Milestone or landmark ?
The Narmada case in historical perspective

Jai Sen

The Supreme Court began its final set of Hearings on the Sardar Sarovar case on February 29. The Court is to decide on a case filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in 1994, asking for a comprehensive review of the project and for a complete suspension of construction of the project pending the Court's decision. After first complying with this request, the Supreme Court in an interim order in February 1999 allowed the project authorities to go ahead with bringing the height of the dam up to an even 85 metres, from the 80.5 metres it was at the centre of the wall and higher at the two sides. This has now been completed. The final planned height of the Sardar Sarovar dam is 163 m, and so the dam itself is only just over half built. (This is therefore contrary to the impression that has been given out by the project authorities and the government of Gujarat, that 'the project is 90% complete why not let us finish it now, since more of the funds have already been invested it is a waste of public money if we do not'.)

And just as in the case of the dam wall, so also with the submergence, but only more so : Only 18-20 percent of the total planned submergence area has so far been flooded, and although it is a fact that some 7-10 thousand families have now already been thereby displaced, the vast majority of the total nearly two lakhs of people (some 40 thousand households) threatened with displacement are still in place. So again, only a part of the planned displacement has so far taken place. This remaining population includes both hill Adivasis living in the rugged hills on both sides of the river as well as the more prosperous Patidar farmers and traders living further upstream in the Nimar part of the Narmada valley.

In many senses, and at many levels, this final set of Hearings and the Final Orders that the Bench responsible has reportedly been instructed to definitely now issue constitute nothing less than a historic juncture. This is a time when it is very important to take a step back and to look with some perspective at the case, at the wide range of issues that have been raised by the contestation that has led to this case and by the case itself (both explicitly and also between the lines), and not least at what we expect of the Supreme Court. Most basically, the contestation and the case raise fundamental issues of social justice, of the meaning and entitlements of citizenship itself, and of governance. The Court has had opportunities like these before, and it unfortunately has to be said that it has not always lived up to expectations such as in the case of the Bombay Pavement Dwellers' Case in 1981, decided in 1985. Today, it has another chance.

This article is an attempt in this direction. It tries to concern itself not with the technical details of the project, or of the case at hand, but with some of the larger issues that are involved. In a separate article, I discuss what I understand to be some of the central issues that have been raised in the course of this experience. Here, I attempt to examine why, and in what ways, this could be considered to be a 'historic juncture'.

One simple reason for this is that it will be a milestone in a contestation that has now gone on for a full forty years now ever since 1960-61. The question is whether the Orders passed by the Court will be a landmark, in what this article will try and show has been a very rich terrain of contestation, or whether they will remain as just one more milestone in a long journey.

It is now fairly commonly known that the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) took shape some 10-15 years ago, and it is therefore quite commonly assumed that the mid 80s marked the beginning of contestation around the Sardar Sarovar project (or 'the Narmada project', as it is often referred to though incorrectly, since the Sardar Sarovar dam is in fact only one of a very large number of dams proposed to be built on the Narmada river). This is not so. Struggle and contestation around the project in fact started almost immediately after the dam was proposed in 1960.

The first round of contestation took place from 1961 onwards, after Gujarat immediately after the state was formed, in May 1960, following the fractious partition of Bombay state into Maharashtra and Gujarat proposed a high dam at the present site in place of a more modest dam that had till then been proposed by the Central Water Commission (CWC), a little further downstream. This was accompanied by a plan to draw off a substantial portion of the river's waters, to flow through central Gujarat into the drought-prone western parts of the state, Kachch and Saurashtra. Madhya Pradesh, which would have borne the brunt of the inundation caused by the massive reservoir that would be formed but which, more importantly, had prepared its own plans for a high dam on the river, challenged this plan. This led to inter-state negotiations for a decade and then the referral of the case to the Narmada Waters Disputes Tribunal under the Interstate Water Disputes Act in 1969. The Tribunal in turn took a further decade to give its award, in 1979.

To understand what is at stake at the Supreme Court today, it is crucial to first understand that Gujarat's proposal was as much a statement of identity, hope, and ambition by the new state and its ruling sections in short, a political, nationalist, idea - as it was a technical plan. The state had emerged out of a highly contentious struggle (where Gujrati ruling classes had failed in their attempt to claim Bombay as part of the new state, on the argument that it had been built by Gujrati mercantile capital), and the new rulers were keen to develop their new state as rapidly as possible, not least to prove themselves. Water was an essential resource in this ambition, especially since almost all other major rivers into the state had dried up and since the Narmada was a large river and was till then 'untapped'.

