It all started in 1946, the then Government of Central Provinces and Berar and the then Government of Bombay requested the Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission (CWINC) to take up investigations on the Narmada river system from basin wise development of the river with flood control, irrigation, power and extension of navigation as the objectives in view. The Central Water & Power Commission carried out a study of the hydroelectric potential of the Narmada basin in the year 1955 and decided the Navagam site for the construction of dam.
In 1961, Government of Gujarat gave approval for Stage I of SSP and the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the project in 1965. A high level committee, headed by A. N. Khosla, then the Governor of Orissa was constituted to draw up a master plan for the optimum and integrated development of the Narmada water resources in September 1964 which envisaged 12 major projects in Madhya Pradesh and one, Navagam, in Gujarat.
The Khosla Committee report could not be implemented on account of disagreement among the States and on the complaint of Gujarat in 1968 Gujarat against Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra the Centre constituted a Tribunal headed by Justice V. Ramaswamy, retired judge of Supreme Court and referred the dispute to it under the Inter State Water Disputes Act
An agreement was reached among the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and the Adviser to the Governor of Gujarat in July 1974. The quantity of water in the Narmada available for 75 per cent of the year, as per this agreement, was to be assessed at 28 million-acre feet (MAF). In December 1979, the tribunal gave its final order after hearing the States and the Centre and concluded the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam to be at Full Reservoir Level-455 ft. The Award said that no submergence of any area would take place unless the displaced people were rehabilitated. The Tribunal fixed the allocation among the States as follows: Madhya Pradesh 18.25 MAF; Gujarat 9.00 MAF; Rajasthan 0.50 MAF; and Maharashtra 0.25 MAF. The Award envisaged 30 major dams, 135 medium-sized dam projects and more than 3000 minor dams. The major terminal dam was to be in Gujarat, the remaining 29 being in Madhya Pradesh. Down the main course of the river, the four major dams were the Narmada Sagar (now renamed Indira Sagar), Omkareshwar and Maheshwar all in Madhya Pradesh and Sardar Sarovar in Gujarat. Rajasthan was to construct a canal in its territory to utilize its share of 0.5 MAF. It created an inter-State administrative authority, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), to ensure compliance with and implementation of the decisions and directions of the Tribunal. The NCA constituted various discipline based subgroups.
On June 24, 1987, the Ministry of Environment and Forests accorded environmental clearance to the SSP, subject to certain conditions. The Planning Commission approved the investment of an estimated Rs. 6,406 crores, with a direction to comply with the conditions laid down in the environmental clearance. Construction started in 1987.
In August 1993, the Ministry of Water Resources constituted a five-member group (FMG) headed by Dr. Jayant Patil, Member Planning Commission, to hold discussions with Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) on issues relating the SSP.
During this time, the construction of the dam continued and on 22nd February, 1994 the Ministry of Water Resources conveyed its decision regarding closure of the construction sluices. This decision was given effect to and on 23rd February, 1994 closure of ten construction sluices was effected.
In April, 1994 the NBA filed the writ petition to Supreme Court praying that the Union of India should be restrained from proceeding with the construction of the dam and they should be ordered to open the aforesaid sluices.
In January 1995, the FMG was asked to submit a detailed report on the issues of height, hydrology, R&R and environmental matters. In April 1995, the FMG (it had become a four member body, as Chairman quit because of ill-health) submitted a report. It was not unanimous.
Following a writ petition by the NBA, the Supreme Court of India halted construction of the dam in 1995 at a height of 80.3m. However, in an interim order in February 1999, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead for the dam’s height to be raised to a height of 88m (85m + 3m of “humps”).
The Supreme Court in its order dated October 18, 2000 cleared the construction of the Sardar Sarover Dam as per the Award of the Tribunal.