November 10, 2000

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Sheila Ghose (212) 627-465
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Narmada Solidarity Coalition Condemns Indian Supreme Court Go Ahead for Sardar Sarovar Dam

Protest demonstration held outside the Indian Consulate in New York city on Friday, November 10th.

Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York strongly condemns the majority (2-to-1) ruling on October 18th by the Indian Supreme Court allowing construction to resume on the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River. To protest this ruling, the Coalition and other sympathizers of people affected by the mega-dam gathered outside the Indian Consulate on Friday, November 10th. The protesters waved placards saying "Indian Supreme Court sentences 500,000 to poverty and despair" and "56 million people displaced by dams in India: leave Narmada alone!" and chanted slogans in Hindi and English in support of the people and against the dam project. The demonstration is part of a world-wide wave of protests against the court ruling; demonstrations have been held in San Francisco, Washington D.C. and London, among other places.

The ruling allows the height of the dam to be raised to 90 meters immediately and then in further five-meter stages based on approval from government committees which have shown themselves to be controlled by pro-dam interests. This is despite the Madhya Pradesh government's admission that it has not been able to provide agricultural land to 156 families (a number which is in fact a gross underestimate) whose land would be flooded if the dam reaches 90m. This means that construction up to 90m would violate the Narmada Tribunal Award which mandates that an affected family should be resettled a full year before their land is submerged.

The Sardar Sarovar Project is one of the world's most controversial dam projects and would forcibly displace more people than any other infrastructure project in the world except for China's notorious Three Gorges Dam. "Sardar Sarovar symbolizes an outdated and internationally discredited approach to water management," says Patrick McCully of the International Rivers Network. One of the claims to justify the building of the dam has been that it will provide water for irrigation in the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra in Gujarat. However, M.S.Patel, Secretary of Narmada (water resources and water supply) of the Gujarat government, has accepted that only 10%-12% of the entire cropped area will be irrigated by the dam.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) filed their case against Sardar Sarovar in 1994. The NBA presented the court with evidence showing that the project will not work as planned, that alternatives are available, that the necessary environmental studies have not been done, and that proper rehabilitation of the hundreds of thousands of people who would lose their livelihoods to the project is impossible. The NBA have for more than a decade led a mass campaign of non-violent resistance to the dam.

One of the three judges on the Supreme Court bench, Justice S.P. Bharucha, issued a dissenting opinion stating that construction should be stopped pending new environmental studies.

The court has given project authorities four weeks to draw up a plan for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the 200,000 people to be displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir. A resettlement plan for Sardar Sarovar was supposed to have been completed in 1981. How can we expect the Narmada Control Authority to draft a credible plan in a month, when they couldn't produce one in over a decade?

Several hundred thousand other people will lose - or have already lost their livelihoods to irrigation canals, housing for construction workers, the desiccation of the river downstream of the dam, and a wildlife reserve planned to compensate for the ecosystems to be flooded.

Narmada Solidarity Coalition of New York and Friends of River Narmada are volunteer-based international coalitions of individuals and organizations that provide a solidarity network for the Narmada Bachao Andolan which has been fighting for the democratic rights of the citizens of the Narmada Valley.

For more information and reactions on the Supreme Court judgment see