Modi’s Insistence on the Land Ordinance is not Good Governance, It is an Attempt to Shield Himself from His Failures in Gujarat

27 February 2015

As opposition to the land ordinance mounts within and outside the parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told his party MPs that there would be no rollback of the proposed amendments. While Modi’s unwavering supporters see this as a sign of a leader committed to reform, the facts suggest that this obduracy has more to do with his failures in Gujarat. The changes that have been made to the original Land Acquisition Act passed in 2014, and which are now being pushed through the ordinance, bear the stamp of Modi’s administrative inability in completing the work on the Narmada canal system in the state. To fully comprehend the gravity of this claim, it is necessary to understand the scope of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project on the Narmada.

The primary aim of this project was irrigation, and the Sardar Sarovar canal system was meant to irrigate 18,45,655 hectares of land in Gujarat by 2010. However, currently the canal system only reaches 3,69,260 lakh hectares. Five years after its supposed date of completion, the project has only realised 20 percent of its planned potential.

Even more damaging is the fact that at the current rate of progress, the project will take at least thirty more years to be completed.By 2012 only 19,885 km of the total of 74,626 km of the canal network had been completed, and, by 2014, the figure had seen a marginal increase of 22,284 km, which works out to an addition of less than 1,500 km of canals a year. Given that approximately 52,343 km of the canal network still remains to be completed, the enormity of the task that remains is glaringly obvious.

As a result of the time that had been spent on its completion, the expenditure on the project was about Rs 45,137.07 crore by 2012, a figure that has already overshot the sanctioned and revised budget of Rs 39,240.45 crore. Even a conservative projection would show that the cost overruns of this project alone will exceed the budget that was sanctioned for it. Undoubtedly, the Sardar Sarovar project is on its way to qualifying as one of the greatest planned disasters of independent India, for which the Narendra Modi-led administration in Gujarat would have to bear direct responsibility given its tardy implementation through the years 2003 to 2014.

The state government had attributed the increasing cost of the project and the delay in its completion to the difficulty of acquiring land from farmers. The extensive canal network could only be constructed by acquiring a large amount of agricultural land. By 2013, 36,000 hectares of land had been acquired. This amounts to an area about twice the size of metropolitan Kolkata. It still comprises only a fraction of the land that was needed to be acquired for the project.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan.