Skip to main content

“Wasted” waters of two re-profiled rivers — Narmada and Sabarmati

By Rajiv Shah
I have in my hand a new book, “Business Interests and the Environmental Crisis”, edited by two scholar-activists whom I have known for a little while for their insightful reports on ground-level environmental issues and their implications – Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon.
While I found most of the papers published in the book (published by Sage) too theoretical, hence would possibly require expert reaction, two of them interesting me. The first one is a paper by Shripad Dharmadhikary, a passionate expert on river systems, once associated with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. What interested me in Dharmadhikary’s paper is his strong, perhaps unique, argument on how the Narmada project was conceived to put into practice the “flawed” notion that water should not be allowed to go waste into the sea, and how this concept has ruined ecological systems.
The second paper that interested me is by Himanshu Burte, faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Burte deals with Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront Development project, noting how it “re-profiled” the river as a “simplified geometry”, only to create a real estate hub. The riverfront interested me, because I live in Ahmedabad, and despite its ecological havoc, the middle and lower middle class families find it a spot where they can take a leisurely stroll, indeed free of cost.
But first Narmada, which has excited me ever since I settled down in Gujarat in 1993. The first time I actually “saw” Narmada project was in late 1990s, when, apart from the dam and the incomplete powerhouse, I took a peep into Narmada outees’ resettlement colonies. I saw them, accompanied by one of the finest Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrats, Vinod Babbar, who knew many of the oustees personally, named their children, and cracked jokes with them. It is quite another thing that, back to Gandhinagar following his seven-year stint in Vadodara, he would often complain to me about “lack of progress in resettling Narmada oustees”, something which is becoming a reality now. There have been reports that the resettled oustees are now being sought to be evicted!
During another visit, I went from the dam right up to Aliabet, a former island situated on the mouth of river Narmada. I could see the destruction caused by the dam all through: The sea waters had made their way into the river, travelling tens of kilometres towards the dam. At village Mangrol, I met Arch Vahini’s Dr Anil Patel, a physician, who showed me how, just about 50 kilometres from the Narmada dam, the river was “filled” with sea water because of the high tide. “This happens quite often”, he told me, “Especially when they don’t release waters from the dam.”
Local officials confirmed, the sea water ingress is a problem; it has “virtually destroyed” agricultural land on large stretches on both sides of the river.
I was reminded of this (and much more) as I was reading through Dharmadhikary’s paper. The paper quotes from the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award on the distribution of Narmada river waters between Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra: “In many years, there will be surplus water in the filling period after meeting the storage requirements (of the dam)… This will flow down to sea. Only portion of it will be utilizable for generating power… the rest will go waste. It is desirable that water which would go waste … should be allowed to be utilized by the party states to the extent they can…”
Currently coordinator at the Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, Dharmadhikary comments, “The use of the water for irrigation is certainly an important and valued use. This not being disputed. What is disputed is the notion that if the flowing water was not being used for irrigation (or some other specific uses like hydropower), then it was being wasted. This notion ignored the many other uses of water – some, like fisheries which benefited humans, and others which served the purposes of other life forms and maintaining ecology.”
It is this same notion of “water going waste” that is behind the latest interlinking of rivers project, too, says the scholar. He quotes from a National Water Development Agency (NWDA): “The monsoon flood waters which otherwise run waste into the sea should be conserved in various storage reservoirs, big and small. The water so conserved could then be utilized for irrigation, power generation, etc.… Only surplus flood water, after meeting all in-basin requirements for foreseeable future, has been planned for transfer of water to deficit areas.”
Disputing the notion of “surplus water”, Dharmadhikary argues, “The ecology of the river (and the basin) has evolved based on its historic natural flows, and this includes the seasonal pattern of high and low flows. Thus, any part of the flow, including the floods, can be considered surplus only by discounting the ecological functions… In the discounting ecological functions, often even the benefits accruing to the large human communities are discounted.”
He believes, “In this manner, we see the notion of surplus … can operate only by privileging certain uses of the river flow over others.” He quotes top Gujarat-based academic Prof Yoginder Alagh, a well-known Narmada dam protagonist, as admitting, “The modelling (of Narmada waters) was so good that we very accurately used up all the water for the crops, the trees, and for drinking. We all forgot the obvious. Rivers also need water.”
And, prey, where is this wasted water being used up in Gujarat?
This takes me to the other paper in the book – by Himanshu Burte. Burte points to how – quite like the Narmada project – an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 families were “displaced” and this was “replaced by an artificial river body, a sort of aqueous spatial product” called Sabarmati riverfront. He rightly insists, “The river that we see today is not, strictly speaking, the river that was, if you consider river as necessary integrated into a larger riverine process. Today, water from feeder canal of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada river is artificially fed into the new Sabarmati channel to keep water in the river all the year round.”
The result is, he adds, an “invaluable real estate” has been produced “to the extent of 28 hectares (or over 30 lakh sq ft which would give a gross total built-up area multiple times that number, depending on the floor space index that will be allocated to the special project) at 15 per cent of the total reclaimed land of 185 hectares (ha)”.
What Burte’s paper, however, misses is the context: How Dharoi dam, built in 1960s, stopped any flow of water into Sabarmati that would be there earlier. Indeed, I remember, as do all old timers like me, having taken bath in whatever little water that would remain in Sabarmati during summer when I was a little child – that was late 1950s or early 1960s.
“Concentrating” on a theoretical premise of Henri Lefebvre, a Marxist theorist, who pointed towards how abstract spaces are sought to be projected as real in order to “enable capital accumulation”, Burte, however, does not say how the 10.5 km stretch of Sabarmati riverfront project has meant environmental destruction of a riverine system. Perhaps the limitation of the theoretical framework he chose?
Indeed, those who have seen the river upstream and downstream of the riverfront know: Sabarmati in the downstream of the riverfront, beyond Vasna barrage, turns into drainage line, an open gutter, of industrial and other wastewater. Anyone who has crossed the river at Vautha would confirm how badly it stinks. There is, in fact, no river here. As for the river upstream, it’s all dry.
Also, I wondered: Shouldn’t Burte find a sociological answer to the riverfront? Despite this ecological destruction, about which little has been said, majority of Ahmedabad believes it as a great Narendra Modi success story, opening up a recreational space, which wasn’t there in till earlier.
---
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/wasted-waters-of-two-re-profiled-rivers-narmada-and-sabarmati/

