FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s poll year gift to Gujarat becomes a sticking issue against BJP

Darshan DesaiUpdated: Saturday, March 26, 2022, 10:36 PM IST
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FM Nirmala Sitharaman | PTI

Ahmedabad: A Gujarat election year announcement by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech for 2022-23 about implementing the ambitious Par-Tapi-Narmada River-Linking Project has become a veritable stumbling block for the ruling BJP in Gujarat.

Already, a worried group of BJP MLAs and MPs from South Gujarat, where the project originates, have represented Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Gujarat BJP chief CR Patil to stop this project. Meanwhile, the Opposition Congress has jumped on the opportunity to reclaim its slipping tribal base having already organised six huge protests by Adivasis in the South Gujarat region and State Capital Gandhinagar.

The BJP apprehends that the 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 various welfare schemes have been launched for the Adivasis in the ongoing State budget session for the year.

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 an 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.

The Par-Tapi-Narmada River-Linking Project, which was initiated way back in 1980 when the Narmada dam was still in the works, envisages diverting 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 the 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 flows through Valsad, Tapi from Saputara which 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 kilometres and 0.5 kilometres 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.

The Adivasis in South Gujarat fear huge displacement because of the dams in the region and ultimately permanently destroy their livelihood. As much as 6,065 hectares of the 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.

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