The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which translates as “Save the Narmada Movement” kicked off around 1985, as a protest against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the River Narmada in Gujarat. The movement soon took the shape of a Non governmental Organization or NGO that brought together the tribal, the farmers, the environmental activists and the human rights activists against the Sardar Sarovar Dam that was being built on the River Narmada in Gujarat, a western State of India.
Initially, the focus of the movement was on saving the trees and the fauna that those opposing the dam felt would be submerged under the water, if the dam would be constructed. Recently, the NBA included a focus on the issue of rehabilitation of the poor people living around the area and this to be facilitated by the government.
The activities of NBA use peaceful methods to stage their protests and demonstrations. These include hunger strikes, garnering support of celebrities from the art and the film world and other such methods. The leading activists of the movement – Medha Patkar and Baba Amte, together received the Right to Livelihood Award in 1991 for their contribution to the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The River Narmada is the largest flowing river in the western part of India. It is a source of livelihood and sustenance for a large group of people. These include the tribals who live in the jungles in the vicinity and the people of the rural area around. Now this is a considerably high population that the River Narmada supports.
Studies say that the proposed Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Narmada Sagar Dam, will displace over 2, 50,000 people. Rehabilitation of the people and their resettlement is a major issue now that the activists and the people themselves are fighting for. Both these mentioned constructions are underway, and the government has in fact, taken a loan of about US $ 550 million from the World Bank. In spite of the protests, there are plans to construct some 3000 big and small dams along the same River.
The government and the authorities have their own stake in the project. This multi-core project will generate considerable revenue for the government. Those who support the project say that after the completion of the dam, one could expect the production of about 1450 mega watts of electricity as well as pure drinking water to meet the needs of about 40 million people or so from about thousand of villages and towns.
The protests do not seem to have achieved much. The construction of the some of these dams such as the Tawa Dam and the Bargi Dam are already done with. Those protesting against further construction say that these construction will adversely affect the lives of human as well as the biodiversity thriving in that region as they will take away acres and acres of agricultural as well as forests land. The livelihoods of innumerable people are bound to be adversely affected because of these constructions, believe the protesters. These activists have been demanding that the government look at alternative means to meet the water and energy needs that are also ecologically beneficial or at least, do not harm the ecology.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan today has support from NGOs world wide. There have been intensive media campaigns and peaceful protests by the protesters. This has also been pressure on the World Bank to withdraw its loan to the Government for the construction of these dams. Protests have been getting stronger with every attempt to ridicule them. Celebrities such as the popular Indian film actor Amir Khan has expressed his support to the protestors and in fact, has received much flak for it. In fact, the screening of his film ‘Fanaa’ (2006) was banned in Gujarat as there were fears of those against his stand disrupting the screening of his movie.
The intensity of the movement has in fact thrown light on other similar issues as well.