Police in India’s western province of Gujarat have arrested dozens of activists planning a march to the Sardar Sarovar dam site. In contrast to similar groups which have protested at Indian dam sites in recent months, these were supporting the construction of Sardar Sarovar. The arrested belong to a group called the People’s Movement for Narmada (NJA).

NJA’s mission is to pressure the Gujarat state government to expedite construction of the dam, and also to tell the world that the farmers of Gujarat are suffering without water. The protesters were planning to march to the controversial dam site when they were arrested. The Gujarat government has also imposed prohibitory orders banning the assembly of more than four persons in and around the Narmada river dam sites.

Construction work at the 140m high Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river has been stalled by numerous legal challenges to the dam mounted by the activist group Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). Other groups like the US’s International Rivers Network support NBA, which claims to represent the people displaced by the reservoir. NBA says 37,690ha of land in four Indian states will be submerged by the reservoir, affecting the lives of more than 45,000 families. The Narmada Valley development project, which received state and central government clearance in 1987, is currently one of India’s biggest dam and hydro projects. The four state governments and market loans are financing the multi-billion rupee project. Under pressure from environmental groups, the World Bank withdrew its financing in 1993.

Despite financial and legal problems construction of Sardar Sarovar has progressed. The dam is at a height of 88m and the 250MW canal head power house is complete. The work on the 1200MW riverbed power house is continuing, while the Narmada main irrigation canal has been completed up to a distance of 264km from the dam.

NBA has also been leading protests against Maheshwar dam on the Narmada river. An anti-dam protest included more than 500 people allegedly affected by the dam, which is being built in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The 400MW dam is being developed by S Kumars group, with collaboration from German utilities Bayernwerk and VEW Energie. Reports have claimed that the two utilities, which would have contributed 49% of project equity, have withdrawn due to widespread protests by environmental groups.