Ahmedabad: Seventy-one years after it was conceived, a completed Sardar Sarovar Dam—one of the biggest in the country—was dedicated to the nation on Sunday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said India finished the job despite the objections of environmentalists and the World Bank.

“We faced every opposition for this project. The World Bank decided not to fund Sardar Sarovar Dam project after some activists propagated that the project flouted some environmental rules. World Bank or no World Bank, the people of this country had faith in us and it is due to their determination that this project has been completed," Modi said.

The construction of the Narmada dam, conceived by freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1946, is now complete and it has started supplying water.

Modi was speaking at a function in Dabhoi in Narmada district of Gujarat after dedicating the completed interstate multi-purpose Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Dam on the Narmada river to the nation. The consecration ceremony was held earlier in the morning at the dam’s site at Kevadia Colony near Gujarat’s border with Madhya Pradesh. The event coincided with Modi’s 67th birthday.

The function marked the culmination of construction of the dam, particularly its last phase, during which the height of the dam was raised from 121 metres to 138.68 metres by erecting 30 radial sluice gates, a task that had been held up for several years. This has helped the storage capacity to be increased 3.75 times to 4.73 million acre-feet. The project is being executed by the Gujarat government’s Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNL).

The ambitious project has run into inter-state disputes, land acquisition and environmental problems and the rehabilitation and resettlement of those displaced by the project—issues that had a polarizing effect on the country. It also saw the birth of a massive movement against the dam, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by activist Medha Patkar. The agitation prompted the World Bank to withdraw lending to the project and consider it afresh. Unable to meet the revised standards set by World Bank, the Indian government decided to forgo the bank’s funding in March 1993.

Hailing it as an Indian engineering marvel, Modi said that the project has successfully brought water to the dry Kutch district, where the armed forces are guarding the nation.

A massive 6.82 million cubic metres of cement concrete went into building the main dam and a 75,000-km-long network of canals—an engineering marvel involving the construction of 634 structures. The canal work of about 43,000km is yet to be completed, according to Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki.

“When I used to visit the border areas as the CM of Gujarat, I realized that the water for the BSF (Border Security Force) jawans had to be fetched from many miles afar. Today, I am happy when the BSF soldiers tell me that they don’t face problems of drinking water anymore. It is an engineering marvel that has become a case study for large projects across the world," the PM said while adding that the project had also brought social changes.

He said the drop-out ratio of girls from schools had been reduced after Narmada waters started reaching homes of the people. “Earlier girls in villages were forced to give up their studies as they had to travel far off places to fetch drinking water. Today, this is not the case. Even for speechless animals and livestock the drinking water issue has been resolved. I am truly blessed when I get blessings of all," Modi said.

A multi-purpose project with irrigation, power and drinking water benefits, SSP is meant to benefit Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

“Sardar Sarovar Dam will bring drinking water to 4 crore people, income of farmers will double by 2022," said Union minister Nitin Gadkari at Dabhoi. He said that the dam will help irrigate 2.2 million hectares of land.

In 5 April 1961, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of the Narmada dam project. However, it was only in 1987 that the contract was awarded to build the dam by 1996, but it remained embroiled in controversy between 1996 and 2000. After Modi became chief minister, height of the dam was progressively raised to 110.64 metres by June 2004.

“For many years, Congress party had government in Gujarat and Centre but did nothing to complete Narmada Dam. The Congress government did work of only Rs3,000 crore in its tenure, while PM Modi completed work of Rs56,000 crore for Narmada Dam in 15 years, opening the doors of development in Gujarat," Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said at the event.

“I don’t like thinking small and doing small. When I have support of 1.25 billion people of the country, I have no right to dream small. Hence I decided to build the world’s largest statue in the memory of Sardar Patel which will be twice the size of the Statue of Liberty in the US," PM Modi said. Earlier in the day, he visited the site of the ‘Statue of Unity’, named after Sardar Patel, the country’s first home minister, to see the work in progress.

The statue is being built on an island, Sadhu Bet, downstream the SSP Dam on the Narmada River.

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