The Narmada Bachao Andolan, completed 31 years of struggle and reconstruction on August 16. Text of the statement issued by Mumbai-based activists*, expressing solidarity with the movement, saying it “continues to fight for justice reaching to all – especially to the most deprived amongst the citizens of our country:
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) movement which started 31 full years ago in India, led to a discourse and push for an alternate, least destructive development model which would bring prosperity to even the poorest Indian living in the remotest, least developed part of the country.
The three decades long movement began by questioning the development model created around the Sardar Sarovar Dam being constructed on the Narmada River. This mega project would result in the displacement of lakhs of self-sufficient tribals, farmers, fisher-folks, potters, artisans, etc.; submerge lakhs of hectares of fertile and irrigable farm land and rich forests plus permanently cause salinity and therefore create deserts in the presently fertile and productive areas in the Narmada valley. The project would drown one of the oldest civilizations in the world without even time to study it first.
The NBA, via its struggle covering 31 years has managed to get the promised land for land rehabilitation for approximately 14,000 adivasi , dalit farmers and their families – especially those from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
However, the status of rehabilitation is shockingly slow and shameful when you consider that submergence started in 1995 and in 2016, more than 40,000 families are still awaiting their rightful rehabilitation after they were forcefully made to sacrifice their homes , farms and forest resource base in the name of “development” and progress of the country.
The promised mirage of benefits is still awaited.
In 1991, it was the NBA that first introduced primary education for the adivasi children living in the submergence zone of the Sardar Sarovar Dam especially in the hilly regions of the Narmada valley. Nine of these ‘Jeevanshalas’ (Schools for Life) are still running in M.P.( two schools) and Maharashtra (seven schools) with financial assistance from supporters of the movement. One often wonders how submergence of schools is covered by the description “development of the country”!
Right now, social activist, Ms. Medha Patkar along with thousands of project affected persons, supported by persons with a conscience, are sitting in “satyagraha” on the banks of the Narmada – protesting submergence without prior rehabilitation which is in complete violation of Supreme Court Orders.
In 2001, the Supreme Court had made it mandatory that rehabilitation must be completed before the Dam height is increased. However, within 17 days of coming to power in 2014, the NDA government made a decision to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam by 17 meters (from 122 meters to 139 meters) despite the rehabilitation being hugely incomplete .
A scam of around Rs 1,500 crores just in the rehabilitation sector of the dam was exposed by the Jha Commission. The State governments of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra filed false affidavits in the Supreme Court claiming full rehabilitation had been achieved.
The Jha Commission Report was kept out of the public domain.
The limited and temporary benefits made available due to the project are being diverted to the corporates instead of to the people the project was built to serve. For instance, Coca Cola alone draws 30 million litres of water every day while the construction of the canal network meant for irrigation till Kutch remains neglected and incomplete.
We, as concerned citizens of India, support the NBA in its struggle to fight injustice being doled out to the dalits, adivasis, farmers and fisher-folk as well as other landless labourers and artisans.
*Anand Patwardhan, Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Anil Hebbar, Arun Sawant, Bilal Khan, Chhaya Datar, Daniel Mazgaonkar, Dilip D’Souza, Dhananjay Shinde, Dr Mary Mathai, Feroze Mithiborewala, Girija Gupte, Himanshu Thakkar, Irfan Engineer, Jawahar Nagori, Jagdish Khairaliya, Jitendra Sha, Lyla Mehta, Madhuri Variath, Meena Pingle, Manasi Pingle , Mukta Srivastava, Pervin Jehangir, Prof Uday Mehta, Ramesh Pimple, Sanjay M.G, Simantini Dhuru, Shahi Mehta, Sharad Joshi, Vijaya Chauhan and Vivek Sundara