What were the cons of Narmada Andolan

The planned wasteland - struggle for survival, dams and development planning in India

For a long time, the dam complex in the Narmada Valley was regarded in India as the outstanding symbol of the country's transition to the modern age, guided by science and industrial development models. Ever higher, ever further, ever faster: this is how the development credo of Indian government policy could be described in brief words, which uncritically adopted the guidelines and models of the industrialized countries. Politicians and investors also had their own interests in addition to the misconception about development. Since the 1980s, however, resistance movements and experts have questioned the large dam business, which is being pursued unilaterally to the detriment of many. India ranks third in the world with dam construction. However, most of the electricity generated flows into urban areas. In contrast, over 80 percent of rural households are still without electricity. Instead of the hoped-for minimum standard of living for everyone, 350 million people officially live below the poverty line and 250 million have no clean drinking water. Almost 85 percent of the budget for irrigation projects in the state of Gujarat is reserved for the Sardar Sarovar project: the poor subsidize the rich.

In other areas of India's development, too, there are increasing reports that the poor are paying the price for progress. A study by Pratap Chatterjee on a major project in Singrauli speaks of 150,000 people who were displaced in the course of coal mining there, the construction of a dam, five power stations and processing companies; some a total of five times and without any compensation. A study by the development agency US-AID also states that with Singrauli more efficient use of energy, 30 times more energy would be available than the expansion of the energy complex in Singrauli. Conversely, the more economical energy consumption would only cause a third of the costs that would have to be spent on a new coal-fired power plant. Some residents of the slum of Chilkanand are not spared the grotesque situation of having to live in their huts in the dark in the face of the large power stations that are brightly lit at night; they have neither work nor electricity.

The development plan for the Narmada Valley

A lot has already been written about the projects in the Narmada Valley and is now also available on the Internet; therefore only a few highlights at this point. The entire project consists of two mega-large, 30 large, 135 medium and 3,000 smaller dams in the valleys of the Narmada and its 41 tributaries. The gigantic project started in 1960 with the laying of the foundation stone for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. The Sardar Sarovar Dam is now as good as completed. Six of the great dams have also been built: Bargi, Tawa, Barna, Sukta, Matiyari and Kolar. The major dams Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar (the second mega-dam), Maheswar, Maan and Jobat are under construction. All dams - with the exception of the Sardar Sarovar Dam - are located on the floor of Madhya Pradesh State.

The plans and official justifications for the dams in the Narmada Valley in general and for the Sardar Sarovar Dam in particular are based on the periodic water scarcity in agriculture, especially in the state of Gujarat. Project operators tried to lead people to believe that the frequent occurrence of drought and flooding in a large area of ​​the state of Gujarat was due to the frequent lack of rains. Likewise, the water supply for cash-crop fields, the energy supply for the factories and urban centers should be secured, unemployment reduced, the growth rates and productivity of the factories increased.

Independent studies, on the other hand, have shown that the water shortage is due not least to excessive consumption and the fact that the water has not yet been regenerated. The factories use almost all of the river water by lowering the water level, silting up the river and pouring sewage into it; thus they are the real cause of drought and uncontrolled flooding. With the exception of the desert-like area in northwest Gujarat, no region has less rainfall than 50 cm, which corresponds to the national average and can hardly be considered a reason for the drought periods.

The Narmada project also has no capacity whatsoever to solve the state's water and energy scarcity problems. It is estimated that the planned irrigation facilities cover only about 40 percent of the cultivated land in Gujarat, with completion of the Narmada project increasing the irrigation area by a maximum of 10 percent. However, the areas around Kutch, Saurashtra and northern Gujarat that are threatened by acute water shortages are excluded from the project. At most 1.6 percent of the agriculturally usable land and just under 8 percent of all villages in Kutch will be supplied with water from 2010 onwards. At the same time, the water supply in these areas deteriorates because all local and adapted irrigation options are no longer pursued. The plains in the center of Gujarat and in eastern Saurashtra draw the greatest benefit with a 76 percent share of the irrigation measures. Ahmedabad District receives ten times the water supply compared to Kutch District, although the latter is five times as large. The main beneficiaries of the Sardar Sarovar project are the emerging industries in the chemical or finished goods industry, the cultivation of sugar cane and other commercial agriculture in the south and central region of Gujarat.


