March 21, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project is beneficial to citizens. We also look at how Uttar Pradesh is empowering women through its Atta-masala mill scheme, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Perils to Prospects: The Par Tapi Narmada River-Linking Project
This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken about the interlinking of rivers and basins, and given the Centre’s absolute insistence on it, it’s unlikely that this will be the last. During the Union Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman expressed the Centre’s reaffirmed faith in the National River-Linking Project. Especially the Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project in the West.
While this water-bending project, just like the rest of them, is expected to provide water to several arid parts of the country, the risks associated with them are incontestable. For some tribal groups, the perils are so palpable that they pose an imminent threat of the existential kind to several communities. With protests still on and the Centre not backing down, let’s see which side has more to offer in terms of assurance.
The Par Tapi Narmada link was proposed by the former Ministry of Irrigation and the Central Water Commission (CWC) as a part of the National Perspective Plan, 1980. More popularly (read: accurately) known as the National River Linking Project (NRLP), the goal of it is to transfer any “surplus” water to areas that don’t have enough.
This project seeks to link 3 rivers together – the Par, originating in Maharashtra, the Tapi that flows through Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the Narmada, starting in Madhya Pradesh. These rivers naturally provide a “surplus” of water to the Western Ghats, and the goal here is to link the rivers such that water reaches Saurashtra and Kutch.
Given India’s penchant for politicising rivers, Maharashtra and Gujarat were at loggerheads for a while over water distribution. At one point, Maharashtra even denied reports pointing to their excess water. This was despite the Centre stepping in and making the two states sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2010.
Now, with every man-made alteration to the environment comes several protests. In 2007-08, when the Par Tapi Narmada link got its initial push from the government, the most vocal groups against it were the tribal communities from Gujarat. The protests managed to generate so much heat that the Centre thought it wiser to simply skip it at the time.
During this year’s Union Budget speech, the Centre reiterated its faith in the river-linking project. According to them, access to water will do a lot more good than the harm caused by the displacement of a few. Considering the link will adversely affect Gujarat’s tribal belt, the tribal groups beg to differ.
VIEW: Dams and displacement
The river link project proposes to transfer the water by building 7 dams, 3 division weirs to alter the rivers’ flow, 2 tunnels, a canal and 6 powerhouses. Only one of the proposed dams falls in Nashik, Maharashtra. The rest of them are in the Valsad and Dang districts of Gujarat. Unfortunately, dams happen to be synonymous with displacement, and according to a National Water Development Agency (NWDA) report, these dams will displace a lot.
While dam displacement can be caused by several factors, mostly surrounding construction, the 7 dams proposed for this project will submerge around 7,500 hectares of land. According to tribal leaders, this submergence would affect 75 villages – one would be completely submerged while the rest would remain partially submerged. More than 35,000 villagers would lose their ancestral land and be kicked out of their forests.
According to Micheal Mazgaonkar of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a Gujarat-based non-profit, “The government says [the project] will divert the surplus water. How can it say there is surplus water when many villages in Dang and Valsad have a drinking water shortage?” The Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) also brought up the injustice of the project as the way it is set up can only benefit the industry. Not those actually affected by the river linking.
But it isn’t just the tribal leaders talking about this. When the MoU was signed between Gujarat and Maharashtra, around 40,000 farmers travelled on foot to Mumbai’s Vidhan Bhavan to protest against it. Why? Well, the Par river is also considered to have high levels of industrial pollution. Linking it with other rivers will spread that muck over the Western belt and gravely affect the region’s ecology.
River-linking, in general, has received a lot of flak from not just environmentalists but civilians too. While access to water is definitely necessary, one must consider the costs of putting nature on a leash.
COUNTERVIEW: Irrigation and upliftment
In 2016, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat wrote several letters to the NWDA, working through the various issues that the state had with the Detailed Project Report (DPR). Bringing up the issues stated by farmers and tribal groups, the CM made sure to include all the suggestions that involved areas that were first getting ignored. The version of the project getting pushed by the Centre today is the one that has space to include all those recommendations.
First, the CM suggested the incorporation of the command area, i.e. the land around a dam, of 5 projects – Ugta, Sidhumber, Khata Amba, Zankhari and Khuntali. Then, he covered irrigating tribal areas by “lift irrigation” by using pumps, surge pools, and the like to change the course of the water. This even included providing drinking water to all the villages in the Dang, Navsari and Valsad districts of the state. Finally, the correspondence also prompted the NWDA to look into the possibility of irrigating Chhota Udepur and Panchmahal, two districts with a significant tribal population.
In 2017, the Gujarat government, once again, reached out to the NWDA to revise their DPR of the Par Tapi Narmada project. And this time, it included the proposal of a pipeline system made of open canals. The point of this will be to minimise or even eliminate land acquisition in some parts of the state’s tribal belt. Considering the residing population’s dependence on agriculture, the need for the rerouting of water from flowing into the sea is understandable. These recommendations simply make it a more viable option for those directly affected by the changes that it will cause.
