M. Ramaswamy and Ramaswamy R. Iyer
RALLY BY THE DAM-AFFECTED PEOPLE: In a climate where environmental and human rights issues are increasingly being sacrificed at the altar of ‘development,’ the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) has been persevering untiringly with its struggle for decades.
The Second Interim Report of the Experts’ Committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India to assess the planning and implementation of environmental safeguards with respect to the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) and Indira Sagar projects (ISP) on the Narmada River is a clear finding, by a government committee, of the egregious failure of the government machinery on virtually all the aspects studied.
The report covers the status of compliances on catchment area treatment (CAT), flora and fauna and carrying capacity upstream, command area development (CAD), compensatory a-forestation and human health aspects in project impact areas. (The scope of the committee did not include the issues of displacement and rehabilitation or hydro-meteorological issues, which were dealt with by other groups.) The report is a severe indictment of the governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and of the bodies set up by these governments to implement the projects for the ‘integrated development’ of the Narmada Valley. Peppered with phrases like ‘gross violation’, ‘negligence’, ‘highly unsatisfactory,’ ‘inadequate,‘ ‘serious lapse’ and ‘non compliance’etc. It states in strong and unequivocal terms that with respect to virtually all of the aspects under consideration, compliance is either highly inadequate or absent altogether (a partial exception being compensatory a-forestation).
Construction, on the other hand, has been proceeding apace: the ISP is complete and the SSP nearing completion. The report recommends that no further reservoir-filling be done at either SSP or ISP; that no further work be done on canal construction; and that even irrigation from the existing network be stopped forthwith until failures of compliance on the various environmental parameters have been fully remedied.
This is a major development. It must be seen against the backdrop of the protracted legal battle fought by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) against the various lapses, failures and deficiencies in these projects. In a climate where environmental and human rights issues are increasingly being sacrificed at the altar of ‘development,’ the NBA has been persevering untiringly with its struggle for decades.
Even assuming that ‘development’ can be pursued without any concern for the environment, and that some argument can be found to defend the flouting of a Supreme Court judgment, there are several other concerns that should worry the votaries of ‘large infrastructural development at all costs.‘ Untreated catchments can shorten the life of projects through siltation, thus altering their cost-benefit ratios; they can also bring about increased run-off and washing-off of soil nutrients with adverse consequences for the productivity of irrigated land (as also for the aquatic and river-bank species and fisheries); dam operations in such unstable catchments can lead (and have led, in at least one incident already here) to flash floods with tragic consequences; and so on. These are hard, practical and often economic consequences that can be noted by all and not only by ‘environmentalists’.
Editors note: It is to be noted that once the dams become operative, about 40000 villages will go under the water displacing thousands of poor people. The govt. of India, including the judiciary is intoxicated with the slogan of development ignoring the voice of the people. Is it democratic norm??