India completed construction December 31 of the ambitious and controversial 1,450-MW Sardar Sarovar hydroelectric project, nearly two decades after it was begun.
Authorities hailed completion of the giant dam in Gujarat State as an answer to the thirst, irrigation, and power needs of millions in the vast, parched regions in the west of the country.
“India has taken a leap ahead. The dam will change the future of the country,” Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said after the last bucket of concrete was poured on the wall of the US$7.7 billion dam.
Sardar Sarovar is the centerpiece of the multi-billion-dollar Narmada Valley development project that taps the Narmada, India’s fifth-largest river, through a series of dams, reservoirs, and canals. Sardar Sarovar has a main powerhouse with six 200-MW reversible Francis units. Another powerhouse, with five 50-MW Kaplan turbines, is supplied with water from the giant canal system.
Authorities said the dam would connect an 86,000-kilometer network of canals, help irrigate 1.8 million hectares of farmland, and provide drinking water to 20 million people in Gujarat and neighboring states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The dam also will help control floods, while its two power plants generate peaking power.
“Despite all odds, we have completed the dam,� project head P.K. Laheri of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. said �It will fulfil promises and will take India ahead.”
Construction of the dam, which is 1,250 meters long and 122 meters tall, began in 1987. But it soon became the focus of one of the world’s longest social and environmental campaigns. Nearly a decade was lost to a dispute between rival states over how to divide water and power from the dam, and at least five more years in protracted legal battles with activists from the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), or Save the Narmada Movement.
NBA says the dam will displace 320,000 people, many of them poor tribal farmers who have not been properly resettled on fertile land, and will disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands more.