San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Water Development Projects
on the Narmada River of West India

India has rivers considered sacred by much of the population. The most famous in the world outside of India is the river called Ganga in India and Ganges outside of India. The Ganges flows in east India. In west India the Narmada is the major sacred river. It flows 800 miles west from the state of Madhya Pradesh to the Arabian Sea.

A system of dams for the Narmada River was proposed and approved that will generate a substantial amount of electricity and provide water for irrigating millions of acres of crop land but will also flood 150 square miles of land and displace between 30 thousand and 100 thousand people. The displaced people are in many cases tribal peoples who cannot easily adapt to conditions elsewhere. The tribals are the aboriginal inhabitants of the land and have a relatively primitive lifestyle.

The project is a system of two superdams (Sardar Sarovar and Indira Sagar), 150 medium dams and 3000 smaller dams, dikes and irrigation developments. It affects three major states of India; Madhya Pradesh, Gujurat, and Maharastra. The system will irrigate 7,000 square miles of land in Gujurat. The electrical power generating capacity will be almost 1500 megawatts. The cost will be in the billions of dollars. It is not unusual that a water development project will have significant costs as well as benefits. The question is whether the benefits exceed the costs. There is considerable differences of opinion on this matter. There is a problem of the incidence of the benefits. The system will carry the irrigation water through a 281 mile canal to Gujurat while few farmers in the poorer state of Madhya Pradesh will benefit from the project.

By far the most controversial aspect of the project is the matter of resettlement. The Government of Gujurat promised the resettlees five acres of land each, but this land is reputed to be of poor quality. Gujurat allocated about $170 million for the resettlement program.

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