Ahmedabad/New Delhi: After a wait of eight long years, the Gujarat government today got final approval to raise by about 17 metres the height of Sardar Sarovar dam--the country's most controversial dam project--in a big boost to the state which often faces water woes due to deficient rains.
The announcement of the final clearance by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) for raising the dam height to 138.72 metres was made by Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, days after her predecessor Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister. The current dam height is 121.92 metres.
"The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has given the approval to raise the height of the dam to 138 metres," a visibly happy Patel said in Junagadh, adding it is a "historic day" for Gujarat.
"Heartfelt gratitude from the people of Gujarat to Hon PM Narendra Modi. The decision pending has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa Gaye hain!!," she said in a tweet. "At Junagadh right now... Leaving for Narmada dam site at Kevadia.
Not a single day should be lost in resuming work," she further tweeted. The decision to raise the height of the dam came after eight years.
As the Gujarat government hailed the decision, social activist Medha Patkar, who heads the Narmada Bachao Andolan, cried foul and said it was not taken in a democratic manner. "The government has neither given us any hearing nor has it taken any time nor made any attempt to know the ground reality, before deciding to go forward with Sardar Sarovar Dam construction to its final height," she said.
"Can the height be raised in violation of law?" she asked. "The decision has not been taken in a democratic manner. The government has not consulted the ministries concerned," Patkar told reporters in Mumbai.
In New Delhi, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said the decision to raise the height of Narmada dam was taken based on the report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on the rehabilitation of displaced people.
"Social Justice Ministry has given its report and they are 100 percent satisfied.... All the responsibilities they have to commit they have done. They have full satisfactory report in this meeting today. That is why the decision was taken by the Water Resources Secretary," Bharti said. She also said that the four States, which are concerned over the issue, were consulted over the issue.
The foundation stone of the dam was laid by country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961. The project, however, got embroiled in controversy over issues of displacement of thousands of project-affected people. However, the Supreme Court had earlier given the approval for the project to raise the height of the dam to 138.72 metres.
"This kind of witch-hunt is antithetical to the government's promise of inclusive development. With this, the BJP government in Gujarat has served a blow to the Narmada Bachao Andolan and all of us who stand in solidarity with the grave impact of the impacted communities and the environment. This seems to be the government's way of making it loud and clear that it's their way or the highway," said Abhishek Pratap, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India.
Added Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator, South Asia Network on Dams: "Gujarat and Rajasthan can get their share of water from Narmada river without this height increase. Both are not able to use even 20 percent of the water already available to them at the current height. This is clearly unnecessary, unjust and unwarranted decision that is not likely to have even legal sanction."
The decision comes just a few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office.
The foundation stone for the SSP was laid by late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in April 1961.
Over the years, the project got embroiled in a series of controversies pertaining to rehabilitation of farmers, tribals and related issues.
Activists contend that raising the dam's height will displace an additional 2.5 lakh people.