Death Blow to the Narmada Valley in India

Visualise a long stretch of green, monstrous, rushing water, devouring a piece of land of 214km in length and 16km in breadth, washing out fragile adobe huts made with much effort, with earthen pots and aluminum utensils dancing on the surface of water mocking the people and their movement. Standing on the melting banks, your eyes may desperately search for traces of human habitation, but wherever you see, its only hungry, watery desert; lustrous waterscapes of sorrow.

It’s no more a figment of our Imagination, as only 17mt(approximately) of the Sardar Sarovar Dam (On river Narmada) remains to be constructed, yet another Atlantis is in the process of making.

Taking the cue of the previous myth, lies and betrayals, again the people of Narmada Valley have been backstabbed. How can a democratically elected government be so rude and vile toward its own people? It is more than shocking that the state of Gujarat, in connivance with the other states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan & Maharashtra – has raised the height of Sardar Sarovar dam to 122 metres. They are also building a foundation for the gates to be put up between 122 & 138 mts, even when there are at least 35,000 families (1.75 lakh people yet to be rehabilitated) still residing in the submergence area of 122 mts & more than 40,000 families (2 lakh people) living in the area to be affected at 138.68 mts i.e. the full height. The UPA government in the center has not voiced any concern for the victims of Narmada Valley or even for this contempt of the apex court by the respective state governments. This proves that the National Democratic Alliance or NDA (the previous coalition Government lead by the ‘Saffron Brigade’) or The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, they are all the same in their approach and treatment towards the people and their movements. One submerges civilisations in the name of ‘Hindu Nationalism’; the other does it, in the name of ‘Secular liberalism’.

Incidences took the fast track following the March-May, 2006 struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in New Delhi and the formation of Oversight Group (OSG or Shunglu Committee) and their much-publicized Survey in the Narmada valley. A Sample Survey (of the villages affected under 121.92 m height of Sardar Sarovar dam) was done by the volunteers of Narmada Bachao Andolan under the supervision of an erudite group of scholars challenging the Shunglu Committee Report. The Result of the Survey Came out on June 18th and was submitted to the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment in the form of a report named Gramsabhas in Narmada Valley Challenge Flawed Rehabilitation Reports. From June 18th – 20th NBA protested and performed a sit in dharna in Jantar Mantar – I personally took appointment with the secretary of the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Meera kumar, to narrate the plea of the oustees.

I came back from the valley on 7th of July. Meanwhile the decision came, delivered by the Supreme court on July 10th, 2006, wherein the Supreme Court had noted the decision given by the Prime Minister, that as per the Shunglu Committee (Oversight Group) report the Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) work should be completed during the monsoon season, when the construction work at the dam site will be stopped at 119 meters instead of 122 meters. Following this, in the monsoon, devastation broke out in the Narmada Valley, gushing waters washed away the walls and construction of the well-known micro-hydel power project of Bilgaon in Maharashtra and some Jeevanshalas (‘Schools of life’, which are operated in tribal areas by NBA activists where there are no functioning Government schools after 50 years of Indian Independence) on 7th –8th August. The Bilgaon plant has been a model of the self-dependent and decentralized development, initiated by the people themselves with the judicious use of the natural resources they have. The power plant had become a model for the pro-people and environment friendly development, and the storyline of a Hindi film named Swades (The role of the main protagonist was played by Shahrukh Khan) was based on that.

Amidst this devastation the people in the valley celebrated the Independence Day on 15th of August (it shows their belief in the Indian Constitution, but are the political leaders listening?). However, it seemed the silver lining in the cloud was the recent October 16th judgment by the Supreme Court (though it was not) in which it had ordered the Gujarat Government to stall the work on Sardar Sarovar Dam in 119 m.

The case on Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) rehabilitation, filed by groups of affected people, came in the Supreme Court on 16th of October 2006. The supreme court in its previous judgment had asked the authorities, in particular Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) sub-group, as well as Ministry of Water Resources, to supervise and strictly monitor the work of rehabilitation during the monsoon season. It was also decided that the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) would review R&R work done, in the first half of October 2006. Only after the R&R work was completed that the construction at the dam site could resume. Seeing the R&R situation in the doldrums, the court decided to stall the construction. While delivering the order the Supreme Court extensively referred to the July 10th judgment and has asked governments of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh & union to file affidavits.

People were happy by the court decision, but it turned into a ghoulish nightmare when in late December 2006, the Gujarat government grossly violated the terms set by the apex court order and raised the height of the dam to 122m from 119m.

On this issue, the main activist of the movement, Medha Patkar protested in Dharna in January 2007 and vowed to continue the struggle in the valley. She also announced the launching of a United National People’s Movement countrywide against forceful displacements. Now it is a crucial time for NBA, to bring justice to the land and people … and the struggle will continue in multiform and multifront until justice prevails.

Sangharsh Hi Jeevan Hai…

Struggle is life

Arnab Roy Chowdhury is a University Grants Commission Junior Research fellow in Sociology in India and an activist in Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement). Read other articles by Arnab, or visit Arnab's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. satyakam said on June 1st, 2007 at 1:15pm #

    Blame it on the Malayasians.
    Madamoiselle Patkar was awarded a piece of paper
    called Magsasay “paper”, which was done deleberately
    by the Malayasians.
    There has been continuous destructive opposition
    by this Brady bunch (NBA), instead of coming up with solutions.
    Oppose for the sake of staying in the limelight for past 10 years
    is all that has been done by Patkar etc.
    The agriculture growth in Gujarat is 10+ % due to Narmada.
    (Make a dandi march along the Canals and tributeries )
    NBA wants India to import millions of tonnes of wheat from
    the land Downunder , EU etc which is priced higher than
    the procurement price from the local Indian farmers.

    Human mind is programmable, especially when it keeps
    repeating the same thing again and again.
    NBA is now programmed to oppose anything and everything.

    Not to mention the cunning fox called Britian provinding
    finance, OXFAM etc.

  2. gayathri said on October 22nd, 2007 at 8:41pm #

    better add a picture