Is the Sardar Sarovar Dam boon or bane?:

Is the Sardar Sarovar Dam boon or bane?:


Prime Minister Narendra Modi today inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat on his 67th birthday. Addressing a public meeting after the event, PM Modi called the dam an engineering marvel.

The River Narmada

Narmada, the largest west flowing river in India & the fifth largest river in the country, rises near Amarkantak range of mountains in Madhya Pradesh. It traverses Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat and meets the Gulf of Cambay. It is considered as the dividing line between North India drained by the Gangetic basin, and Peninsular India.

Although entirely rain fed, the Narmada has a fairly heavy discharge because of moderately heavy annual average rainfall in the basin, particularly in the upper catchment area.

What is Sardar Sarovar Project?

The Sardar Sarovar project was a vision of the first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.  The foundation stone of the project was laid out by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961  The project took form in 1979 as part of a development scheme to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity.

The Sardar Sarovar Project is an inter-state project with a terminal dam on river Narmada at Kevadia in Gujarat. It is meant to benefit the 4 states Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It is a multipurpose project with irrigation, power and drinking water benefits, which was accorded environmental clearance in 1987.

What is Narmada Bachao Andolan?

Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is a social movement consisting of adivasis, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists against the number of large dams being built across the Narmada River, which flows through the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, all over India. Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement. It is one of the many dams under the Narmada Dam Project. The main aim of the project is to provide irrigation and electricity to people in these states.

Their mode of campaign includes court actions, hunger strikes, rallies, and garnering support from notable film and art personalities. Narmada Bachao Andolan, with its leading spokespersons Medha Patkar and Baba Amte, who have received the Right Livelihood Award

The case of World Bank:

The World Bank began working on the Narmada Project after it got clearance from the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal.The bank sent a team for the assessment of the project in economic and technical terms. This team didn’t focus on the social or environmental issues.

However, the Bank realised the harm that it had done by sanctioning the loan for the project and thus announced that the new projects should “ensure that, after a reasonable transition period, the displaced people regain at least their previous standard of living.”

Despite this, the relocation process was flawed.

The Bank then adopted certain policies to ensure proper relocation of the tribal people and protect them from the forced relocation . The Indian government, however, did not adopt these policies.

In 1985, irrespective of the harm done by the Sardar Sarovar project, the World bank sanctioned a loan to the state governments for construction purposes.

Medha Patkar and other protesters testified on the Bank’s role in Washington D.C in 1989. This led to a build-up of pressure on the Bank to set an independent review to assess the situation at hand. A lot of support was withdrawn from the project after this.

The Morse Commission was established to look into the construction of the dam, and the environmental cost and human displacement in 1991. For the first time, a Bank commissioned panel had complete access to the documents to form a report.

The 357 pages’ report mentioned the lack of any environmental assessment undertaken either by the Indian Government or the World Bank. In an internal referendum held, the Bank very closely voted for the continuation of the Narmada Dam Project.

The Indian Government canceled the loan sanctioned by the World Bank on March 31, 1993

Cost-benefit  Analysis


  • Social and environmental impacts have gone far beyond what was estimated at the outset when the project was cleared in the late 1980s. Rehabilitation of even the submergence-affected population is about 80% incomplete
  • Sea water from the Bay of Khambhat has intruded up to 40 kilometres eastwards into the Narmada” affecting “10,000 hectares of agricultural land.
  • The SSP received an environmental clearance in 1987 with requirements for detailed surveys and studies. A rehabilitation plan was to be completed “ahead of reservoir filling”. But even today, the families residing in the proposed submergence area are not assured of their rightful rehabilitation.
  • Thousands of families along the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh are at risk of getting displaced with the closing of gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam and resultant rise in the water level in its catchment area
  • The Narmada Bachao Andolan group claims that 40,000 families in 192 villages in Madhya Pradesh would be displaced when the reservoir is filled to its optimum capacity.
  • Large dams have forced the displacement of millions of India’s small farmers and landless peasants from across the country, forcing them into urban slums and breaking apart families Downstream habitat change and impacting biodiversity.
  • The Narmada estuary has become increasingly saline because of the decrease in fresh water flow
  • Siltation is one of the biggest challenges faced by dams worldwide, and giant dams such as the Sardar Sarovar cannot be easily desilted.


  • The basic justification offered for the SSP by the Gujarat government from the time of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal in the 1970s was that there is no alternative to SSP waters for the drought-prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat.
  • It will provide drinking water to 4 crore people and help irrigate 2.2 million hectares of land.
  • The irrigation benefits will help in doubling the farmers income by 2022.
  • The Narmada canal will also irrigate lands in the desert districts of Barmer and Jalore of Rajasthan.
  • Project has successfully brought water to the dry Kutch district, where the armed forces are guarding the nation.
  • Provide flood protection to riverine reaches
  • Wild life sanctuaries viz. “Shoolpaneshewar wild life sanctuary”, Wild Ass Sanctuary, Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary and many others will be benefited.
  • Benefits of fisheries development and recreational facilities
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