India dam project still hot issue after more than 20 years

For citizens of India, debate over dams is soap-operatic. Take the saga of the country’s still-unfinished Sardar Sarovar dam. It has everything: protests, riots, hunger strikes, and long, protracted court battles. Proponents of the $7.7 billion dam on the Narmada River claim that, when completed, it will produce megawatts upon megawatts of much-needed hydropower, drinking water for 20 million citizens, and irrigation for nearly 4.5 million acres of farmland. Detractors say some 320,000 people — mostly poor farmers — will be displaced, and also that the benefit estimates are way, way off. Even the mega-development-happy World Bank refused to fund the project after a 1991 review found it “flawed.” The government has been accused of shafting those in need of relocation, offering poor-quality land as compensation, and unjustly excluding people from official relocation lists. And Sardar Sarovar is just one of 30 major dams either planned or already being built on the river. A Supreme Court decision on whether to allow Sardar construction to continue is slated for September. Stay tuned.