A District Damned

Arrested for Protest Activist Roma Malik


Hows And Whys Of The Dam

Envisaged in 1977, the Kanhar Irrigation Project is located downstream of the river Kanhar near Sugawan village in Dudhi tehsil of Sonbhadra. This area is part of the Kaimur region, which has abundant natural resources but was historically exposed to massive exploitation of natural resources and the resultant marginalisation of socially oppressed people. Sonbhadhra district is classified as one of the most backward districts in the country by the Indian government.

The initial project cost was Rs 27.5 crore. The project got delayed due to protests as well as technical reasons, besides diversion of funds, and the cost has touched Rs 2,259 crore as of now. As per official claims, the project will provide irrigation facilities to Dudhi and Robertsganj tehsils “via left and right canals emerging from both sides of the dam with capacity of 192 and 479 cusec respectively”. The project has a culturable command area of 47,302 hectares.

The latest estimate is that about 3,000 hectares of land spread across several villages of UP, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh will be submerged. According to Vijay Kumar, executive engineer with the project, the government had initiated land acquisition in the 1970s and several people were given compensation during that phase.

The official claim is contested by the locals and activists of the Kanhar Bachao Andolan (KBA) and KBVSS on the following grounds:

⇏ There was no consent from village panchayats and voices of the affected people were suppressed completely

⇏ There was absolutely no social impact survey

⇏ There is no forest and environment clearance. The State is presenting some documents obtained 38 years ago and this is invalid in the context of more sensitive new laws. For instance, it is said that the government is completely violating the Forest Rights Act (FRA) that is applicable in Sonbhadra

⇏ The State has overlooked an important clause in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, which says that “if the acquired land has not (been) used or (were) not in possession for five years, the process of acquisition would have to start afresh”. Ravi Kumar Jain, legal counsel for five village panchayats at the Allahabad High Court, says that the government started taking steps to acquire land way back in 1977 but it never really got possession. During this time, the affected people were undergoing a “long period of uncertainty” and they should be compensated for it. In fact, only a few people actually got some compensation in the 1970s and most of the Adivasis were left out

⇏ The claim that the project is for irrigation purpose is bogus. The Kanhar project seems to be a replica of the Rihand dam in the same region. The Rihand project caused massive displacement but was a disaster at fulfilling the irrigation promises. Water from that dam is now being used primarily by a couple of big business groups in the energy sector

Activists of the KBVSS also point out that the 7 May 2015 judgment of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is a scathing critique of the project. “The NGT judgment indicated that the construction of the dam is illegal but it allowed the ‘construction that is underway’ as a lot of public money has already been spent. This is contradictory,” says an activist.

In the first week of September, the Sonbhadra additional district court granted bail to Roma, who was jailed for more than two months for supporting the Adivasi struggle. Roma was depicted by the government as a dangerous woman who is misleading the Adivasis and putting the development potential of Sonbhadra at risk. The bail order ridiculed the government’s claim that the protesting Adivasis initiated the violence.

“The upper-caste-controlled Hindi media in Sonbhadra also played a crucial role in speading the canard that it is the Adivasis who are breaking the law in the Kanhar area. They never report on State violence and present us as ‘anti-development’. Some journalists are also acting as informers of the police and the administration,” Shivaprasad tells TEHELKA from his hideout.

A cursory look at Hindi newspapers dated 15 April, a day after the police firing, exposes the media’s obvious biases in this belt. Most of the reports did not mention the one-sided police violence and presented the incidents as a “clash between the police and protesters”. Some reports even suggested that the State should have used more force.

Everyone, including the media, needs “development”. But what kind of development? And at whose cost?


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