The politicians of the state quickly appropriated and deployed this idea, and made the Sardar Sarovar project an important symbol of the future and prosperity of the state. There was also strong historical meaning to the idea, and for the demand for water, the most important being the very widespread popular memory among Gujratis of the chhappaniya drought (that took place in 1895, which was 2056 in the Vikram Samvad) a disaster that led to mass out-migration, across the country and even across the seas, to Kenya and elsewhere. Starting from Bhailal Patel from the mid-late 60s, the leader of the Swatantra Party in the state (and who had earlier been Chief Engineer for the Bhakra dam in Punjab, one of independent India's first 'temples of modern India') and who successfully mobilised farmers in south Gujarat in support of the proposal and came within a few seats of power in the state, the Sardar Sarovar project was then successively taken up by almost all political leaders in the state. The best known today was Chimanbhai Patel, forced out of office in the 1974 by the Navnirman movement on charges of corruption but who then came back to power in the 80s by, among other platforms, championing the cause of the project. Observers such as Achyut Yagnik have pointed that no leading politician in Gujarat would have been able to survive in these past decades without advocating the project. As is evident, Gujarat named the project itself after one of its most important modern personalities, Sardar Patel; and it is no accident that Chimanbhai Patel was then given the title of Chhota Sardar.

Literally generations of Gujratis have therefore grown up knowing the project as a key icon in the political-cultural life of the state. But this icon was not only 'water for water-starved Saurashtra and Kachch' an idea that has been deftly used by successive politicians and also planners in the state. It was then also expanded to be, one by one, 'water for the farmers of south and central Gujarat', then 'water for industries', and then 'water for the urban masses'. It is no accident at all that the route of the canal ostensibly taking the waters of the Narmada to Kachch and Saurashtra ran right through precisely those districts where already prosperous Patel farmers were concentrated : Baroda, Khera, Ahmedabad, and Mahesana districts; and which would therefore make them the actual prime beneficiaries of the project. It was also no accident that soon after the dam started coming up, in the 80s, the state government started giving licenses for water-intensive industries to be located in southern Gujarat, near the dam site and canal head. And then the urban masses were also made a constituency for this symbol, when the planners declared without computing the demand that the same water which was meant to serve the water-starved areas of the state (and also farmers, and also industries) would also serve most of the cities and towns of the state. Accompanied by massive and sustained propaganda over decades, it should be no surprise at all that the Sardar Sarovar project is such a powerful symbol in the state.

But the building of a high dam also meant the inundation of large tracts of land somewhere, and this did not go unnoticed. By locating the dam near the border with Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat proposed a huge reservoir for the dam in its neighbouring state, flooding out large parts of the rugged hilly valley immediately east of the dam site and also large parts of the Nimar valley further upstream, where the valley is wider and the land very fertile. This was not the only case where this had taken place : In the case of the Ukai dam that Gujarat had built over the Tapti river (a little further south than the Narmada), completed in the mid 60s, the reservoir had stretched deep into what by then was the state of Maharashtra. This arrangement obviously had its inconvenient aspects administratively, and as Jashbhai Patel has pointed out, almost overnight and without the knowledge of the people living in the area - the area surrounding the Ukai reservoir was transferred to Gujarat; and where today, on maps and perhaps also symbolically, it is a long finger poking into north-western Maharashtra.

It seems at least plausible that Gujrati planners and politicians saw the proposed Sardar Sarovar reservoir in the same way. But the state of Madhya Pradesh and local citizens did not. They started resisting the reservoir but in very different ways. At a time when informing local people of what was going to happen to their lives was not even on the horizon, and when it was assumed by all that governments acted in the public's interest, it was the state government that first resisted the proposals. At both the CWC and then to the Khosla Committee that was set up by the central government in the early 60s to resolve the dispute, the state government proposed an alternative plan that instead of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh be permitted to build a high dam across the river but within the state, at a village named Harinphal. The impact on the river valley and its people would have been much the same, but the control would had lain with the planners and politicians of the state.

