As the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) completes three decades of fighting for the rights of villagers and tribals affected by development plans in the Narmada river valley, Medha Patkar, a social activist and the movement’s spokesperson, is taking on another satyagraha (a way of civil resistance pioneered by Mahatma Gandhi) at Rajgath in Barwani district. Speaking with Hindustan Times, she opens up about the highs and lows of the movement, where it stands today and what will be its future course of action.
Despite so many fasts and agitations, the movement has proved unsuccessful in preventing governments from increasing the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam or undermining the rights of villagers and tribals facing displacement due to the project – the very basis of the movement.
The movement has compelled the state governments and judiciary to recognize the rights of the people and families affected due to the project, which otherwise were completely ignored. The movement, from time to time, has pointed out how governments violated rights of villagers and rights of tribals over forests and has helped in reshaping resettlement and rehabilitation policies of the government.
Do you think administrative delays are scuttling the movement, and people are losing confidence in it?
The movement has never been weakened. We gave time to governments, authorities and courts to analyse things in detail and award fair compensation and restore their right to better and improved life after resettlements. They retracted on their promises and assurances by manipulating the villagers. The governments did try to divide and rule, but the movement is still firm as ever.
Despite a number of surveys, directions from the Supreme Court and tribunal awards, resettlement and fair compensation have not come through?
The greed has driven people like crazy. The government officials conducted surveys in an unjust manner by excluding many affected families and by including hundreds of fake people in the list of beneficiaries, to siphon off money. The NVDA (Narmada Valley Development Authority) and grievance redressal authorities are hand-in-glove in this scam.
Please elucidate the scam.
The NVDA, through some agents, carried out about 3,000 fake land registrations in the names of beneficiaries. However, in reality, the pieces of land belong to some other people (private lands). The actual land owners do not even know their plots have been allotted to someone else on paper. Cases are pending in courts with regards to this.
Do you think over the course of the NBA’s 30-year long struggle, the issues it initially raised have been diluted?
No. The issues have only broadened from resettlement of farmers and villagers; we also raised our voice for the land-less people of those villages. We then fought for the canal-affected people; the court has now directed for their rehabilitation too. After that we raised concerns about vast tracts of agrarian land being wasted in spreading the canals; the court has ordered for proper command area development plan. So, the core issue remains the same, Narmada valley development.
What is the issue of Narmada backwaters?
Thousands of people in the Nimar region are sitting on a ticking ‘hydro’ bomb, which can go off at any moment. By reducing the level of backwaters from earlier levels, the government is trying to exclude many regions from the submergence zone, thereby withdrawing from their responsibility of resettlement.
What is the NBA’s future course of action?
The struggle continues.