Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech for 2022-23 gave out a veritable election year gift to Gujarat from the Centre in the form of the ambitious Par-Tapi-Narmada River-Linking Project, but it has ironically become a millstone around the BJP’s own neck in the State.
The ruling BJP MLAs and MPs are already a worried lot while the Opposition Congress has grabbed the opportunity to reclaim its slipping tribal base having already organised five huge protests by Adivasis in the South Gujarat region, which is where the river-linking project originates.
The party also claims to have found support from the tribal regions of central and North Gujarat and has planned a massive protest in state capital Gandhinagar on Friday. The Congress has also threatened to gherao the State Assembly building when the budget session is in progress.
On the other hand, a concerned BJP fears this project would affect the party’s prospects in the assembly elections this year, particularly when the party is aiming to capture all the 28 tribal seats in Gujarat and a host of welfare schemes have been launched for the Adivasis in the State budget for the year.
Many BJP leaders, including MLAs, from South Gujarat districts of Valsad, Navsari and Dangs had on March 3 called on Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and State BJP President CR Paatil, who is also an MP from Navsari, and made strong representations against the project. Patel and Paatil are learnt to have conveyed to them that they would take up the issue with the Centre.
The Gujarat Government was also caught on the wrong foot when it announced a provision of Rs 500 crore for the river-linking project, including allotment of Rs 94 crore for feasibility studies. Several BJP leaders wondered that instead of conveying its objection to the Centre, the State Government even approved the project by this allocation.
What is the Par-Tapi-Narmada River-Linking Project?
The project, which was initiated way back in 1980 when the Narmada dam was still in the works, envisages transferring river water from the surplus regions of the Western Ghats to the deficit regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. The plan is to divert excess water from Par, Tapi and Narmada rivers that flow into the sea to the water-starved regions of Gujarat.
The plan is to link three rivers — Par, which originates from Nashik in Maharashtra and flowing through Valsad, Tapi from Saputara that flows across Maharashtra and Surat in Gujarat, and Narmada with origins in Madhya Pradesh and flowing through Maharashtra and Bharuch and Narmada districts in Gujarat.
The project will have seven dams, one of which is in Nashik and six in Valsad and Dangs districts of South Gujarat, three diversion weirs, two tunnels (5.0 kilometers and 0.5 kilometers length), a 395-km long canal, 205 km of which is in the Par-Tapi region and 190 km in Tapi-Narmada section and six powerhouses.
Officials claim that the project also envisages providing irrigation waters to the South Gujarat land on its way.
Why are Adivasis of South Gujarat angry?
They fear huge displacement because of the dams in the region and ultimately permanently destroy their livelihood. As much as 6,065 hectares of land area will be submerged due to the proposed reservoirs, according to a report by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA). As many as 60 villages will be partially submerged while one village will be wiped out. Not only this, 2,422 families in South Gujarat’s Dharampur taluka (tehsil) in Valsad district, Vansda taluka of Navsari and Ahwa taluka of Dang districts. This is besides 98 families in six villages in Maharashtra.
The protests against the river-linking project are being jointly organised by Navsari’s Congress MLA Anant Patel, the Samast Adivasi Samaj, Adivasi Samanvay Manch and Adivasi Ekta Parishad.