But the issue was then also taken up at the popular level, when Rameshwar Patidar, then a lawyer based in the regional town of Kalghat (and till recently a BJP Member of Parliament), mobilised local Patidar farmers and traders who stood to lose their lands. Setting up a Narmada Bachao, Nimar Bachao Samiti ('Save Narmada, Save Nimar Committee'), he campaigned extensively through the regional papers and also organised rasta roko and other actions, demanding a lower height to the dam so that Nimar was not submerged. In some ways (in terms of tactics and of course name) a forerunner in the area to the Narmada Bachao Andolan that we now know so well, this was the first civil campaign to take place in Madhya Pradesh around the project and the first proposal, perhaps, that a lower dam be built and less submergence take place.

One common aspect of all these proposals was that they all paid no regard at all to the fact that substantial number of communities of Adivasis who lived at the dam site itself and in the hilly stretch of the Narmada valley just east of the proposed dam site, in the Vindhya and Satpura hills between which the river runs. (In the government of Gujarat's planning reports, it was reported that there was little or no human habitation at all in the region.) As has been documented by social scientists like Vidyut Joshi and Amita Baviskar, this hilly stretch remained 'remote' and 'inaccessible' for outsiders, and was therefore ignored and left neglected, right up to the 60s. (Baviskar has recorded that the first time that a Collector of Jhabua district visited the village of Anjanwara after independence, was in 1993 and then only to persuade the villagers to peaceably vacate their village, as required by the project.) The Adivasis themselves lived self-sufficient subsistence lives, only marginally relating to the market economy of the outside world. Their conception of this outside world is reflected in their term for non-Adivasi outsiders, bazariya. But in terms of the project, as far as all the actors mentioned so far therefore, the Adivasis might as well not have existed, for all of them accepted that the hilly stretches could be flooded out.

But this did not mean that the Adivasi community did not react at all. Indeed, in terms of timing the very first opposition to the project came from Adivasis who were living in the area that was appropriated for the dam site and for the township to be built for the babus who would oversee the construction of the dam; and for the helipad where the Prime Minister of the country would land, to come and lay the foundation stone for yet another 'temple of modern India'. As is still the standard practice in independent India, the inhabitants of six villages were forcibly and summarily evicted from their homes under the powers of the Land Acquisition Act, a powerful colonial relic offering the state so-called 'eminent domain' the power to appropriate private or common land in the public interest. They were offered paltry compensation as recompense.

As was common also in non-Adivasi communities at that time, in the case of this project and others, most of the villagers gave in, and entered (not accepted) the destitution and homelessness that accompanies such a situation. But some decided to resist the massive injustice they found themselves facing, refused the 'compensation', and held out by continuing to occupy whatever portions of their lands they could retain; and to protest, demanding more respectable price for their land. They were not able to resist their eviction, but they could resist the immorality of the situation. Some even tried filing a court case, which however lapsed when they found they could not afford to go to the district headquarters as often as was required.

Twenty years later, when the Narmada Waters Disputes Tribunal gave its award which included provisions for resettlement and rehabilitation for 'project-affected people' (PAPs) they were again cruelly cheated by bureaucratic fate : For this time, the award was given only to those displaced for the reservoir, not for the dam or the township, and also not for villages located in Gujarat. And today, a full forty years later, a small residual group led by Mooljibhai Karabhai Tadvi, or 'Mooljikaka' as he is locally known, who is also the Sarpanch of Kevadia Colony, continues its struggle against the injustice they have suffered. In these years, the world around them has totally changed, and among the changes they have seen the growth of powerful civil movements which have challenged the project on much more fundamental grounds. But this group has maintained an independent position, allying with subsequent phases of movement and protest over the intervening years only occasionally and only on tactical grounds.

It was the resistance offered to the Sardar Sarovar project by Madhya Pradesh through the 60s however, that forced Gujarat to refer the project to the central government, then led by Indira Gandhi and where Gujarat expected, according to Rameshwar Patidar, that she would rule in its favour, after taking into account the political equations existing at that time. Patidar's recall is that it was this possibility that impelled his organisation into directly lobbying the Prime Minister, and that it was their intervention (and threat of popular mobilisation against her government) that forced her to not take a decision herself but to refer the matter to arbitration in 1969, under the NWDT.

The announcement of the Tribunal's award, which approved Gujarat's proposal of a high dam, took place ten years later, in 1979. By this time the political equations had completely turned around, and therefore the dynamics of protest. Morarji Desai from Gujarat was now Prime Minister, heading a coalition government that included the BJP that had been formed by then. This led Rameshwar Patidar and the erstwhile NBNBS to lie low, and it was now the turn of the Congress-I in Madhya Pradesh to protest the high dam and to demand a lower dam. Led by a body calling itself the Nimar Bachao Samiti, which had political stalwarts such as Arjun Singh and Motilal Vohra in the leadership, the clearly political agitation again mobilised the Patidar farmers and traders of the Nimar area, this time against the award.

