The Narmada project has faced massive resistance internationally and among the local people in the project area. All together, the project will consist of 30 large, 35 medium and 3000 small dams, basically built to provide water for agricultural and domestic use. However, it is estimated that as many as one million people living by the Narmada river would be negatively affected by the project. The Sardar Sarovar dam alone implies forced resettlement of 320.000 people. Construction of Sardar Sarovar is, however, postponed, as the result of a supreme court verdict. This happened as early as 1995. The resistance against the project is organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan - the Save the Narmada Movement. Other dams included in the Narmada project have also faced resistance. The Maheshwar dam, upstream of the Sardar Sarovar threatens the eviction of 2200 families from their homes, and to negatively affect the means of livelihood of even more. Additionally, it is reported that families who have had their land expropriated, have received inadequate compensation sums, and that there are no plans for resettlement. In February this year, after several demonstrations, 20 days of occupation and one hunger strike, the Maheswar dam was finally postponed, pending an independent evaluation of the dam's costs and benefits and effects on the local environment and population.
When this decision became known, the protesters ended their occupation of the construction area. In spite of this, construction work was taken up again in April, now with the blessing of the authorities, and after pressure from the developer. The construction area was protected by some 1.500 policemen, denying access to protesters. Still, the demonstrators managed to recapture the area. However, after 1.500 demonstrators had been arrested and 23 of them had been hospitalized because of brutal police attacks, the protesters were forced to call off the occupation. Construction work is still going on, and the area is still under police protection.
A declaration demanding that work on the Maheswar dam should be halted, has been given international support, with 189 signatory organizations from 36 countries. Among these are Norwegian NGOs FIVAS and NorWatch, Future In Our Hands.
The contract for constructing and operating the Maheshwar dam, was granted to S. Kumars, an Indian clothing and car tire company that has no previous experience with dam projects. Therefore, the company has been looking around for foreign partners, also in Norway, so far without any luck. ABB and Siemens have, according to the International Rivers Network, been awarded contracts for supplying turbines and other equipment.
Norwatch Newsletter 12/98