Narmada Bachao Andolan


Narmada Bachao Andolan is a landmark resistance and international icon of non-violent protest to mega-projects in the Narmada valley. NBA represents mass movement against the destructive development and symbolic of united struggle for legal, human and constitutional rights of the people across the country.The mode of the campaign was a shining example of Gandhian style of non-violence and sustained protests for the equity and justice in an era of corrupted morals and ethics.

Several local organisations combined to formed NBA in 1989. They include a Youth group in Gujarat- Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, which were focusing on environmental concerns.  Other groups were called Narmada Ghati Navnirman Samiti & Narmada Ghati Dharangrast Samiti from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. These parties fully focused on the withdrawal of project altogether for the favour of PAFs. 

NBA had its leading spokespersons Medha Patkar and Baba Amte. Medha patkar has been guiding light for the movement.  Baba Amte, known for his work against leprosy. He published a booklet called Cry O Beloved Narmada in 1989 to protest against the construction of the dams.Amongst the major celebrities who have shown their support for Narmada Bachao Andolan are Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy and Aamir Khan. It was also supported by music composer and bass guitarist in the band Indian Ocean, Rahul Ram, who was actively involved in the movement from 1990 to 1995.

Despite opposition from NCA (Narmada Council Authority) and Govt. , NBA kept their protests running for decades for the rights of local people. 


The Narmada Valley Development plan is a multi crore and one of the most promising projects in the history of India, supposedly generating big revenue to the country. The inception of project was done as early as in 1940s and formulated construction of 3000 small dams, 135 medium and 30 major dams across the 1312 km long Narmada river including two mega dams: Narmada Sagar in Madhya Pradesh and Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. Apparently, it was the largest set of dam project anywhere in the world in a single year. The project painted a bright picture for rapid industrialization in India by irrigating two million hectares of land, feeding 20 million people and making potable water accessible to about 30 million people. Besides, the project also ensured employment to one million in addition to generating electric power (about 1450 MW) for agriculture and industry.


The Narmada Project started in 1961 with inauguration of small dams by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with an objective of harnessing the power of Narmada river to meet electricity and water needs of the people who are in vicinity of the river. Construction of these dams, then considered as the ‘Temples of the modern India’, was proposedly a very optimistic step for the welfare of the inhabitants. However in due course, a further proposal to increase the height of SSD brought a number disputes starting to emerge between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The increase in height would provide result in availability of electricity to a million of people in Gujarat at the cost of displacement of about 40,000 inhabitants of Madhya Pradesh.

Formulation of Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (6.10.1969) thus, was established to resolve the dispute under the chairmanship of Justice V Ramaswami. Case remained stagnant in court, but local protests carried on in form of Satyagraha, Dharnas, hunger strike, march, demonstration. After 10 years on 7th December, 1979 the Tribunal finally favoured the construction of dams and the height of SSD was fixed to be 138.68 m. The water harnessed from the Narmada river would also be divided at given shares (see the table) among the 4 states- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat to resolve the inter-state water disputes.


The construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam (SSD) began in 1985 and also ignited the spark for emergence of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). The opposition of NBA against construction of dams on the social and environment grounds resulted in mass awareness and involvement of millions on people in an internet-less world. With the pulling out of World Bank from project inn 1993, the movement also proved to be one of first mechanism to influence the World-Bank funded projects by local participation. Medha Patkar continued to protest for the rehabilitation rights for the displaced locals.

When the matter upheaved to Supreme Court, a verdict stated by Justice A S Anand and Justice B S Kripal, favoured the construction of dam with proper measures to rehabilitate those who were affected. NBA, on the other hand, continued their protests as with the violation of Order by Supreme Court, the oustees were only given tin sheds in name of rehabilitation.

Jha Commission(2008), Chaired by Justice (Retd.) Shravan Shankar Jha, highlighted following major insights after SC’s Order:

Faulty SRP policy of Govt.- the government said that there was not enough land for rehabilitation at R & R site.

A large number of fake deals.

