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