Though colourful, this was an even briefer campaign than the one ten years earlier, and it petered out as soon as political equations once more changed at centre and state levels, and Arjun Singh became Chief Minister. But the significant fact remained that the Patidars of the Nimar valley had once again been reminded of the project, and once again been mobilised. With different members of the community by this time aligned with either the BJP or the Congress, this meant even if they were not necessarily aware of this, a powerful constituency had been built by the mainstream political parties within the Narmada valley of well-settled and propertied people who were aware of the threat that the Sardar Sarovar project posed to the prosperous lives that they enjoyed in Nimar. It remained for astute organisation by a non-party civil activist some years later to bring out the full potential of this mass base.

It was in fact only after this time from 1979-80 - that the civil mobilisation that we today think of in terms of the Narmada valley, was built up. This work was started first in Gujarat, by a civil organisation named Vahini ARCH (an amalgam of activists from the state Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini and of health workers from ARCH, standing for 'Action Research in Community Health'). Encouraged by senior civil activists in Gujarat to take up the problems that local people were beginning to face as a consequence of construction of the dam in the early 80s, they built strong community organisation among the nineteen Adivasi villages in Gujarat faced with submergence. As mentioned above, the NWDT award had omitted mention of entitlements for villages in Gujarat affected by the dam. Vahini ARCH (later to rename itself ARCH Vahini) mobilised the villagers to demand equal rights of resettlement and rehabilitation as people from other states affected by the project as well as entitlements for major sons and for so-called 'encroachers' Adivasis who had been cultivating common forest lands for generations but had no papers to prove this.

It was only some years after this that similar work was taken up in the villages of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh that were affected by the project. In Madhya Pradesh, some concerned citizens social and political workers, journalists, and others - formed the Narmada Ghati Navnirman Samiti in the early 80s, but this initially remained a limited and low key initiative. And in Maharashtra, it was in fact activists from an organisation based in Ahmedabad, SETU, who took the first initiatives of mobilising people affected by the project.

Starting in 1985, Medha Patkar and other SETU activists took up the task of building organisation among the 33 villages in the state that were to be affected by the project. With strong support from state and national-level networks of concerned people socialists in Maharashtra, the Lokayan network at the national level the activists first built the Narmada Dharangrast Samiti in Maharashtra, demanding adequate resettlement measures and also information on the project. Crossing the Narmada to the Madhya Pradesh side a year later, Patkar who had by then left SETU and was working independently but in association with a growing support network in various parts of the country, mobilising the social capital that she and SETU had built till then realised both the need and the potential for mobilisation in this state as well. Gradually allying with some local organisations, such as the Khet Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Jhabua district, she also moved to revitalising the Narmada Ghati Navnirman Samiti. By 1987-88 she and other activists who had by then joined her in Maharashtra and then Madhya Pradesh had built the foundations of what was to become the major mass mobilisation in the Narmada valley that we now know as the Narmada Bachao Andolan. As an organisation, the NBA was formed only in 1989, through the merging of the NDS, the NGNS, and also the NASS the Narmada Asargrastha Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation the activists built up among disaffected sections in resettlement colonies in Gujarat.

The early demands of the NDS changed by 1987 to protest against the massive environmental destruction they saw being caused by the project, which the organisation saw as directly inimical to the livelihoods of the Adivasi communities that made up the organisation. This was also part of a wider protest over the project that was by then mounting in the metropolitan parts of the country, to a large part informed by grassroots organisations such as the NDS. It also took shape on account of exposure to the wider environmental movement that had by then taken shape across the world, including specifically on the disastrous impacts of large dams. And in September 1987, Patkar visited Washington DC at the invitation of US environmentalists, and aside from meeting officials and Executive Directors of the World Bank, she also learned firsthand of the substantial possibilities of using the Bank as an arena and even instrument of campaigning. She learned of the clout that environmental and other civil groups in the North had developed over Bank-funded projects, by bringing pressure on the Bank to conform to its policies (on the environment, on ethnic minorities, and on resettlement and rehabilitation, among others) and through this, of bringing pressure on national governments to at least moderate their projects.

