Damning them since 1979

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Under the scorching sun, when Gasra Devi stood up to speak about her plight, many in Nimbola village, Madhya Pradesh (MP), could relate to her predicament. Devi was almost in tears while speaking. The stinging pain she has endured for almost 25 years was now visible to others as well. For all these years she was running from pillar to post to get an alternate housing plot as a compensation for land acquired by the government during the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River.

The tragic tale is not confined to one village. It extends to 116 other villages in MP, 33 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat since 1979, when the project took shape. However, the respective state governments have failed to rehabilitate those who got affected in the process. On top of this, they decided to increase the height of the dam in complete violation of the Supreme Court order.

The apex court order clearly states that any further construction on the dam is possible only after the rehabilitation of presently displaced families.

However, the governments of MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra have claimed before the SC that the displaced families were resettled as per the apex court’s order. They have also said that by increasing the height of the dam, electricity generation will improve considerably in the region apart from being helpful for the irrigation of more lands in Gujarat.

In 2014, when the BJP government came to power at the Centre, it decided to increase the height of the dam by 17 metres, from 121.92 metres to 138.68 metres (as fixed by Narmada Water Dam Tribunal). The work for the same also started in October 2014.

With the promise of rehabilitating the displaced families yet to be fulfilled, the increase in the height of the dam will only multiply the number of affected villagers seeking adequate compensation. The threat of submergence will also be very high under the circumstances.

The 2013 monsoon has proved that if the height is increased to 138.68 metres, in the event of a flood, nothing can be saved.

Currently, more than 45,000 families, comprising of a large number of farmers and tribal, are living in the red (danger) zone areas, which is under the constant threat of submergence.

As part of the Independent People’s Tribunal on Sardar Sarovar Dam, four retired judges — Panachand Jain (Rajasthan), VD Gyani and NK Mohan (MP) and Nagamohan Das(Karnataka) — visited the Barwani district of MP to check if complaints of lack of rehabilitation of people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam were valid.

They then prepared a report citing blatant human rights violation in the villages after hearing the plight of people like Gasra Devi.

On 11 and 12 September, they (the judges) went to the villages vulnerable to submergence and heard the pleas of 10,000 families, who got affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. It included all those who have got entangled in the fake registries scam, received insufficient cash and been denied land.

“Several government reports were fabricated,” says NK Modi, retired justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court. “Many villagers were victimised as they were denied the right to livelihood. Fertile lands from the farmers were also taken away.”

Notably, the agricultural land near the dam produces many crops annually such as wheat, maize, cotton, bananas, papaya, soya bean, lemon and sugar cane. These are then supplied to places such as Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and the cities of Gujarat.

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