The damming of the Narmadā River : progress, technology and the sacred.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Pressure on the limited amount of available natural resources is growing rapidly and primarily stems from population growth and individual/national aspirations for development. Harnessing more water is seen as the best available way to meet the increasing demands. However, despite often the best intentions and the use of widely accepted tools to assess the likely impacts (such as Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA) water “development projects” are not without costs. In this thesis I will address the global issue of the over-¬-use of natural resources by looking at the specific example of the Narmada River. The Narmada is a sacred river in India and as such, has a long culturally significant history. The Narmada is currently experiencing a large development project being built along its course. This project proposed over 3000 dams, though only a fraction of those have been built. This thesis employs a case study of the Narmada River in India to explore the rationale and approaches taken for development, as well as the costs that this development has incurred such as environmental and social impacts. Specific attention has been given to the description of the religious impacts, cultural transformations and impact upon minority indigenous groups; aspects frequently ignored or given little attention. An improved recognition of the religious and cultural significance of freshwater is needed to enable more positive local acceptance of developments such as dams as well as protecting national identity. These components are critical for sustainable development. I use the terms ‘development’ and ‘sacred’ in this thesis. These are widely interpreted terms and as such mean different things to different people. The definition of ‘development’ I have used is: “the process of converting land to a new purpose by constructing buildings or making use of its resources.” The term ‘sacred’ is also widely interpreted. In terms of this thesis, I will use Mircea Eliade’s definition of sacred. He defines it as a cover-¬-term for that category of ‘objects' constituted in the mind of the believer as both 'ultimately real' and as distinct from the profane world. A sacred river is real in a physical sense but also separate from other rivers because of its divine origins.