In a U-turn after protests by environmental activists against allowing Gujarat to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the Centre told the Gujarat government that it may construct gates on the dam, but may not close them, official sources said in Ahmedabad on Thursday.
On June 12, the newly-elected Narendra Modi government allowed the Gujarat government to raise the Narmada Dam's height from 121.92 metres to 138.62 metres, by installing gates on the dam. The development comes as a major setback to the Sardar Sarovar Dam project across the Narmada river, whose foundation was laid in 1961 by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
This would mean that though the dam's height could be raised to 136.62 metres, by installing gates, the effective height of the dam would be 121.92 metres, exactly what it is at present, since the gates cannot be closed until all issues related to rehabilitation and resettlement of project-affected people are settled.
Recently, Union Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti had informed the Lok Sabha that considering issues raised by environmentalists, Gujarat would be allowed to install gates in an "open" state and complete related civil works on the Sardar Sarovar Dam, a Press Information Bureau release had said.
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) chairperson Medha Patkar had termed the decision of the Modi government to raise the dam's height as "undemocratic", saying that no consideration has been given to the possibility that villages would be submerged due to it.
"The decision taken is undemocratic, since the government has not considered the fact that 2.5 lakh people live in the area, which will get submerged due to the raising the height of the dam," Patkar had said on the day the decision to raise the dam's height was announced.
"The decision to submerge houses, shops, temples, mosques, hospital, lakhs of trees, forests, hamlets of tribals as well as villages and towns is unjustified," Patkar said. The foundation stone of the dam was laid by country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961, though it got embroiled in controversies over issues related to displacement of project-affected people.
However, the Supreme Court had earlier approved the project to raise the dam's height to 138.72 metres. The Gujarat government had said that it would take three years to install 35 gates and complete related civil works of the dam, to raise the height of the dam to 138.62 metres.