Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Dam Shame Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Elizabeth J. Himelfarb

Millions of people in central India may have to trade a rich archaeological heritage for electricity and drinking water with the construction of the Narmada River Dam.

The monuments at risk include the tomb of Baji Rao, the last great pre-British ruler of India, who died in 1740, and the Mandhata Temple, a sacred Hindu site on an island--said to be shaped like the sacred mantra "om"--at a fork in the river. The Archaeological Survey of India is making arrangements to preserve and relocate Baji Rao's tomb. Plans are now under way to rescue the temple and other important structures.

Protesters concerned about the dam's environmental and human impact took the case to India's highest court, but after six years of legal wrangling, the project was given the go-ahead to resume last fall. Now, the dam-building continues in spite of a report that the benefits afforded by the world's dams have not been worth their costs. The report was released by the World Commission on Dams and sponsored by the World Bank, which withdrew funding from the Narmada Dam project in 1993. The project's vocal opponents have been unsuccessful in persuading the inhabitants of the region, many of whom are reportedly enthusiastic about the dam, prepared to surrender their homes to flooding in exchange for relief from an ongoing drought.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America