Activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and people affected by Sardar Sarovar Dam and other projects in the Narmada Valley staged a demonstration in front of Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s residence on Thursday, demanding rehabilitation of dam oustees by the mega project.
Protestors, mostly dam oustees led by activist Medha Patkar, squatted close to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s residence throughout the day, but they were not able to meet the chief minister.
Terming the displacement "unlawful", the demonstrators cautioned the Centre and the state government not to submerge the land in the Narmada valley in view of the provisions of the new Land Acquisition Act, 2013.
"According to the new law that came into effect on January 1, 2014, land acquired more than five years (back) would go back to the affected people if it was not yet physically acquired by the government or if compensation for the land had not been not paid or accepted," Patkar told HT.
The activist said land or houses for Sardar Sarovar project were acquired over a decade back and are still in possession of the affected persons, who have ownership rights of their properties in accordance with the provisions of the new land acquisition laws.
"Any submergence activity without completion of proper rehabilitation would be totally illegal and criminal," Patkar said. “We dare the Centre and state government to try this," she said.
The Centre's nod for increasing the height of Sardar Sarovar dam by another 17 metres has once again triggered the decade-long debate of rationality of big dams between the governments and the environmentalists.
The fresh bout of protests came just days after the Gujarat government started the construction to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam from 121.92 metres to 138.68 metres and to install radial gates on the dam on October 8.
In June this year, the Centre gave approval to the Gujarat government to raise the dam height and install gates on condition that the gates would be kept in 'open state'.
The activist said, oustees, mostly from Madhya Pradesh, have not been yet properly rehabilitated or compensated.
More than 45,000 families in Madhya Pradesh were affected by the project and huge corruption has been detected in the rehabilitation process by the Justice SS Jha Commission, whose inquiry was still underway, said Patkar.
Even though the state was faced with maximum loses due to increase of the dam height, the chief minister was not willing to hold discussions with stakeholders, Patkar said. "This is like delivering death sentence without allowing even a last wish."
"We wanted to present the facts before the chief minister, but he seems to lack the courage to meet us. Digvijay Singh (former CM) at least heard us out, despite differences," she said.