Quote: “The protest in Omkareshwar appears to be a final fight of a broken-hearted people from the Narmada Valley.” - Basil Fernando, AHRC
Taking cognizance of the plight of villagers displaced by Omkareshwar dam, who had been protesting for the last 12 days by organizing a Jal Satyagraha, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has written letters to the Prime Minister, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the district collector of Khandwa to intervene immediately in the matter.
Villagers of Ghogalgaon and Barkhalia have been standing in neck-deep water demanding compensation as per Supreme Court guidelines and reduction of water level in the dam. Some of them have developed water-borne diseases, but are still protesting.
The AHRC, in its letter, has urged the Madhya Pradesh government to stop immediately the increase in water level in the Omkareshwar dam and to take all necessary action. “This is taking the Gandhian method to water. To be submerged in water continuously for so many days is more difficult, in fact, than fasting,” Basil Fernando, director (policies and programmes), AHRC, wrote in the letter.
In its judgment of May 2011 about the R&R of the oustees of the Omkareshwar project, the Supreme Court had held it was the constitutional obligation of the project authorities to allot a minimum of two hectares of agricultural land to each displaced family and provide other R&R benefits before the construction of the dam. The court has categorically instructed the government as well as the consortium managing the dam that the water level should not be increased beyond 196.60 meters. The current level of water in the dam has crossed 261.5 meters, following which, the backwaters of the reservoir has inundated land in number of villages including Khardana in Harda district.
“Forcing its own people to stay submerged for 12 days in a row, there cannot be a moment of shame bigger than this for a democracy. How could we remain so untouched when so many people, including community elders, are getting sick standing in water for so long?,” said Samar Anarya, programme officer, AHRC, while talking to HT. “The AHRC is also writing separate letters to the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment calling for further intervention in this case,” he added.