Narmada Bachao Andolan - Leader, Date, Objectives of Narmada Bachao Movement

By Shubhra Anand Jain|Updated : November 24th, 2022

Narmada Bachao Andolan was a mass movement against the government for constructing big and small dams along 1,312 km of the Narmada river from Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat under the Narmada Dam Project. The Narmada Bachao Movement was led by Medha Patkar and her colleagues in 1985, and various social activists supported andolan.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan had successfully mobilized people against the big dam projects since the late 1980s. The focal point of the Narmada movement was Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, which is one of the biggest dams on the Narmada river. Below you will learn about the Narmada Bachao Andolan, its origin, key features, the role of the World Bank in the Narmada Movement, and its results.

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What is Narmada Bachao Andolan?

Narmada Bachao Movement was an Indian social movement against constructing various dams across the Narmada River under the Narmada Dam Project. Originally, the movement was named Narmada Dharangrast Samiti for people affected by the lack of resettlement and rehabilitation due to submergence. 

Narmada Bachao Andolan PDF

Save the Narmada movement, or the Narmada Bachao Andolan, began in 1985. The Andolan was led by the local tribes, environmentalists, farmers, and activists that aimed to protest against the lack of proper rehabilitation and resettlement of the people dependent on the river for their living and livelihood after the construction and development of the Narmada Dam Project. Medha Patkar then filed a petition in the Supreme court. 

Narmada Bachao Andolan Leader

Narmada Dam was constructed over the Narmada river, resulting in submerging the villagers' land. In this project, 3000 small and big dams were built. One of the major dams, Sardar Sarovar Dam, was supposed to displace more than 25000 people. Seeing the effects, the most powerful mass movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan was led by Medha Patkar and her colleagues against the construction of the huge dams over the river in 1985 for rehabilitation or resettlement of the affected people.

Medha Patkar led the Narmada movement along with Baba Amte. It was also supported by several NGOs, local people, activists and writers like Arundhati Roy. 

Also, in 1991, Medha Patkar and Baba Amte, the leading spokesperson of the Narmada Bachao Movement, received the Right Livelihood Award. This campaign includes support from notable film and art personalities, rallies, hunger strikes, and court actions. The movement was joined by various NGOs, activists, and local people. The primary supporting committees were-

  • Maharashtra-Based Narmada Dharangrastha Samiti.
  • Madhya Pradesh-based Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti.
  • Gujarat-based Narmada Asargrastha Samiti.

Narmada River Andolan

Narmada River is the Indian peninsular's largest west-flowing river that flows through Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.

  • The river has a course of 1312 km and ends up in the Arabian sea after moving through rocky gorges, agricultural regions, hills, and lush forests.
  • This River System in India has 41 tributaries, which are surrounded by the mountain ranges of Maikal, Vindhya, and Satpura on three sides. In contrast, the fourth side merges into the Arabian Sea.

Along the Narmada river, more than 81% area of the surrounding includes villages and tribal populations consisting of Baigas, Gonds, Bhils, and people belonging to the primary occupation (agriculture) as the river is highly rich in natural resources. Sardar Sarovar Dam is one of the largest dams built on the Narmada river, which became a focal point for the Narmada Bachao Andolan. 

Features of Narmada Bachao Andolan

The key features of the Narmada Bachao Andolan are as follows-

  • Narmada, also called the Reva, is India's 5th longest river. After independence, the government called for the construction and development of the large, medium, and small dams on the river to aid local and national development.
  • It was proposed that two dams, Narmada Sagar and Sardar Sarovar, should be constructed.
  • The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal approved the Narmada Valley Development. The project included 3000 small dams, 135 medium dams, and 30 large dams. Also, it was suggested that the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam should be increased.
  • After the project's approval in 1985, Medha Patkar and her colleagues decided to visit the site. She noticed that the work for the project was being checked on orders of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
  • The construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam began in 1987. However, no information was collected about the people affected by the dam's construction. Perhaps, they were offered rehabilitation.
  • Seeing the condition of the people, the Narmada Bachao Andolan was organized in May 1990 by 2000 people. It was a five-day sit-in at PM's residence in New Delhi. As a result of this movement, PM reconsidered the Narmada Valley Development Project.
  • Also, 6000 women and men collectively began the Narmada People's Progress Struggle March in Dec 1990. In this Yatra, people marched over 100 KMs.
  • In January 1991, Baba Amte and his seven-member team started a 22-day-long hunger strike.
  • At last, in 1999, the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam started again. Its construction continued till 2006 and was inaugurated in 2017. The height of the project was increased to 163m.

Role of World Bank in Narmada Bachao Andolan

Narmada Project is one of India's most significant multipurpose river valley projects. The government requires funding for the construction of the dams. So, Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal gave clearance to the World Bank to begin construction on the Narmada Project. As a result, the World Bank, in 1985, agreed to finance the project.

  • It contributed $450 million to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
  • The protest led by Medha Patkar testified to the role of the World Bank in Washington, D.C, which increased pressure on the bank to withdraw itself from the project.
  • Later, World Bank announced that it would give an independent review of the project.
  • It resulted in the Morse Commission's establishment for human displacement, environmental cost, and dam construction in 1991.
  • In 1993, the participation of the World Bank was canceled.

Success of Narmada Bachao Andolan

Narmada Bachao Andolan aimed to bring justice to society. The Andolan won the Right Livelihood Award for its consistent non-violent struggle. The major highlights of the Narmada Bachao Andolan's success are as follows-

  • 1993 - Removal of the World bank from the Sardar Sarovar project.
  • 1994-99 - Halt of Sardar Sarovar construction.
  • 1999-2001 - Foreign investors' withdrawal from the Maheshwar dam.
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FAQs on Narmada Bachao Andolan

  • Narmada Bachao Andolan was an Indian social movement against constructing various dams across the Narmada River under the Narmada Dam Project, led by local tribes, environmentalists, farmers, and activists.

  • Narmada Bachao Andolan was started to provide proper resettlement and rehabilitation of the people facing submergence because of the dam project in 1985.

  • The Narmada Dam Project suggested the construction of 3000 small dams, 135 medium dams, and 30 large dams. However, the Narmada Bachao Andolan was against constructing two dams, Narmada Sagar and Sardar Sarovar.

  • Medha Patkar and his colleagues led the Narmada Bachao Andolan. It was initially called Committee for Narmada Dam-affected people or Narmada Dharangrast Samiti, which was changed to Narmada Bachao Andolan in 1989.

  • It resulted in the removal of the World Bank from the project, the halt of Sardar Sarovar Construction, and the withdrawal of foreign investors from the Maheshwar dam.

  • Yes, the Narmada Bachao Andolan can be considered a success as it won the Right Livelihood Award and influenced multiple future policies. The movement also led to the exit of the world bank from Sardar Sarovar and the halt of Sardar Sarovar construction. 

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