Drowning a Valley, Destroying a Civilisation
Fact-Finding Mission report on the Sardar Sarovar dam

first published 28 July 2015

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada People's Movement) has been striving for 30 years to save millions of people living in the Narmada river valley in India, and their cultures, history and civilisation, from being destroyed by a series of irrigation and hydroelectric dams (30 large, 135 medium and 3,000 small ones).

The Sardar Sarovar dam is the largest structure on the Narmada river (which flows through the central and western states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh into the Arabian Sea) although all the dams are controversial because of their enormous social and environmental impacts and costs.

After a new government was elected in India in May 2014, one of its first decisions was to permit the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam to be raised by another 17 metres, doubling its original proposed height. Several thousand more villages and towns will be submerged by the dam’s reservoir, which will permanently displace thousands more tribal people, fisher folk and landless poor, while many more will be temporarily inundated during the June-September monsoon season.

In May 2015, a Fact-Finding Mission comprising representatives from political parties and various non-government groups as well as independent experts visited the valley to assess the manifold implications of the proposed increase in the dam’s height. The Mission engaged with some 6,000 people to hear what was actually happening on the ground.

Its 44-page report, Drowning a Valley: Destroying a Civilisation, outlines the history of the Sardar Sarovar dam and peoples’ resistance to it, the repeated legal violations associated with the dam, and the concerns of the affected peoples, including displacement, rehabilitation, lack of entitlements and alleged corruption.

The report concludes that “as thousands of families face submergence without any rehabilitation in sight”, the work of raising the dam’s height must be stopped immediately until the number and location of all those affected have been properly ascertained and rehabilitated on suitable agricultural land well ahead of their homes and lands being submerged. Many families have still to be resettled as a result of the dam’s existing construction, never mind the future work. The rehabilitation sites are often inadequate because of poor water supply, degraded roads, little or no education and health facilities, and no electricity. The report also identifies major problems from the Narmada’s waters being diverted from agricultural to large-scale industrial uses, and extensive illegal sand mining.