World Bank in 1990 and the following passage speaks for itself:

*The argument in favour of the Sardar Sarovar Project is that the benefits are so large that they substantially outweigh the costs of the immediate human and environmental disruption. Without the dam, the long term costs for people would be much greater and lack of an income source for future generations would put increasing pressure on the environment. If the waters of the Narmada river continue to flow to the sea unused there appears to be no alternative to escalating human deprivation, particularly in the dry areas of Gujarat. The project has the potential to feed as many as 20 million people, provide domestic and industrial water for about 30 million, employ about 1 million, and provide valuable peak electric power in an area with high unmet power demand (farm pumps often get only a few hours power per day). In addition, recent research shows substantial economic multiplier effects (investment and employment triggered by development) from irrigation development. Set against the futures of about 70,000 project affected people, even without the multiplier effect, the ratio of beneficiaries to affected persons is well over 100:1.

*The Morse Committee was constituted, as already noted, by the World Bank. Its recommendations were forwarded to the World Bank. Apart from the Criticism of this report from other quarters, the World Bank itself did not accept this report as is evident from its press release dated 22 June 1992 where it was, inter-alia, stated as follows:

*The Morse Commission provided a draft of its report to the Bank for management comments several weeks prior to the final release of the document. About two weeks before this release, the commission provided a draft of its findings and recommendations. The final version of the report is the sole responsibility of its authors; the report was not cleared by the World Bank.

*On resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R), Bank management agrees with the description of the R&R situation in each of the three states and with the report's conclusions about the shortcomings in the preparation and appraisal of the project's R&R aspects. We also agree that work should have been done earlier on the issue of people affected by the canal in Gujarat.

*On environment, bank management agrees with the independent review on the need for a more effective central management in the Narmada Basin on environment impact studies and mitigation programmes. Management also agrees on the need to accelerate work on estuary studies and health matters in Gujarat.

*The Government of India vide its letter dated 7 August 1992 from the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests did not accept the report and commented adversely on it.

*In view of the above, we do not propose, while considering the petitioners contentions, to place any reliance on the report of Morse Committee.

*Again all these contentions were based on the Morse Committee Report which the World Bank and the Union of India had already rejected.

*Apart from the fact that we are not convinced that construction of the dam will result in there being an adverse ecological impact there is no reason to conclude that the Environmental Sub-group is not functioning effectively. The group which is headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests is a high powered body whose work cannot be belittled merely on the basis of conjectures or surmises.

*The Environment Sub-group under the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India will consider and give, at each stage of the construction of the dam, environment clearance before further construction beyond 90 meters can be undertaken.

*Even though there has been substantial compliance with the conditions imposed under the environment clearance the NCA and the Environment Sub-group will continue to monitor and ensure that all steps are taken not only to protect but to restore and improve the environment.

*The Grievances Redressal Authorities will be at liberty, in case the need arises, to issue appropriate directions to the respective States for due implementation of the R&R programmes and in case of non implementation of its directions, the GRAs will be at liberty to approach the Review Committee for appropriate orders.

*Every endeavour shall be made to see that the project is completed as expeditiously as possible.

The above Supreme Court judgement was by two of a three judge panel. The third judge, S.P.Bharucha, dissented with the two judges' verdict

Justice Bharucha stated that "...Considering the magnitude of rehabilitation, involving a large percentage of tribals, loss of extensive forest area rich in biological diversity, enormous environmental cost of the project and considering the fact that the basic data on vital aspects are still not available there could be but one conclusion, that the project(s) are not ready for approval..."

The construction of the two multipurpose major projects – the Sardar Sarvoar in Gujarat and Indira Sagar in Madya Pradesh – the two are interdependent to attain full envisaged benefits - is in progress and substantial partial benefits have already been achieved. Hence, details of these two projects are elaborated below.

Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) at Navagam. Subsequent to the Tribunal award and approval to the project in 1987 by the Ministry of Water Resources with due clearances from the MoE&F, implementation of the SSP was taken up as the terminal project on the main stem of the Narmada, in Gujarat, to utilize the share of allocated water to Gujarat and Rajasthan. The concrete gravity dam of 1,210 metres (3,970 ft) length and 163 metres (535 ft) height above foundation with storage capacity of 7,700,000 acre feet (9,500 km2) and reservoir length of 214 kilometres (133 mi) extending into Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh is designed to provide an annual irrigation of 18,000 square kilometres (6,900 sq mi) in Gujarat (covering 3360 villages of 62 talukas in 14 districts), 4,260 square kilometres (1,640 sq mi) in Rajasthan and hydel power generation of 1450 MW. As a result of construction of the dam over 48,269 families (against 7000 families assessed in 1979, by the Tribunal) will be affected, as per the latest figures of NCA, in the three States spread over 244 villages (4 fully and 240 partially – 39369 in MP in 192 villages, 4163 in Maharshtra in 33 villages and 4737 in Gujarat in 19 villages); the total area affected being 375.33 square kilometres (144.92 sq mi). The submergence area is broadly divided into two areas, fully tribal area which covers the initial reach of about 100 or so villages which are almost 100% tribal and hilly. These include all the 33 villages of Maharashtra (in Nadurbar District), all 19 of Gujarat and many of the Madhya Pradesh. The second part of the submergence area is the mixed population area on the Nimad plains with a very well developed economy that is well connected to the mainstream. Considered as the largest water resources project of India in terms of benefits, some of the special features of the project are the following.

  • Dam’s spillway discharging capacity at 3,070,000 cu ft/s (87,000 m3/s) the third highest in the world
  • With 1133 m³/s (40,000 ft³/s) capacity at the head regulator and 532 kilometres (331 mi) length (458 kilometres (285 mi) in Gujarat and 74 kilometres (46 mi) in Rajasthan) with 75,000 kilometres (47,000 mi) length of distribution system including field channel, the Narmada Main Canal is the largest irrigation canal in the world.
  • The project aims at supplying 3571,000 m³/day of drinking water (2900,000 m³/day for domestic consumption & 671,000 m³/day for industrial consumption) to 8215 villages & 135 towns in Gujarat, which are presently suffering from acute shortage of water. Also, the project aims to provide drinking water facilities to a population of about 1,371,000 in 1107 villages & two towns in Jalore district and Barmer district of Rajasthan.
  • Has the lowest ratio of submergence to area irrigated – being 1.65% of CCA against an average of 4 to 5% of other major irrigation projects.

All the 6 units of River Bed Power House (RBPH) have been commissioned successfully by June 2006 and are in operation. All the five units of Canal Head Power House (CHPH) have been commissioned successfully by end of December 2004 and are in operation.

The dam has attained a height of EL.121.92 m i.e. the crest level of the spillway. The gates are yet to be erected to attain the FRL of EL 138.68 m for which clearance is required from the Supreme Court after the Grievance Redressal Committee submits its report on completion of R & R up to that elevation. Top level of dam to be attained is EL 146.50 m.

The main irrigation canal has been substantially constructed for a length of 357 kilometres (222 mi). Water has been let into the canal for partial irrigation and water supply needs. Further construction is in progress.

The Indira Sagar Project (ISP) in Madhya Pradesh at Punasa is one of the 30 major projects proposed in the Narmada basin with the largest storage capacity in the country. The project is located near Punasa village in Khandwa District of Madhya Pradesh. This Multipurpose River Valley Project envisages construction of a concrete gravity dam, 653 metres (2,142 ft) long and 92 metres (302 ft) high with gross storage capacity of the reservoir of 12.22 km3 (9,910,000 acre·ft) and live storage of 9.75 km3 (7,900,000 acre·ft) to provide an annual irrigation potential of 1,690 km², and generation of 1000 MW of hydropower. The project shall also ensure supply of 60,000 acre·ft (74,000,000 m3) of drinking water to rural areas in Khandwa district. In accordance with NWDT award, an annual regulated flow of 8,120,000 acre·ft (10.02 km3) shall be released to the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), ex– Maheshwar Project. The operation of Indira Sagar Project shall be carried out in such a way as to facilitate the regulation of Sardar Sarovar.

The dam and the powerhouse have been completed but storage has been restricted up to EL 260 m under orders of the High Court, Jabalpur from R&R consideration. All the units of the powerhouse have been commissioned and generation of power from the 8 units of 125 MW capacity each commenced from Jan 2004. The irrigation component of the project is under a fairly advance stage of implementation.

Other completed and under construction projects

Existing irrigation projects in the Narmada are the 1) Matiyari (1992), 2) Rani Avantibai Sagar (1988), 3) Barna (1978), 4) Tawa (1992–93), 5) Sukta (1984) all in Madhya Pradesh, and Karjan project in Gujarat.

Projects under implementation are the 1) Bargi diversion, 2) Kolar, 3) Man, 4) Omkareshwar multipurpose (520 MW – commissioned in Nov. 2007) and 5) Maheshwar (400 MW)

A large number of medium and small projects have been completed and many more are under implementation, as conceived under the overall Master Plan.

Read more about this topic:  Narmada River

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