In the run up to the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections in 2013, there was big media hype regarding Chauhan having made the impossible possible by linking the two rivers and a journalist in Indore asked me to give him some critical analysis of this hype for a news story. I told him that the only way to critically analyse the project was to study its Detailed Project Report (DPR) which is a mandatory document on the basis of which sanction is granted for any project. So I asked him to get me the DPR from the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) which was the implementing agency of the project. However, try as he might, the journalist could not get the DPR and nor could other journalists whom I contacted later. Even though this is a public document that should according to the laws of the land be made open to the public for critical analysis before a project is undertaken, the NVDA has kept it close to its chest and thwarted all attempts to make it public. Why is this so? A quick analysis of the little data about the project that is available in the form of pamphlets published by the NVDA will reveal the reason.
The Narmada Kshipra Simhastha Link Project (NKSLP) is a pipeline project which is to pump 5 cumecs (5000 litres per second) of water from the Right Bank Canal of the Omkareshwar Dam on the River Narmada over a distance of 49 kms and a height of 349 metres to Ujjaini village in Indore district where the River Kshipra originates through pipes of 1.8 metre diameter. It is not mentioned as to whether this lift will take place 24x7 but it is mentioned that the power requirement is 27.5 MW and the cost of lifting the water will be Rs 118.92 crores per year. Now currently, the cost per unit of electricity for public purpose projects in Madhya Pradesh inclusive of all charges and taxes is about Rs 6 so working backwards from the annual cost figure we find that the pumps are to run 20 hours per day. This means that the total water to be supplied is 360 million litres per day (MLD). The capital cost of the project is Rs 432 crores so if one takes a twenty year time period for repaying it at 15 % interest per annum then the annual repayment instalment comes to around Rs 80 crore initially gradually decreasing to Rs 24 crores towards the end or if one equates the instalments then it comes to about Rs 40 crores annually throughout. Then there are other maintenance and operation costs apart from the electricity charges which conservatively one can take to be about Rs 11 crores annually. Thus, factoring in an optimistic 10% as losses (in reality due to inefficiency and corruption the actual losses are much more) the cost of the water comes out to be Rs 15 per Kilolitre. Moreover, the miniscule amount of 360 MLD of water will be able to provide water to only a few villages and towns and for that an additional delivery system involving more piping and tanks will be necessary at great cost further increasing the cost of delivered water to say around Rs 20 per kilolitre.This is a price that those wanting to use the water for household purposes are unwilling to pay and typically they look towards the government to subsidise it. Additionally it is totally beyond the capacity of farmers to pay this price for irrigating their farms. Also water linking of the Narmada and Kshipra basins through water pumped up by a pipeline has already taken place since 1973 when the first such pipeline was built to supply water to Indore and so defined in this way the NKSLP is not the first link as is being claimed and of course it will not be able to irrigate anything more than a few hectares of land.
So, despite the huge fanfare of its inauguration, the NKSLP is not running at the moment except for about half an hour every alternate day to keep the pumps in shape as can be seen from the photograph below.
So if the link isn't operational how is the money invested in it to be recovered? The money invested in it has itself been garnered through a financial sleight of hand. The central government has provided money to the Madhya Pradesh government under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme to construct canals of dams that have been constructed. Under this money has been released for the construction of canals for the Omkareshwar dam. Money has been diverted from that for the NKSLP by saying that it will provide irrigation to the Malwa Plateau. However, since an irrigation project has to go through a tortuous process of impact assessments and public hearings for getting sanction, the NVDA in its DPR has labelled the NKSLP as a drinking water project which according to the current rules does not require going through an environmental and social impact assessment process before sanction. This is why the DPR has been kept shrouded in secrecy so that it cannot be proved that the Government had pulled wool over the eyes of all and sundry in the pursuit of the narrow political goal of winning elections on the strength of lies.
Sanction has also now been procured from the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project for supplying water from the NKSLP to the Pithampur industrial area in Dhar district on the western side of Indore and negotiations are on with the industrial units in Dewas, which too are short of water, to supply them. Once these projects for the supply of water to industries which can foot the high price for it go on stream, the NKSLP pumps will begin to run continuously. In the interim it will remain a white elephant like many others that are there in the water sector in this country which is ruled by the whims and fancies of fools and liars masquerading as politicians, bureaucrats and technocrats. When the Kshipra basin gets on an average about 900 mm of rainfall, which if properly recharged and harvested and combined with recycling can easily meet all the household, industrial and agricultural water needs of the area, it is nothing short of criminal in the current scenario of climate change to waste so much energy to pipe water up from the Narmada.