Sardar Sarovar Project on Narmada river has emerged as a modern development marvel of India. It is a unique lesson in inter-state cooperation, and its success will change the lifestyle, standard of living and the development paradigm of a large land mass of western India. Mired in litigation, agitations by foreign-funded anti-development lobby, vested interests and political lethargy, the ambitious project conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru languished for half a century, making millions of thirsty throats and as many hectares of parched fields wait endlessly for the sacred Narmada water. A generation had passed. It was the political wisdom, governance skill of the Vajpayee government and the commitment and sagacity of leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje that made the completion of the mission possible.
In Rajasthan, the BJP had made a promise in the last assembly election campaign to bring Narmada to the water-starved desert districts of Barmer and Jalore. This pledge was redeemed on March 28, amidst much fanfare, religious ceremony, prayers and thousands of worshipful, moist eyes watching the whole episode in mirthful disbelief. The BJP has not made a song and dance about this hugely successful demonstration of its development model. But its progress, drinking water and irrigation facility extended to thousands of draught-prone villages of Gujarat has already rewritten the history there. And over 4.5 million people expected to benefit now, in Rajasthan, will repeat the same in the coming days.
The Narmada waters could have reached Rajasthan decades earlier if the Congress government there was willing to pay its share of funds for the project. It was left to Vasundhara Raje to accomplish this. The project would not have been completed even now but for the messianic zeal of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who confronted and overcame all oppositions, from judiciary, Congress central leaders, Communists and the likes of Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Narmada main canal is an engineering feat of sorts as it traverses through 612 concrete structures, including those built to negotiate rivers like the Mahi, Sabarmati, Rupen, Khari, Saraswati and Banas littering its path. Built at a cost of Rs. 4,800 crore, it has piled 2,038 lakh cubic metres of earthwork, 403 lakh sq m of concrete lining and 34 lakh cubic metres of concrete and has a carrying capacity of 20,621 cubic ft per second as it enters north Gujarat but tapers to 3,354 cubic ft per second when it touches the outer brim of Rajasthan.
Releasing the water at a grand function at Tharad, Banaskanda, Modi said, ?We are doing no favours to our neighbours, just repaying a centuries old debt of honour.? This is the spirit of nationalism. Mineral and natural resources of states is the national wealth of India. It should not become issues of parochial chauvinism.
As we write this editorial the political leaders from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are camping in Delhi to apprise the Prime Minister of their version of the story on the ugly and acrimonious Kaveri water dispute. Both the states are now under the UPA. The Prime Minister instead of asking the two sides to amicably settle the dispute, is reported to have told them that the decision on Hogenakkal project was taken during the NDA, as if it was a mistake. Similar disputes are vitiating the relations between Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the Mullapariyar dam water for over a year now. The riparian states can learn some valuable lessons from the example set by leaders like Modi and Raje.