Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched the Sardar Sarovar Dam – the world’s second biggest – on the river Narmada in Gujarat, nearly six decades after its foundation stone was laid. The inauguration of the project – marred by protests and controversies – coincides with the PM’s 67th birthday.
“Tomorrow Sardar Sarovar Dam will be dedicated to the nation. This project will benefit lakhs of farmers and help fulfil people’s aspirations,” PM Modi had tweeted on Saturday. This morning, bad weather forced the PM’s chopper to land in Ahmedabad from where he travelled by road to Kevadia in Narmada district where he inaugurated the dam.
Before that, the Prime Minister met his mother Heeraben Modi at her home in Gandhinagar – as he does every year on his birthday – to seek her blessings.
PM Modi will later address a rally in Dabhoi – an hour’s drive from Ahmedabad – to mark the end of the fortnight-long Narmada Mahotsav, launched by the Gujarat government to celebrate the completion of the dam.
The Prime Minister’s visit to his home state comes less than a week after he hosted his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe where the two launched India’s first bullet train project in Ahmedabad.
With the state gearing up for polls later this year, the ruling BJP has turned the inauguration of the dam into a massive political event. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has dubbed the project as “Gujarat’s lifeline”, saying that the agriculture income and production of farmers in the state more than doubled because of it.
The 1.2-km-long dam, which is 163 metres deep, will irrigate over 18 lakh hectares of land in the state, according to officials; the water from Narmada will flow into over 9,000 villages through a canal network, Sardar Sarovar Nigam Limited (SSNL) officials said, explaining the paybacks of the project.
The project has been mired in controversies ever since its foundation stone was laid on April 5, 1961 by the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), led by social activist Medha Patkar, has been protesting against the project, raising several environmental concerns. In 1996, construction on the dam was suspended following a stay by the Supreme Court which allowed work to resume, four years later, but with conditions.
Soon after inaugurating the dam, PM Modi will head to Sadhu Bet, an island in the river Narmada where a 182-metre-tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – called the ‘Statue of Unity’ – and a memorial complex dedicated to the country’s first Home Minister are being constructed.