The controversial Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on the Narmada River is planned to be the largest and most expensive multipurpose river project ever to be initiated in India. The project is supposed to irrigate 1.8 million ha. of land (see Map 1), supply drinking water to 40 million people, and create an installed capacity of 1450 MW of power, over the next thirty years (Raj 1992: 11). While proponents of the project label it as "the most studied river valley project in India", reality seems to lag far behind rhetoric. This booklet takes a look at the possible environmental impacts of the SSP in the context of the requirements and conditionalities laid down by the Government of India for such projects, examines the lack of a comprehensive EIA, the status of environmental studies related to the project, and the lapse of environmental clearance for the SSP.
The highlights of the environmental case against the SSP can be summarized thus:
The project authorities are thus currently pushing full steam ahead on a project, whose environmental impacts (such as can be assessed) are unclear or unknown, whose conditional environmental clearance has effectively lapsed, for which critical studies remain incomplete, and which has the possibility of destroying vast stretches of agricultural land.
Our analysis of the environmental impact of the SSP is limited by the fact that several studies and documents which the authorities claim to have prepared are not publicly available. In addition, the magnitude of several impacts are unknown due to lack of studies. Finally, several environmental impacts are essentially unquantifiable, often because of the large number of uncertainties involved and the lack of a system to measure such impacts (e.g. microclimatic changes resulting from reservoir filling and large-scale irrigation). Such impacts are almost always neglected in cost-benefit analyses, but often carry large environmental and associated social costs. This analysis is therefore based on the limited documentation which is available on the SSP, on available experience of other projects, and on our own field observations.