Narmada Dam: A Detriment for Poor

Posted on January 31, 2010 in Society

Sivapathan Silojah:

“You can stand in front of the map of India and throw darts anywhere on it without bothering about the environmental or human costs. If a man or woman is going to be grounded to dust, the only option is to fight back.” (The Times of India 20 October 2000 P1)

Narmada River, 1312 km long, starts its journey from Maikal ranges at Amarkantak in the Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh, flows through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat before it joins the Arabian Sea. From pre-historic time, Narmada River, the fifth longest river in India, has supported human civilizations that lived on the banks of the river. Millions of people are dependent on the river for cultivation and fishery. All through the way of its flow, the river has thousands of temples on its bank and tribal people as well as others worship this river as one of the seven sacred rivers.

After the independence of India, 30 large, 135 medium and 3000 small dams were raised on the river. Under the Nehruvian Development policy, this dam project was started in the year 1946 and the aim of the project is to produce thousands megawatts of electrical power and develop the nation. With the passing of time, several dams were built and they were referred to as ‘temples of modern India.’ Some of them are Sardar Sarorar Dam, Maheshwar Dam, Maan Dam, Indira Sagar Dam, Bargi Dam, Goi dam, and Jobat Dam. (

Was this dam project really successful? Who losses and who wins? Whose voices matter here?

This mass dam project provides large profits to a small group of people. Industrialists, contractors, field workers and the government may benefit from this; people from cities may get electricity from these hydro electric dams, but what about the people whose lives are based on the water from Narmada River? According to a documentary named ‘Drowned Out’, due to the dam project, for centuries, Tribal people- Adivasis and Dalits have survived using water resources nearby the river. From birth to death, every important occasion in their life has revolved around the river. When they were ordered to clear out their places, what would they do rather than accepting the compensation and look for a slum in cities or going to the government resettlement areas and living with salty water and inadequate facilities or dying in their own lands due to flooding?

The dam causes devastating effects on ecological balance. Some of the fish and plant species have disappeared from the river. Continuous irrigation leads to degradation of fertility agro land and soil. These large dams could also become the reasons for flooding in thousands of hectares of forest. (

Social justice is not protected and peoples’ problems were not addressed by higher officials. The affected people have never been informed of the potential effects of the project. Due to the destruction of the resources by the Dam, villagers had to locate new sources of food and income. Many people have migrated to cities for work and end up with living in slums. This issue breaks up traditionally close family structures.

Ecological damage caused by the Dam has destroyed villagers’ way of life and violated their rights to food, work and culture. Compensation does not give any satisfaction to the poor victims. All the affected people have not been resettled. Giving money instead of farming land would not do any good to poor farmers who do not know anything but farming.

Some people may say that there are many hotels, restaurants and buildings being constructed near the dam, which will improve the tourism field. In fact, tourism has been affected when natural rapids have been cleared out by the construction. It may be said that the construction gave people jobs, but after the construction, people who worked there were left behind.

Overall, even though the aim of the project is partially achieved, compensation and rehabilitation were not beneficial to the victims. To limit the negative effects of the project, what can be done? The Indian government should give all the farmers lands, but it says that there is not enough land to give to the victims. Then, what is the solution for the poor people? People from all over India should realize the seriousness of the issue and urge the politicians to come up with effective solutions.

Aren’t the victims also Indians? Isn’t it true that they also should be included in the development scheme? Is it fair to leave them in pool of poverty for others’ better lives? We should think about this and raise our voice for the victims.

The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.