The Narmada Dam Project – India

Linked with our presentation of Medha Patkar – India.

Linked also with our presentation of the NGO Narmada Bachao Andolan – India.

The Narmada Dam Project, known officially as the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), is a project involving the construction of a series of large hydroelectric dams on the Narmada River in India. The project was first conceived of in the 1940s by the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. The project only took form in 1979 as part of a development scheme to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity. Of the 30 large dams planned on river Narmada, Sardar Sarovar is the largest. With a proposed height of 136.5 m, it’s also high on discord between the planners and the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The government claims the multi-purpose project will irrigate more than 1.8 million hectares – most of it in drought prone areas like – Kutch and Saurashtra.

The Narmada dam is India’s most controversial dam project and its environmental impact and net costs and benefits are widely debated. The Narmada Dam has been the center of controversy and protest since the late 1980s.

The Narmada is India’s largest westward-flowing river and is of immense religious and cultural importance to the people living on its banks. It is also the subject of the largest river development project in the world, the Narmada Valley Project, which envisages the construction of thirty large and hundreds of small dams along its length.

Two of the largest proposed dams, Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar, are already under construction, the former supported by a US$450 million loan from the World Bank. Between them the dams will displace 300,000 people, largely poor peasants and tribals, and cause immense ecological damage through the inundation of forests, including prime habitats of rare species. There is not the remotest prospect that the displaced people, the ‘oustees’, will be adequately resettled, nor that the ecological damage can be compensated for. There are also real doubts, borne out by the experience of large dams elsewhere in India, that the dams will yield their projected benefits of hydropower, irrigation and drinking water. The project is set fair to become another human and ecological ‘development tragedy’.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is the people’s movement that mobilised itself against this development in the mid- and late-1980s. It has succeeded in generating a debate across the sub-continent which has encapsulated the conflict between two opposing styles of development: one massively destructive of people and the environment in the quest for large-scale industrialisation; the other consisting of replicable small-scale activities harmoniously integrated with both local communities and nature. (Read more about this on rightlivelihood).

Local protests taking the form of a genuine peoples movement, known as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) have been led by Medha Patkar. The World Bank was a funder of the SSP, but withdrew after an independent review in 1990. Indian writer Arundhati Roy has protested the Narmada Dam project … (Read the rest of this article on wikipedia).

Read this interview with Medha Patkar on Z-Magazine.

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