NBA Press Release
  16 August 2004
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Sardar Sarovar Dam Overflows as Main Canal Ruptures:
Earthquake also registered near reservoir

62, Mahatma Gandhi Road,
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Tel: 07290-22464

While the dam overflow has gained international headlines, it has been little reported in the press that on the morning of August 3rd, the Narmada Main Canal-the "lifeline of Gujarat," which is supposed to bring Narmada waters into the state-was severely breached and broken in two places. Near Bhorda and Moti Uni villages in Pav Jetpur Taluka, nearly 50 metres of canal caved in due to pressure from flood waters coming from the cross-cutting Heran River. The floodwaters are supposed to flow under the canal to the western side through a tunnel, which became blocked with silt. As a result, the floodwaters crashed through the Main Canal, submerging villages Bhorda, Mota Uni, Rajbodeli, Moradongri, Chundheli, and Panej, causing crores of rupees in destruction of houses and standing crops.

On the night of August 10th, yet another breach occurred in the Narmada Canal near Kadi, sending water into ten villages (in Viramgam and Dholka Talukas, Ahmedebad District), and forcing the evacuation of 2,000 people on tractors during the night. The flooding was the result of a burst check dam on the canal after heavy rains for the fifth consecutive day.

This past week's pouring monsoon rains has called into serious question both the safety of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, and the integrity of its claimed benefits. On August 6, 1 lakh cusecs of water began tumbling over the newly raised 110.64 metre dam wall at Kevadia Colony, Gujarat. In less than four days, the water level had risen from just below 100 metres, to the dam-topping 113 metres. This alarming and uncontrollable deluge of water prompted the Gujarat government to put three districts-Narmada, Bharuch, and Vadadora-on high alert and prepared for the possibility of an evacuation. In Bharuch, the government obtained rescue boats and life-jackets and asked for a column of the army to be sent to the potential disaster zone. Luckily, the water level has temporarily stabilized at over 112 metres. However, the monsoon season is far from over and rains continue to fall heavily in the catchment area.

This serious rupture in the Narmada Main Canal-which could take months to repair-means that, contrary to the boasts of Chief Minister Modi and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL), no water will be reaching beyond this point in the canal, and certainly won't provide relief to drought-prone areas or rejuvenate North Gujarat rivers anytime soon. Furthermore, it is clear that this breach on August 3rd, and the subsequent inability of the government to divert floodwaters into the canal, was partly responsible for the dangerous situation that emerged on August 6th, with the overflowing waters of the dam threatening downstream villages.

In yet one more alarming occurrence, yesterday, August 11th, an earthquake of 3.4 on the Richter scale was felt in the town of Sondwa in Alirajpur District of Madhya Pradesh, an area coming under serious submergence by the Sardar Sarovar reservoir. The tremor, coinciding with the greatest-yet impoundment of water behind the Sardar Sarovar Dam, suggests the possibility that it was reservoir induced-a phenomenon known to happen with large dams in seismically active areas. Geologists have pointed out that the Sardar Sarovar is located in a seismically active zone, and questioned the project's safety. As the reservoir gets bigger-with the governments trying to push the dam up towards its full planned height of 138.64 metres-the danger of an earthquake causing a catastrophic break in the dam wall will increase.

Thus, under the test of a strong monsoon, the Sardar Sarovar Dam is revealing not only its destructiveness of upstream villages, but also its unreliability and dangerousness for the downstream villages of Gujarat. An inquiry must be made into the safety aspects of the dam, including the building practices that led to the canal rupture, and the dangerous overflow. The NBA maintains that in addition to its unacceptable social and environmental costs, the dam is technically flawed and unsafe, and should not be built beyond its present height.

Yogini Khanolkar

Ashish Mandloi