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The NWDT Award

Ř Historical Context

Efforts to harness the Narmada waters were initiated in the 1940s. Sardar Patel envisaged the utilization of this powerful source of water in 1946 for irrigation and power generation. Seven projects were identified in the initial survey, and four of these including Bharuch (Gujarat), Bargi, Tawa and Punasa (Madhya Pradesh) were given priority for further investigation.

Following studies and investigation, Gora was selected as the site in Gujarat, with the Full Reservoir Level (FRL) at 161 ft. and the foundation stone was laid by the late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961.

As more modernized and detailed contour sheets became available from the Survey of India, the possibility of raising the dam height began to be considered for making more optimum use of the dam. However, inter-state disputes between Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat over sharing of the waters hampered the progress of the dam. The Khosla Committee was constituted in 1965 to resolve the disputes, but its recommendations were not implemented. According to the report submitted by the Committee, a higher dam with FRL 500 was recommended.

ŘThe Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal

The Khosla Committee was then replaced by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) in 1969, under the Inter State Water Disputes Act, 1956.  It was chaired by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India, and was supported by technical experts and Panels. The Tribunal studied various issues connected with the dam including the distribution of water, height of the dam, provision of water to Rajasthan and the submergence of land and rehabilitation of oustees.  

Ř       The NWDT Award

The NWDT gave its final award in 1979 and decisions taken by the Tribunal were binding to all parties involved in the dispute. As per the NWDT Award, the parameters of the Sardar Sarovar dam could neither be reviewed nor changed till 2025 A.D.

The Award given by NWDT has been considered comprehensive and a landmark one. The Tribunal, instead of confining its adjudication to sharing of water and hydro-power benefit, has taken special care to provide for the resettlement of the people affected by land submergence. It prescribed a liberal and comprehensive package of land and civic amenities for the resettlement of oustees.

According to the Award, the responsibility of constructing the SSP lies with Gujarat, and several regulatory and administrative authorities were prescribed to ensure smooth implementation and effective compliance with its provisions. After the NWDT Award, Gujarat decided to construct the dam near Vadgam, about three kilometers away from the original Navagam site. The reservoir that was to be created at this site was given the name ‘Sardar Sarovar’.  


During the course of the construction of the dam, a Writ Petition regarding the resettlement and rehabilitation measures was filed in the Supreme Court of India by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in 1994. At this stage, the height of the dam was at RL 80.3 m. Due to the court proceedings, further dam construction was stalled, and the dam remained at this height until February 1999.

         Gujarat was then allowed to raise the level of the dam upto RL 85 m after excluding the humps. In an order passed in May 1999, the
Apex Court recorded a statement made on behalf of Govt. of Gujarat and the Union of India that the humps being constructed on the dam shall not exceed 3 m.

 ŘTen Directions in the Majority Judgment 

In October 2000 the Writ Petition was eventually disposed off, by the majority judgment (Writ Petition (C) No. 319 of 1994). Ten major directions were issued in this judgment.  

The basic provisions under these directions were: 

  • Construction of the dam would continue as per the Award of the Tribunal.
  • As the Relief and Rehabilitation Sub-group had cleared the construction up to 90 meters, the same could be undertaken immediately. Further raising of the height would be only pari passu with the implementation of the relief and rehabilitation and on the clearance by the Relief and Rehabilitation Sub-group.  The Relief and Rehabilitation Sub-Group would give clearance for further construction after consulting the three Grievances Redressal Authorities that had already been set up.
  • The Environment Sub-group under the Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India would consider and give, at each stage of the construction of the dam, environment clearance before further construction beyond 90 meters could be undertaken.
  • The permission to raise the dam height beyond 90 meters would be given by the Narmada Control Authority, from time to time, after it obtained the clearances from the Relief and Rehabilitation Sub-group and the Environment Sub-group.
  • The reports of the Grievances Redressal Authorities had revealed that there was a considerable slackness in land identification and acquisition for the rehabilitation of oustees. The three states were directed to implement the NWDT Award according to the packages that had been offered by them. The states had to comply to any direction given by the NCA, Review Committee or the Grievances Redressal Authorities. 
  • Even though there has been substantial compliance with the conditions imposed under the environment clearance the NCA and the Environment Sub-group would continue to monitor and ensure that all steps were taken not only to protect but also to restore and improve the environment.
  • An Action Plan would be drawn up by the NCA within four weeks with regard to further construction and R&R. The Action Plan would fix a time frame to ensure that R&R was pari passu with the increase in the height of the dam.
  • The Review Committee would meet whenever it was required to do so in the case of any unresolved dispute presented to the NCA. It would also meet on a quarterly basis to oversee the progress of the construction of the dam and the implementation of the R&R programmes. 
  • If for any reason serious differences in implementation of the Award arose and the could not be resolved in the Review Committee, the Committee could refer the issue to the Prime Minister whose decision would be binding.
  • The Grievances Redressal Authorities would be at liberty, in case the need arose, to issue appropriate directions to the respective States for the implementation of the R&R programmes. If there was a non-implementation of its directions, the GRAs could approach the Review Committee for appropriate orders.

The Project and the Cost-Benefit Analysis

The issue cost-benefit analysis was examined by the World Bank in 1990. Its report said, "The argument in favour of the Sardar Sarovar Project is that the benefits are so large that they substantially outweigh the costs of the immediate human and environmental disruption... The project has the potential to feed as many as 20 million people, provide domestic and industrial water to about 30 million, employ about 1 million, and provide valuable peak electric power in an area with high unmet power demand.... In addition, recent research shows substantial economic "multiplier" effects (investment and employment triggered by development) from irrigation development. Set against the futures of about 70,000 project affected people, even without the multiplier effect, the ratio of beneficiaries to affected persons is well over 100:1..."

Main Parameters of NWDT Award

Ř      Allocation of water (at 75% dependable yields) amongst the States:

     Madhya Pradesh:
18.25 MAF
     Gujarat: 9.00 MAF
     Maharashtra: 0.25 MAF
     Rajasthan: 0.50 MAF

 Ř      Height of the terminal dam (SSP): 455 ft
Full Supply Level of Main Canal: 300 ft
Power allocation:

     Madhya Pradesh
: 57%



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