The Sardar Sarovar is the largest dam in the Narmada Valley Project—a multipurpose river development project that envisions several dams across the Narmada and its tributaries in west-central India. The dam, whose height was raised to nearly 139 metres from the initially proposed 80 metres, is now the world’s second-largest concrete gravity dam by volume, and arguably India’s most controversial development project till date.
Over the years, several groups like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by activist Medha Patkar challenged the construction of the dam, arguing that it caused massive environmental, economic, social and cultural damage. Since the dam was completed on 17 June, 2017 and all gates were closed simultaneously for the first time, settlements upstream have seen gradual submersion.
NBA estimates indicate that in Madhya Pradesh alone, the project affected at least 40,000 households, of which 90 per cent have not been fully resettled or rehabilitated. They continue to live in villages that may soon be submerged.
A pastoralist from the indigenous Barela Adivasi community in the Narmada submergence region near Chandankhedi, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. September 11, 2017.
The Narmada, one of the seven sacred Indian rivers, draws throngs of pilgrims. Post Ganesh Chathurthi, devotees get ready to immerse an idol in the Narmada at Maheshwar, Khargone, Madhya Pradesh. September 05, 2017.
Nasra Solanki, 50, walks past demolished homes to fill water from the river at Kakrana, Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh. Before the Sardar Sarovar Dam gates shut on June 17, the village extended all the way till the green strip of land seen in the distance, he said. September 12, 2017.
A weak tree is cut down to protect the crop standing next to it in Awali, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. September 08, 2017.
Pichhodi in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh, was washed away in the flood of 1970, following which villagers moved to higher ground. This place, too, was submerged–by the reservoir’s waters in 2013. Resettled villagers now find themselves close to submergence again. September 09, 2017.
Students read prayers towards the end of the day’s classes at a madarsa in Chikhlada, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. September 10, 2017.
Mukesh Goswami (45) outside his home in Awali, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The house will face submersion when backwater levels cross the red line. September 08, 2017.
Sitaram Semliya (65) is on IV fluids to treat his jaundice and viral infection. Semliya and his wife Sajanbai (55), farm workers from Segaon in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, are unable to make a living for the past eight days and may soon lose their home to the dam’s flooding backwaters. September 08, 2017.
A jeep carrying Adivasis uphill towards Chandankhedi in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, fords the rushing backwaters of the dam. September 11, 2017.
Sunita Kharte, 25, and Solita Kharte, 20, pick green gram from their farm on a foothill in Borkhedi, Barwani, Madhya Pradesh. The backwaters are now less than 100 metres from their home. Faced with the threat of submersion, the Khartes, who are Barela Adivasis, have sown the quick-yielding bajra and green gram instead of cotton and maize. September 09, 2017.
Rekha (25) and her family live atop a hillock by the Uri Baghri, a tributary of the Narmada, in Nisarpur, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. As dam waters flood the surrounding low-lying areas, the hillock will no longer be habitable. Rekha said she has not received any compensation or land yet despite filing petitions with the gram panchayat at least six times. September 10, 2017.
Lahidas Kanes, 32, was a policeman before he left home two years ago and embarked on the Parikrama, a 2,600-km circular journey around the Narmada from its birthplace in Amarkantak to the sea and back. He was walking back to Amarkantak–which could take another year–when he was photographed in the hills near Dehar, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The rising backwaters of the dam are expected to drown most of the places and shrines associated with the Parikrama. September 11, 2017.
Kirta Bhaila, 38, fills up a jerry can with fuel for one of his two motorised boats. Bhaila and his wife Jili, 36, are now the only residents of a neighbourhood that has turned into an island, in Kakrana, Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh. September 12, 2017.
A fisherman casts a net in the Narmada near Chikhalda, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. Fishermen say they now manage to catch only two or three species where they caught seven earlier. September 06, 2017.
Rakesh Vaskale (25) and Lalita (24) are Mankar Adivasi farm workers who earn INR 100 each for a day spent picking cotton or harvesting maize in Dehar, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The village, relocated in 2005, is now facing submergence again. The couple may accompany Rakesh’s father, who has been offered resettlement in Gujarat. September 11, 2017.
Local journalists cover a protest in Nisarpur, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, against shutting down a bridge across the Uri Baghri, a vital link to tribal settlements in the hills. September 10, 2017.
A bridge comes up across the backwaters of the Narmada at Borkhedi, Barwani, Madhya Pradesh. September 09, 2017.
Mohan Barmal (60) and a hired labourer work on building a temple to Goddess Durga near his home at the rehabilitation site for the village of Pichhodi in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh. Part of the compensation he received is going into building the temple. September 13, 2017.
A Barela Adivasi woman brews mahua even as the rising waters of the Narmada reach her farm in the hills near Nisarpur, Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. September 11, 2017.