On 18 July, the Government of Gujarat in India issued an order to shut the sluice gates to the Sardar Sarovar Project dam on the Narmada River, an action that will displace approximately 250,000 people in 245 villages. The decision was taken despite three decades of protests against the project, which was kick-started by a $450 million World Bank loan in 1985. As noted by the NGO International Rivers in 2008, the World Bank agreed to the loan despite the project’s failure to comply with India’s conditional environmental clearance at the time. Activists – led by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a coalition of social groups and NGOs – initiated an international campaign to stop the dam. Following the 1992 publication of a highly critical independent report from the Morse Commission – the first-ever independent review the World Bank commissioned for one of its projects – the Bank withdrew from the project in 1993. Subsequently, the Bank’s board of directors established the Inspection Panel (IPN, the Bank’s indepedent complaints mechanism) in September 1993 to address complaints from persons affected by Bank-funded projects.
The recent decision to close the dam gates, which will raise the water level of the Narmada upriver from the dam, occurred despite the fact that resettlement of affected communities remains incomplete. Activist Medha Patkar, the long-time head of NBA, undertook a 17-day hunger strike in late July and August in protest of the decision, during which she was arrested for attempting to visit a district affected by submergence from the dam. Subsequently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the dam on 17 September, marking its official opening. Patkar commented prior to the ceremony, “The dam is being dedicated in a hurry without rehabilitating 40,000 families living in the catchment areas in Madhya Pradesh.”