By August 1988, when the organisation and its supporters had become aware of the true scale of displacement that the Sardar Sarovar project was going to cause far larger than the project authorities were willing to admit and they became convinced that proper resettlement for this huge population was in reality impossible, and moreover that the project authorities were insincere, they moved to taking a stand against the dam. By this time, they were also part of a wider groundswell against large dams, in India and across the world, which had resolved just two months earlier to oppose 'to assert collective will against' such projects, in meetings in San Francisco and in Anandwan, Maharashtra. It was in large part because of these dynamics, and of other related factors, that the NBA became the movement that we now know it to be. As others have also written, a major convergence of forces took place.

The Final Hearings that the Supreme Court is now scheduled to take up, therefore, marks a very important stage in this extremely sustained contestation and where, unlike most such extended contestations in the country, it has not only been inter-state but also between civil movements and the state.

While keeping in mind the history, it is necessary however to also note that the important changes and developments that have taken place in the contestation. First, the NBA has conducted campaigns that have been far more ambitious, intense, and sustained than the earlier civil initiatives. As a consequence they have faced far more intense opposition from the proponents of the project, vilification and also severe repression from time to time. But this has also been widely noticed, and protested, in India and abroad.

All this has contributed to the democratisation of project planning and implementation, at local, national, and international levels. This can be considered to be one of the NBA's most important contributions. They achieved this by forcing the creation of new political space at all these levels for the Adivasis and Patidars and for civil movement and the recognition of the notion that society and civil actors have a crucial role to play in planning and governance in general. They did not achieve this alone the wide network of support they called on within the country played a vital role, and there were countless similar other struggles going on simultaneously in the country but the NBA has played an important role within this.

Second, a very crucial development that has taken place is the position that has been taken in Supreme Court by the government of Madhya Pradesh, that it is willing to forego the benefits it was due to get from the Sardar Sarovar project, that as a consequence the dam height can and should be reduced, and accordingly that the NWDT Award should be reviewed. The practical effect of this will be that a large part of the densely populated Nimar region of the valley would be spared, with its highly prosperous agricultural economy.

Though now backed by hard technical argument, this position is of course similar to the position of the NBNBS in 1969 and of the Nimar Bachao Samiti in 1979, and has more in common with these movements than with the position of its own predecessor governments in the 60s, who though also resisting the Sardar Sarovar project had not cared about the height of the dam across the river and its effects but only about who was to build and control it.

It is instructive also to think about why Madhya Pradesh has taken this position. Overtly, the state government would appear to have taken this position as a consequence of its realisation that the project is indeed causing widespread destruction, and of the intense and sustained pressure it has faced from the NBA and the pubic support that the movement has been able to generate, that its first duty must be to protest the people of the state. But it would not be cynical to also speculate, perhaps, that the government is also fully aware of the political value of fighting for a height of the dam that will save Nimar and its prosperous Patidar farming and trading communities, or at least a good section of it aside from whatever other merits a lower dam might have.

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has also astutely used the present conjuncture of political power in the states concerned (Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan the last having been brought in at the time of the NWDT because it was to receive a small share of the water). He took the occasion of a recent meeting of the Congress-I in Gujarat, attended also by the Congress Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, to repeat his call for a reduced height and received the support of the other two. Although the Rajasthan CM has since then gone back on this, using the usual plaint that he was misquoted, this also marks an important development in the debate. The Supreme Court has already gone on record to say that the NWDT Award of 1979 can indeed be re-opened but only if all four state governments party to the award agree to this. Although the courts are not supposed to take such political developments into account, it is at least possible that this particular one might indeed affect the outcome of the case in some ways.

Gujarat has steadfastly and absolutely opposed any such review and reduction. Although it has made substantial progress on the project it proposed forty years ago, the case and its outcome therefore marks a crucial watershed in its campaign for a high dam and for staking its claim as a state and as a people. A question that Gujarat might today wish to confront however, both in government and in civil society, is whether the proposal that the state and community made forty years ago, when the state had just taken shape, and the often shrill defence they have made of this proposal in subsequent years, behoves a mature people, at this stage, so many years later. Gujarat today is in a very different position than what it was in 1960. It may still need water, but the record shows that it has clearly managed so far to do so without and indeed, to manage very well and to build an extremely strong and vigorous economic base. Does Gujarat really require the same giant today as it did back then, either as a symbol or even for water ? Quite aside from other considerations, does the political ground reality in the state in relation to the project today really still require, or indicate, an adamant position ? What, on the other hand, would it stand to gain in both domestic and international arenas, if it were to now concede some ground ?

