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Dams construction on the Narmada River, India


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.

Among the international donors and funders, the World Bank was initially the main sponsor with an allocation of US$ 450 million for the most known dam, the Sardar Sarovar project. In 1993, following widespread protests, both in India and abroad, the World Bank withdrew from the project. This happened for the first time in the bank's history; the Morse Commission, set up for this purpose, conducted an in deep study of the case and released a scathing report (1), published as a book in 1992. This has produced an important change in the WB policy in the world, and drew attention of international media on the WB funded projects worldwide and their negative impacts.

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:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water 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:450 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:International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Landless peasants
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
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)
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

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

PESA 1996 (Panchayat Act, Extention to Scheduled Areas)

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'

Roy, Arundhati, 'The Greater Common Good'. Available at:

Drowing a Valley: Destroying a civilisation, Report of the

Central Fact Finding Team, May 2015

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Friends of the River Narmada

WB policies on Hydropower in India

New Independent Review Documents Failure of Narmada Dam, 11/06/2008, International Rivers

Medha Patkar and Baba Amte / Narmada Bachao Andolan (1991, India), The right livelihood award

Large dams on the Narmada river, Friends of Narmada river

India: Notes from the Struggle in the Narmada Valley, Ceasefire, 08/10/2013

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Land Grabbing, speech by Medha Patkar and David Harvey

Narmada Bachao Andolan: Glimpses of a Remarkable Resistance

Protest videos by NBA

Gaon Chodab Nahin (we will not leave our village), adivasi protest song

DAM / AGE : a documentary about ARUNDHATI ROY & the Narmada Dam Project

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 update11/01/2016



Protest in Khandwa in November 2008