Successes and Failures of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Reasons... Them The long history of the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s struggle with...

Successes and Failures of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Reasons for
The long history of the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s struggle with both the
World Bank and central and state governments in India to halt construction
of the dam:
1961: Jawaharlal Nehru plans to dam the Narmada. Plans for the
construction of 30 major and 150 medium dams on the river are drawn up
over the next two decades.
1979: Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal decides on the responsibilities of
state governments towards resetlees.
1986: Medha Patkar arrives in the Narmada Valley and is horrified by the
scale of displacement and lack of consultation with the ‘adivasi’
population. She begins working with other NGOs that are attempting to
secure land titles for the adivasis to be resettled.
1988: The Narmada Bachao Andolan, or Save the Narmada movement, is
formed and declares its anti-dam policy; breaking with other NGOs that
are still working to facilitate resettlement.
1991: A major rally led to the formation of the Independent Review of the
World Bank, headed by Bradford Morse.
1993: The thorough-going critique by the Independent Review on both
resettlement and environmental grounds led to the World Bank withdrawal
from the project.
1995: A public interest litigation filed by the NBA in the Indian Supreme
Court is successful in halting construction of the dam until more adequate
resettlement plans have been formulated.
1997: The Samata judgement, which disallows mining companies from
appropriating land under Schedule VI of the constitution, is lauded by
NGOs as providing protection against outright dispossession.
2001: The Supreme Court, by a 2-1 decision, decided in favour of
renewed construction of the dam.
2005: The United Front Government promises to restore land rights to
adivasis, although this will not include those whose lands have already
been appropriated for development purposes.
The Historical Origins of Resistance NGOs, like the NBA
 Emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as groups that wished to take an
independent line from both the state and from existing party organizations,
such as the socialist and communist parties in India.
 They wished to highlight new issues that the established parties were not
taking up seriously, e.g. corruption, women’s issues, issues around
sexuality and sexual orientation and environmental problems.
 In Latin America, such groups were inspired by theorists such as Paulo
Friere, as well as feminist philosophies.
 In India, feminism and Gandhi became major inspirations.
JP Movement in the late 1970s: anti-corruption and calling for a new type
of revolution.
They were anti-state, anti-capitalist, but also against what they felt was an
orthodoxy found in established oppositional parties and organizations, e.g.
The Neoliberal Turn and the Role of NGOs
Neoliberal policies have reshaped the state:
o Cutbacks in health-care and education, as well as social
welfare. (‘shrinking’ of the state).
o Reorientation towards attracting private direct investment.
o Emphasis on security and an enlargement of the repressive role
of the state.
o Contracting out of human rights, social, educational and medical
functions to NGOs.
o Basically, neoliberal policy makers views NGOs as providing the
social cushion that the state has gotten rid of.
o This is not the role that organizations, such as the NBA, see for
o Criticisms that NGOs can only provide bandaid solutions to
widespread poverty, lack of education and healthcare.
Neoliberalism and Shared Hegemonies
 Policies and policing are now shared by a variety of national and
multinational organizations.
 This allows national governments to pass the buck for instituting
policies that are unpopular and produce inequality.
 It also allows the state to ignore human rights and social issues
while passing the blame for such policies onto international
 Resistance organizations have responded by forging transnational
linkages with similar groups in other countries.
 Yet these transnational linkages also have the danger of changing
the local character of the movement.
The Case of the Narmada Bachao Andolan
 They achieved their early successes through being able to forge
transnational linkages and to petition international organizations such as
the World Bank.
 Their transnational linkages, however, also entailed their insertion into an
international environmental discourse that was dominated by western
groups, who focused on the environmental degradation caused by large
 Indian environmental movements, however, had emerged as social
environmental movements, stressing the rights of small-scale rural
producers over resources that were being depleted by commercialization.
This focus was indigenous because common property in rural areas, e.g.
forest resources, grazing lands, and common water resources were most
important for the rural poor to survive. Environmental degradation of
these resources affected these populations the most. Environmental
degradation was simultaneously a class issue.
As the Narmada Bachao Andolan became internationally recognized and
successful, it tended to lose its local base.
This disjuncture between urban, middle-class activists and the adivasi
leadership was increased through the focus on western environmental
Lack of organic, adivasi leadership in the NBA.
Representation of the adivasis as ‘naturally conservationist’ appealed to
international environmentalists, but exaggerated their ‘primitivism.’
The disjuncture between the local and transnational led to a drop in
support for the NBA in Gujarat and the withdrawal of significant adivasi
leaders in the court case that would decide the fate of the movement.