Where Kumhars are not allowed to take ghesa for brick making, but illegal sand mining is rampant

Downstream of Narmada river

By Akash Kumar*

Thirty-one years of struggle, hundreds of protests, lakhs of people supporting the struggle… Why? It is because of a movement which raises the voice of lakhs of people in the Narmada valley. Displaced people are looking at the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) for a better life. The only words which makes hope among the people are

“Ladenge Jeetenge, Lade Hai Jeete Hai
Ham Sab Ek Hai”

India’s best resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) policy was declared after the Narmada dam began to be constructed, forcing three states to begin implementation of R&R for the displaced people. Yet, one can see, people are protesting and living in their native villages. Why? Because atrocities and corruption by government authorities, as also by Narmada Control Authority (NCA) and Narmada Valley Development Corporation (NVDA) officials, have made people lose their hope to be resettled and rehabilitated.

Corruption at R&R sites found by the Justice Jha Commission report is without precedence. The authorities do not allowing Prajapati (Kumhar) samaj to take ghesa (a product between soil and sand, which is used for brick making) from the Narmada river. Yet they allow illegal sand mining in the area. Tiredness of people can be seen writ large on their face, as one talks to them. The second generation is already replacing the previous one, and it still does not see any hope in the future, whether it is getting a job, or earning a livelihood, or securing food.

Narmada river can now be described as consisting of several big lakes divided by concrete walls of big dams like Sardar Sarovar, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, Bargi, etc. There is no continuous flow if Narmada any more. The 1,312 km long river flow is blocked by 30 big dams.

NBA meeting in Nisarpur, Kukshi, Dhar

Aquatic animals, fisheries, livelihood of lakhs of people, and surrounding ecology, are in the process of being destroyed. Death of a river like Narmada is also causing the death of culture and faith of the people in the valley. This has not happened today. This has happened as a result of a long process of evacuating people from their land, river, forest, and livelihood, making people vulnerable.

Delay in justice, denying a role to the local people in decision making, and atrocities through various mediums seem to be aimed at defeating the struggle of the people of the valley. We got independence 70 years ago, but still there is no people’s participation in decision making.

The 73rd Amendments to Indian Constitution through the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act, 1996, and the Forest Rights Act, 2006, provided some foundation for protecting the rights of the marginalized and the poorer sections of people. These amendments also meant decentralization of the decision making process. But in practice what we have is the domination of certain sections of people and higher authorities. There are, of course, some examples of exceptions like Niyamgiri and Plachimada.

Meanwhile, people are struggling and are fighting for their rights to live in a better way and rehabilitate. They hope to make history by uniting in a great people’s movement in upcoming days. Struggle is on by lakhs of people across the world on similar lines. One of the biggest such struggles in India is being led by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) for a just and fair rehabilitation and resettlement policy for the displaced people in the Narmada valley.

How long this struggle will go on is the moot question. A decision of closing the 30-odd gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam is likely to accelerate the anger and agitation of people in the Narmada valley, as they have still not been rehabilitated and resettled. Will it be justiciable to close the gates without rehabilitation of all the people residing in the submergence area?

Many rivers in India are on the verge of the death due to dams. Is it good to kill the river and boom the power sector and the economy? Will people only live in cities? Many more questions are in queue…

*Azim Premji University

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