Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday alleged that “urban Naxals” had opposed the Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat for many years by propagating misinformation that it would harm the environment.
He made the remark after virtually inaugurating the National Conference of Environment Ministers at Ekta Nagar in Gujarat’s Narmada district.
“Urban Naxals and anti-development elements had stalled the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam by running a campaign that the project will harm the environment,” Modi said. “An enormous amount of money was wasted due to this delay.”
The term “urban Naxals” was first used by ministers of the Union government and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders after several activists and academicians were arrested in the Elgar Parishad case in 2018. Since then, the term has often been used to for dissidents of the Modi-led government.
On Friday, Modi said that India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had laid the foundation stone for the Narmada project and his home minister Vallabhbhai Patel had played an important role in conceptualising the project.
“The project was finally completed during my tenure,” he said. “The same place has now become a place of pilgrimage for environment lovers.”
The prime minister alleged that “urban naxals” continue to adopt similar strategies today. “Their lies were caught, but they refuse to admit it,” he said. “Now, they get political support from some quarters.”
Modi said that “conspiracies” by this section of society could influence even the judiciary and the World Bank. He called for a holistic approach while granting environmental clearances. The prime minister said that projects aimed at bringing about ease of living and ease of doing business should not be unnecessarily stalled in the name of the environment.
The Sardar Sarovar Dam, inaugurated by Modi in 2017, was built at the Kevadia town on the Narmada river in Gujarat. The project aims to provide domestic and industrial water supply for about 30 million persons, and water from the dam is also used to generate electricity.
However, in the late 1980s and 1990s, the project faced strong opposition from activist Medha Patkar’s Narmada Bachao Andalon. The organisation had opposed the grant of World Bank funding to the project, citing ecological concerns.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan had also claimed that the project would submerge hundreds of villages in the dam’s vicinity, and sought adequate compensation for project-affected persons.