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Hirakud Dam, Orissa, India


Hirakud Dam (HD) in Orissa is the largest earthen dam in the world. It is a composite structure of earth, concrete and stone. The reservoir was built on Mahanadi River and located about 15 km upstream of Sambalpur, town. The project was the first multi-purpose river valley project in post independent India, the major motive being to control flood, irrigation and power generation [1, 2, 4].

The foundation stone of the dam was laid by Sir Howthrone Lewis on March 15, 1946 and on January 13, 1957 the first prime minister of Indian republic Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the dam site. During the famous inaugural speech, he called the project as the ‘the temple of modern India’ [1] For this project around 26,561 families of 369 villages were forcibly displaced. Among the total displaced 12,700 families are scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST). Due to lack of proper rehabilitation and suitable compensation, many of the displaced families settled in many parts of the Sambalpur and the neighboring districts. Many migrated to other states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Around 11, 000 families were settled in the fringe of the Hirakud Reservoir [3].

About 12,056 families got some form of compensation and about 9,944 families yet to get rehabilitation and compensation packages. Affected families are protesting for their due compensation and rehabilitation packages since the project was conceptualized [1] Although in the original plans there is no provision for water for industrial purposes, many companies have recently got permission from the concern authorities to dig wells in the reservoir area to draw water. Millions of farmers in Orissa who depend on Hirakud dam water to irrigate their agricultural land believe that diverting water for industry will severely affect their livelihood.

In different stages, the Orissa Krushak Sangathan, a state based organization, has agitated on the issue of water distribution and priority to industries. They sent collective letters to the president of India, blocked roads (on 26th Oct ‘06, around two thousand farmers formed a human chain on a main road), called for an open dialogue with the local political leaders and embracedd "non cooperation" protests. However, they got very little attention and were targeted with violence by police forces.

Due to displacement, since the time of early construction, different traditions and cultures of the people of western Orissa were severely affected.

On top of this, the significant divertion of water to industries is putting livelihoods of thousands of farmers and fishermen at stake.

After 50 years, one might ask what people gained form the dam. Many families have never seen any form of compensation, and the ecology of the river has been put at great distress.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hirakud Dam, Orissa, India
State or province:Orissa
Location of conflict:Town- Burla; District - Sambalpur
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
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The multi-purpose Hirakud Dam constructed across the river Mahanadi. The aim of this project was to control flood, supply water for irrigation purpose and hydropower power generation. The construction of dam was started as in 1940’s. The first notification for the land acquisition was issued on 13 September 1946. Initially the notification for acquisition was issued to 95 villages [4].

The dam is the longest earthen dam in the world. Main dam is 4.8 km spans between two hills. It is further extended by about 21 km long earthen dykes, both on left and right sides. The catchment area has formed the biggest artificial lake in Asia with reservoir spread of 743 sq. km at full reservoir level.

The power generating units of Hirakund Dam HPS consists of the following units and capacities:

Four generating units with installed capacity 123 MW (2x37.5 + 2x24) at at Burla near the dam site

Two generating units with installed capacity of 75 MW (2 x 37.5)

Three generating units with installed capacity of 72 MW (3x 24) at Chiplima

Another Unit (37.5 MW) at Power House-I, Burla [2]

Project area:74,300
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000-150,000
Start of the conflict:13/09/1946
Relevant government actors:Government of India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Hirakud Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti, Hirakhand Nagarik Parishad (HKNP)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Hirakud Budi Anchal Sangram Samiti which is spearheading the movement of the Hirakud Displaced families has the following demand:
Land for housing and other purpose for every displaced family.
Compensation to each and every affected family.
The permanent land right to the families who are given temporary land right (patta)
The protection of interest of the fisher Community who are solely depend on the Reservoir
The dam should be kept pollution free and be given to agriculture purpose only.
The people who are opposing the water use by the industries demand the right of reservoir’s water should be given to the farmers for agricultural purposes. They are pressing that no other activities will be allowed beside agriculture from the dam water [3].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Displacement and rehabilitation of the Hirakund Dam has been a major issue in Orissa politics since the 1950s. About 1.5 lakh people were affected by the Hirakud project. Initially it was estimated that, the project will submerge about 240 villages with fertile agricultural land of about 42,000 hectares. A total of about 26,561 families from 369 villages were affected and displaced. Although, 7,000 families affected families have been resettled in 17 rehabilitation camps and neighboring villages. Many of them are yet to get any form of compensation. Even the initial compensation paid to the limited number of people was inadequate. The land acquisition act at that time was not a suitable instrument for claiming compensation to the concern authorities. Since the starting of the construction of the project, the government of Orissa along with the local administration has been promising to look into the grievances of the displaced people. However, no concrete steps had been taken so far [1].

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Forest Right Act

The Land Acquisition Act, 1894

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

Dams, Displacement, Policy and Law in India

Politics of water: The case of the Hirakud dam in Orissa, India by Balgovind Baboo

‘Million Revolts’ in the Making

SANDRP - Hirakud Dam: Fifty Mournful Years

Economics of a multiple-purpose river dam : report of an inquiry into the economic benefits of the Hirakud dam

N.V. Sovani, Nilakanth Rath

EPW - Big Dams and Protests in India: A Study of Hirakud Dam

Arun Kumar Nayak

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2]Hirakud Power System

[3] Odisha: Hirakud Dam Displaced Families Protested Against State's Apathetic Attitude towards proper Rehabilitation and Resettlement

[4] Big Dams and Protests in India: A study of Hirakud Dam

[5] Orissa farmers protest use of dam water for industry

[1] Hirakud dam: Displaced families seek rehabilitation

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Hirakud dam construction, 1958 from India, Matri Bhumi by Roberto Rossellini

War for Water (in Oriya)

Other documents

Protest by Hirakud Displaced people Source :

Meta information

Contributor:Swapan Kumar Patra
Last update19/09/2014



Protest by Hirakud Displaced people

Source :