International dimensions


Finally, and beyond the above, it is also of no little importance to keep in mind that the outcome of this particular case could well have implications for similar situations across the world especially across the South. Large dams such as the SSP are being built right across the developing world. They are very major investments and large money-spinners, and have been so widely touted for decades as a basic foundation for national development that they themselves have become symbols for development of this nature. On the other hand, it is now widely accepted that they have been devastating the lives of tens of millions of people across the world. The stakes involved in the present hearings are therefore extremely high, both financially and in terms of the aspirations and lives of ordinary peoples, across the world.

Though jurisprudence in India has no legal standing in other countries, it is a fact that the issues and concerns that have been thrown up by the struggle around the Narmada project during the past two decades are widely known around the world. This is a consequence of the extremely extensive civil campaigns that were conducted internationally in solidarity with campaigns in India, especially the one undertaken by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which is of course well-known, and also with the parallel campaign in Gujarat by ARCH Vahini; and also because of the fundamental nature of the many issues that have been raised in the course of the civil movements in India and based on this, by the campaigns abroad.

What happens in India, and what India does, is and has been in any case of much interest to people (and governments) in many parts of the world, and especially since the 50s, in the context of decolonisation across the world and then of the Non-Aligned Movement, and because of the leading role that India played then. This continues to be the case today, in large part because India for all our other weaknesses remains, as Professor Ignacy Sachs has said, one of the 'whales' in the 'developing' world.

This is now also true of the civil world. The NBA has been at the crest of a wave of independent civil movements around environmental, developmental, social, and human rights issues that has risen in India and across the world. What the Narmada campaigns have done locally, nationally, and internationally - is to focus attention in such a way that 'Narmada' has become an icon, a symbol of the wider struggle for socially and environmentally sustainable development. This has been reflected in, among other things, the several international awards that the NBA has received.

In many ways, the NBA and the issues the campaign have raised have become symbolic of a much wider universe of concerns that have been raised, in India and internationally. Among many other consequences, the campaign has played a key role in precipitating policy reforms in institutions such as the World Bank -- public access to information on Bank-related matters; the rights of project-affected peoples to appeal to a semi-independent 'Inspections Panel', in cases where the Bank was at fault; and with regard to resettlement & rehabilitation. It also played a central role in triggering the subsequent formation in 1998 of the WCD (World Commission on Dams), which recently met in Delhi. This initiative to look at the very future of large dams is a collaboration of an international civil body, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), and the World Bank. This collaboration itself is considered pathbreaking by many, but certainly its consequences could be very wide.

This role of the Narmada campaigns in public and policy imagination internationally has been confirmed by my own research into the history of the campaigns in other countries. I have seen how widely the issue is known and how much respect people in many walks of life there have for what has taken place in India and for the issues that have been raised, from activists to journalists to members of Parliament. The outcome of the Narmada case is therefore likely to be of very wide interest indeed and therefore assumes a much wider historical responsibility than the next case.

Indeed, this is so much so that it is perhaps not at all too much to speculate that just as the courts in India periodically cite landmark cases from the House of Lords in Britain, or from the US Supreme Court (or from the courts in Australia, Canada, Nigeria, etc), it is likely that this particular case will also achieve that status. But to repeat - whether the case will be a landmark or merely another milestone will of course entirely depend on whether the judgement the Court arrives at addresses the more fundamental issues and the universal concerns that have been raised.

Jai Sen
Email : jai.sen@vsnl.com

This article was published in Mainstream, March 11 2000. It is based on research I have been doing over some years now on the movements and contestations around the Narmada project. I have had the privilege of meeting and interviewing a large number of people in the course of this research, many of whom have deeply influenced my thinking. Since this list is far too long to give here, I would like to express here a general and most sincere acknowledgement to all those who have helped me in this journey, in so many different ways. But I of course take full responsibility for the synthesis that I present here.
I also acknowledge here the support of the many institutions that have made this work possible. This includes the ICSSR (Indian Council of Social Science Research), New Delhi; the Centre for Social Studies, Surat; Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, UK; the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, Chicago, USA; the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi; and currently, the Ford Foundation, in New York and New Delhi; and also the many organisations who have given me a base to work from during field trips, in India and abroad.