Narmada is still a lifeline for millions in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. It has survived exploitation, but for how long?

NBA rally in Bharuch, Gujarat

A Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) analysis based on recent developments in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh around Narmada:

In the middle a drought-like crisis that has gripped regions depending on the Narmada, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani recently sparked off a fresh controversy by inaugurating a water-park! The Chief Minister opened the Rs 1,100 crore water-park in Anand district of central Gujarat on April 8 amidst massive agitations by farmers of neighbouring villages. This water park is a tourism project among the many MoUs signed during one of the Vibrant Gujarat investors’ meet started during the tenure of the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and continued thereafter by his successors.
Gujarat’s tourism plans went a notch ahead as Gujarat’s forest department proposed setting up a new ‘lion safari’ 25 km away near Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) city in Gandhinagar, and a tiger safari near Kevadia in Narmada district, and a new leopard safari in Mandvi taluka of Surat.
Thankfully, Gujarat’s biggest tourism gimmick, the Sabarmati riverfront which was fed by the pristine waters of Narmada at the expense of irrigation and drinking water has finally decided to feed by five sewage treatment plants with tertiary treated sewage water instead of Narmada waters. On an average the Sabarmati riverfront stored close to 10-12 million cubic meters of water (1 cubic meter equals 1,000 liters), which could have been used for other requirements.
Meanwhile, a study based on a new early warning satellite system has warned that shrinking reservoirs in India, Morocco, Iraq and Spain could result in water taps going completely dry in these four countries. Dozens of other countries face similar risks from rising demand, mismanagement and climate change, say the World Resources Institute (WRI), the US-based environmental organisation working with Deltares, the Dutch government and other partners to build a water and security early warning system that aims to anticipate social instability, economic damage and cross-border migration.
In its first prototype, the system highlighted four of the worst-affected dams. In India, the crisis of Narmada in the two dams of Sardar Sarovar and Indira Sagar was reported. In South Africa, a three-year drought has prompted a countdown in Cape Town to the day when taps would be cut off to millions of residents. In Morocco, the second-largest reservoir Al Massira has shrunk by 60% in three years due to recurring drought, expanding irrigation and the increasing demand in cities like Casablanca.
Medha Patkar at the Baruch rally
Spain too has suffered a severe drought that has contributed to a 60% shrinking of the surface area of the Buendia dam over the last five years. In Iraq, the Mosul Dam is down 60% from its total capacity in the 1990s due to low rainfall and competing demand from Turkish hydropower projects upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates.
Closer home, the cities of Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh are facing a water crisis even before the summer has completely set in. Indore’s water supply, 40% of which depends on borewells has shrunk as the one after the other borewells are drying up due to depletion in ground water level. Even the localities that have Narmada supply connection complained that they are getting only 25-30 minutes of water supply each day from Narmada instead of 1-hour supply in the past.
In Bhopal, an erratic water supply system of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) means that in some colonies, BMC supplies water for only once for a very short period and in some other colonies outside its jurisdiction provides none. There are total 350 such unauthorised colonies facing water crisis.
On the other hand, the state of Gujarat, whose 70% population depends on Narmada, is taking a huge risk by not developing alternative water sources. Seven of the state’s eight municipal corporations, (large cities) directly depend on Narmada water, apart from 160 municipalities and 8,000 villages where the Narmada is the single main source of water for all needs. The Sardar Sarovar Dam and all other major sources will last only till June end or maximum till 15 July. In case of delayed or failed monsoon, a major crisis is impending.
Even the chief minister’s advisor on water resources, BN Navlavala has confirmed the fears. Sagar Rabari, prominent farmers' activist, has claimed that while the Narmada dam was planned for irrigation only, it has been turned into a drinking water supply project as well turning Narmada into an over-exploited source.
This year, even after the state government’s warning to farmers and ordering them to not sow summer crops, farmers of Gujarat have sown around 7.24 lakh hectares with paddy, urad and maize. The net sown area is less than last year but more than the average of 2016. This year the sowing in North Gujarat was in 3.6 lakh hectare area as compared to 3.5 lakh hectare last year.
The other regions including central Gujarat, Saurashtra-Kutch and south Gujarat have registered a decline in the sowing areas. In spite of the Sardar Sarovar water crisis, the decision of farmers to go for the summer crop is explained by the floods last year in North Gujarat due to which groundwater level in the region might be higher.
Lack of rehabilitation facilities for oustees of Omkareshwar dam on Narmada
Despite repeated requests by the Gujarat government for more water from Madhya Pradesh, the latter has refused to give any more water. Gujarat has also failed to reach an agreement with regard to sharing of water with Maharashtra through the river linking projects of Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada.
Meanwhile, the rally of 5,000 fishworkers in Bharuch, Gujarat, led by Medha Patkar on April 16 demanded cancellation of the weir that is proposed to be built on the Narmada river just before it merges with the sea. This 36-feet barrage is being made to divert waters to the industries upstream, claim local fishworkers. In the area where this dam is being built, the river has dried up already, sea water has flowed almost 22 km. inside the river (sea ingress) and the salinity of groundwater and soil has increased rendering the soil unusable.
Fishworkers of the area earn their livelihood by catching Hilsa which used to breed in these brackish waters in abundance before 2014.
“If this weir is built, it will affect 6,000 families in the area and another 4,000 migrant families, which come here during the fishing season for work. Earlier, when fishermen went out to sea, they would get around 150 kg fish per day, per boat, now, it has fallen to 6 kg. All this is due to the callousness of the government officials,” said Medha Patkar.
The 5,000-strong rally marched for 8 kilometers from Bambakhana to the Collector’s office in Bharuch and submitted a memorandum to district collector Ravi Kumar Arora.
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Source: National Herald, The Statesman, The Times of India, The Tribune, and Free Press Journal

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