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Sardar Sarovar Dam, India

One of the most controversial dam projects in the world is at the core of a 30 year old resistance in Central India. Despite clear unviability of the project, the Indian government turns its back on its people


The multi-purpose Sardar Sarovar Dam has been built on the sacred Narmada river in Central India, in the state of Gujarat. It is part of the larger Narmada Valley Development Plan, that aims to produce electricity and provide irrigation and drinking water. The SSD is one of the most controversial dam projects in the world, because of the massive displacement it entails but also because of the fraudulent measures taken to impose it on the local population. A grassroots movement started mobilizing people from the area, and later spread all over the valley; the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Valley) has led for 30 years now the struggle and non-violent resistance in the valley.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sardar Sarovar Dam, India
State or province:Gujarat, India
Location of conflict:Navagam
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Height (foundation) 163 m (535 ft) Length1,210 m (3,970 ft) Generation capacity (planned): 1,450MW The project will irrigate more than 18,000 km2 (6,900 sq mi), most of it in drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra. The dams main power plant houses six 200 MW Francis pump-turbines to generate electricity and afford a pumped-storage capability. Additionally, a power plant on the intake for the main canal contains five 50 MW Kaplan turbine-generators.

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Type of populationRural
Company names or state enterprises:Narmada Valley Development Authority
Relevant government actors:Government of India, Government of Gujarat, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Government of Maharashtra
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Friends of the Narmada,, International Rivers,
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Landless peasants
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Lots of scientists, academics and city-based activists spread all over the country and outside India
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation
-Jal Satyagraha (sacrifice in the waters)
-dharna (sit-in with speeches, public hearings and chants)
- A 36 day long solidarity march from from Madhya Pradesh to the Sardar Sarovar dam site.
- Medha Patkar undertook a 22 day fast that almost took her life.
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, 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, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Fires, Noise pollution, Soil contamination
Other Environmental impactsland sliding, methan gasses emission, rotting of vegetal coverage in standing waters.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, 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
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Other socio-economic impactsFamilies and community are scattered and lose their sense of belonging and identity.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:-implement small scale power generating projects
-diminish power greed in the country
-set up a national agenda for energy generation
-implement states law
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:It was a great achievement to make the World Bank withdraw its backing to the project and review its criteria for project funding. However, the Indian government has taken over the project and rehabilitation measures have not been properly applied. The impacts on the people are already there, and it's hard to find any possible compensation to them.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

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

Arundhaty Roy, 'The Greater Common Good'
[click to view]

[click to view]

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

'Drown Out', doc movie by Franny Armstrong. partial version:
[click to view]

Resettlement in

Narmada River Basin, Evolution of Resettlement Policy in India

by Uday Shelat
[click to view]

Friends of the Narmada
[click to view]

BBC news - Narmada: A history of controversy
[click to view]

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

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

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

WB policies on Hydropower in India
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Interview with Patrick McCully (International Rivers)
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part 6:
[click to view]

Medha Patkar in Berkeley
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part 5:
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part2:
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part 4:
[click to view]

Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part 3:
[click to view]

by Raajaysh Chetwal, Narmada Bachao: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance, Part 1:
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:189
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