PM Modi dedicates Sardar Sarovar dam to nation on his birthday
The Sardar Sarovar Project, billed as the lifeline of Gujarat, will provide water to more than half of the state’s 18144 villages and irrigate more than 21 lakh hectares of land.
On his 67th birthday on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Sardar Sarovar dam built on the Narmada to the nation – 56 years after its foundation was laid by India’s first premier Jawaharlal Nehru. (Click here for live updates)
It was Modi’s second visit to Gujarat in less than a week after he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad to launch the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project.
This came exactly three months after the Narmada Control Authority allowed closure of the dam’s sluice gates so that the water rises to its full height of 138.68 metres from the earlier 121.92 metres.
The storage capacity also rose to 4.73 million cubic metres (MCM) from the previous 1.27 MCM.
While four states – Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – stand to gain from the multi-purpose dam, the BJP is all geared up to reap its benefits in the poll-bound Gujarat.
Earlier this month, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani flagged off a two-week long Narmada Mahotsav Yatra in Surendranagar to mark the completion of the dam. Over 80 Narmada Raths are travelling across the state to spread awareness about the importance of the project. It will culminate at Dabhoi in Vadodara district on Sunday, where Modi will address a public meeting.
The BJP, which has woven its assembly election campaign around this ‘lifeline of Gujarat’, had started celebrating the success of the project since 2014 when the NDA came to power at the Centre.
“Within 10 days of assuming office as Prime Minister, Narendrabhai gave the nod to install gates on the Narmada dam. It became possible because of his strong will and hard work of years. I want to ask Rahul Gandhi as to why a project started by his great grandfather was not completed during the tenure of his father?” BJP national chief Amit Shah said is a town hall event in Ahmedbad on September 10.
Besides claiming credit for the dam’s completion, the BJP has been accusing the opposition Congress of delaying the project. “When the UPA was in power at the Centre government did not give permission for seven years to install gates on the dam. After Modiji became Prime Minster, the go-ahead was given within a few days,” Rupani said recently.
The Congress, on the other hand, has been raising the issue of incomplete canal network. Though over 500-km long main canal and six branch canals have been completed, work on minor, sub-minor and dis-tributaries is still on.
“As our PM is visiting Gujarat, I want to ask him why 43,000 kms of the canal network is still incomplete. I wish he explains this delay as the BJP has been in power here for 22 years and he was the chief minister from 2001 to 2014,” Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said
The dam is as an emotive issue for the people of Gujarat, who largely depend on Narmada waters to quench thirst and irrigate agriculture fields.
To an extent, the Sardar Sarovar Project is also an answer to placate agitation of powerful Patidars, who have been up against the BJP over issue of OBC status. Given the fact that Patidars are mostly farmers, the platform will be used by the BJP to woo back the cultivators. It has already launched two sub-projects- Sujalam Suflam for North Gujarat and SAUNI for Saurashtra - for supplying Narmada water to these drought prone regions.
“With the inauguration of the project, over 18 lakh hectares of land in the state will benefit through irrigation as Narmada waters will flow to over 9,000 villages of Gujarat through a canal network,” Rupani added.
According to Sardar Sarovar Project officials, the project will irrigate 2,46,000 hectares of land in the strategically important desert districts of Barmer and Jalore in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares in the tribal hilly tract of Maharashtra.
A special allocation of 0.86 million cubic feet (MAF) of water has been made to provide drinking water to Gujarat’s 131 urban centres and 9,633 villages – which is 53% of the total 18,144 villages in the state.
The foundation of the inter-state project was laid in 1961. But its further construction was delayed mainly because of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by activist Medha Patkar over rehabilitation of the affected families in Madhya Pradesh from the mid 1980s onwards.
The construction work was suspended in 1994 after NBA activists obtained a stay order from the Supreme Court, which highlighted environmental and rehabilitation issues.
The work resumed after the SC gave an order in 1999 in favour of the construction with the condition to increase that dam height in phases based on the progress of resettlement.