Lakhs of people displaced by the 300 dams of the Sardar Sarovar Project are victims of a paper-based rehabilitation programme. Their land is their life. If a river driven to monstrous rage will usurp their land, their lives will be devoured too.
While the Modi government raises the height to 138.62 metres, 2.5 lakh more will be displaced. Their fate ignored, their voices mute.
The battle is over even before it began.
It is from the Narmada Valley that solitary voices rise, joined by many others growing louder with each adding to the crescendo, reverberating in the valley that will eventually break through the hills. Then these voices fade away and what lingers is a prolonged silence. A silence that now marks the existence of the Narmada Valley.
The seemingly calm and serene waters of the Narmada are considered a giver of life and hope by people who worship its banks. The BJP-led NDA government will now make sure that this river is driven to a monstrous rage; they will make sure she consumes all her devotees and everything in her course.
In its first major policy decision, it did not come as a surprise that the Narendra Modi-led government passed the contentious resolution allowing the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to be raised to 138.62 metres without any delay.
The 17-metre rise in height is Modi’s first gift to his home state. It is believed to ensure the state is three times more endowed with water, especially the drought-hit regions of Kutch and Saurashtra.
However, no thought was spared for the lakhs of people displaced by the decision. As the BJP headquarters in Gujarat drowned in the sound of fireworks, the cries emanating from the Narmada Valley went unheard.
Those living in the valley have been politically exploited, electorally marginalised and are constantly vulnerable to false hope.
As Headlines Today made its way though 1,300 kilometres through the Narmada Valley before the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections last year, it was a land where people knew that whether they cast votes or not, whether they survive the submergence or submit their lives to the usurping waters, the political rhetoric will remain unmoved.
This decision is a travesty of justice for the lakhs of hapless people left in a lurch. As per the rehabilitation and resettlement policy, the government has promised cultivable and irrigable land for land lost and alternative housing plots for houses swept away. After due survey conducted by the Narmada Control Authority, Chagan, from Khalghat village in Madhya Pradesh, was given a compensation ofRs.6,000 and was also granted a plot of land, which has 15 feet of black soil.
As he stares into the wilderness, he asks, “How will I live?”
Chagan was listed, surveyed and given some compensation. Chagan is an exception. For the rest, the battle begins and ends when they don’t even find themselves listed as aggrieved.
Headlines Today is in exclusive possession of the progress report submitted by the state government to the 19th task force that claims that the balance of villages to the resettled and rehabilitated by the Sardar Sarovar Project stands at zero. It didn’t take a 1,300 km drive to nail the government’s lie. Every village in the course of the river in the state is testimony to the government’s lie.
Crusader of the Narmads Bachao Andolan and renowned social activist Medha Patkar’s chief contention is that the number of affected people was never ascertained, yet the dam work started since 1989.
A tribunal was set up that did not even visit the villages. The tribunal set up a number of rehabilitation principals with prescriptions from the World Bank. So on paper, a progressive policy was set up, but policy only remained on paper. There was a lack of planning, a minimum of five acres was guaranteed but never given.
The issue is grave, because raising the height will displace 2.5 lakh new families, while the over 3 lakh already displaced ones are still languishing without any rehabilitation and any sign of hoping fading away with every passing day.
Nadeem Chouhan from the Malood village, which rose to fame for launching the Jal Satyagraha, says, “Government officials sit in their offices in Delhi and draw plans. If they would have once looked towards our villages, they would have never made such plans.”
Malood is one of the 250 villages that stands affected by the Indira Sagar Dam, also a part of the Sardar Sarovar Project.
In this case too, the state government in its report to the centre claims that as of 2006, the balance of families to be resettled by the government remains at a mere 25, while activist on the ground Alok Agarwal claims that there are still 60,000 families across the 250 villages who are clearly caught on the wrong side of the new governments old development plans baring fruit after the people’s mandate.
When the height of the dam is raised, Pipri village in Madhya Pradesh along with 193 others will be wiped out. Shanta Bai cries out in anger, “Why should the people of Madhya Pradesh pay the price for development in Gujarat?”
She ays there is rehabilitation but it is only in ink, not on the ground.
But it’s not just farmers and land owners whose lives have been devastated, even fishermen have nowhere to go – their only source of livelihood too has been snatched away and no alternative has been provided.
A few hundred kilometers from Pipri is the village of Khaparkhera, where 300 acres of land has already been submerged and once the dam height is raised Khaparkheda will seize to exist.
The only people who emerge as winners, seemingly, are the people of Gujarat, but are they really the beneficiaries?
The government believes that raising the height of the dam will benefit those in the drought-hit areas of Kutch and Saurashtra.
However, what the government needs to answer is that while the Sardar Sarovar Dam at its current height has the potential to irrigate 10 lakh hectares of land, why only 3 lakh hectares have been irrigated?
Why has only 40 per cent of the canal network in the state of Gujarat been completed since 1982 when the dam work started?
As a part of the plan, rehabilitation villages have been constructed, but they are few and far between. They guarantee those ousted a roof over their head but no future.
These are built in the middle of nowhere. Barren land surrounds hollow concrete structures and big iron locks dress the door. The steps lead in but the doors don’t open. The irony is hard to miss.