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Just transition in petrochemicals: Bhadbhut barrage coming up on the Narmada estuary in Bharuch

Published: 2nd Feb, 2024

Context

The SardarSarovar Dam had already reduced freshwater flows to the lower Narmada; the Bhadbhut barrage will kill what is left of the river.

Introduction

The tranquil village of Bhadbhut in Gujarat faces a dual crisis – the decline in fish population due to the SardarSarovar Dam (SSD) and the looming threat of the Bhadbhut barrage. As fishers witness a diminishing catch, the environmental repercussions extend to the Narmada River and the livelihoods of the local community.

The Narmada's Transformation: Impact of SSD

1. Sweetwater Turns Saline

  • Reduced freshwater flow:Construction of the SSD in 2017 led to reduced freshwater flow in the Narmada, affecting the livelihood of fisherfolk.
  • Decline in fish:Bhadbhut village, where the river meets the Gulf of Khambhat, experienced a decline in fish, impacting the community's income.

2. The Hilsa Predicament

  • Hilsa Issue:The estuary, a breeding ground for Hilsa, faces challenges due to decreased freshwater flow during the southwest monsoon.
  • Local fishersimpact:The reduction in fish during this crucial period affects the financial sustenance of the local fishers and the overall fish business.

The Bhadbhut Barrage: A Bleak Outlook

1. Despair Amid Construction

  • Grim future:Bhadbhut barrage, 30% complete, signals a grim future for fishers as they anticipate the disappearance of fish, boats, and livelihoods.

2. Changing Professions

  • Fishermen are facingtransition to carpentry and other professions due to the diminishing catch and uncertain future.

Environmental and Economic Ramifications

1. Ecological Imbalance

  • Reduced freshwater flow leads to an imbalance in the estuary, impacting the breeding ground of Hilsa.
  • The highest tidal waves in India contribute to seawater ingress, affecting groundwater quality and agricultural practices.

2. Chemical Pollution

  • Chemical and petrochemical clusters in Bharuch district contribute to water pollution, impacting fish taste and quality.
  • Villagers face challenges with drinking water supply as groundwater turns saline in many areas.

Legal Battles and Advocacy

1. Narmada Pollution Prevention Committee

  • Appeals filed in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) highlight the insufficient water release from the SSD.
  • The NGT's referral of the case to the Supreme Court and subsequent return to the NGT underscores the complexity of the issue.

2. Impact on Locals

  • Locals express concerns about floods during monsoon due to SSD water release and saline water ingress affecting groundwater and agriculture.
  • Fishermen's associations emphasize the need for adequate water release to mitigate environmental and livelihood challenges.

The Bhadbhut Barrage: Justification and Critique

1. Purpose of Construction

  • The Bhadbhut barrage aims to protect Narmada water quality from saline ingress, prevent floods, and meet industrial water requirements.
  • Dahej's industrial growth and the creation of a coastal road underscore the barrage's significance in regional development.

2. Environmental Concerns

  • Environmental activist criticizes the barrage as a second mistake to correct the SSD's impact.
  • Lack of public hearings and environmental monitoring raise questions about the long-term consequences of the barrage.

Fisherfolk's Dilemma: Uncertain Futures

1. Economic Impact

  • Fisher families face unemployment risks, with estimates suggesting that 15,000 families may be affected.
  • Last year, the Hilsa trade in Bharuch was worth Rs 1,000-1,200 crore, emphasizing the economic stakes for fishing communities.

2. Changing Traditions

  • Traditional fishing livelihoods face a decline, with the younger generation showing reluctance to enter the fishing profession.
  • The shortage of fish adds to the struggles of fishermen and associated workers in the supply chain.

Way Forward: A Fragile Ecosystem and Livelihoods at Stake

  • The Bhadbhut saga reveals the intricate interplay between developmental projects, environmental conservation, and the preservation of traditional livelihoods.
  • As legal battles persist, the fate of Bhadbhut village hangs in the balance, symbolizing the broader challenges faced by communities caught between industrial growth and ecological preservation.
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