Comments

TRENDING

Hold your breath! UK ex-Muslims to celebrate Blasphemy Day on September 30

Soheil Arabi The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), in a suprise move, has decided to observe September 30 as the Blasphemy Day. In an email alert, Maryam Namazie, CEMB spokesperson, has asked anyone interested to join CEMB in celebrating blasphemy by " uploading your photo into our #blasphemyday frame and sharing on social media."

What this veteran Gandhian witnessed at Rajghat is indeed intensely disturbing

Renowned Gandhian, activist and physicist Professor VK Tripathi witnessed an “intensely worrisome” event at the Gandhi Samadhi on his birthday on October 2, 2021. “The children of the Hindutva criminals who assassinated him have captured places which are supposed to keep Gandhiji's heritage alive”, says Deepak Joshi in a Faceook post, insisting, “We should strongly protest against it. It is already too late.”

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

International Energy Agency floats new plan to end oil, gas, and coal expansion

In major shift, International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook has mainstreamed 1.5°C pathway, showing need to end oil, gas, and coal expansion, insisting on new fossil fuel phase-out benchmarks in order to test government ambition ahead of COP26. A report by Oil Change International, distributed by BankTrack: *** For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s flagship annual report on global energy pathways, used worldwide to influence trillions of dollars in investment, details an achievable roadmap to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). By making a 1.5°C scenario the benchmark of this year’s World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA challenges governments and companies to back up lagging Paris pledges with immediate action to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels. Notably, this year’s WEO solidifies the policy conclusion, first presented by the IEA in May , that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction projects should be approved under a 1.5°C-

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Known to have assissinated O'Dwyer, Udham Singh chose not to apologise to the British

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer , the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India , on 13 March 1940, done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible, was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment. Writes a well-known analyst, "He too could have apologised. He chose the noose instead!" Udham Singh's speech prior to sentencing in UK: *** “I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought us everything filthy and degenerating. known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and blood

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

Indian Doctors for Truth want Modi to stop overzealous universal vaccination drive

At a time when there is a huge demand to ensure that vaccination should be universal in order to gain immunity against the pandemic, an organisation called Indian Doctors for Truth, have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against Covid-19.  Read the letter, signed by 18 doctors and a health expert: ***

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Ex-official: Why not offer Vaishnaw loss making BSNL, Air India to prove his worth?

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.