Still blind to rain

  • 30/10/2000

Still blind to rain Gujarat's minister for Narmada and major irrigation projects, Jay Narain Vyas, has a difficult job. He is in charge of handling an issue that draws extremely emotional and polarised responses. He wants to have the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) completed, and several activist' groups have been vehemently opposing the dam for uprooting the rural poor of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. It is but natural that any effort to come up with additional methods to solve the water crisis seem like ploys of the anti-dam lobby to him. But does it mean that his political insecurities are dearer to him than a solution to the woes of Gujarat's parched villages?

Sitting in his plush office with wallpaper depicting a small waterfall, he spoke to the researcher from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) for about 45 minutes about the controversy that has been brewing around him on the issue of water management in Gujarat. "In Saurashtra, about 1,000 checkdams have not yielded good results. How can an environmental organisation like CSE propagate small structures as an alternative to major or macro structures,' he said.

In a May 2000 interview with the India Abroad News Service, he had said, "There is a hidden hand behind the current campaign in favour of small dams and traditional systems of water harvesting because the so-called experts of water management and environmentalists are keen to divert the attention of the nation from the Narmada project even though the project is the real solution to Gujarat's perennial problem of potable and irrigation water.' Never mind, that CSE has never advocated for small dams against big dams, believing that small ones are necessary for drought proofing and meeting drinking water needs. Big dams, if necessary, could be built provided that the resettlement needs of communities are handled well.

He was not willing to consider the several successful initiatives in Saurashtra, which CSE has highlighted: "This is a generalised approach towards water management, and is not going to work.' According to him, all environmentalists tend to have a generalised approach: "Before recommending an approach, CSE should look into the approach in totality rather than in isolation. And the bias element should be removed from their approach.'

But when quizzed about the success of the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation Programme, claimed by his own government, he did not have an answer. He could not say if the programme had been implemented in a

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