As of now, the project is expected to irrigate a total area of 2,32,175 hectares of land that, before this, was a common playground for droughts. Around 61,190 hectares of en-route land will also be given water by this. Due to the canal system, the saved water from the Narmada will be used to irrigate around 34,342 hectares of tribal land in Chhota Udepur and Panchmahal. This is also expected to control floods or flood-like situations in Valsad, Navsari, Surat and Bharuch.
As the Centre keeps pointing out, a little bit of camaraderie and willingness to look at the big picture could eventually be better for us all.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project will eventually benefit citizens.
b) The Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project will actually hurt citizens.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Modi is wrong to see the defeat of caste politics in SP-BSP’s loss in UP. Battle’s yet to begin
For the Left:
Millets never had ‘marketing gurus’ like rice, wheat. Thanks to the Modi govt, now they will
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Atta-masala mill scheme (Uttar Pradesh) – To help women from underprivileged women, the state government finalised the draft of the Atta-masala mill scheme. It aims to provide employment opportunities to more than 2,000 women. The BJP government’s focus in the coming five years will be helping women who live below the poverty line. Under the scheme, women will be given grants to set up flour and spice mill units. They will be given ₹20,000 each. The scheme will start as a pilot in two districts.
Why it matters: The state has been trying to increase women’s employment, particularly in rural areas. It has a reputation of being the worst-performing state for women’s participation under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Over the past five years, the state has launched schemes to help women living below the poverty line by providing them employment opportunities.
Puneeth Rajkumar’s life story (Karnataka) – The state government is considering teaching the life story of late Kannada actor Puneeth Rajkumar. The state hopes this would encourage students to undertake philanthropic activities. Several people and organisations have petitioned the Education Minister B.C Nagesh, who has been receptive to the idea. Philanthropic organisations have also written to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Education department, urging the government to include a chapter on his life in the fourth or fifth-grade textbooks.
Why it matters: Puneeth Rajkumar died last October due to a heart attack. Among the tributes paid were praise for his philanthropic work, which was known after his passing. The national award winner gained fame at a young age. Like many others, he did volunteer work where he supported more than 4,000 children, ran 26 orphanages, 19 goshalas, and 16 old-age homes.
Anti-lynching Bill returned (Jharkhand) – Governor Ramesh Bais returned the draft ‘Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lynching Bill, 2021’ to the state government with suggestions. Among them was a reconsideration of the definition of the word mob to keep it in line with the legal definition. Currently, it defines a mob as a group of two or more people. It has provisions for a jail term ranging from three years to life imprisonment, with a fine of up to ₹25 lakh.
Why it matters: In December, the state assembly passed the bill by voice vote, despite opposition by the BJP. It became the third state after West Bengal and Rajasthan to pass such legislation. Parliamentary affairs minister Alamgir Alam said the aim is to provide security to people and prevent mob violence. BJP leader CP Singh said the government was trying to appease minorities. The state has seen several lynching incidents. The 2019 incident involving 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari triggered outrage after videos showed him tied to an electric pole as people beat him up.
Rising raw material costs (Maharashtra) – More than 3,000 builders belonging to the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI) threatened to halt work at construction sites due to a steep rise in building materials. CREDAI Maharashtra President Sunil Furde said steel, sand, cement, and brick prices have been steadily increasing for over a year. Also, the cost of other materials like wires, tiles, pipes, etc, has increased by 40%. He sought answers from the state on the reason for the price rise.
Why it matters: The state currently has more than 10,000 active construction sites with more than a million people directly or indirectly employed. A halt in work could cause delays of six months. It could also burden potential buyers with an additional cost of ₹500-600 per square foot. The prices of raw materials increased after the first COVID-19 wave in 2020, and that trend has continued. For example, steel has increased from ₹42,000 per tonne to ₹85,000 per tonne.
Ecotourism potential (Arunachal Pradesh) – Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein labelled Mechuka as one of the most pious pilgrimage sites in the state with the possibility of it being an ecotourism destination. He said it can be developed into a model ecotourist town. He said the number of tourists to the state has steadily increased as Covid cases have declined. He also said the state has the potential for cultural and religious tourism, given its rich history and traditions.
Why it matters: The government has allocated ₹42 crores under the Department of Indigenous and Cultural Affairs for 2022-23 fiscal to protect and preserve the state’s culture. Last April, Chief Minister Pema Khandu flagged off the Trans-Arunachal Drive 2021 as part of an initiative to boost adventure tourism in the state. Another effort to increase tourism is a ₹400 crore project to develop infrastructure and connectivity of border villages.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$15.7 trillion – The amount Artificial Intelligence (AI) will add to the global GDP by 2030. As its adoption accelerates, the AI market is expected to be worth $190 billion by 2025.