Up to 250,000 people are said to be displaced through the Sardar Sarovar Dam alone. It is the highest number of forced relocations in a single project. Over 43,000 families (250,000 people) from 245 villages in Gujarat (19), Maharashtra (33) and Madhya Pradesh (193) are affected by the reservoir alone. In addition, there are 117,000 landowners who are affected by the construction of the canals, as well as hundreds and thousands who are affected by compensatory reforestation measures, the establishment of nature parks - this affects 45,000 Adivasi - or other supplementary measures such as weirs. In total, the Sardar Sarovar Dam affects around 120,000 Adivasi (mainly Bhil) in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra, there would be over 10,000 hectares of natural forest and 33 Adivasi village communities that would be flooded. More than 144,000 hectares of land would be flooded.

The resettlement or expulsion of the local population was tackled without any precautionary measures. Many resettlers have not been given "land by land" to which they are entitled under Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal guidelines. The land rights of many Adivasi in Maharashtra are not even recognized. You are classified as unlawful land occupiers. Many of those resettled according to plan received stony land that could not be cultivated. They are forced to work as day laborers or to migrate to the urban slums. Several village communities were torn apart and distributed to different places; a violation of the rules of the arbitral tribunal. For the Adivasi, the forced resettlement means not only destroyed houses, destroyed fields - valuable arable land and forests - but also destroyed ancestral graves and, overall, the downfall of the traditional world of gods. A change in eating and gathering habits, flora and associated knowledge; all knowledge of previous generations is lost.

Great Dams in India: Appearance and Reality

A memorandum from the World Bank from February 1995 classified the vast majority of dams as unsafe. The author William Price found that of 25 dams examined, none could hold back the water masses that occur during violent storms. At that time, two of the largest dams in India, the Hirakud and the Gandhi Sagar Dam, were affected by this statement. If one of the two dams failed, the consequences would be far more devastating than in the dam disaster of 1979, when more than 2,000 people died when the relatively small Machhu II dam broke. The author of the study estimated that around two thirds of all Indian dams have safety deficiencies.

Even five years later, the assessment of the dams in India was no better. The India report published in November 2000 by the World Commission on Dams (independent expert commission for the assessment of dams) stated:

  • A total of 4,500 large dams have been built or are under construction in India.
  • All of the major dams account for only 10 percent of the country's grain production for food production. In contrast, the small irrigation systems - wells and groundwater - have the largest share in grain production.
  • Almost all large dams have a negative cost-benefit balance. Often not even the operating costs are compensated. Eight out of ten dam projects are in the red. The irrigation systems fed by the large dams have extremely high costs of 100,000 rupees (approx. 2,000 euros) per hectare.
  • In 2000, 119 large dams were under construction, although many of them date back to the 5th Five-Year Plan, i.e., the 1970s.
  • The additional costs for the 119 dams amounted to almost 15 billion euros (750 billion rupees) in 2000; in the meantime they have grown to a good 25 billion euros.
  • More than 1.5 million hectares of forest are being flooded or destroyed by the large dam projects. At least as much fertile land was lost without precise surveys being carried out. These losses have significantly reduced India's productive potential.
  • The large dam projects have so far displaced between 30 and 40 million people - Adivasi (natives), farmers, (agricultural) workers, women, men, children and old people. Less than 50 percent of them were resettled in accordance with the requirements of the law. The displaced persons of the Bhakra, Ukai and Koyna dams and other projects are still without land, although more than 50 years have passed since their completion.
  • Forty percent of all displaced people belong to the Adivasi, the most vulnerable part of the population, although they only make up seven to eight percent of the total population.
  • Until 1978, all dam projects were carried out without an environmental impact assessment.
  • The rate of silting up in almost all reservoirs is significantly higher than assumed. In some cases it is 300 times higher than the forecast and accordingly reduces the life expectancy and efficiency of the dam projects.
  • With 17 dams there is a risk of earthquakes being triggered by the immense water reservoir.
  • resistance

