Narmada Bachao Andolan
The ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ is one of the most significant protest movement that Independent India has ever seen.
The Narmada is one of the important rivers in India. It has a length of about 1450 kilometers. It flows from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and after long journey, ends up in the Arabian Sea. Ancient civilizations and cultures have taken shape over thousands of years along the banks of Narmada.
The Narmada valley is inhabited by the ‘Bhils’ and ‘Gonda’, – some of the oldest races in Indian civilization. There is plan to build 30 major dams, 135 medium dams and 3000 small dams along the mainstream and the tributaries of this river. The mainstream will have 10 major dams.
What do these plans aim to achieve?
The dams is estimated to produce 2700 megawatt of hydel power and also supply irrigation water to cultivable land. The two largest dam reservoirs are named ‘Sardar Sarovar’ and ‘Narmada Sagar’. ‘Sardar Sarovar’ will be in Gujarat and ‘Narmada Sagar’ in Madhya Pradesh. These dams have raised protests all over the world.
The names of Baba Amte and Medha Patkar have become well-known in the protest-movement launched in India.
The protesters have raised a few basic issues:
How can this huge cost be financed?
Thousands of hectares of fertile agricultural land will be destroyed.
A large number of people will become homeless.
Rich and diverse forest resources will be lost. All big dams usually result in accumulation of silt. The normal river currents get obstructed.
Baba Amte first voiced his protests against the Narmada dams. He insisted that all details of the project cleared in 1987, must be made public. A peaceful procession was made. About ten thousand villagers from the threatened villages in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra assembled in the rally. The administration proclaimed that if needed, the army would be deployed to suppress the movement.
There are many issues on which the officials and the protesters have completely different view. The Environment and Forest Departments have estimated the huge losses from cutting of forest trees for implementation of the Narmada Sagar and the Sardar Sarovar projects, respectively.
The construction of giant reservoirs will never be accompanied by compensatory afforestation. The issue of resettlement of the refugees will also not be considered as a priority. Rehabilitation will not be viewed in its proper perspective. The settlements, the network of livelihood and the cultural milieu woven around these over the generations will get totally lost.
The ‘Narmada Bachao’ movement has attracted international attention. Many prominent intellectuals of the country are increasingly enlisting their support to the movement. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, has already delivered significant judgments on quite a few issues relating to this project.