This document was prepared in June 1996 by the Narmada Bachao Andolan


Towards A Vision of a Just and Sustainable Development of the Narmada Valley


Part I : The Narmada  Valley




The Narmada is the longest west flowing river in the country, traversing  over 1300  kms through three states -, M.P.,  Maharashtra and Gujarat before it meets the sea. The discharge of the Narmada is said to be more than the combined discharge of the Sutlej and the Beas. It is certainly the most important river valley for the central and western India.


The plans to “develop” the river have been in  existence since many years. The first concrete plans for the series of large dams now planned on the river emerged sometime around 1946. Since then, these plans have gone through a series of interstate disputes,  changes and transformation. Today, the grandiose Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) consists of 30 big dams, 135 medium dams and over 3000 “small” dams on the river and its tributaries. These include the two gigantic projects Sardar Sarovar, (SSP)  in Gujarat and the Narmada Sagar (Indira Sagar)  in M.P. Except for the SSP all the other project are in Madhya Pradesh.


The   NVDP has been in existence for at least a few decades, and certainly since 1979 when the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) gave its Award, fixing the heights of the SSP and NSP and the shares of the Narmada waters of the party states. However, even 16 years after the Tribunal Award, the implementation of the NVDP and the two mega projects in particular, is woefully slow.


Only two of the big dams, Tawa and Bargi have been completed, and a few medium ones like Sukta, Barna. Some medium ones like Man, Jobat are nearing completion. However, even in cases where dams have been completed, the projects have not. In Bargi, for example, the dam has been completed, but the canals are ready for only a negligible area.  The SSP dam work has been suspended since year and  a half. The work on the NSP, Maheshwar and Omkareshwar dams - the kingpin of the NVDP - has never really taken off mainly due to the inability to resolve with the two issues - of severe financial  crunch and massive displacement.  The international funding agencies too are keeping away from the Narmada.


Today, there are now serious doubts about even the very feasibility of the completion of the NVDP. In fact, the state of Gujarat is basing its plans for the SSP on this - that Madhya Pradesh is never going to be able to use its share of water, which then would accrue to Gujarat.


It is not too difficult to see the reasons for  this state of affairs.


The Development Paradigm of  NVDP


The    NVDP is clearly based on a development paradigm that was  dominant during the time it evolved - i.e.  the 40’s  and the 50’s . This development paradigm  has some very characteristic features, many of which are directly responsible for the state of affairs today. These include :


·        Water to be collected in centralized storage  and then distributed through extensive canals

·        Large scale/ mega projects with massive storage

·        Oriented towards commercial energy

·        Whole outlook was how to use all the water that is “going waste”

·        Enormous social and environmental impacts, many which society was supposed to absorb (“some one has to sacrifice for the development”, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg” principle)

·        Massive and ever- escalating financial outlays

·        Uncertainty, over-estimation and concentration of benefits



The Impacts, and Need For an Alternative


A direct result of all the above has been the increasing financial unviability of projects, the severe time and cost overruns, floundering projects, projects that can’t take off and projects that get stuck half way because of financial problems.


On the other hand has been the trail of destruction and human misery that the projects have left behind, as they have displaced lacs of people, disintegrating families, hamlets, villages and whole communities, destroying well established economic support systems and even whole cultures. Mounting antagonism against these large dams has been the result, as those ousted and those to be ousted are no longer willing to take the injustice lying down. And so we have the emergence of strong resistance movements, which are bound only to grow, not diminish. A new phenomenon is the emergence of organised protest and struggle for justice that is taking place around projects that have been completed long back . The ongoing struggles of the oustees of Tawa and Bargi dams, displaced between two to half a decade back are a case in point showing clearly that nowhere has just and proper rehabilitaltion or resettlement been achieved. This resistance is bound to get stronger and more bitter, more aggressive, as more and more projects, involving more and more displacement are sought to be brought on line.


The rising consciousness among the people, the Government and other institutions about the environmental impacts of such projects has also made it difficult for these projects to get clearances from the environmental angle.