    "We will drown, but we will not give way" is the central motto of the resistance. Since 1987 the protest has been organized against the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the "Movement to Save the Narmada" (Narmada Bachao Andolan, NBA) has been founded. In 1993 the resistance achieved that the World Bank withdrew from the Sardar-Sarovar project. Then the NBA moved to the Supreme Court of India and enforced a four-year construction freeze for the then half-completed dam between 1995 and 1999. Four other dam projects were put on hold by mass protests in the 1990s. Since 1999, the author of the bestseller "The God of Little Things", Arundhati Roy, has shown solidarity for the victims of displacement and in 1999 published an appeal against the Narmada dams in two large Indian weekly magazines.

    Due to the many protests against public funding and the withdrawal of the World Bank from the Sardar Sarovar project, the state government of Madhya Pradesh entrusted the financing and construction of the dam to the S. KUMAR Company in 1994. However, since 1998 vehement protests against the construction of the dam have also been organized in Germany. Last but not least, non-governmental organizations such as "Urgewald" and WEED protested against the participation of German companies. The German energy suppliers Bayernwerk and VEW as well as Siemens and HypoVereinsbank had considered participating in the project. In 1999, Bayernwerk and VEW announced their withdrawal from the project. and human rights organization Urgewald had found that much of the land listed as resettlement sites would be in the dam's flood zone, meaning more than 20,000 people would be displaced without ever being resettled or rehabilitated.

    Following a report by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in 2000, which confirmed the complete failure of the resettlement measures, the German government also refused to grant a Hermes guarantee for Siemens' planned investments. As a result, Siemens and HypoVereinsbank temporarily gave up their intention to invest, as had previously done other foreign companies. The construction of this dam will remain suspended for the time being.

    For the time being. The international non-governmental organization International Rivers Network reports, based on the example of India, how the direct financing of projects is increasingly being replaced by a complicated network of financial flows. Based on numerous examples, the report untangles the network of indirect financing and shows the responsibility of government agencies, international financial institutions, export credit agencies and banks. On the other hand, mammoth power plants have become symbols of conflicts over local resources. In recent years, international financial institutions have largely withdrawn from funding such projects. Instead, the China Development Bank or the Indian Power Finance Corporation, for example, raise capital from international donors and invest it in projects with which the foreign donors do not want to be directly identified. The Supreme Court rushed the project operators to help with the Sardar Sarovar project in its ruling on the Narmada complex on October 18, 2000. The majority vote - two to one - followed the project operators' remarks and ordered the construction of the dam to be continued, although that was not even requested. The minority vote by Judge Bharucha, on the other hand, underlined that as long as the environmental requirements were not met and the committee of experts had not issued an environmental permit, the construction work on the dam wall should be suspended.

    Even after this unfavorable verdict and the dam wall, which has now been increased to 110 meters, the fight in the Narmada Valley - and in other places as well - continues. Hunger strikes, on-site demonstrations, sit-down strikes in front of government buildings or reports on human rights violations to the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, as well as to other UN institutions, continue to make the project operators fearful of profit prospects. These activities also form the basis for international campaigns by environmentalists and human rights activists. It is to be hoped that there will soon be protests again in Germany and in neighboring European countries - not only against the dam project on the Narmada River.

    "If they are really after the development of the Adivasi, what has happened in the last 50 years? Why are there no schools, no hospitals, no roads, no wells? Why does development depend on the belief that it is the Adivasi You can't say that dam projects don't produce results. I say, however, that they exploit the land's resources for the cities to serve a metropolitan elite. "

    Arundhati Roy, 1999 (quoted from Adivasi-Rundbrief Extra, March 2003)