Old Surajbari bridge, proposed spot of the dam to "stop" sea water ingress
While Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani is said to be positive about the proposal, which has been opposed by the salt producers in the Little Rann, as it would take away their livelihood, as also by environmentalists, Central agencies, including the Central Water Commission (CWC), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) have raised doubts on it on technical and environmental grounds.
The proposal — to be implemented in two phases — requires “harvesting” the water of rivers draining into Little Rann of Kutch such as Banas, Sarawati, Rupen, Umai, Chandrabhaga, Phulka, Godra, Kankavati, Brahmni, Macchu and may other minor streams by constructing earthen bunds.
And since the Rann allegedly remains submerged during monsoon and early winter months, so says the proposal, the 1.26 km stretch along the Old Surajbari Bridge could be dammed to prevent sea water ingress to ensure water remains in the Rann for all 12 months. And, the sweet water stored could be used for cultivation in the region, which encompasses 78 villages of 12 talukas of Kutch, Patan, Surendranagar, Rajkot and Jamnagar districts.
Minutes of an internal meeting under the chairmanship of SK Sibal, chief engineer, design, North-West Unit, CWC show that the top Central body took the view that there are “major shortcomings and/or lack of clarity” in the Rann Sarovar proposal “as regards provision of spillway, hydrology/water availability and sedimentation studies, structural safety, environmental and ecological sensitivity of the area etc.”
|The wild ass
According to the minutes, the “proposal is silent on any spillway arrangement that may be required to be made as per proper hydrological studies”, adding, “The proposal speaks about coefficient-based virgin yield only and, as such, actual water availability at project site is not known.”
Then, say the minutes, “There is no mention in the proposal about the potential evaporation loss from the reservoir so created due to low humidity levels in the area”, or “possibility of damaging effect of splashing sea waves on the embankment due to high winds.”
The minutes further say, the project area is a “deltaic region”, hence “huge silt coming from rivers is required to be estimated based on sedimentation studies”, adding, “Arrangements for de-silting/flushing of sediments are not there in the proposal without which life of the project may be considerably reduced due to silting.”
Then, they say, the proposal lacks “details regarding flood water management and sediment/silt management, particularly during monsoon”, as also “modalities of utilization of water”, “measures for conservation of natural habitat of Asiatic Wild Ass, flamingos and other migratory birds during and after the execution of the project.”
Pointing out that this “may be a major cause of concern” for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the minutes also talk of “post-project employment aspects (i.e. shift from traditional salt production to farming)”, even as the need to examine “the gradual siltation of the reservoir/pond so formed will raise the ground level in the pond area”, which “would lead to increased flooding in upstream area.”
CSIR, commenting on the project, says, it was a “huge techno-economical challenge”, raising four major issues with regard to the proposal. These are: Climatic factors of the area range between “semi-arid and arid”; “relative humidity is about 25%”, hence the area “is ideal for salt production”; it is a “seismically active place”; and the area is a “UNESCO biosphere reserve and nesting ground of lesser flamingo.”
|Seismic map (left) of Rann of Kutch
Continues CGWB, “Hydro-geological setting of that area is of clayey substratum, which will not allow vertical percolation of groundwater”, hence the proposal is “not suitable for recharge of fresh ground water.”
The objections have come after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) sent the proposal by Jaysukhbhai Patel, managing-director of the Ajanta Oreva Group, early this year to the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry, which in turn forwarded it to the CWC for comments.
Meanwhile, CWC, which also discussed the proposal with the industrialist, along with another expert – Dr Anil Kane, former vice chancellor, MS University, Vadodara, who claims to be one of the proponents of the proposed sweet water lake by damming the Gulf of Khambhat, called Kalpasar – is learnt to have decided to play safe, putting all onus for the project on the Gujarat government, saying, water is a “state subject”.