Free access of middlemen to make large number of fake registries.

Whatever rehabilitation has been provided, its of poor quality.

Lack of proper records by NVDA regarding the livelihood grants and alternative livelihood, exhibiting large scale corruption.

In lieu of families being deceived in MP and not given proper compensation as highlighted in Jha commission, Supreme Court ordered 60 lakhs compensation to 700 displaced families. The SC also withdrew the proposed setup of 3-member committee of former apex court judges (retd. V S Sirpurkar, K S Radhakrishnan and C Nagappan)  to look into compensation and rehabilitation. SSP  remained uninterrupted after 1999. In December 2006, the then CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi announced the completion of SSP.

On 17th June, 2017 the SSD was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi by closing the gates of the dams before making arrangements for the rehabilitation. This again brought huge criticism from worldwide as a violation of human rights. The Government allotted extra packages worth 900 Cr including 60 lakhs to each of the family being displaced in Madhya Pradesh. The resistance however remained as not all compensation has  been made. A number, especially the women farmers, have been excluded from the compensation as reported by Medha Patkar. Patkar further states that PM wants to dedicate the dam to Gujarat for the upcoming elections.


Narmada valley dam project is not the first instance of mass movement of people due to dam construction. Before this Tehri dam also faced huge opposition. But the scale of the cultural and ecological loss was a flip side not only to the people affected due to the mega project but to the whole country. The project resulted in inundation of 37,000 ha of forest as well as agricultural land causing loss of lives and livelihood to forest-dwelling and farming tribal and other rural people totaling to about lakhs in number from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The ecological assessment of these dams, although not a part of the project plan and done too late in the history of NBA, presented heavy negative impacts not only to the wildlife and forests but also to the healthy existence of the river Narmada itself.

Although during 1980s, the environment impacts (the Environmental Protection Act was implemented in 1986) were not taken into consideration seriously due to either the lack of awareness or government’s negligence, the social ill-effects of the projects were enough to understand the capitalist and urban community-driven benefits of the people, neglecting the project-affected families (PAFs) which majorly comprised the tribal people and rural families. Such people did not get real attention and respect even after 35 years of independence.

The involuntary displacement of inhabitants of Narmada’s basin, which spans almost 100,000 sq. km and inhabits about 22 million people, remains one of the most aggravating reasons for the NBA. Sardar Sarovar dam has alone displaced about 320,000 people in addition to loss of wildlife and vegetation. The dam purportedly impounds to 455-feet high reservoir submerging 37,000 ha of land in the three states and diverts 9.5 million acre feet of water in irrigation-canal channels. However, even to this date, the disinterest of the government to release official statistics of the total number of displaced inhabitants keeps diluting the gravity of problem.

Its been accepted by researchers that large dams cause really a panacea and cause more harm than good. Thus the environmental degradation is one of the very overlooked aspects of the project. Large dams cause a number of flash floods submerging most of the land and taking lives of both the floral and faunal communities including humans. This also destroys the agricultural products, the only source of livelihood to farmers depriving them of food in addition to home.

Local people and specially the tribal communities have the most concerning aspect of the PAFs is the community and type of people who are severely affected- uneducated, neglected and, or poor.

The grievances alleviate because of lack of effective national policy regarding the rehabilitation and resettlement policy. The National Policy (2008) brought some hopes where a number of rules were drafted for rehabilitation and resettlement, including social impact assessments for large scale displacements and assurance of minimum benefit to PAFs as per eligibility criteria). However the status of policy on ground level and implementation leaves the concerns of the oustees on paper work.



In 1978, Indian Government, in order to accomplish the proposed project of constructing the complex set of dams on the Narmada River, sought the assistance of World Bank. The claim centralized the focus of the Project on India’s economic development in name of so called “collective good”, paying almost no attention to the potential social, human and environmental costs.

