Today water scarcity is a huge environmental issue in the developing south, for example Gujarat in India suffers from drought one out of every 4 years, which has caused prolonged and significant damage to crops, livelihoods, cattle and human health. With increasing water scarcity across the globe many nations have turned to dams to not only provide ‘the answer to water scarcity’ (Mehta, 2011) but also to provide renewable energy by way of hydropower.
The Narmada River basin provides water for four states in India, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and to maximise the potential benefits of the water available the Narmada Valley Development Programme was implemented. Before this only 10% of available water was being utilised, the development also aimed to settle disputes over ownership between the four states (Gupta, 2001). The development involves more than 3,000 dams being used to control the Narmada River and its 41 tributaries. Of all the projects that make up this vast development, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has received by far the most attention.
Since the construction of the SSP began again in 2006 after an 18 month halt, the interests of local people have been evaluated more closely, and interestingly many locals have different views and experiences of the project. Many problems arise concerning the displacement of locals due to flooding caused by the submergence of land relative to the dam; many locals have been displaced without rehousing or compensation (Leech, 2009). The government have tried to legitimise the dispossession that has been taking place over the 33 years since the construction of the dam began by essentially promoting loss; they claimed that for every one person displaced, one hundred more will benefit from the dam terms of the power generated and the increased means for irrigation (Randolph, 2010).
It is clear here that there is a discrepancy between local wellbeing and government aims; that meeting the needs of the whole is more important than the needs of some of the individuals that make up that whole. It has to be said though, benefits of the project have been delivered far and wide, the project is expected to provide drinking water to 18 million people, and the dam itself has the capacity to generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity and would allow for the irrigation of vast amounts of land. Most importantly perhaps and arguably what the project was built for is its aim to make the area less vulnerable to drought, which is clearly very valuable in a drought prone area.
Evidently the problem here is the conflict between achieving the ‘greater good’ and meeting the immediate needs of the individual, and in this case the pressure to satisfy the larger population is being prioritised. So understandably it becomes very hard to identify the extent to which certain projects are beneficial or detrimental, and sometimes the line between justice and injustice is very blurred.
Mehta, L. 2011. The social construction of scarcity: the case of water in western India. In Peet, R., Robbins, P. And Watts, M. (eds). Global Political Ecology. London: Routledge, pp. 371-386.
Gupta, R.K., 2001. River Basin Management: A Case Study of Narmada Valley Development with Special Reference to the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, India. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 17 (1), pp. 55-7.
Randolph, E., 2010. India protest over Narmada dam builds awareness of rights. Available from: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/indian-protest-over-narmada-dam-builds-awareness-of-rights#page2 [Accessed 19 March 2012].
Leech, K., 2009. The Narmada dambusters are wrong. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2009/mar/03/india-narmada-dams?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 19 March 2012].
International Rivers, 2009. India [photograph]. Available from: http://www.internationalrivers.org/ south-asia/india [Accessed 19 March 2012].