How the Narmada is dying a pollution-induced, slow death: Gujarat

The depletion and pollution in the Narmada river, associated so closely with Gujarati pride, has reduced a once perennial water source to a pale shadow of itself; tragically the opposition treats this as a non-issue in election season


The Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has sent a notice to the Narmada Control Authority, the Environment Subgroup of Narmada Control Authority, Executive Member and Member (E&R) of Narmada Control Authority, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, the Chief Secretary of Gujarat State, the Chairman and Member Secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, the Chairman and Member Secretary of Gujarat Pollution Control Board on April 12, 2019 expressing their concerns regarding the deteriorating condition of the once-perennial Narmada river and have demanded certain measures to be taken in the interest of the lives, livelihoods and environment in the affected areas of Narmada in the state of Gujarat. The notice has been sent after an investigation study was conducted by the PSS on the quality of water flowing in the Narmada river downstream of Sardar Sarovar Dam (SS) on April 6, 2019 between 11.00 am to 04.00 pm.

The study has revealed that the once-perennial Narmada river has been reduced to a seasonal river mainly due to the construction of the SSD, the Statue of Unity (SoU), Garudeshwar Weir (GW) dam and other tourism projects without taking into account their environmental impacts. The construction of the GW has started without any environmental impact assessment while the SoU has been built in the middle of the river without any impact assessments and public consultations. Worse still, various tourism projects are coming up around the SoU thereby increasing the threat on the already vulnerable Narmada river.


The study has further found that the SSP, which was initiated as an environmentally sustainable development project, is also planned without considering its impact on the 161 kilometres long downstream stretch of the Narmada river falling in the state of Gujarat. The SSP and GW are controlling the flow of water and silt downstream. Further, the PPS states that the Rs. 4,350 crore Bhadbhut Barrage project, aimed at stopping the salinity ingress, will instead destroy the estuary and the livelihoods of thousands of people. Also, the objective of achieving navigation is unlikely to be met due to a very little flow from the SSD.

Thus, a combination of all these projects is killing the downstream stretch due to  polluted sea water ingress, untreated sewage and solid waste pollution. There is no fresh water in the downstream which is filled only with sewage and industrial wastewater. The industrial effluents are discharged from Ankleshwar, Jhagadia, Panoli, and Dahej industrial clusters which are notorious for their non-compliance of prescribed standards for effluent discharges. The river is now prone to flash floods with a dry river bed stretch. 
The situation is acute. So much so, that now the Narmada river is ending at Village Garudeshwar instead of at the Arabian Sea further down, 161 Kilometres away. This is severely impacting the ecology, biodiversity, fishery, livelihoods of the fisherfolks, downstream villagers, tribals, natural and cultural resources, wildlife sanctuary and lakhs of other people living close to and dependent on the river directly or indirectly.

The detailed findings of the study are:

The above table, clearly indicates TDS 647 – 5,000 – 20,000 – 25,500 mg/l, COD 40 – 100 – 150 mg/l and DO of 4.49 to 7 mg/l of the Narmada River. The downstream stretch is in a seriously grim condition and all the concerned authorities are to be blamed for this state of abject neglect. The groundwater was also tested which showed a TDS of 1610 mg/l which has severely impacted the quality of water in the wells and borewells of the surrounding areas.

The concerned authorities have accepted various studies and progress reports at face value without even verifying them. Further, the authorities believed that releasing 600 cusecs of water in the downstream would be enough and allowed the water to be released from the Godbole gate instead of the dam, which should have been the case. They further permitted for the water to not be released from Gujarat’s share, as stipulated by the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT), which means that currently Gujarat is not sharing anything to the downstream river. Ironically, it keeps on writing letters to the concerned authorities asking for more water. Recently, it has written to the Narmada Control Authority to increase the water released in the downstream to 1500 cusecs, which is also an ad hoc figure, for its survival.

The PPS has demanded for the formation of an expert committee to assess the sustainable ecological flow required in the river for different seasons in order to ensure that it does not dry up in the downstream stretch up to the Gulf of Khambhat. The investigation study reveals that various authorities have failed in performing their duties and thus, have demanded the following:

  1. All concerned authorities should release 4000 cusecs of water in the downstream from the SSD as it is the minimum quantity required to rejuvenate and improve the condition of the river.
  2. The release of the industrial effluents and sewage should be stopped immediately.
  3. Appointment of a high level and empowered committee for the day-to-day monitoring and evaluation of the quality of the downstream stretch of the river and the groundwater in the surrounding areas.
  4. Appointment of a high level and empowered committee for the ecological restoration and rejuvenation of the Narmada river.
  5. Providing exemplary monetary compensation to the affected people including the fisherfolks, villagers and farmers.
  6. Appointment of a competent and empowered committee to assess the ongoing and past damages to quantify the real compensation for the affected masses.
  7. Implementation of the Supreme Court order in the writ petition dated 22.02.2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) which clearly states that the concerned Pollution Control Board should initiate civil or criminal action against the polluting industries and shut them down if they fail to meet effluent norms.
  8. Direct the Gujarat government to shut down the work on the Garudeshwar Weir, Bhadbhut Weir and tourism projects related to the SoU till an independent assessment is conducted followed by public consultations and appraisals.

The notice states, “these projects now have grave adverse impacts on the Narmada Estuary and unless all the possible impacts are properly studied and if the State fails to have mitigation plans; we stare at a grim situation of a dying Narmada that we killed with our apathy and greed.” It further ensures to take legal action against the concerned authorities in case appropriate steps are not taken to protect the river, biodiversity and the lives of the affected masses.
There is a surging anger among the villagers who live in over 160 villages along the river; yet the narrow contours of politics within Gujarat has prevented the state and condition of the Narmada river from being made into a burning poll issue. Opportunities that present themselves at election time, for the opposition, are being squandered.
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