The Rediff Interview/ Medha Patkar
'The water crisis is a state conspiracy against the people
In parched Saurashtra and Kutch, Medha Patkar is in the dock.
Most local dailies carry front-page editorials blaming her for the drought in the 9,000-odd villages here. Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and his ministers criticise her Narmada Bachao Andolan from all platforms.
They contend that the delay in implementing the ambitious Narmada project is the main cause for the water scarcity.
And the delay, of course, is thanks to the NBA.
In 1995 the organisation had filed a public interest litigation against the construction of the dam in the Supreme Court. A stay resulted, halting the project.
The Supreme Court judgement on the Narmada project is expected shortly, and allegations and counter-allegations have peaked. The Narmada project today is as much an emotional issue for the Gujarat people as it is political.
Sheela Bhatt spoke to Medha Patkar about the drought and her alleged contribution to it. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
The water crisis in Gujarat has crossed all limits. And you are being blamed for it.
I strongly object to this propaganda. The water crisis is a state conspiracy against the people of Gujarat. The Sardar Sarovar dam project was conceived for irrigation. Governments have spent crores on it. As a result they ignored small projects. They didn't spare money for projects like building of small reservoirs in every village. They started depending on water supply based on tankers. They have failed in water management, water harvesting and water conservation with the help of check-dams.
The people of Saurashtra and Kutch are waiting for water from Narmada. The NBA delayed the project by dragging the matter to court.
Do you know a group from Kutch has filed a case in the Gujarat high court? They have a valid complaint because the project approval was obtained by pushing their and Saurashtra's woes for water. Kutch is going to receive only two per cent of the drinking water. Even this quantity is also not ensured.
As we know, Narmada is quite far away. Along the canals there are many towns and cities that have claimed the water of Narmada. Already Baroda and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporations have passed a resolution that they will not allow the water without having a share of it.
Then, please check out the registration of sugar factories along the catchment area. It's a water-consuming crop. The cities along the canal will use the water before it reaches the water-starved areas of Saurashtra and Kutch.
Also, Narmada is going to provide only 14 per cent of the water needed by the drought-prone areas. The disparity is increasing in Gujarat. Some regions are using more water than others. Normally it's seen that 15 per cent of a dam's water is used by villages, 85 per cent by cities.
The current water crisis is entirely due to the government's failure of water management. The government failed to curb the indiscriminate use of water by industries. The rich farmers use more water for cash crops without worrying about the end-results. It's all politics.
But still the project has much importance attached to it. To the Gujarat people, it's a lifeline.
Not true. If really there was no alternative to Narmada, why is the same government talking about the Kalpsar project [estimated cost Rs 700 billion] as an alternative? How come scores of NGOs have been successful in motivating the masses to get involved in rain water conservation schemes? Because, there is an alternative.
The Narmada project is not the lifeline of Gujarat. There is enough number of micro level alternatives. Watershed development is recommended now even by the one-time advocates of big dams. The most important thing is to assess the cost-effectiveness of such projects. People have understood the cause and benefit effect. Even World Bank documents have now suggested that to fulfil the need of drinking water big dams are not necessary.
What's your solution?
First harness the water available in your village. Explore all possibilities. Then move on to the next circle. Recharge the wells. Build check-dams. Preserve the rainwater in multiple forms. Build small farm lakes. One should keep in mind social-equality and environment and look for "minimum impact" options. The government should invest in natural resource capital. Instead, now, monetary capital wins over natural capital.
For some, drought is the time to make money
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