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Bhakra Nangal Project, India

One of the earliest river valley development schemes undertaken by India after independence, it never met its original goals. After 50 years, affected villagers still waiting for reparations


The Bhakra-Nangal multipurpose dams are located in the state of Himachal Pradesh and named after the two dams built at Bhakra and Nangal on the Satluj River. The project comprises of (i) two dams at Bhakra and Nangal, (ii) Nangal Hydel Channel, (iii) power houses with a combined installed capacity of 1,204 megawatt (M.W.) (iv) Electric transmission lines and (v) Bhakra canal system for irrigation. It is one of the earliest river valley development schemes undertaken by India after independence although the project had been conceived long before that, in the early 1900s. The government of India strongly backed the project in order to make Punjab and Haryana the granaries of the nation and for ensuring water storage and energy generation. A secondary reason was the prevention of floods in the Sutluj-Beas river valley. The project has also been an important factor in the inter-state dispute between India and Pakistan, ultimately resolved with the Indus Treaty in 1960, under the aegis of the World Bank and and with the benevolence of the USA.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Bhakra Nangal Project, India
State or province:Himachal Pradesh
Location of conflict:Bhakra village (now submerged) in Bilaspur district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Bhakra Dam is one of the highest straight gravity dams in the world. It has been constructed on the Satluj at the site of Bhakra gorge near Rupnagar (Ropar). The dam is 226 metre high and 518 metres long with its maximum width at the base as 362 metres.

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Project area:17000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:36,000 (only land owners*)
Start of the conflict:1970
Company names or state enterprises:Bhakra Beas Management Board from India -
Relevant government actors:Government of India, Government of Himachal Pradesh
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:International Rivers
Manthan Kendra
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Changing of agriculture patterns in the area, rethinking the development paradigm and application of the compensation measures to the affected people.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the Bhakra Nangal project has contributed to the irrigation schemes and to an increase of agricultural production, it is the whole pattern of industrial agriculture to remain problematic. Moreover, compensation and rehabilitation schemes have not been properly implemented and even 50 years after the beginning of construction many issues remain to be solved.
The faith in large infrastructure and developmentalist ideas needs to be urgently questioned and smaller scale alternatives implemented.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Land Acquisition Act, 1984

Indus Water Treaty, 1960

Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] S. Dharmadhikary, Unravelling Bhakra, Manthan Kendra
[click to view]

Rangachari, R., The Bhakra-Nangal Project: Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts
[click to view]

R. Modi, Beyond Relocation: The Imperative of Sustainable Resettlement
[click to view]

[2] H. Thakkar A reality check on Bhakra
[click to view]

Bhakra Dam water level reaches 50-year high, alert sounded
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Bhakra Nangal Dam – Celebrations Are On For Completing 50 Years Of Construction
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[click to view]

Bhakra Nangal Project of India (with interesting facts), by Puja Mondal
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N. RAM interviews ARUNDHATI ROY on a writer's place in politics
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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Water level at Bhakra dam reaches record high
[click to view]

Other comments:(*) This number refers to land owners; landless people have not be counted and are very difficult to estimate.
Meta information
Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA-UAB (
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:191
Related conflicts
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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