The Sardar Sarovar Dam : a Brief Introduction

UPDATE: Illegal raise of SSP to 121m
(Last updated: May 10, 2006)

The recent decision of the Supreme Court to allow the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam, even as thousands of families are yet to be rehabilitated and 35000 more face displacement, is a violation of its own judgement of Oct 2000 and March 2005, that unambiguously state that further construction cannot happen until rehabilitation of temporarily and permanently affected families is completed as per the Narmada Tribunal Award. Despite overwhelming evidence, the recent protests in Delhi and a 20 day hunger strike , the Supreme Court and Government of India have turned a blind eye to this grave injustice.

Immediately Call/FAX the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz and other officials and urge them to immediately stop any increase in SSP dam height which will endanger the lives of over 35000 families until the entire area is surveyed and all affected people adequately rehabilitated according to the NWDT guidelines with land. Ask the PM to intervene and stop construction in accordance with the mandate from the SC.

Amongst the 30 large dams planned for the Narmada, the Sardar Sarovar dam is the largest. With a proposed height of 136.5 m (455 feet), it is the focal point of both the dam-builders plans and the Narmada Bachao Andolan's opposition. The Govt claims that the multi-purpose Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) would irrigate more than 1.8 million hectares (mostly in Gujarat, some in Rajasthan) and quench the thirst of the drought prone areas of Kutch and Saurashtra in Gujarat. The opponents of the dam counter that these benefits are grossly exaggerated and would never accrue to the extent suggested by the Govt. Instead the project would displace more than 320,000 people and affect the livelihood of thousands of others. Overall, due to related displacements by the canal system and other allied projects, at least 1 million people are expected to be affected if the project is completed.

Map #1 of the command area of the SSP Map #2 of the command area of the SSP Map of the Project Area of the SSP
Map #1: Command area of the SSP Map #2: Command area of the SSP Map #3: Project area of the SSP

With no information forthcoming from the Govt. regarding the details of the project, the plans for the people to be affected etc. the NBA declared its opposition to the entire project taking into consideration the scale of adverse impacts. Throughout 1990-91, with a series of dharnas (sit-in's), non-violent protests (satyagraha) the NBA highlighted the plight of the oustees and the fundamentally flawed nature of the project. Under intense pressure, the World Bank (which was funding the dam to the tune of $450 million) was forced to constitute an independent review committee, the Morse Commission. The first independent review of any of the Bank funded projects, the Morse Report indicted the Bank on many counts and tacitly endorsed all the main concerns raised by the Andolan. The resultant international furore forced the Bank to finally withdraw from the project (with mutually face-saving measures for the Banks and the Govt. of India which asked the Bank to leave one day before the deadline for some stipulations was to expire).

Following a writ petition by the NBA calling for a comprehensive review of the project to take into consideration all the concerns raised, the Supreme Court of India halted construction of the dam in 1995 at a height of 80.3m. However, in an interim order in February 1999, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead for the dam's height to be raised to a height of 88m (85m + 3m of "humps"). The resultant increased flooding in the monsoon season of 1999 can potentially drown the homes and lands of as many as 2000 tribal families in about 50 villages.

On October 18, 2000, the Supreme Court of India delivered its judgement on the Sardar Sarovar Project. In a 2 to 1 majority judgement, it allowed immediate construction on the dam upto a height of 90m. Further, the judgement authorized construction upto the originally planned height of 138m. in 5-meter increments subject to receiving approval from the Relief and Rehabilitation Subgroup of the Narmada Control Authority. It should be noted that the Court has said nothing new on the matter. The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award states that land should be made available to the oustees at least an year in advance before submergence (Clause IX, Subclause IV(2)(iv) and Subclause IV(6)(i)). The essentially unfettered clearance from the Supreme Court has come from the Court despite major unresolved issues on resettlement, the environment, and the project's costs and benfits.

On a separate page devoted to the Supreme Court ruling, we have made information available about the supreme court judgements, the critiques of the judgement, media coverage, and ongoing actions to press ahead with the struggle.

Status of rehabilitation

Actions carried out inside and outside India

Some resources on the Sardar Sarovar Project