Sardar Sarovar dam built on the Narmada river was officially inaugurated this month. The dam has been amidst great controversy ever since its first founding stone was laid in 1961. The question is, why? Are the protestors against development? Or a lot of harm will happen once the dam comes into existence? We get the facts right for you:

Foundation of the Sardar Sarovar Dam

Jawaharlal Nehru said that “dams are the temples of modern India”. He recognized that the problems of both drought and floods could be solved if we could redirect our water. Thus, under his government, the construction of this dam was started.  As of now, Narmada river is flowing into the Arabian Sea unutilized. The project could help with electricity and irrigation problems in Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP, and Rajasthan.

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Benefits

The project has the potential to feed 20 million people, supply domestic and industrial water to 30 million, and provide employment to more than 1 million. Apart from the above benefits, it provides valuable peak electricity in areas with high unmet power demand.

  • Sardar Sarovar dam will provide irrigation to 18.45 lac hectares of land in Gujarat.
  • Irrigate 2,46,000 hectares of land in desert districts of Barmer and Jallore in Rajasthan
  • It was also irrigate and 37,500 hectares in the tribal hilly tract of Maharashtra.
  • Sardar Sarovar dam will also solve the drinking water problems of roughly 28 million people.

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Narmada Bachao Andolan

So what’s the problem then? Huge environmental and rehabilitation costs, according to activists. As the river is diverted, it will submerge low lying land that has been inhabited by people for generations. The most severely affected population by the Sardar Sarovar dam are the tribals of MP. Medha Patkar, an activist, along with Baba Amte, took up the cause. They have been fighting against the displacement of so many people without rehabilitation. Even Aamir Khan supported the activists by voicing his opinion on this, in 2006. He irked the wrath of the BJP then too.

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Further, it will also disturb the ecology of the area. The submerged trees will lead to the release of greenhouse gases. It will also cause a lot of salination in the lands surrounding it and lead to agricultural problems. Due to these reasons, NBA protested large and wide and got the World Bank to withdraw its funding for the project.

Supreme court’s decision

An apex court in 1996 decided that the costs were too much for the people who would be unsettled and so, the construction was stopped. However, it was restarted by a Supreme court bench in 2000. They said that the benefits outweighed the costs. The construction had to start only after successful rehabilitation of all the affected families.

Rehabilitation problems

However, the rehabilitation is not complete, according to activists. The government number of affected families is at 18,000 while the activists’ number is at 40,000. They also claim that the Rs. 900 crore rupees meant for rehabilitation are not yet given. Farmers who lost their land, especially women farmers, were to get Rs. 60 lakh each. That’s still pending too. The Prime Minister has already ordered to close the gates of the dam. This is leading to rising water levels.

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The dam is supposedly a gift to the nation but is the gift coming at the cost of 40,000 lives disrupted? India has a very bad history of rehabilitation. There are innumerable projects for which tribals and villagers get displacement without proper land or settlement. Nobody would be against development if it took everyone forward together. However, our version of development always leaves some people behind. Hope this time there would be exception and these 40,000 people will also see ache din.

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