Violence breaks out over Narmada dam

NEW DELHI, Reuters

Angry protesters set fire to government vehicles and staged demonstrations as India resumed construction of a controversial dam in the western state of Gujarat, newspapers said on Wednesday.

An irate mob set fire to four cars belonging to state ministers soon after Home (interior) Minister Lal Krishna Advani launched construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam which had been stalled for six years by an environment lawsuit, the Times of India said.

Environment groups have opposed construction of the Sardar Sarovar, the biggest of some 3,200 dams to be built on the Narmada river, saying it would displace millions of people and its benefits were limited.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement), whose petition against the Sardar Sarovar was thrown out by India’s Supreme Court last month has vowed to carry on with its protests against the project.

Advani, however, said that resumption of work on the dam would be one of three major achievements of the coalition government, after India’s nuclear tests in 1998, and last year’s military and diplomatic success against Pakistan-backed insurgents in Kashmir.

“1998 will be remembered for the Pokhran nuclear blasts, 1999 for the Kargil conflict and now 2000 for the Narmada verdict,” the Times of India quoted him as saying.

The Narmada Valley development project is India’s biggest dam project aimed at generating electricity and providing drinking water to millions of people across Gujarat and neighboring Madhya Pradesh.

The project is being largely financed by state governments and market borrowings after the World Bank withdrew financing in 1993, and is expected to be completed in 2025.