On 30 March 2007, The Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) report on Gujarat (commercial) entered the public domain. The report indicted the Gujarat state government for non-accrual of stated benefits from Sardar Sarovar Project.
April is the cruelest month, wrote T S Eliot in his poem, The Waste Land. Discourse over Narmada is going through dry land this April. During April last summer, we witnessed the Sardar Sarovar dam wall rising despite protests from oustees and the courts very reluctantly listening to arguments on unfulfilled rehabilitation. Unlike that, this year we witness a deadly silence on CAG's comments.
The audit findings reported that in deviation from the Master Plan, the Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited (GWIL) had commissioned and executed the 'Narmada Main Canal Gandhinagar' project at a cost of Rs.39.39 crores for supplying 255 MLD water to Gandhinagar city, a thermal power station at Gandhinagar, etc. at the cost of depriving drought prone regions. Further, it was found that while going by Indian Standard (IS) code of basic requirement for water supply, drainage and sanitation, the domestic water requirement for Gandhinagar should have been 49 MLD, the city had actually received 90.10 MLD of Narmada water, i.e. almost double of standard requirement.
The CAG pointed this out in July 2006. Without naming individual officials, the audit report says that the management of GWIL and the Gujarat Government replied that the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited had in May 2006 increased the allocation for industrial water from 0.2 MAF (674 MLD) to a whopping 1.0 MAF (3369 MLD) from which the excess allocation would be adjusted. The increase took place without an iota of public debate. This is what the report has brought to the public eye.
During the year 2003-'04, it slowly came to be known that Gujarat had invented a mechanism to hide the costs for the realisation of 'municipal and industrial' water consumption from Narmada dam, by taking the expenditure incurred on the laying of pipelines on the books of Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board and Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited. During the performance audit of Sardar Sarovar Canal based Narmada Drinking water pipeline for Amreli, Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad districts in the year 2003-'04 and for Jamnagar, Kachchh and Rajkot districts in the year 2004-'05, the CAG has detected a sudden shift in Gujarat's priorities. The audit revealed the grim reality that a lion's share is now being earmarked for industrial consumption, thus depriortising drinking water for drought affected villages.
Coming back to the 2006 increase, what is the rationale for such an upward revision, that too surreptitiously? As per the governing Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal award, out of 9.00 Million Acre Feet of Narmada water allocated to Gujarat, 1.06 MAF Narmada water was meant for "municipal and industrial use". But, how much within this allocation was meant for industrial consumption itself? As presentations before World Bank's Independent Review Mission headed by Bradford Morse suggest the industrial consumption was going to be 0.20 MAF. That left 0.86 MAF for municipal and domestic consumption.
What is most puzzling is why no questions are being asked on what consequences would the decrease in municipal and domestic allocation from 0.86 MAF to 0.06 MAF have on the villages that were promised Narmada water. Again if the decision was taken in the month of May 2006 and was being used to justify deviations from Master Plan, why was there no debate in public domain over this? Why do we witness precious Narmada water flowing to Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Ahmedabad, when propaganda repeatedly presented it as the last saviour for drought prone villages of Saurashtra and Kachchh?
It must be noted also that the number of villages promised Narmada water for domestic consumption went from zero in 1979, to 4720 villages in 1983-'84, and then to 7235 villages in 1990, and further to 8215 villages and 135 towns in the year 1992. All along this time, the figure of water allocated for municipal and domestic consumption remained stagnant at 0.86 MAF. And now even this allocation seems to have been cut into.
It were these drinking water benefits from the Narmada that were wielded around during early 90s to sweep aside criticism of the project on the social and environmental costs. That was the phase of government propaganda and its contestation. On the one hand, the state government embarked on the mission to enlist support of all the regions of Gujarat by invoking the emotive power of thirst and discourse breaking power of hate speech, while on the other hand critics raised questions on whether the stated benefits could ever materialise, given the mammoth financial vortex the project would create.
The CAG report has exposed the truth of who is actually getting the water, and in what proportion, on the backs of the original promises. Ironically, this year, even as the audit report came out, allegations against Narmada Bachao Andolan were flying high on the print space and airwaves. The report almost went unnoticed amidst this cacophony.
Discourse over the Narmada demands to be retrieved and questions need to be asked not merely on the costs and impacts front, but also on what is unfolding on benefits front. There still remain as many questions unanswered as probably were in early 90s. The costs paid by upstream catchment dwellers will soon shift to inhabitants of drought-prone regions if they fail to ask those questions now.
From October 2000 onwards, when the apex court granted a go-ahead for the dam construction, oustees and critics of the project have been pushed to the wall where they can only shout back by putting on record unfulfilled rehabilitation. On the other hand, state governments and proponents have had a free hand at using the shield of fait accompli. They do not feel answerable to criticisms on tracks other than rehabilitation. This must change.
Unlike what Amita Baviskar asks in the second edition of her book, In the Belly of the River, by raising a question, "Did NBA bite more than it can chew?", the only party that seems to be taking in more than it can swallow appears to be Gujarat. Regime after regime has solely concentrated on raising the dam height, without actually taking its waters to the proverbial last man.