Photo: Narmada Bachao Andolan
It was Monsoon of 1991, when activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan dared the rising waters and refused to leave their huts in the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) Dam’s submergence area shouting the slogan, Doobenge Par Hatenge Nahi (We shall drown, but we shall not move). It’s after 20 years that displaced people from Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar Dam are standing in water for 15 days now at Ghogalgaon. Madhya Pradesh Government ignored it firstly and then started saying that they have already been compensated for their loss. However, it may be noted that in Special Leave petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the State Government and the National Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC) Limited which is the company which has built the Indira Sagar dam, accepted that the land for land judgment of the Supreme Court dated May 11, 2011 passed for the oustees of the Omkareshwar dam would also apply equally to the oustees of the Indira Sagar dam. The same was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court order dated July 24th 2012 making oustees of the ISP too eligible for land for land with a minimum of 2 ha. of land.
One of the largest dam in the country – the Indira Sagar dam, despite there being a R&R Policy for allotment of land for land, the oustees were neither informed about the R&R Policy, not ever offered or allotted land by the project authorities. The oustees were told that they were entitled only for cash compensation and not for land. The official figures show that with the pittances that the oustees were given in the name of compensation, 89% of the Indira Sagar dam oustees could not purchase any land at all, and thus became paupers without any resources.
In total, Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) along with Narmada Control Authority and NHDC are responsible for constructing 30 big dams and displacing nearly 10 lakh people and affecting lakhs of hectares of fertile and other land. It is the largest planned death of a river valley in the name of development, which has been challenged by Narmada Bachao Andolan over last three decades now. It is the story of deceit, plunder and destruction of a thriving civilisation with complete disregard for all the fundamental and democratic rights of the people and of the laws made by the State and Union Legislatures. This is not development but destruction alone and nothing else.
In case of SSP, for the last 27 years of struggle including Jal Satyagraha to Jal Samadhi, agitations have led to the land-based rehabilitation of 11,000 families in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but not one is rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh. The situation is same in all the large dams in the Madhya Prdaesh part of the Narmada valley – Bargi, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, Indira Sagar, Maan, Jobat, Veda, Goi etc. The constant argument which the MP government has given is that they don’t have any land to give to the oustees. And to rub salt to their woes, Narmada Control Authority, a central body entrusted with the responsibility to oversea implementation of the R&R measures says that all the project affected families have been adequately rehabilitated.
However, it is surprising that Madhya Pradesh government has land to allocate to corporations and investors from across the globe but denies the same to the project affected and only forces them to accept rocky, uncultivable or decades-old encroached land from its ‘Waste Land Bank’ that too in some cases only. The same insensitivity is reflected in its silence in dealing concretely with the 10 month long Jobat Zameen Haq Satyagraha by the SSP oustees, mostly the hilly adivasis, displaced since 1994. The oustees who are on the verge of reaping the second crop on the government seed farm land they have ‘occupied’ since 10 months is another slap in the face of the State!
The lessons from the Narmada Valley but are far from being reflected in the further planning in the river valley development. The key question of development for whom and at what cost remains to be answered ? The interlinking of rivers which also includes Narmada will only worsen the situation. The colossal human cost is being ignored in any planning and then one wonders where are we headed as a society ?
The situation is no different in other dam projects be it the displaced people of Bhakra Dam, Hirakund dam or those from Damodar Valley, they continue to suffer the curse of the ‘modern temples’ of India. It is ironic and unfortunate that after 65 years of independence when a law is being enacted to provide resettlement and rehabilitation of project affected people as a legal right then none of these people are being taken in account. They will continue to be left outside the purview of the proposed “Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2012”. There has been a demand for retrospective application of any such law and constitution of National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission where any on could approach for settling their claims as a right. That could be a way to perhaps deal with the historical injustice meted out to these communities.
The Jal Satyagraha of oustees in Ghogalgaon has brought back the focus on the suffering of the people in Narmada Valley but for how long. A five member committee has been formed by the MP government to look in to the claims of the land for land but will that really solve the issue ? Experience with many such committees of Ministers or Bureaucrats in past gives no reason to Narmada Bachao Andolan to believe it will. It was in 2006 that focus of whole country was drawn to the Narmada Valley when a three ministers committee was formed after Medha Patkar’s historic fast of 20 days. Even then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refused to take action on the recommendations of his own colleagues. Since then High Court and Supreme Court has accepted and given orders for R&R but one wonders where should the people of Narmada Valley go for justice ?