Sixty-year-old Leela Bai’s skin has started to peel off and she has developed rashes in her whole body. But that has not deterred her from fighting for her cause.
Leela is one of the 24 women from villages across Khandwa have been standing in water at Ghogalgaon village, 55 km south of Khandwa, for the last six days to protest against the Madhya Pradesh government’s move to allow a four-metre rise in the water level of the Omkareshwar dam.
The 520 MW Omkareshwar project is one of the several big dams on the Narmada river, built by the Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation, a joint venture between NHPC Ltd and the government of Madhya Pradesh. The protesters say increasing the water level in the dam would submerge their lands spread across several villages.
The ‘Jal Satyagraha’ -- which started with waist-deep water on August 25 -- reached a flashpoint on Thursday with the water level reaching up to the neck of the protestors. “It has been rising. Today, we are standing with water touching the neck of most of the protestors,” said Govind Borkhiya, one of the 28 men participating in the unique protest.
In all, 51 persons are participating in the Jal Satyagraha, while another 150 are sitting on dharna near the site. Sources confirmed that the water level, which stood at 189 metres on Wednesday, has reached 190.4 metres on Thursday.
Life had been getting tough every passing day for the protestors who are spending on an average around 20 hours in water. “Most of the villagers are standing in water with the help of bamboo. They have developed numbness in feet and skin-itching problems,” said Narmada Bachao activist Chittaroopa Palit. “All of them come out only for lunch and dinner or to visit the toilet,” she added.
The NBA had organized a similar Jal Satyagraha at Gunjari in 2007 and at villages Junapani and Karanpura in 2007.
“The government is acting in violation of Supreme Court orders and trying to drive the oustees away without rehabilitation by submerging their lands and houses. But the affected persons have resolved that they will not give in and will rather drown than be driven away,” Palit said. She added that the Supreme Court, in its judgment of May 2011 on the rehabilitation of the oustees of Omkareshwar project, had ruled that it was the constitutional obligation of the project authorities to allot a minimum of two hectares of agricultural land to each displaced family.
Rattled by the protest, the district administration held a meeting with the protestors on Thursday. “We discussed their demands and are going to send a proposal to the state government,” said Khandwa collector Neeraj Dubey.