Further, serious doubts have been raised about the very rationale of these projects - i.e. - their benefits themselves. Accumulating volumes of evidence show that the benefits of these projects always tend to be overestimated, and the cost, including financial, under-estimated. The project benefits are almost invariably distributed in   an inequitable manner, so much so that these projects (like the SSP) have been described as “State funded creation of  inequity”. Large irrigation systems are resultting in waterlogging and salinisaiton of the very lands that they were supposed to benefit. Further, it has pulled the farmers firmly in to the orbit of “chemical agriculture”, whcih is slowly but surely destroying ther fertility of the land, and on the other side, pushing the farmers heavily in to debt.


The  whole NVDP seems to have stagnated, and there is little chance of it being able to move ahead, if today’s plans persist, given the fact that all the above mentioned factors are likely to accentuate.


Thus, to be able achieve any realistic progress in  the Narmada Valley, there is an urgent need to formulate alternative plans, plans that will avoid the above constraints, and will thus allow for a speedy, sustainable and equitable development of the Narmada  Valley.


Such an Alternative Framework Of Development For The Narmada Valley is possible. However, it would mean a significant departure from the type of plans that constitute the NVDP, though many - even most - of  the ideas, technologies for this are nothing new and have been a part of what even the Government has been advocating - albeit - in a piecemeal manner, over the past decade or so at least.


Principles/ Goals of the New Paradigm


The goals, or the principles on which the alternative model of development of the Valley would have to be based include :


·                    Sustainability, and Eco-enhancement

·                    Minimum or Negligible Displacement; No Uprootment

·                    Focus on the Prioritization of Use of Water (Drinking and Domestic Use, Cattle, Protective Irrigation, Commercial Crop/Local Industry, Industry -and Long Distance Transport, Ecological Functions)

·                    Equity

·                    Integrated Land-Water-Energy Management; and a “Farming systems” approach, rather than concentrating on one or two crops

·                    Decentralized Decision making structures, and Control in Hand of Local Community


Evolving The New Paradigm


The  major elements of the Alternative Plan based on the above goals are by now well known.  We strongly  argue  that comprehensive integrated watershed management and in-situ rain water harvesting, on an   extensive scale all over the valley, combined with groundwater development and small, and micro irrigation scheme can form the backbone of a just and sustainable development plan for the Narmada  Valley.


This would include the following elements :


·        Integrated Watershed Management

·        In-Situ Rain Water Harvesting Schemes, Soil Water Conservation

·        Large Scale Eco-Enhancement And Raising Of Carrying Capacity

·        Small And Micro Storage, Lift Irrigation Schemes

·        Groundwater Development And Utilization

·        Run Of The River Schemes On Tributaries

·        Decentralized Options For Energy Generation Including Biomass Based, Solar, Micro-Hydel Etc.


Really speaking, there is no longer anything “new” in this paradigm. Even the Government now states  all these principles as the basis of their development plans. Yet, it also persists with large scale mega projects as the central pillar of its plans. The need is to resolve this contradiction. The key shift is to see these not as just small add-ons, secondary to the large projects, but to see that a  combination of all the above implemented on  an extensive scale can form a comprehensive development plan for the Valley,  achieving  far better results at a far lesser cost. It is thus a matter of giving these technologies their legitimate role.


Moreover,  these technologies would have to be comprehensively integrated with conservation and efficiency measures like the following :


·        Conservation and Control of Wasteful Use of Water/Energy

·        More efficient Use  Water/ Energy

·        Priority to the Utilization of the irrigation Potential already created, for which large parts of the financial, social and environmental costs have already been paid.

·        Severe Control on Pollution of Water resources

·        Industries to recycle and reuse their water to the full extent possible


Further, for the time being, some elements of conventional technologies which are relatively benign may also be incorporated in the plan, on a transitional basis. These may include :


·        High head pumped storage schemes

·        Gas  based power stations


Emerging Consensus


A consensus is slowly but surely building up that  such an approach is necessary,  is possible, and in fact, inevitable.


