In Narmada valley, a bitter battle rages for home and hearth
Madhya Prades chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan stares at a potential crisis as 7,010 families continue to live in Narmada river’s submergence area in two districts. The affected people refuse to move to rehabilitation centres until provided with better civic amenities, including regular water supply and proper drainage.
Over 7,000 families in Dhar and Barwani districts of Madhya Pradesh are still defiant in the face of imminent submergence of their homes and farms in the Narmada water in line with the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project (SSP).
However, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) claims over 40,000 families in 214 km stretch upstream Narmada are at the risk of drowning.
The deadline of July 31 fixed by Supreme Court for SSP affected people to vacate their houses in the submergence area is over. But even now 7,010 families are residing in the 71 villages of the submergence area in the two districts according to the authorities, who have to relocate soon by any means. And that is a potential crisis situation for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Shadow of Mandsaur
The MP government can now use force to evict people from the submergence area. But having burnt its fingers in Mandsaur where five farmers were killed in police firing in June, it is treading cautiously. It has hinted that it will evict people when water level rises in the Narmada, which is likely to happen after August 20, according to the scheduled phase-wise filling of SSP up to October end.
On July 29, the state government announced a special compensation package of Rs 900 crore to convince project affected families (PAFs) to avail the same and move out of the submergence area on their own. Under this package, Rs 5.8 lakh will be provided to each family for construction of houses at resettlement sites.
With intermittent rains lashing Narmada valley for last few weeks, water level in the river and possible floods in its vast catchment area upstream will decide when the government will have to evict people. With authorities closing the sluice gates of SSP on June 17, the water level will soon start rising further in the 214-km stretch upstream of Narmada.
With a delay of over two decades in completing rehabilitation and resettlement, a large number of PAFs are still in no mood to vacate their homes till they are provided complete rehabilitation and better civic amenities at 88 resettlement sites. Though many have submitted affidavits that they will relocate, they are still living in their old homes, local sources said.
The state government claims that 90 to 95% work has been completed, but PAFs HT spoke to say these sites were still plagued with many problems like unlevelled land, irregular water supply, no drainage and no street lights.
Voices of protest
For people in Narmada valley, it is not just their houses and farms; it is their history, their culture, the land where their ancestors walked and prayed to Mother Narmada, which would go under water anytime in the coming months. HT travelled to Dhar and Barwani and spoke to PAFs. Over last few weeks, PAFs backed by the NBA have been protesting in various parts of Narmada valley, with the dissent intensifying after NBA leader Medha Patkar started her indefinite fast on July 27 at Chikhalda in Dhar district. Patkar’s 12-day hunger strike put the MP government on the backfoot, prompting it to forcibly shift her away on Monday (Aug 7) from the protest site, where thousands of people had gathered, and admitted her at a hospital in Indore.
In last few weeks, PAFs have organised jal satyagrahas, kafan (shroud) satyagraha, chulha bandh (no cooking for a day) satyagraha, blocked bridges and gheraoed officials surveying the villages in the submergence area.
On why they were not ready to relocate, Jagdish Patel from Kadmal village in Dhar said most PAFs were given a paltry compensation for their houses in 2002 and allotted plots in 2005 at resettlement sites, where they didn’t shift.
“We don’t have money to construct houses and that too so fast. In many villages, plots have been allotted at different rehabilitation sites, up to over 15 km away, which makes it difficult for us to come for farming,” he said.
Who gains most: MP or Gujarat?
The NBA and many PAFs also question why the MP government is pushing the project when it is not gaining anything substantial. They also ask how the submergence area is shown to have decreased when the dam height has been increased over the years.
In 1970s, MP and Maharashtra governments had opposed SSP, favouring alternative dams in their own territories. According to the 2015 report of Independent People’s Tribunal on SSP, which comprised four retired judges, “opposition to SSP existed since 1960s on the ground that vast swathes of MP, its habitats and fertile farm land would go under water, with no real benefits to MP…while Gujarat was keen on harnessing Narmada waters, which resulted in the appointment of NWDT by the Centre.”
During Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA) hearing, MP and Maharashtra had opposed SSP on the ground of severe loss of agriculture land and impact on people and other ecological impacts, the report added.
Medha Patkar told HT that SSP primarily benefited Gujarat while MP will be worst affected. “MP doesn’t need power, it is already power surplus. MP is not getting much water for irrigation or drinking water from SSP. Over 40,000 families in 214 km stretch upstream Narmada are at the risk of drowning…but due to the Modi factor, the agencies concerned are pushing the project, without addressing concerns of PAFs,” she said.
The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, Gujarat, which is implementing the SSP, says the project will provide irrigation to 18.45 lakh hectares in 3112 villages of Gujarat, 2.4 lakh hectares in Rajasthan and 37,500 hecatres in Maharashtra. SSP will provide drinking water to 9490 villages and 173 urban centres in Gujarat and 1336 villages in Rajasthan. The power generated by SSP is shared by three states- Madhya Pradesh (57%), Maharashtra (27%) and Gujarat (16%).
MP rebuts protesters
Rajneesh Vaish, vice-chairman, Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) rubbished claims of NBA and others that MP doesn’t benefit much from SSP.
“We are getting 857 of 1,450 MW power from SSP. Since 2007, we have got electricity worth Rs 3,000 crore and with dam height increased, we will now get around Rs 1,000 to 1,400 crore worth of electricity every year,” he said.
Vaish said the distribution of power and water resources had been decided under NWDTA 1979. “But we are free to use Narmada waters upstream SSP up to 18.25 million acre feet (MAF). There is scheme already underway in Alirajpur under which 35000 hectare agriculture land will be irrigated”, he said.
Dr Afroz Ahmad, member Narmada Control Authority (environment and rehabilitation) told HT that during backwater calculations, the storage capacity of Omkareshwar Dam and Indira Sagar was taken into account, due to which backwater levels were reduced and over 15000 families were struck off from the list of PAFs.
NBA had pinned its hopes on the hearing in the Supreme Court on Tuesday (August 8) that the apex court might stay or shift the deadline for vacating the houses (which was July 31 according to SC’s Feb order). But according to NBA leader Rahul Yadav, “Supreme Court at this stage decided not to interfere with the proceedings pending before the Indore high court as it was against interim orders and the High Court is already monitoring the rehabilitation and resettlement(R&R)of PAFs…Now the high court will continue to monitor R&R”. Yadav said “We will continue to fight this until justice is done to the 40,000 families in the Narmada Valley”.