Modi’s ‘gift to the nation’ can submerge 192 villages in MP
The long-overdue inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Dam may have happened after a lot of obstacles, but the ghosts of its past will continue to haunt the project in future as well
Extolling the victory achieved over those who ‘conspired’ against Sardar Sarovar Dam project in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted the nation the world’s second-largest dam on the occasion of his 67th birthday on September 17 and inaugurated the hydropower project that, experts say, will inundate at least 192 villages and a town in Madhya Pradesh.
Modi said that many people had conspired against the project and launched a massive misinformation campaign. “No other project in the world has faced such hurdles as the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river. But we were determined to complete the project,” said the PM. Hours before the inauguration, the water level of Narmada river continued to rise and entered low-lying villages in Madhya Pradesh, inundating several bridges and homes.
On September 16, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who has been spearheading the campaign to raise awareness about the environmental damage caused by the project and the number of people who will be displaced by it, had started a Jal Satyagraha against the inauguration of the dam. For three days, she sat on the 17th flight of the Narmada Valley in MP’s Chhota Barda village, along with 30 other people, to protest against the rising water level in the river. At the time, the 16th flight was already submerged. However, when the water did not rise further on September 17, Patkar suspended the protest for three days.
In a statement released by Narmada Bachao Andolan, the group alleged that the benefits of the project, “as being touted by the prime minister… were far-fetched” as they were a “bunch of lies and propaganda.” Critics have hit out at the government for failing to provide proper rehabilitation or compensation to the 40,000 families who will be displaced and have alleged that instead of providing water to people for drinking and irrigation as promised, the water from the dam is being given to the factories of Coca-Cola and Tata Nano car, corporates like the Adani and Ambani groups, six industrial centres, and to fill a stretch of the Sabarmati river in Gujarat.
One of the major reasons why the project has been stalled time and again, despite being launched by country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, is that no survey was undertaken to assess the environmental damage that would be caused by it and the number of people who will be displaced. The World Bank, which had agreed to fund the project earlier, had also withdrawn later, citing environmental concerns.
The Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in Gujarat is the world’s second largest in size after the Grand Coulee Dam in the US. It is expected to provide power and water to 9,000 villages in three states—Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.