The TrickyScribe: Close on the heels of the Union road, transport and highways ministry nod to the four-lane bridge parallel to Jayaprakash Setu connecting Patna and Saran districts of Bihar, PM Narendra Damodardas Modi dedicated Sardar Sarovar dam built on the Narmada to the nation – 56 years after its foundation was laid by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
What a coincidence?
Incidentally, the ceremony coincides with the birthday of the incumbent PM. It may be mentioned here that this comes exactly three months after the Narmada Control Authority allowed closure of the dam’s sluice gates so that the water rises to its full height of 138.68 metres from the earlier 121.92 metres thereby increasing the storage capacity to 4.73 million cubic metres (MCM) from the previous 1.27 MCM.
While the adjoining four states – Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, – stand to gain from the newly-commissioned dam, the BJP is all set to reap its benefits in the poll-bound Gujarat. National Mission for Clean Ganga earlier gave nod to ten projects in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh worth over Rs 2,000 crore. Another similar project for a proposed Ganga Driveway in Patna is the pipeline as well.
Systematic awareness drives
Stage-wise public-awareness campaigns have kept the issue simmering. Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani in the same context flagged off a two-week long Narmada Mahotsav Yatra in Surendranagar to mark the completion of the dam. The high-end PR-op involved more than 80 Narmada Raths that kept travelling across Gujarat spreading awareness about the importance of the project.
A massive protest ahead of Sunday’s inauguration of Sardar Sarovar Dam project (SSP) in Gujarat by PM Modi was led by Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar, who along with 36 dam affected people have launched a jal satyagraha in the rising waters of Narmada at Chota Barda Ghat in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh.
Patkar and her supporters started ‘jal satyagraha’ on Friday evening. If NBA activists are to be believed, the water level then was around knee level. By Saturday afternoon, the water level rose to waist level of the protesters.
“For us, this inauguration event is ‘Jashn-e-maut’ (celebration of death). While thousands of families here are on the verge of drowning in 214 km stretch of Narmada, there will be celebrations in Gujarat where PM will inaugurate the newly constructed SSP gates. Our demand is that the water level in SSP should not be increased beyond 121 metres until the rehabilitation process is complete,” he said.
The danger mark at Rajghat in Barwani is 123.2 metres. Over the last fortnight, the water level in Narmada rose from 123.6 metres to 129 metres. NBA leaders claimed that at least 30 villages inundated due to the surge in Narmada waters.
Ali said that water has inundated the farms of villagers in nearly 30 villages and submerged some houses at Nisarpur and Chikhalda in Dhar districts.
Impact of external interference
Effects on fishes and other aquatic animals, growth of fish larvae and juveniles are very fast informed a Patna university bio-chemistry researcher, Vyomesh Vibhaw. He said that external interference may prove detrimental for the aquatic life.
Many environmental factors influence growth: temperature, accessible alimentary base and presence of toxicants. The fish increase in both body length and mass under optimum conditions, with sufficient quantities of food at appropriate temperature.
Aquatic organisms, such as fish, accumulate pollutants directly from contaminated water and indirectly via the food chain. Application of chemical fertilizers containing trace of heavy metals causes contamination of fish with these metals.
The data of many researches indicate that heavy metals reduce survival and growth of fish larvae. They are also supposed to cause behavioural anomalies.
That apart, any sort of construction work involves the contact of water with PVC, lead, mercury and halogenated flame retardants. Each of these common building components has known health and toxicity problems and can prove deadly under the wrong conditions.
Leave full-fledged construction apart, even minor interferences like dredging too are risky when it comes to the aquatic life. Dredging of river bed may be undertaken by the waterways authorities. This damages the fish breeding ground, adversely affecting the fish eating species like gangetic dolphin and gharial, said Deputy Director-cum- Division Head (Species Recovery), Wildlife Trust of India, Samir K Sinha.
Sinha told The TrickyScribe that gharials prefer mid-channel sandy islands for basking. The waterways development activities would destroy such sandy islands which will make the habitats unsuitable for gharials.
The noise emitted by the vessels might also hinder the natural behaviour of dolphins, who communicate through acoustic signals called clicks, said Sinha and added that there would be threats of dolphins being hit by the propellers of the vessels. Noted environmentalist Sunil K Chaudhary too said that aquatic life forms are not used to the vibrations that come bundled with dredging, construction or navigation.
Dredging disturbs the bottom dwelling macroinvertebrates which helps in decomposition of organic matter in the sediment. Dredging will reduce these natural decomposers. Bottom feeder fishes will also get affected. The fishes in the associated Wetlands will also get affected.
Attacking the government’s plan to link rivers across the country, water conservationist Rajendra Singh, noted for his three-decade-long work on water rejuvenation in parts of Alwar, on Friday last dismissed the exercise as a “money-making business”, with potentially severe and irreparable damage to the river-ecosystems.
The Way Ahead!
Water seeks its own level. They say. This, however, would require non-interference on part of the government. The results of projects as ambitious as that of the Damodar Valley Corporation are handy. Let things go with the flow. It works!