A hollow Narmada ritual!
Posted January 10, 2017on:
Mention a ban on sand mining in Madhya Pradesh and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan gets into panic. When Union Minister of Water Resources Uma Bharti expressed her hope that Chouhan would put a ban on sand mining in the Narmada river in the course of his Narmada Yatra as it has been destroying the river, Chouhan promptly retorted that no effort would be spared to stop ‘unauthorised’ sand mining on the banks of the Narmada river but the ‘legal mining will continue’. It is in the garb of legal mining that illegal mining is flourishing in the State.
After Chouhan had launched Narmada Seva Yatra at Amarkantak, the source of the river in southern part of the State, on December 11, Uma Bharti had congratulated him and expressed the hope that he would put a ban on sand mining in the Narmada and then only the conservation of the river would be complete. Chouhan has named this campaign ‘Namaami Devi Narmade’. It was launched after performing Pooja (worship) of Narmada River. Those present included Acharyas, Mahamandaleshwars, Sadhu-Mahatmas, and members of his cabinet.
Described by Chouhan’s Public Relations Department as the world’s biggest public campaign to conserve the river and environment, the Yatra will cover 3334 kilometres on both sides of the river in 144 days. Hundred-odd persons, mostly the ruling party activists, and a sprinkling of saffron clad sadhus are marching along the river. Chouhan joins them at fixed points every few days for a while to deliver his speech on the importance of Narmada for the development of the State. His speeches mostly focus on the spiritual connection of Narmada with the people of the State and the necessity of rejuvenation and conservation of the river. The Yatra will culminate at Amarkantak itself on May 11, 2017.
In one of his speeches he said: Maa Narmada is in difficulty today. The flow of the river has reduced because of deforestation. Maa Narmada has given us water, electricity, crops, fruits and vegetables, etc, but we have polluted it and have given invitation to various diseases putting the life (of people) to danger. There is need to restrain ourselves and repent for our sins. Our sins can now be washed away by plantation, bio-farming, sanitation and environment conservation. The plan envisages plantation of fruit bearing trees on the banks of the river.
More than 200 sewerage drains flow into the river at various plants. Chouhan promised to stop that source of pollution of the river. His government has not, however, spelled out a concrete plan for that. Enough to say that all those present at the launch of the Yatra were either politicians or eminent godmen. No environmental experts were invited barring one – Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh who is occasionally invited to the State to deliver a speech and his role ends there as far as the State is concerned.
Conservation of Narmada River was first conceived by Babulal Gaur. As Chief Minister in 2004-5, Gaur had toured the entire Narmada area. Later in 2009 as Minister of Urban Development in the Chouhan government, he had prepared a report on ‘Narmada Sanrakshan Karya Yojana’ (Narmada conservation project). It aimed at covering all villages, Nagar Panchayats, Municipalities and Municipal Corporations situated on the banks of the river and also containing effluents flowing into the river.
The project envisaged setting up a conservation room in every municipal council to monitor and control pollution. It was decided to shift all crematoria to at least one km away from the river bank, check immersion of human and animal corpses, and build treatment plants at liquor factories situated on the bank. Besides, it was planned to make plantations on large scale on the river banks and construct lodging boarding places for the pilgrims.
However, the project report was shelved as Gaur’s portfolio was changed. It is not clear why Chouhan developed sudden love for Narmada River at this stage. Two developments could have contributed to his decision. One is the repeated allegations made inside the Assembly and outside about the involvement of his close relations in the illegal sand mining which is destroying the Narmada River. Former Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh, for instance, said that the sand mafia was fearless as Chief Minister Chouhan was himself involved with the Sangh leaders keeping mum. He alleged that the illegal sand mining was going openly in Hoshangabad, Budhni (Chouhan’s Assembly constituency) and the entire Narmada River ‘under the Government patronage’. Relatives of Chouhan were openly doing illegal mining, making the Narmada River hollow, he added. Police/mining officers trying to check illegal mining had been thrashed and even killed.
Another allegation is that Chouhan has quietly surrendered the State’s rights over Narmada water to Gujarat. The 1979 Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award had estimated 28 million acre foot (maf) water in the river. Out of that, Madhya Pradesh was allotted 18.25 maf, Gujarat 9 maf, Rajasthan 0.5 maf and Maharashtra 0.25 maf. Not satisfied with the water allotted to it, Gujarat had been eyeing a larger share and making preparations in haste while Madhya Pradesh lags much behind and is not in a position to make full use of the water allotted to it by 2024. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, Narendra Modi gave clearance for raising the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam and then Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel even performed the ‘bhoomi-poojan’ for raising the height of the Dam – so quietly and quickly that Madhya Pradesh was left with no time even to lodge its protest.
According to Congress leader and former minister Raja Pateria, the Chouhan government had recently made a drastic change in the Narmada project without taking the people’s representatives and the people into confidence. The original project on Narmada River had envisaged construction of several dams including Raghavpur, Basania, Rosra, Sitareva, Upper Budner, Ataria, Sher Shakkar, Machhareva, Doodhi, Morand and Ganjal but the State government has now decided not to go ahead with their construction. According to Pateria, the Government’s quietly taken decision will mean that some 6.5 lakh acres of agricultural land will be deprived of irrigation water.