New Internationalist

Narmada: The Facts

Issue 336

ndia suffers from widespread water scarcity. Rain comes in one seasonal period of deluge. Dams allow the deluge to be impounded and stored so that it can be used year-round in the same area or transferred to a water-short area by pipeline or canal. Opposition to dams – especially that of the Narmada Bachao Andolan – is representative of wider resistance to ‘development gigantism’.

Maan Damˆ4ˆ

• Height: 52 metres • Construction: 1992- • Submergence: 865 hectares • Villages: 17 • People displaced: 5,000 • Irrigated area: 19,200 hectares NBA action: 1997: Oustees begin mobilization 1998: Task Force review 1999: 26-day fast leads to stoppage 2000: Work restarts without resettlement 2001: Action under threat of submergence

Bargi Damˆ4ˆ

• Construction: 1984-90 • Submergence: 26,797 hectares • Villages: 162 (anticipated: 90) • People displaced: 114,000 (anticipated: 70,000) • Proportion tribal: 43% • Irrigated area: 8,000 hectares (anticipated: 437,000) NBA action: 1992: First mass action for just resettlement 1993: 55-day sit-in as waters rise 1994: Mass action in Bhopal 1997: Sit-in and hunger strike 2001: Many issues still outstanding

Sardar Sarovar Project ˆ4ˆ

• Final height: 139 metres
• Current height: 90 metres • Construction: 1987- • Reservoir length: 214 km • Submergence: 37,690 hectares • Villages: 245
• Canal network: 75,000 km • People displaced: 200,000
• Proportion tribal: 56% • Irrigated area: 1.8 million hectares NBA action: 1985: Mobilization begins in tribal belt 1988: Total opposition to dam 1989: Marches, sit-ins, fasts, arrests 1993: World Bank withdraws 1993: ‘Sacrifice in water’ threat 1994: National level review 1994: Petition in Supreme Court 1995: Construction halts 2000: Supreme Court judgement

Maheshwar dam ˆ4ˆ

• First privately constructed dam in India • Anticipated finance: US and Germany • Height: 36 metres • Purpose: Hydroelectricity • Construction: 1996- • Submergence: 5,697 hectares. • Villages: 61 • People displaced: 35,000 NBA action: 1998: First capture of dam-site 1998: Task Force review 1999: Sit-in and 26-day fast in Bhopal 1999: US and German companies withdraw 2000: German Government refuses loan guarantee 2000: US company Ogden withdraws

Projects under construction: 1 Sardar Sarovar 24 Indira Sagar 26 Maheshwar 27 Upper Veda 28 Maan 29 Goi 30 Jobat Projects completed: 8 Matiari 9 Bargi 17 Barna 18 Tawa 19 Kolar 22 Sukta

Dam after dam

India has over 4,000 large dams. Three-quarters of India’s dams are in the three states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and most are for irrigation. The figures show the rapid acceleration of dam construction through the last century.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) ˆ3ˆ

• Is a people’s movement which started in 1985 • Leadership is provided by Medha Patkar and other activists, unsalaried • Receives no funds from outside India • Employs tactics that are entirely non-violent; sit-ins, fasts, rallies, marches • Is a founder member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements • Has attracted an international network of support The achievements of the Narmada Bachao Andolan include: • Exit of the World Bank from Sardar Sarovar in 1993 • Halt of Sardar Sarovar construction 1994-99 • Withdrawal of foreign investors from Maheshwar dam 1999-2001


Pros and cons ˆ2ˆ

• Indian food production rose from 50 to 200 million tonnes 1950-1997; two-thirds of increase from irrigation • Data does not make clear what proportion of the increase was contributed by large dams: estimated 10%; Government claims 30% • Before 1978 all dams built without an environmental impact assessment (EIA). EIA became statutory only in 1994 • Estimates of those displaced by large dams in India in the last 50 years vary from 21 to 56 million people • 40% of those displaced are adivasis (tribal people) • Less than 50% of people displaced by large projects are rehabilitated • Construction occurs under the Official Secrets Act; access is denied, information is withheld, ‘participation’ is non-existent • The costs of dams are systematically underestimated and their benefits are inflated • Accepted cost-benefit ratio for large dams is not met in 8 out of 10 cases • Heavy silting shortens the life of many dams • There have been 17 cases of earthquake tremor induced by large reservoirs in India

  1. National Register of Large Dams – Central Water Commission 1994, New Delhi.
  2. India Country Study, prepared for World Commission on Dams, 2000 and Mid-Term Appraisal, Indian Planning Commission, 2000.
  3. Friends of the River Narmada,
  4. As above, plus The River and Life: People’s Struggle in the Narmada Valley, Sanjay Sangvai, Earthcare Books, 2000

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  1. #1 Jennifer 21 Feb 12

    The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation projects in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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This article was originally published in issue 336

New Internationalist Magazine issue 336
Issue 336

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