India: completion of Sardar Sarovar dam announced

Despite a long activist campaign against India’s controversial Sardar Sarovar dam project on the Narmada River, authorities have just announced the project’s completion. From Planet Ark World Environment News, Feb. 1:

AHMEDABAD – India completed construction of a highly ambitious and controversial dam on Sunday, nearly two decades after it launched the project environmental groups say will destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Authorities hailed the completion of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat state as an answer to the thirst, irrigation and power needs of millions in the vast, parched regions in the west of the country.

“India has taken a leap ahead. The dam will change the future of the country,” said Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, after the last bucket of concrete was poured on the wall of the US$7.7 billion dam.

The Sardar Sarovar is the centerpiece of the multibillion- dollar Narmada Valley development project that taps the Narmada, India’s fifth-largest river, through a series of dams, reservoirs and canals.

Authorities say the dam will connect an 86,000 kilometer (50,000 mile) network of canals and help irrigate 1.8 million hectares (4.5 million acres) of farm land and provide drinking water to 20 million people in Gujarat and the neighboring states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The dam will also help in flood control and its two power plants are expected to generate 1,450 MW of peak power, they say.

“Despite all odds, we have completed the dam. It will fulfil promises and will take India ahead,” said P.K. Laheri, head of the Sardar Sarovar project.

Rich vs. Poor?
Construction of the dam, which is 1,250 metres (4,100 ft) long, 122 metres (400 ft) high, began in 1987. But it soon became the focus of one of the world’s longest social and environmental campaigns.

Nearly a decade was lost to a dispute between rival states over how to divide water and power from the dam, and at least five more years in protracted legal battles with activists from the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or Save the Narmada Movement.

The NBA says the dam will displace 320,000 people — many of them poor tribal farmers who have not been properly resettled on fertile land, and disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands more.

It also says that the benefits claimed by authorities are false promises.

“The Sardar Sarovar dam is a classic case of cheating the poor … it has been built to destroy the economy of rural India,” NBA’s Medha Patkar said.

She said the dam showed policymakers favoured the rich in urban India over those in the countryside.

In March this year, Patkar went on a hunger strike that lasted nearly three weeks, forcing authorities to come up with better rehabilitation plans for some of those affected.

“The Sardar Sarovar project will have to prove whether it is a right combination of engineering and natural resources or a blunder of depriving farmers of their land,” said Bidyut Datta, an independent water management expert.

See our last post on India.