Narmada Dam (Gujarat, India): Analysis from a Sustainable Development Prospective
Envisioned for the construction of more than 3.000 dams of different sizes on the river Narmada, the Narmada Valley Development Project is a multi-purpose river valley development project (Nilsen, 2008). The Narmada river runs through one of the most poverty-stricken areas of India where paucity of clean drinking water is endemic (Bhalla and Mookerjee, 2001). Harvey says that the consequences of the establishment of the dams on the Narmada River is mainly to have access to the irrigation and electricity where the cost of this construction is submergence of land and displacement of local people from its origin (Harvey, 2003). This paper will analyze whether there has been a reconcilement of the environmental conservation and development needs of the society in case of Narmada Dam. More specifically this paper will critically analyze the project from the sustainable development perspective. This paper argues that there has been no effective reconcilement of the environment conservation and development needs in case of this project.
According to World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainable development means the handing down to following generations of not only man-made wealth but also natural wealth (soils, water, plants and animals) in ample amounts to ensure continuing progress to ensure quality of life (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). But when a development project fails to follow these rules, then that project can be anything but sustainable. Similar scenario can be detected in terms of this development project. The project is forcing its inhabitants to move away from their ancestral land which they are not willing to do. And even when they are being forced to move to some other place, they are not being provided with adequate monetary reconciliation which is hampering their livelihood and making them face a life full with uncertainty. People living in the area are scared of losing their ancestral jobs which revolves around the forest of the valley. These people are not at all happy about the the government trying to make them move the place leaving everything behind. As Dwivedi says in his article, “Displacement, Risks and Resistance: Local Perceptions and Actions in the Sardar Sarovar” that “Compensation for loss of jobs and other livelihoods in the reservoir area was not explicitly considered by the NWDT” (Dwivedi, 1999). People known as Pawra and Bhil adivasis living beside the River Narmada for generations, whose livelihoods and culture is entwined with the local ecology are the subject to the danger of removal that casts its shadow over the environment (Routledge, 2003). Because of the establishment of the dam people living in this area will be in a huge problem.
The dam not only will affect on the people near that area but will also have effect on the ecology and the environment of that surroundings. And what is most dangerous is the fact that the effect is so harmful that they are irreversible even with the most advanced technological intervention. Verma says, the dams have their own undesirable upstream and downstream impacts on environment. These adverse effects have long term and irretrievable loss of quality of human life and other creatures in the area (Verma, 2013). Earlier, before the establishment of the dam, the effect of the dam on the environment was not very fathomable but now according to Dwivedi, one of the respondents in his article says about the project that- the establishment of the dam would pollute water which would be totally unsuitable to drink, it would also give birth to various diseases such as Malaria and the land would be getting waterlogged (Dwivedi, 1999). The building of the dam is also affecting the soil of the environment of the basin and if the result of a development project ends up in severe soil erosion which can not be gotten back then it obviously does not fall under the category of sustainable development. Ahmad says that, The use of unplanned land practices and farming on marginal land in the Narmada basin are key factors for the degradation of the soil (Ahmad, 1999). Also, building of the dam is affecting the growth of crops and other botanical elements which can also be defined as the bad effect of the establishment of the dam. The establishment of the dam is going to disturb the table of the underground water. It will increase the salinity of the land and destroy the waterways that are already established. Also because these dams are being established people living on them are on the verge of changing their occupation because of the decline in water bodies. According to Judge, dams not only disturb flora and fauna physically but also it disturbs tables of the underground water, salinity of land and the waterways that are already established. Also, because of the establishment of dam people are displaced in a huge number from their habitat which leads to change in people’s dependence on the river as the water level declines (Judge, 1997). Because of these dams, various diseases are spreading which is being threat to the human health. If a the cost of a development project is the spread of disease then that development cannot be sustainable unfortunately. Apart from the environmental degradation, the people living in villages along the dam reservoir appeared to be at increased risk of exposure to mosquito bites and malaria as a result of the dam’s construction (Singh, Mehra & Sharma, 1999).
Also one of the result of building this dam is the occurrence of flood. During rainy season because of these dams floods are occuring which is flooding the villages and hampering the lives of people. As a result it is resulting in riverine ecosystem. It is not only declining forest but also agricultural lands on which people of that region are specifically depending to lead their life. The birth of earthquake is also the result of the establishment of these dams. The establishment of the dam has caused considerable environmental damage, which includes fragmentation of riverine ecosystems, decline of forest and agricultural land due to flooding, changes in usual flow patterns, alteration of soil erosion, failure of habitat for wildlife, and natural earthquake (Agoramoorthy & Hsu, 2008). Even though due to the establishment of the dam, short term benefit can be gained but the long term cost should be remembered when talking about sustainable development. According to Wood, environmentalists object building large dams because reservoirs submerge large amount of arable land, interrupts the natural flow of river, causes water logging, destroys the growth of crop through salinification (Wood, 1993). The development project would have been sustainable only if it would have acted fairly towards its actual habitants and reserved the forest areas.
As sustainable development means such kind of development where the need for present generation be met without compromising the need of future generation thus it can be said that due to the large amount of disadvantages of these dams on environment and people- the Naramada dam development project is not sustainable. Even though short term benefit is there for the project but long term benefit is something which should we focus on and since the dam does not focus on the long term benefit thus this project is not sustainable.
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