Jal Satyagraha forces Madhya Pradesh government to relent

People affected by Omkareshwar dam to get land in lieu of land; water level of reservoir reduced

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Tuesday 11 September 2012

People in Madhya Pradesh's Khandva district who have been holding protest demonstrations since mid-July against the state's decision to increase the water level in the Omkareshwar dam reservoir and are demanding rehabilitation have finally succeeded in forcing the government to act. The Madhya Pradesh government relented and agreed to reduce the water level in the dam reservoir to the original 189 metres on September 10.

It also agreed to give land in lieu of land to all affected people. The government announced that a three-minister team has been constituted to look into the problems of the people displaced by the Omkareshwar dam. The team comprises state industries minister Kailash Vijayavargiya, tribal and scheduled caste welfare minister Vijay Shah and Narmada valley development minister Kanhaiya Lal Aggarwal.

Some 50 project oustees had joined senior Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activist Chittaroopa Palit in protesting against the state government’s move to raise the water level of the dam reservoir in violation of Supreme Court orders by staging a jal satyagraha. These protesters sat in neck-deep water for 17 days, demanding that the water level be brought down and rehabilitation package be given as directed by Supreme Court.

Since the government’s announcement, the water level at the protest site in Ghogalgaon village has been reduced, after which the protesters emerged from the waters. Many of them have developed severe skin and other health problems from constant exposure to water, said Alok Agarwal of NBA.

The increase in the reservoirs water-level had submerged over 400 hectares of agricultural land and standing crops, said Palit. “The crops on this land have been completely destroyed,” she said. “People have been hit hard by this destruction, and will demand compensation for the loss along with compensatory land,” she added.

Protests against Indira Sagar dam to intensify

Meanwhile, protests are expected to intensify in the submergence area of the Indira Sagar dam in neighbouring Harda district where the government, against Supreme Court orders, is trying to raise the water level from 260 metres to 262 metres. Protests similar to the one by people displaced by Omkareshwar dam are currently on in villages Barkhalia and Khardana. These protests are likely to intensify, says Palit. “Due to the submergence, protesters are not able to reach the protest sites, and government boats have been instructed not to carry people to the protest sites,” said Palit. “Hence people have decided to start protests at their own villages.”

It may be recalled that both the state high court and Supreme Court have instructed the government not to raise the water level of Indira Sagar dam beyond 260 m. NBA will be filing a contempt of court petition in this connection in the high court, informed sources in NBA.

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