Down with the reservoir

Published: Monday 30 September 1996

Down with the reservoir

Six years after their land and homes were submerged by the Bargi dam, residents of 162 villages in Seoni, Mandla and Jabalpur districts of the upper Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh still await rehabilitation. After the first phase of the people's struggle, the state government had handed over the Bargi reservoir (for fishing) to them in 1994. Although the 54 cooperative societies operating since then have been selling fish worth over Rs 1.5 crore each year, the measure takes care of just a fraction of the over one lakh people displaced due to the dam.

Currently, the people's immediate demand is that the reservoir should not be filled beyond a height of 418 m, until such time as they are fully rehabilitated. By doing so, the 5,000 ha of land on which the people subsist will remain intact. A number of protest rallies have been held by the people under the banner of the Barghi Bandh Visthapit Avam Prabhavit Sangh for the purpose.

As part of the struggle, the people began a satyagraha (a form of non-violent resistance) on July 21 in the area above the reservoir about to be submerged. In mid-August, the Madhya Pradesh government cracked down on the people and arrested 15 persons as the water level behind the dam started rising. Despite this, over 1,000 people remained at Bijasen village, the site of the satyagraha. Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan who attempted to join the satyagraha on August 20, was also arrested. She was released on August 30 when the Jabalpur bench of the High Court termed her detention illegal.

In a significant victory for the people, after the August 30 and September 2 meetings with the affected people, the state government has ultimately agreed to maintain the reservoir level at 418 m. However, the Madhya Pradesh state electricity board is still opposing the move.

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