Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s second-largest dam, the Sardar Sarovar Dam, in Gujarat’s Narmada district, on Sunday. Hours before the inauguration, the Narmada river’s water level continued to rise entering low-lying villages in Madhya Pradesh, The New Indian Express reported. Several bridges and homes were inundated.
Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who has been raising concerns about the impact of the dam on the environment and the people it will displace, led a Jal Satyagraha against the project in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district in the morning. Hours later, she suspended it. However, she said, it would continue in other forms till the affected people were properly rehabilitated, The Indian Express reported.
Modi, who turned 67 on Sunday, began his day visiting his mother Hiraba, after which he headed to Kevadia to inaugurate the dam on river Narmada. “Sardar Sarovar Dam faced so many obstacles. But, we were determined that the project will go on,” Modi said.
“The waters of Maa Narmada will help several citizens and transform several lives.”
Modi inaugurated the project that raised the height of the dam to 138 metres, to increase its storage capacity to 4.73 million cubic metres from the existing 1.27 million cubic metres. This is expected to benefit more than 18 lakh hectares of land in Gujarat, as the Narmada water will flow to over 9,000 villages of Gujarat through a canal network, NDTV reported. The power generated from the dam will be shared by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, the report said.
After the inauguration, Modi attacked those who had opposed the project, and said there was a misinformation campaign against it. “The World Bank, which had earlier agreed to fund the project, refused to give loan for it raising environmental concerns,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times. “But, with or without the World Bank, we completed the massive project on our own”. Temples of Gujarat donated money for the project, he added.
The project’s foundation stone was laid in 1961 and construction began in 1987, but the dam has been mired in controversy. The Narmada Bachan Andolan is a movement against the dams built across the Narmada through Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The movement has claimed that more than 40,000 families across 190 villages in Madhya Pradesh have been left out of the rehabilitation plan, and have alleged the rehabilitation centres lacked basic facilities and were not habitable.
Since Friday, several villages in Madhya Pradesh’s Nisarpur town were submerged after the water level near the dam rose to 128.3 metres. By Sunday, in Barwani district’s Rajghat, a bridge towards the adjoining Dhar district had also been submerged by the water released from Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar and Maheshwar dams in Madhya Pradesh.
The PM will also visit Sadhu Bet in Gujarat to review the progress of the Statue of Unity project. The 182-metre Statue of Unity is intended to be the word’s tallest statue. It is to be located on a river-island facing the Sardar Sarovar dam. Bharatiya Janata Party members said they would mark Modi’s birthday as “Seva Diwas” where they will participate in blood donation drives, medical camps and a cleanliness programme among other initiatives.