FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s election year gift to Gujarat becomes a lingering issue against the BJP

Ahmedabad: An election year announcement of Gujarat by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech for 2022-23 regarding the implementation of the ambitious Par-Tapi-Narmada River Linkage Project has become a real stumbling block for the ruling BJP in Gujarat.

Already, a worried group of BJP MPs and MPs from South Gujarat, where the project originated, have represented Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Gujarat BJP leader CR Patil to stop this project. Meanwhile, the opposition Congress has jumped at the chance to reclaim its dwindling tribal base after having already staged six huge protests by Adivasis in the southern region of Gujarat and the state capital, Gandhinagar.

The BJP fears that the draft will affect the party’s prospects in this year’s assembly elections, especially when the party aims to win all 28 tribal seats in Gujarat and various welfare schemes have been launched for the Adivasis during the current state budget session for the year.

The Gujarat government was also taken on the wrong foot when it announced a provision of Rs 500 crore for the river link project, including an allocation of Rs 94 crore for feasibility studies. Several BJP leaders have wondered that instead of conveying its objection to the Center, the state government even endorsed the project by this allocation.

The Par-Tapi-Narmada River Link Project, which was started in 1980 while the Narmada Dam was still under construction, plans to divert river water from the surplus regions of the Western Ghats to the deficit regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. The plan is to divert excess water from the Par, Tapi and Narmada rivers that flow into the sea to areas of Gujarat that lack water.

The plan is to connect three rivers – Par, which originates from Nashik in Maharashtra and flows through Valsad, Tapi from Saputara which flows through Maharashtra and Surat in Gujarat, and Narmada with origins in Madhya Pradesh and flows through Maharashtra and Bharuch districts and Narmada in Gujarat.

The project will consist of seven dams including one in Nashik and six in Valsad and Dangs districts of South Gujarat, three weirs, two tunnels (5.0 kilometers and 0.5 kilometers long), a 395 km long canal , of which 205 km is in the Par-Tapi region and 190 km in the Tapi-Narmada section and six power stations. Officials say the project also plans to supply irrigation water to lands in southern Gujarat along the way.

The Adivasis of South Gujarat fear huge displacements due to dams in the area and end up destroying their livelihoods forever. According to a report by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), up to 6,065 hectares of land will be submerged due to the proposed reservoirs. No less than 60 villages will be partially submerged while one village will be wiped out. Not only that, 2,422 families in Dharampur taluka (tehsil) in South Gujarat in Valsad district, Vansda taluka of Navsari and Ahwa taluka of Dang districts. It is in addition 98 families in six villages of Maharashtra.

The protests against the river link project are jointly organized by Navsari Congressman Anant Patel, the Samast Adivasi Samaj, the Adivasi Samanvay Manch and the Adivasi Ekta Parishad.

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Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2022, 10:36 PM IST

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