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
NameBhakra Nangal Project, India
ProvinceHimachal Pradesh
SiteBhakra 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)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe 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.

The dam has created a huge reservoir of water which is 88 km long and 8 km wide with a storage capacity of 986.8 crore cubic metres. This reservoir is named as Gobindsagar Lake after Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikh community.

The dam has created a huge reservoir of water which is 88 km long and 8 km wide with a storage capacity of 986.8 crore cubic metres. This reservoir is named as Gobindsagar Lake after Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikh community.

The Nangal Dam has been constructed at Nangal about 13 km downstream of the Bhakra dam. This 29 metre high, 305 metre long and 121 metre wide is an auxiliary dam which serves as a balancing reservoir for taking up daily fluctuations from the Bhakra Dam.

The Nangal Hydel Channel is 64.4 km long, 42.65 m wide and 6.28 m deep canal. It has been cemented throughout its length to avoid seepage. It is one of the longest cemented canals of the world. It takes off from the left bank of the river and flows through pigged topography of steep slope.

There is a fall of 70 metres in elevation within a distance of 64 km. Its main function is to turn the turbines of power houses located below the Nangal Dam but it also supplies water to the Bhakra irrigation canals.

Power houses have been built to generate hydroelectricity from water of the Satluj River. One power house has been built at Ganguwal about 19 km downstream from Nangal. Another power house has been constructed at a distance of 29 km from the Nangal dam. This is known as the Kotla power house.

The Ganguwal and the Kotla power houses have 2 units of 24 MW each and one unit of 29 MW. The third power house is at Rupnagar. Two power houses have been constructed at Bhakra dam, one of which is on the left and the other is on the right bank of the river. The installed capacity of these two power houses is 450 MW and 600 MW respectively.

The main Bhakra Canal is 174 km long. The length of the canal system and that of the distributaries is 1,104 km and 3,360 km respectively. This canal system commands a gross area of about 27 lakh hectares and provides irrigation to about 15 lakh hectares. Of this 37.7 per cent is in Punjab, 46.7 per cent in Haryana and the remaining 15.6 per cent is in Rajasthan.

Transmission Lines have been laid to carry hydroelectricity to the consuming centres. A total of 3,680 km long transmission lines are used to supply power to many major and middle size cities, including Delhi.
Project Area (in hectares)17000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population36,000 (only land owners*)
Start Date1970
Company Names or State EnterprisesBhakra Beas Management Board from India -
Relevant government actorsGovernment of India, Government of Himachal Pradesh
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersInternational Rivers


Manthan Kendra
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Forms of MobilizationCreation 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-economic 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
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Development of AlternativesChanging of agriculture patterns in the area, rethinking the development paradigm and application of the compensation measures to the affected people.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

Land Acquisition Act, 1984

Indus Water Treaty, 1960

Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966


R. Modi, Beyond Relocation: The Imperative of Sustainable Resettlement
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Rangachari, R., The Bhakra-Nangal Project: Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts
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[1] S. Dharmadhikary, Unravelling Bhakra, Manthan Kendra
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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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Bhakra Nangal Project of India (with interesting facts), by Puja Mondal
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[2] H. Thakkar A reality check on Bhakra
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N. RAM interviews ARUNDHATI ROY on a writer's place in politics
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Media Links

Water level at Bhakra dam reaches record high
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Other Documents

View on Bhakra dam
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Nehru visiting Bhakra Source: NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY. Nehru visiting Bhakra and calling it "Nation's pride"
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Other Comments(*) This number refers to land owners; landless people have not be counted and are very difficult to estimate.
Meta Information
ContributorDaniela Del Bene, ICTA-UAB (
Last update25/11/2015
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