All about Alamatti

All about Alamatti   the louder you shout and the more noise you make, the greater is your chance of succeeding: this seems to be the mantra of both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (ap) politicians on the contentious issue of the Alamatti dam (over the Krishna river in Karnataka). The dam is part of the Upper Krishna Project (ukp) in the Krishna river valley.

Karnataka's move to raise the level of Alamatti to 528 metre (m) had been troubling ap for some time. ap fears that once Karnataka raised the level to impound excess Krishna waters, nothing on earth will bring it down and into the command areas of Krishna valley dams in ap - including Srisailam, Nagarjunasagar, Jerula and Krishna barrage - thereby jeopardising the economy of ap's rice bowl.Karnataka is bent on building as high dam as possible so that by the year 2000, when review of the Krishna water dispute tribunal becomes due, it is in a position to show maximum use of the Krishna waters.

Suspecting that the Centre was almost hand-in-glove with Karnataka on the issue, ap decided to act by petitioning the state high court, among other things. What ap is basically afraid of is that the projects built by it will become redundant once upstream states start using their share of the water.

While both Karnataka and ap swear by the Bachawat award (1976) of the Krishna water dispute tribunal, both wish to garner the maximum amount of water before the review of the award after May in 2000. The Bachawat award had allocated 700 tmc-ft (thousand million cubic feet) of water to Karnataka, 800 tmc-ft to ap and 560 tmc-ft to Maharashtra. These limits set up by the tribunal and the mega project-centered mindset of the water resources bureaucracy and politicians, seem to be root of the problem. In their haste to show maximum utilisation of Krishna waters, all three states are building oversized reservoirs, without taking into consideration social, environmental or financial implications of the projects.

The Alamatti dam - which the Bachawat tribunal called the "carry-over reservoir" - has reportedly already reached a height of 507 m. Against the three-m gates as originally envisaged, the dam will now have 15.5-m gates. What is significant is that while Karnataka is trying to raise the height of the dam, the World Bank, under whose active patronage construction on the dam started, is silent even though the aid to the dam had to be stopped at least twice for poor rehabilitation facilities. In the haste to complete the dam, the people to be affected by it stand to lose the most.

Way back in 1976, the Bachawat tribunal had more than once pointed out that Karnataka had deviated from the Planning Commission (pc) sanctions in the case of the ukp. While the pc has given the go-ahead for the power component of the project, the central electricity authority had yet to give techno-economic clearance, says the Union power minister S Venugopalachary. Likewise, K C Agarwal, commissioner (projects) of the Union water resources ministry points out that no sanction had been given for stage ii, including the power component. The sequence of events shows that there is no comprehensive impact assessment, nor is there a coordination between different sanctioning authorities for the project.

According to Agarwal, there is no central body to check if the sanctions are being adhered to.In 1990, the pc had approved the raising of the dam's height from the earlier 512.2 m to 523.8 m. But the same sanction also gave a 'no-objection' to the stage ii construction plans of the dam in the spillway and power dam portions, which would raise the height further to 528.25 m. Karnataka's claims it has the pc's clearance to construct the dam for an additional four m to store an additional 100 tmc-ft water for non-consumptive hydropower use, is based on this sanction.

In its affidavit filed before the ap high court, Karnataka has said that the central water commission (cwc), "in its letter dated July 4, 1996, cleared the gate design aspect, subject to compliance of certain observations, which are in respect of technical aspects regarding design of the gates". By taking a strong stand over the last two months, the ap chief minister C Chandrababu Naidu has been attempting to preempt sanction for this additional construction. Also under fire from him is the alleged Rs 200 crore sanction for the dam under the Union government's new accelerated irrigation development scheme. Agarwal, however, terms the issue of sanction of Rs200 crore an imaginary matter as no proposal was even considered.

In his efforts to resolve the tangle, Prime Minister Deve Gowda recently appointed an expert committee including members from the pc and the cwc to look into the matter, but later he had to backtrack when it was pointed out that such a committee could not go beyond the purview of the tribunal's award. The committee was not even allowed to visit the dam site. In fact, the objective of maximum utilisation of river waters can be best realised by resorting to multiple small projects and extensive watershed development. Strangely, the increased social and environmental costs are not part of the debate.

The nerve-centre of the lingering river valley disputes has been reflected upon aptly by L C Jain. Said the former member of planning commission, "Fifty years of development planning should teach us that as long as we confine the solutions within interstate parameters, we cannot find sustainable, durable or real solutions. Rigid bureaucracy and the tendency of politicians to play up to imaginary galleries have defied solutions. Unless people on both sides of borders who are going to be affected or benefitted are taken into confidence, the real solutions will continue to elude us."

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