The World Bank prepared the first stage project after the Narmada Tribunal Final Order. Despite the prospective consequences, due to lack of local representatives and indigenous consultation, the World Bank agreed to grant $ 450 million, i.e. approximately 10% of the total cost of the project which was estimated to be $ 6 billion in 1970, to fund the completion of the project, including construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam under Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), one of the most controversial mega-dam in Gujarat. This provided an international recognition and support to the project without much investigation.

The haste of pushing the large dams in the absence of proper assessment of the feasibility of even the basic technical considerations, was thus successfully exercised with the help of World Bank loan as an effect of corporate power. As an immediate effect, financial benefits were accrued to the construction industry and the administrator-engineer-politician nexus, neglecting both human and environmental issues.

Interestingly, with international approval to the project, the involvement of the World Bank also caused popularity to the resistance of the project. Consequently, the Bank provided a standard to assess the project’s performance in regard to the involuntary resettlement. However the Bank continued to support the project ignoring the shortcomings and violating its own policies.

The approval of the World Bank was irrespective of the permit provided by the Indian Ministry of Forests which would require proper Environmental Impact studies, which however were never performed.

The internal and external pressures lead the development of World Bank’s Operational policies and Directives. The first of these policies was adopted in 1980 stating “upon resettlement, displaced persons should gain at least their previous standard of living”, followed by another policy two years later specifically addressing the ‘tribal’ community to safeguard their integrity.

With the rise of protests against the project, the World Bank decided to review its policies and announced Morse Commission (June, 1991) to re-examine the SSP under the chairmanship of Bradford Morse, the former UN Development Programme and Thomas Berger, a former British Columbia Supreme Court Judge. The commission had two aims- assessment of (i) PFAs of SSP and (ii) efficacy of measures to diminish the project’s environmental impacts.

The 357 pages report prepared by the commission showed the discrepancies in the functioning of Bank and granting of the loan. It also mentioned the huge environmental degradation and violation of human rights. Consequently, as result of great criticism, Bank withdrew its support from the project leading the project to Supreme Court of India.


Government in its defence says, the NBA continues to creates unnecessary disputes even after allotment of ‘extra-package money’. The number of villages submerged has also been reduced with now ‘only’ 23,000 being affected from the partial submergence due to the floods caused by Narmada Projects.

In 2011, the NBA  was also accused of Perjury charges regarding the land acquisition for 5 villages - Dhardi,Nayapura, Guwadi, Kothmir and Narsinghpur in Madhya Pradesh (Omkareshwar Dam Project). Accusal further advanced when SC said in 2017, that NBA now aims to stall the project taking court for ‘ransom’ in the name of rehabilitation.


Narmada Bachao Movement was a creative yet effective means of opposition against the Sardar Sarovar Project. The non-violent means of protests in form of Satyagrahas, hunger strikes and non-cooperation movements are not only the highlights but strengths of the movement against development led displacement. The disputes over project regarding the power sharing and rehabilitation was the initial hit for the upcoming movement. The mass forced displacement after construction of SSD subsequently led to a massive opposition against the project through Save Narmada Movement.

The Narmada Valley Dam Project, although a great prestige to the Government of Gujarat, is also a sheer example of  exploitation of people who are ‘political unimportant’. The cost-benefit approach taken by the higher authority and powerful people shows that even decades after independence the distribution of power and deep-rooted corruption concentrating at each hierarchical level, keeps basic human rights under political turmoil. Despite the resistance, the Sardar Sarovar dam did open in 2017 at the total cost of 44,000 Cr, affecting the lives and livelihood of half a million people. The forever overlooked environmental effects including reclaiming of the Narmada river, habitat loss to wildlife and large scale deforestation, have also been a point but never an emphasis in the course of Narmada Project. The PAFs are still struggling for land-based rehabilitation and assurance of basic living rights in the place which belongs to them. Where on one hand, Supreme Court has provided enough monetary compensation, its declines the NBA’s request to terminate the project altogether. Patkar continues the struggle for displaced inhabitants however has given up pressuring the government against SSP and now has diverted all her attention for proper rehabilitation facilities to the oustees. The dynamic and global struggle of NBA thus yet remains to achieve its goal. 


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