The government has decided to raise the height of the Narmada Dam by 17 metres — a longstanding demand of Gujarat — within 20 days of Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister, raising protests from activist Medha Patkar who drew attention to the resultant displacement of thousands of people.
On Thursday, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) approved the proposal to raise the dam’s height from 121.9 metres to 138.7 metres, making it the second highest dam in the world after Grand Coulee in the US. The approval came two days after the Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel met Modi and water resources minister Uma Bharti and reiterated the state’s demand.
A higher dam will optimize hydro-power generation and water supply capacity of this project, and is expected to benefit not just Gujarat but also neighbouring Rajashthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Gujarat has been demanding this for the last eight years, and Modi would place this demand before the Centre on every official visit to Delhi as chief minister.
Medha Patkar, who heads the Narmada Bachao Andolan, held a press conference in Mumbai to say the decision was taken in an undemocratic manner. “The government has neither given us any hearing nor has it taken any time nor made any attempt to know the ground reality before deciding on the dam’s height,” she said.
Patkar said at its present height, the dam has 2 lakh people in its affected region. If the height is raised by 17 metres, the densely populated villages in Nimad area of Madhya Pradesh with houses, farms, shops, temples, mosques and standing crops would be drowned, she said.
Asked about the sudden change of stand by NCA which is headed by central water secretary, the Union water resources minister Uma Bharti said the decision was taken on the basis of a report of the ministry of social justice and empowerment on the rehabilitation of displaced people.
“Social justice ministry has given its report and the officials are 100% satisfied (of the measures being taken by the affected states)… All the responsibilities they have to commit they have done. They have full satisfactory report in this meeting today. That is why the decision was taken,” Bharti said.
Though the Supreme Court had earlier given the approval for the project to raise the height of the dam, it got embroiled in controversy over displacement of project-affected people.
The main problem had come from Maharashtra as the state had fallen behind the rehabilitation schedule. Some 400 families were left to be resettled, leaving the height issue unresolved.
Officials said that the rehabilitation work was now on track, making it possible for the NCA to give its final approval. The NCA has representatives of the four states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and representatives of various central ministries. The project, considered a lifeline for parched Gujarat, was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961.
Immediately after getting central approval, chief minister Anandiben Patel rushed to the dam site at Kevadia to perform a puja to start work. “Heartfelt gratitude from the people of Gujarat to Hon PM Narendra Modi. The decision pending has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa gaye hain,” Patel tweeted on Thursday.
J N Singh, managing director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) said, “We will be able to start full-fledged construction work only after monsoon.” NCA sub-committees on resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) as well as environment had already recommended that permissions for raising the dam height be granted.
(Supporters of Narmada Bachao Andolan protest against rising height of Sardar Sarovar Dam.)
In 2006, NCA had allowed the dam height to be raised up to 121.92 metres. Senior government officials say at the Full Reservoir Level of 138.68 metres, there would be assured water for irrigation to an additional area of 6.8 lakh hectares, an additional 40% power generation, and enhanced water supply.
Gujarat government and the state BJP are planning a grand celebration across the state shortly in presence of Modi. The Gujarat Congress hailed the NCA decision and demanded that work should be completed at the earliest.