Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river, saying no other project in the world has faced so many hurdles as this “engineering miracle” which many people had “conspired to stop”.
He also said that the dam, conceptualised nearly six decades ago, would become a symbol of the country’s growing prowess and boost growth in the region. “No other project in the world has faced such hurdles as the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river. But we were determined to complete the project,” Modi said at a rally some 55 kms from the dam site in Dabhoi town of Vadodara district.
The prime minister, who had earlier dedicated the dam to the nation on his 67th birthday, said “Sardar Sarovar will become a symbol of India’s new and emerging power and propel growth in the region…the project is an engineering miracle.”
“Many false allegations were hurled on us. Many people conspired to stop this project. But we were determined not to make it a political battle,” he said.
“I have knowledge (‘kacha chittha’) of everyone who tried to stall this project, but I will not name them as I do not want to go on that route,” the prime minister said.
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“A massive misinformation campaign was launched against the project. The World Bank which had earlier agreed to fund the project, refused to give loan for it raising environmental concerns. But, with or without the World Bank, we completed the massive project on our own,” Modi said.
“When the World Bank refused money for Sardar Sarovar Dam, temples of Gujarat had donated for the project,” he said.
Thanking the tribal families who were displaced by the project, Modi said, “India will remember and honour their sacrifice for development of the country.”
Paying tributes to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B R Ambedkar, he said had the two stalwarts lived longer, the dam would have been completed in the 60s and 70s itself, boosting the economy and combating the problems of drought and floods. “Today, after the inauguration of the Narmada dam, the soul of Sardar Patel must be jubilant, blessing us all. He had envisioned the dam 75 years ago, even before independence.
Imagine the great vision of the man who could dream so big for the sake of farmers,” he said. The inauguration of the dam, called the ‘Lifeline of Gujarat, comes ahead of the state assembly elections due later this year.
Noting that water shortage was a major factor in slowing the pace of development, Modi said the project would help take water to the Indo-Pak border in Gujarat, 700 kms from the dam site, to fulfil the water needs of BSF soldiers, besides benefitting states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
“You know me, I can’t do small things. I don’t think small, don’t do small things. With 1.25 billion people with me, I can’t dream small,” he said.
“The western part of India lacks adequate water supply, while in the eastern part there is shortage of electricity and gas supply. We are working to overcome these shortages so that both parts of India develop and India scales new heights of development,” he said.
The Sardar Sarovar dam is intended to provide drinking water to 131 urban centres and 9,633 villages (53 per cent of total 18,144 villages of Gujarat) and irrigation facilities for 18.54 hectares of land covering 3,112 villages under 73 talukas in 15 districts.
Besides Gujarat, the Narmada canal will also irrigate 2,46,000 hectares of land in the desert districts of Barmer and Jalore of Rajasthan. Paying tributes to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B R Ambedkar, he said had the two stalwarts lived longer, the dam would have been completed in the 60s and 70s itself, boosting the economy and combating the problems of drought and floods.
Modi thanked the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis and Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje Scindia for their contribution in completion of the project.
Nearly 56 years after its foundation was laid by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961, the dam became a reality today after Modi unveiled a plaque and performed a puja at the site in Kevadia in Narmada district.
The project was mired in many controversies and faced impediments from pro- and anti-dam activists, till finally the Supreme Court gave the nod for its construction in 2000. The delay in the completion of the dam was due to several reasons, including a dispute between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh on the sharing of the water and electricity.
In 1964, the Centre appointed an expert committee under the chairmanship of Dr A N Khosla, to resolve the dispute. However, Madhya Pradesh did not agree to the water sharing formula recommended by the Khosla Committee, after which the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal was constituted in 1969. “The tribunal gave its final award in December 1979,” after which the construction was started in 1980, it said.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), led by activist Medha Patkar, soon launched an anti-dam agitation and took the matter to the Supreme Court over environmental concerns and the rehabilitation of tribals from their dwellings as their lands were likely to be submerged in the dam water.
The Gujarat government promised in the court to give a robust rehabilitation package to those affected, but the NBA did not accept it. In 1996, the Supreme Court stayed the project, further delaying the work on the dam.
The apex court, on October 18, 2000, in a 2-1 majority judgement, allowed construction of the dam up to the height of 138 metres subject to completion of the rehabilitation process. However, despite the court verdict, the construction of the dam continued to face hurdles on rehabilitation issue.
In response to the NBA, the pro-dam people of Gujarat also launched many agitations citing its benefits. Modi sat on a 51-hour fast in 2006 as the Gujarat chief minister after the UPA government refused to allow raising the height of the dam.
In just 17 days after becoming the prime minister in 2014, the Modi government gave the final permission to raise the height of the dam to 138 metres and install the gates.