Around 40,000 families in Madhya Pradesh have revived their protest against the central and state governments to oppose the failure of rehabilitation due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River.
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar has been on an indefinite fast since July 27. Her agitation was launched in Chidhalda in Dhar district. Today, on the 8th day of her fast, a mass fast will be held in Jantar Mantar, Delhi against drowning and forceful eviction of over 40,000 families in the Narmada Valley.
Today: Mass Fast at Jantar Mantar against drowning & forceful eviction of over 40,000 #NarmadaValley families….
According to the NBA, 40,000 families in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani, Alirajpur, Khargone and Dhar districts face displacement following the centre’s nod for the closing of the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s gates in neighbouring Gujarat. The closing of gates will increase the water level in the dam’s catchment area.
Earlier, in a February 8 order, the Supreme Court had directed payment of final compensation to all families affected by the Narmada project. The court had also directed state governments for rehabilitation.
Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman said the court orders on rehabilitation of dam oustees and its instructions to not evict the people until the rehabilitation was completed was clearly being violated in the case of the Sardar Sarovar project, reported The Hindu.
An official of the Madhya Pradesh Narmada Valley Development Authority said the state government was reaching out to 7,010 affected families, “requesting” them to evacuate their houses in the dams catchment area in the state before it is submerged, as per PTI.
He added that the state governments have made arrangements for temporary shelter homes for the people who are still staying out in the catchment area of the dam. However, activists claim that the government shelter homes for the affected people based even basic amenities.
Veteran American social and political activist, Noam Chomsky, also extended his support to the people affected by the Narmada project. Signing a petition by a senior IIM Kolkata faculty for the protection of the life and livelihood of the affected people, Chomsky said that meeting the rightful demands of the people is “essential to ensure the faith of people in non-violent, democratic and constitutional governance and struggle for their rights,” reported Counter View.
“I, on behalf of the people of Narmada valley, now appeal to you for immediate attention and intervention to save the people threatened by submergence”, he added.
Sardar Sarovar Dam: A reminder of Bargi Dam displacement
Bargi Dam was one of the first completed dams out of the chain of 30 major dams to be constructed on Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh – the lifeline of the state. About 87% of the river’s catchment area lies in MP and its water is an enormous source of livelihood for the people living in Narmada Valley.
Bargi Dam’s construction was started in 1974 and completed in 1990. 162 villages in districts Mandla, Seoni and Jabalpur were affected due to the dam’s gates closing to fill it to its complete capacity, submerging about 82 villages completely.
People were evicted out of their homes on the promises of rehabilitation. When the dam’s gates were shut in 1990, even sites identified safe to relocate the displaced families drowned in water. People’s homes, their agricultural lands, government school building, roads, were either fully or partially submerged.
“The government has asked us to leave and settle in any other place which we think is fit for our survival but where do we go? We don’t know any other work other than farming and fishing and this is the only place where we think we can prosper,” says Shivcharan, a village resident, reported India Water Portal. More than 1,40,000 oustees have similar stories.
Nearly three decades later, history repeats itself as the centre closed the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat.
When a development project meant to increase the irrigation potential of a river and generate hydropower causes loss of life and livelihood, is development or displacement?
The ongoing petition urging the Prime Minister to ensure that the lives of the people of Narmada Valley are safeguarded, demands that the Madhya Pradesh government does a comprehensive resurvey of the area and gives priority to rehabilitation first. It further says that farmers, fishermen, artisans, boatmen and shopkeeper should be given sufficient compensation. The environmental loss needs to assessed as well.
The Logical Indian community urges the centre and the state to reevaluate its strategies in the Narmada Valley. Development should never be at the cost of displacement. India is a country with large-scale displacement – both in rural nature-based communities and urban poor communities. It is necessary to understand why the state and all pillars of democracy cannot just evict 100-year-old communities without rightful rehabilitation. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution ensures right to life to every citizen of this country and this needs to be held by the government.