In mid August, in Kakrana village in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district, local revenue officials directed its residents to demolish their own homes. Failing this, the officials told the locals, they would bring in JCB machines to tear everything down. Kirta Bhaila, a 38-year-old man who owns a small grocery shop, said the officials warned the residents of his quarter: “Nothing will be left of your belongings and the goods in your kirana store if we bring in the machines.”
The residents were being evicted as the quarter—comprising about 17 households—fell within the submergence zone of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, on the Narmada river. Like his neighbours, Bhaila demolished his house within a week of the revenue officials’ visit—but he did not demolish the grocery shop and a small room that had been built behind it. The other residents moved out of the area, to either seek refuge at their relatives’ homes in other parts of the village, or build temporary shelters that would not be submerged. But Bhaila and his wife Jili stayed put and stayed in the room behind the grocery shop. On 12 September, when I visited the area, it was surrounded by chest-high water. Bhaila’s room stood on elevated ground and was safe from the rising water at the time. “It does scare me,” Bhaila told me. “The water level rises by over one foot every day.”
Today, on the day of his 67th birth anniversary, the prime minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in Gujarat’s Narmada district, 56 years after its foundation was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru. The Sardar Sarovar is the largest dam in the Narmada Valley Project—a multipurpose river development plan that includes the construction of several dams across the river and its tributaries. The dam, whose height has been raised to nearly 139 metres from the initially planned 80 metres, is now the world’s second-largest concrete gravity dam by volume.