Long-drawn dis­putes, protests mark the dam’s long jour­ney

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - NATION - Malavika Vyawa­hare malavika.vyawa­hare@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEW DELHI: When then prime min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, laid the foun­da­tion of the Sar­dar Sarovar Dam in 1961, Naren­dra Modi was an 11-year-old boy. Now on his 67th birth­day, 56 years on, Modi is ded­i­cat­ing ar­guably the most con­tro­ver­sial de­vel­op­ment project to the na­tion.

On Septem­ber 17, Modi will over­see the open­ing of 30 gates of the dam. The reser­voir will be filled to its ca­pac­ity of 4.73 mil­lion cu­bic me­tre (MCM). On June 17 the gates were closed to in­crease the height of the dam from 121.92 me­tres to 138.72 me­tres, which al­lows stor­age of 1.25 MCM.

In 1979, the Nar­mada Water Dis­putes Tri­bunal, formed to re­solve in­ter-state dis­putes sur­round­ing the use of Nar­mada wa­ters, granted ap­proval for the con­struc­tion of 3,000 small, 135 medium and 30 ma­jor dams in­clud­ing two mega dams: the Nar­mada Sa­gar and the Sar­dar Sarovar.

The 1,312-kilo­me­tre-long river drains into the Ara­bian Sea af­ter pass­ing through the states of Mad­hya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gu­jarat. The Sar­dar Sarovar project is sup­posed to pro­vide drink­ing water, power and ir­ri­ga­tion to a wider re­gion in­clud­ing Ra­jasthan.

The de­vel­op­ment came with costs, and those were to be borne by the peo­ple liv­ing in prox­im­ity of the dams, with the dammed wa­ters in­un­dat­ing vil­lages, fer­tile land dis­plac­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of fam­i­lies, and atleast 13,385 hectares of for­est land.

In the mid-1980s Medha Patkar plunged into the re­sis­tance move­ment lead­ing an over 3-decades long move­ment that not only ques­tioned the ra­tio­nale for the dam but of the de­vel­op­ment model un­der­pin­ning it.

Though the fight to pre­vent the dam from be­ing built and to mit­i­gate its im­pacts was lost, there is con­so­la­tion in the le­gal di­rec­tives to en­sure that peo­ple im­pacted are atleast ad­e­quately com­pen­sated. The open­ing of the 30 gates is closes a chap­ter but the strug­gle con­tin­ues. Medha Patkar, saw the move as a gift to the BJP rather than the coun­try, ac­cus­ing the party mak­ing the an­nounce­ment with Gu­jarat elec­tions in mind.

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