Narmada dam oustees not satisfied with MP govt assurances

They shouted slogans even as activist Medha Patkar held a meeting with a state minister about the fate of those displaced due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s backwaters

By Shatakshi Gawade
Published: Tuesday 10 September 2019
Protestors at the Indore meeting between Medha Patkar and the Madhya Pradesh government. Photo: Shatakshi Gawade

Oustees displaced in Madhya Pradesh due to the backwaters of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat are not convinced by the government of Madhya Pradesh’s promises to help them even as they stare at continual displacement.

“Nothing comes out of discussions. We are drowning, there is water in our homes. People are being forced out of homes even now. Tell Modiji to open the gates!” protestors shouted even as various stakeholders met to sort out issues of relief and rehabilitation in Indore on September 9, 2019.

“We shall only know how serious the government is if something happens on the ground,” Rupendra Mandloi, of submerged village Ekalbara,

The height of the dam was increased to 138.68 metres in 2017. The water level in the dam reached 136.04 metres on September 9, 2019, due to heavy rains. While the filling schedule drawn by the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) in 2017 provides for the filling of dam to its Full Reservoir Level  (FRL) by October 31, Gujarat is rushing to attain the FRL by September 15 this year.

Activist Medha Patkar, who had been on hunger strike since August 25, ended it on September 2. Patkar, representing her outfit, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) met with Madhya Pradesh’s Narmada Valley Development Department minister Surendra Singh Baghel and others at the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) on September 9.

Patkar, Baghel and others discussed various issues:

  • The exact number of affected people
  • Compensation amounts
  • Formation of islands due to submergence
  • Conducting camps for entitlements in all villages
  • Inadequate number of plots and rehabilitation sites
  • Leveling of land for house construction
  • Action on people involved in fake registry of land for homes
  • Panchnama (inquest) for affected people
  • Rights for the fishing community on the reservoir
  • Cases of oustees settled in Gujarat
  • Issues of farmers who have lost land for rehabilitation sites

Patkar held the previous government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan to be responsible for the current situation.

“There should be a panchnama immediately for the crops that have been lost,” said Patkar. “The government has agreed that there are 178 villages which will be submerged, not just 76. There should be action against officials who had said ‘zero balance’ (the term used by the previous government to say all people had been rehabilitated),” she added.

Patkar also demanded that action be taken against officials who had submitted false affidavits about the status of rehabilitation.

“It is now a question of opening the gates immediately. The officials should work on this like it is a disaster,” she said. 

She added that all these issues had already been discussed in a meeting with Baghel on 25 January, 2019.

A participant at the meeting, Rehmat bhai, who has lost land to submergence in Chikhalda village in MP, said, “It seemed that the officials hadn’t done their research. They had a very superficial understanding of the issues like formation of islands due to submergence.”

He added: “One official suggested acquiring the 7,000 hectares of land that would be cut off. They don’t have the money for compensation right now, how could they acquire so much land? We suggested they build access roads instead,” he said in amazement.

Farmland inundated because of the Sardar Sarovar Dam's backwaters. Photo: Shatakshi  GawadeThe government has decided to conduct new surveys to ascertain how many people are affected by submergence. 

On his part, Baghel said that his government would not allow any submergence-affected person to remain deprived of compensation. He vowed to conduct surveys more accurately, and in the presence of NBA members; these surveys would also be video-recorded. He assured the people that he was with them. 

“We will immediately transfer the full amount of Rs 5.8 lakh (for house construction) to the people who are eligible. We will give the identified 115 people the package of Rs 60 lakh within a week,” he said.

For plots which need levelling of land allotted for house construction, the government will give money for the same if the person so desires, or appoint people to do the levelling through a tendering process.

Many farmers are unable to water their fields as electricity has been wrongly cut around areas which are being submerged. “Officials will do spot verification and give orders for restoring electricity to the fields,” Baghel said.

On hearing the nearly 1,000 protestors from Barwani, Dhar and Alirajpur districts in MP, and Nandurbar in Maharashtra, who were shouting slogans, Baghel tried to reassure them.

He informed them that there would be a meeting in Delhi in two days about the status of the gates of the dam. “We are requesting them to release the water and not to fill the reservoir this year. The MP government is strongly opposing this decision (to close the gates),” he said. 

Protestors also organised a sit-in at the office of the NCA while the NVDA office meet was underway.

They sat in the corridor outside the office of MK Sinha, the executive member of NCA, refusing to move till they got answers. Shama bai from the fishing community demanded, “We have been fisherfolk for generations. Why haven't we got any compensation? You shall give all the industrialists the water of the dam. But fish and water are our rights.” 

Ranvir Dumne, a principal private secretary in NCA, first said that the senior officials were in Delhi for a meeting. Then he said they were away on personal leave. 

NBA has shared that currently, land and homes of over 1,000 families in 26 villages in Alirajpur district have been submerged. In Dhar district, 45 villages have been submerged, and in Barwani district, 40 villages have been submerged.

Some families are living in temporary tin sheds, some have moved to incomplete homes at rehabilitation sites.

The government has yet to complete rehabilitation according to the rehabilitation policy, Rahul Yadav, NBA activist, said. “Farmers have lost lakhs of rupees of crops in the three districts. In Alirajpur, Dhar and Barwani, land which was not supposed to be submerged has gone under,” he added.

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