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Dams construction on the Narmada River, India

An overview on dams construction along the Narmada river in India and the 30 year long struggle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan Narmada for life in the river valley and for livelihood of local communities


The Narmada River flows for more than 1,300 km (808 miles) and crosses three different Indian States (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat) before flowing into the gulf of Khambhat (Bharuch), north of Mumbai. Since the mid 1980s, the 25 million people living in the river valley strongly opposed the construction of a huge system of dams, including three large structures: the Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar and Maheshwar dams. Local citizens formed the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), a grass root coalition of farmers, fisherfolks, landless farmers and also urban citizens in India, strongly opposed to the projects and political agenda on water and energy of the Governments of the three Indian States.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Dams construction on the Narmada River, India
State or province:Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat
Location of conflict:Multisituated
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The project is composed of 3,000 small, 135 medium and 30 large dams. Out of them, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), the Indira Sagar Project (ISP) and the Maheshwar Dam are mega dams. The first is 138 meters high and generating an electrical capacity of 1,450 MW, would irrigate more than 1.8 million hectares.The third one should provide 400 MW of energy.

Level of Investment for the conflictive project450 million USD only from WB to SSD
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:25000000
Start of the conflict:1985
Company names or state enterprises:Shree Maheshwar Hydro-Electric Power Corporation Ltd (SMHPC) from India
Siemens from Germany
Bayernwerk from Germany
VEW Energie from Germany
Ogden Corporation from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Supreme Court of India, NWDTA - India, Relief and Rehabilitation Subgroup of the Narmada Control Authority, Madhya Pradesh Government, NHDC - India, High Court Of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra Government, Gujarat Government
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Power Finance Corporation (PFC) from India
Corporación financiera Internacional (CFI)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:National Alliance of People's Movement - India, International Rivers, Save the Narmada Movement (Narmada Bachao Andolan, NBA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
A very broad movement in India. One of the leaders,Medha Patkar, became well know and influential beyond the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Self Immolation in neck deep waters (Jal Satyagraha) for days long portests.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Proposal and development of alternatives:If the principle land for land as per the Indian law cannot be fulfilled, opposition movements ask for the scrap of the dam projects, and the cancellation of any displacement scheme.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project started despite the local residents opposition, and it is still planned to built other dams, but during all this time the Court has decided to replace the displaced families in cultivable territories, and to investigate the violence and bribery the residents had suffered.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

PESA 1996 (Panchayat Act, Extention to Scheduled Areas)
[click to view]

Maheshwar dam: Environmental Clearance of MoFE dated 1.05.2001 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986

Rehabilitation&Resettlement Act (Special Scheme for Better and Liberal Provision for Rehabilitation, Narmada Valley Development Authority, Sept 1989, amended up to 31.05.2006)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Linking of Indian Rivers: Some Question n.1. Ramaswamy R., Iyer. Ed. Research Foundation for Sciene,Technology and Ecology. 2003.

The rule of water. Statecraft, ecology and collective action in South India. Mosse, David. Ed. Oxford India paperbacks. 2005.

Corporate Hijack of Water. Shiva,Vandana; Radha, Holla Bhar; Afsar H., Jafri; Kunwar, Jalees. Ed. NAVDANYA. 2002.

The impact of the River Linking Project n. 2. Shiva,Vandana; Kunwar, Jalees. Ed. Research Foundation for Sciene,Technology and Ecology. 2003.

Dharmadhikary, Shripad; Manthan Kendra, 2009, 'Power Sector Restructuring: The Often Ignored Aspect of Water Sector Reforms'
[click to view]

Roy, Arundhati, 'The Greater Common Good'. Available at:
[click to view]

Drowing a Valley: Destroying a civilisation, Report of the

Central Fact Finding Team, May 2015
[click to view]

Baviskar, Amita. In the belly of the river: tribal conflicts over development in the Narmada Valley. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Friends of the River Narmada
[click to view]

WB policies on Hydropower in India
[click to view]

New Independent Review Documents Failure of Narmada Dam, 11/06/2008, International Rivers
[click to view]

Medha Patkar and Baba Amte / Narmada Bachao Andolan (1991, India), The right livelihood award
[click to view]

Large dams on the Narmada river, Friends of Narmada river
[click to view]

India: Notes from the Struggle in the Narmada Valley, Ceasefire, 08/10/2013
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Land Grabbing, speech by Medha Patkar and David Harvey
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao Andolan: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance
[click to view]

Protest videos by NBA
[click to view]

Gaon Chodab Nahin (we will not leave our village), adivasi protest song
[click to view]

DAM / AGE : a documentary about ARUNDHATI ROY & the Narmada Dam Project
[click to view]

Other comments:All dams have their own particular stories to be told. This is an effort to describe the overall issue.
Meta information
Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:497
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