A two-day visit by the Expert Committee appointed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to monitor the environmental aspects of the Indira Sagar (ISP) and Omkareshwar (OSP) canals concluded its visit to some of the canal areas on the 7th and 8th September, 2015. The Committee which was on its 7th monitoring visit toured some of the 'command / beneficiary areas' of the canal, many of which also proved to be canal-affected!
The Team of Experts included the Chairperson, Dr. B.P. Das, Hydrologist; Mr. B.B. Barman, Director, MoEF and Mr. Lakhwinder Singh, Member-Secretary & Regional Director, MoEF, Bhopal. The team was accompanied by a large number of senior officials of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) from Bhopal, Indore as well as field officers from the project-areas. Numerous farmers and activists of NBA followed the team as they went to different villages and inspected the work. The Committee wad constituted by the MoEF, empowered by an order from the Supreme Court in Aug, 2011.
The visit began with a presentation to the Committee by NBA at Indore on the 7th morning, wherein the claims and exaggerations by NVDA and realities of actual areas receiving canal irrigation as well as the true status of environmental compliance was established. It was pointed out that the so-called Action Taken Report by the NVDA on the 6th Monitoring Report of the Expert Committee did not respond to the major issues / violations pointed out by the Committee itself in the previous reports including inadequate, poor quality canal construction and on-farm development (ODF) as well as command area development (CAD) works leading to canal breaches, seepage, water logging; all causing severe crop losses to the farmers worth lakhs of rupees for the past few years.
NBA also asserted that construction of field channels is part of the Project and the NVDA cannot escape from its responsibility. It was pointed out that while other network of canals are prioritized, the minors and sub-minors are delayed and the field channels as well as OFD (protective measures) are altogether left off, very meagre budgets are allotted and no remedial measures undertaken, despite the clearance condition of MoEF dt. 28/8/2011 mandating that "in no event must there be any water logging or seepage and project-authorities must allocate separate budgets for all eventualities".
The Committee visited a few canal sites covered by the Omkareshwar Project on the first day. The first part of the day was spent at the Phase-I areas such as Omati Distributary, Satajana, Bediya distributary etc. As the Committee moved further to Mogava, Londhi, Barlai, Palsud etc. the problems of cracks alongside the canals, incomplete lining, broken siphons, cropped up where farmers complained of water logging. It was also seen all over that poor siphoning lead to deposits of huge silt in the canal tracks that would ultimately reduce the life of the canals itself. Farmers informed the Committee that lining from Village Nazarpur (Tehsil Maheshwar) to Village Badvi (Maheshwar) upto end of Phase II of OSP is pending over a stretch of 50 kms. Much work of sub-minors and field channels is also yet to be done here.
While on the one hand, officials tried every possible way to mislead the Committee, take longer routes, skip key problematic areas, waste time in sapling-plantation and sweet-distribution activities etc, on the other, many farmers who followed the Committee at every spot, tried their best to make sure that the Committee which has a primary mandate to investigate the "environmental violations" does not spend time only on the engineering aspects of the irrigation projects. NBA objected to the manner in which the meetings venue was misinformed, schedules were not even shared, despite NVD having pre-planned programmes at some places where even pandals were erected.
While NVDA made tall claims of "newer areas under irrigation", NBA pointed out that much of the sub-minor and field channels work remained and NVDA cannot claim completion of Phase-wise work without this. This was also exposed by the hundreds of private pipelines that the Committee itself saw all along the main canal. NBA demanded that phase-wise information should be sought from engineers of the actual area under irrigation through direct lifting from canals and through surface / canal irrigation.
Taking to the Committee at the Sanavad Rest House, farmers from the Punasa, Khargone (ISP) and Sasliya (OSP) lift-irrigation project-areas demanded that the Committee should visit their villages as well where also the problems of tank-induced seepage is a major issue.
The second day of the visit, covering the Phase-II and Phase-III of the Indira Sagar Project areas was quite revealing. Once again, as the NVDA tried to avoid the key areas and lead the Committee to the only areas of their choice such as the Junapani and Kuwa distributaries. However, at the instance of the affected farmers, the Committee had to go back and visit village Bither (which was infact promised by the Chairperson in the morning), where other villagers from Patiyapura, Sadlai, Ojhra, Balyapura, Kharipura, Sangvi (Tehsil Kasravad, Khargone) gathered and pointed out massive crop losses in the wheat season of Feb-2015 and the previous seasons due to the poor and incomplete lining. The silence of NVDA's ATRs on all these problems were questioned by the farmers and NBA.
In Phase-III, despite the Committee's assurance that it would pass through the main canal, officials led to the Committee through the main highway, leaving aside the canal area. Yet again, adivasi women and men and other farmers stopped the Committee at the Khadkal bridge and protested in front of the Committee's beeline of vehicles. They had to ultimately relent and go back to the spot at Mundla, where it was shown that despite 7 years of muck deposited on the un-acquired farm of Babu Bau, neither compensation has been paid, nor has a pathway been constructed in his field, as part of OFD. The only reward he and his family members got from NVDA was a few weeks of jail and endless court dates now. Farmers of Sangoda, Khadal stated that despite the Committee's own directions to put in place permanent OFD structures, only temporary measures are being taken up by the NVDA.
Over the two day's NVDA's attempts to suppress vital facts and the farmer's efforts to draw the Committee's attention to continuing violations as well as the Committee's own weak approach towards monitoring, was more than evident. The farmers are keen to pursue the matter and raise the issues of canal-related before the Expert Committee, the High Court of M.P. as well as Jst. N.K. Jain Committee appointed by the Court to inquire into various other violations.