Thick-skinned policies

Dozens of families displaced from Gujarat villages in the vicinity of the Sardar Sarovar dam years back have returned to their original homes and refused to move back. What further evidence do the authorities want?

By Ashish Kothari
Published: Friday 31 July 1992

NOTHING seems to move them, the planners of misery and destruction in the Narmada Valley. Not entreaties, not scientific arguments, not reason, not 23-day hunger fasts, not 40,000-strong demonstrations, not even the possibility of entire communities drowning in their refusal to move out of their ancestral lands when the reservoir waters rise.

Smug as they are in their beliefs, their power, and the knowledge that there will always be self-proclaimed benefactors like the World Bank to bail them out, our governments continue to construct the Sardar Sarovar dam. They must be aware that they are hurtling the Narmada Valley towards a conflict situation which could turn violent.

The evidence of Sardar Sarovar's non-viability is detailed and complex. Cost escalation from Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 13,000 crore and the uncertainty of where this money is to come from, except by squeezing the other sectors of the Gujarat economy, has put the financial viability of the dam into serious doubt. But more serious is the social disruption, including the displacement of 100,000 people from the submergence zone.

On paper, the rehabilitation policy of Gujarat is among the best in India. But after years, the state governments have not been able to show adequate land to make this policy feasible for all oustees. Reports of the official monitoring agencies point out serious deficiencies in the ongoing rehabilitation efforts, especially in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. What better comment on this than the fact that dozens of families, displaced from Gujarat villages years back, have returned to their original homes and refused to move back?

Sacrificing the interests of a few thousand people to reach benefits to "millions" is justified by the project authorities as "having to break eggs to make omelettes". But why is it always the poor and the weak who constitute the eggs, while the omelette is gobbled up by the rich? Who will the project benefit? Powerful large farmers in central Gujarat, industrialists and middle-class urban dwellers who are promised electricity, politicians who gain votes and contractors like Jaiprakash Associates.

---Ashish Kothari is an associate at the Indian Institute of Public Affairs and an active member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

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