For example, the Planning commission of India initiated in 1988 an exercise called The Agro Climatic Regional Planning. This exercise divided the Country [Planning commission, 1989]  “into 15 Regions delineated on the basis of commonality of  agro-climatic factors like soil type, rainfall, temperature, water resources, etc. ...In this innovative approach based on agro-climatic zones, an overall development profile of each region is formulated through an optimal mix of land stock management, crop production, animal husbandry, aquaculture,  horticulture, forestry and agro-processing industry.” The Planning Commission exercise also made it clear that “A farming system approach at the disaggregated level, rather than the traditional crop production approach is being attempted.”


The Narmada  Valley falls into four  of these 15 zones .


Zone VII : Eastern Plateau and Hill Region (Districts[1] Shahdol, Balaghat, Durg)

Zone VIII : Central Plateau and Hills Region (Including Districts Mandla, Jabalpur, Narsingpur, Raisen, Hoshangabad, Chindwara, Sagar, Sehore, Betul)

Zone  IX : Western Plateau and Hill Region (Districts Dhar, Khandwa, Jhabua, Khargone (all M.P.) and Dhule, Maharashtra)

Zone XIII : Gujarat Plains and Hills Region (Vadodara, Bharuch )


The report then goes on to describe in detail the development strategies for these regions.


For Zone VIII, the Report says  (Page 79):


“3.98                The undulating topography, underdeveloped irrigation potential, and a large proportion of area under rainfed farming suggest water conservation, crop diversification, ground water development and input supplies services to be the thrust areas for proper development and growth of this zone”.


Similarly, for Zone XIII (Pg. 89) :


“In view of nearly 76 % being rainfed farming, the major thrust should be on rainwater harvesting and management, dryland farming, canal and groundwater management”.


Further on, the report emphasizes in detail the role, importance and need for integrated watershed management, minor irrigation including groundwater development, crop planning as the key thrust areas.


The Planning Commission report is presented as it represents an exercise by the highest planning body in the Country. However, numerous authors, papers and field workers are now converging towards a similar point of view. 


Issues For Discussion


While many of the above ideas are increasingly gaining all round acceptance, they still need to be integrated and formulated into comprehensive plans covering the large areas like the Narmada  Valley. In  terms of evolving the specific plans, the following issues will have to be discussed:


·        Steps in Evolving Detailed plans for the Valley, and the sub-regions within it

·        Preliminary Quantification, Outline Plans

·        Criteria for Evaluation of the Alternative Plan[2]

·        How to make this kind of planning into a people’s initiative and people’s movement



Narmada Bachao Andolan,  B 13 Flats, Ellora Park, Baroda 390 007 Phone (0265) 38 22 32   Fax : c/o (0265) 330 430 Attention NBA 38 22 32


2 June, 1996






Ahmed  Matin. 1991, Kabir Path Pumped Storage Scheme .Private  Conversation on  the     proposals presented by him as Engineer-in-Chief,  Irrigation     Ministry, Govt. Of MP


Asian Development Bank. 1989. Rainfed Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific Manila, Asian Development Bank.


Giri S.V., 1989. “Rainfed Agriculture Indian Experience”. In Asian Development Bank. 1989. Rainfed Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific Manila, Asian Development Bank.


Khanna S.S., 1989. “Rainfed Agriculture in India”. In Asian Development Bank. 1989. Rainfed Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific Manila, Asian Development Bank.


M.P. State Land Use and Wasteland Development Board (Government of Madhya Pradesh), 1992. Proceeding of the Second Meeting and Some Selected Papers on Land Management. Bhopal, Government of M.P.


Planning Commission , (Government of India ), 1989. Agro-Climatic Regional Planning - An Overview.  New Delhi ,Government of India.[KWD1] siaAaaaaa

[1] Only Districts falling in the Narmada Valley are mentioned. The zone may include other districts also.

[2] The approach outline above cannot be necessarily quantified in the terms of the conventional parameters like “area irrigated”, “command area” “total consumptive use of water” etc., though some of these could be quantified for parts of the plan. However, the approach represents a totally different paradigm, involving increase in the carrying capacity, and thus, the parameters needed to quantify and evaluate this would be different.