By Medha Patkar*
After almost 32 years of struggle, lakhs of people in the Narmada valley to be affected by Sardar Sarovar, are being threatened of brutal eviction. The government of Madhya Pradesh has begun sending its emissaries to convey to the farmers, labourers and all inhabitants of the valley that they will have to move out of their homes and hearths, their farms and orchards. They are asked to leave behind their pakka houses, children’s schools, the shops and markets, all the sources of livelihood attached to land and the mother river Narmada. All the temples and ghats, mosques and mazars, age old religious and cultural monuments, not just archaeological but their ancestor’s remnants underneath which are not live yet legendary.
Officials and employees are merely the carriers of the message that all the people, poor and not so poor, must leave their generations old motherland, Narmada basin, even without any shelter ready to house them. They will be given a tin shed if they come out of their houses, it may be one built of bricks and mud or cement. Those in one storied buildings, well-to-do farmers and traders, too, will follow the poor, landless, fisher people, potters and labourers.
This when rehabilitation sites are not at all ready with amenities, mandated under the Narmada Tribunal Award, endorsed by all the judgements of the Apex Court, 1992, 2000, 2005 until February 2017. Huge corruption in the establishment of these sites was exposed by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and then by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA); 40 engineers were sacked after a long legal battle indicating low quality, and the same was fully exposed by the technical reports of IIT, Mumbai, and MANIT, Bhopal, submitted to and accepted by the Justice Jha Commission.
Just like on paper, the condition on the ground, too, shows that 90% of families haven’t shifted to new sites, which are full of problems; they don’t have drinking water or drainage, leading to waterlogging and submergence of houses. Many have no house plots to build houses on, with large pits, unleveled. Thousands of families can’t even build the plinths with the meagre compensation for a house paid to them 10 to 15 years back!
All this, the Supreme order of February 8, 2017 said, can be complained to the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA), which in turn can give directions to the Narmada Valley Development Agency (NVDA). Despite detailed complaints, this has not happened. As no construction or repairs have taken place at sites over the years, where would people go?
What does the law say? When the Supreme Court has said that the final figures of beneficiaries has not yet been ascertained and officials can’t provide full lists of those who are to be benefited, how dare they evict people, following only a selected part of the verdict? When the authorities were always reporting full compliance, why do they claim they will now fell trees and evict gods and temples and mosques, along with people? Now, after more than 60 years, by converting land rights into cash, the apex court has opened the Pandora’s box, including the middleman’s in nexus with the NVDA with the full support of the GRA,which has former judges as members. NBA is in a battle with them all.
Meanwhile, the much trumpeted Narmada Seva Yatra was concluded by the Prime Minister with a gathering of 1 lakh and more people and the media on May 15th. The glaze is such that the CM and PM are promoting themselves as saviours of the river Narmada, while the damned river is not just polluted by them but is being diverted too! From whom are they trying to save this least polluted river? Why are they suddenly spending Rs 1000+ crore on propaganda? It’s the corporate power, Coca Cola to Adani, which is snatching away waters leaving the riverine population high and dry, wiping it out!
The state is getting ready to use force, which they were never ever permitted by any court, till the latest order of February 8th this year. The give-and-take settlement (it’s not resettlement) that the order brings forth is now being implemented on the ground when thousands of people will be tried to be forcibly evicted, even though, as per their statement, which is an underestimation, “112 villages from 4 districts in MP, Badwani, Dhar, Alirajpur and Khargone, 8000 families would be affected.” Meanwhile, 76 villages from district Dhar are being asked to vacate. Why should people do? If they don’t vacate, will the battle in the village after village be converted into state power pitted against its own people?
In NBA’s estimation, there are not less than 40,000 families in the submergence area, especially in Madhya Pradesh, and a few hundred in Maharashtra.
It was people vs power over the last 32 years amidst efforts to define and redefine development, question the iniquitous, unsustainable paradigm and the undemocratic, demonic displacement and deprivation. The movement fought for the landless, and not not just the landowners. Everyone, including adivasis, stood up beyond caste and creed, tried to pull together the strength and challenged the ruthless system. Huge corruption was exposed through seven years’ inquiry. But the criminals were not punished. Even today, they continue to function as a nexus to try and loot, amidst our effort to prevent and protecting our mass strength.
We exposed the destruction of the riverine and the nature’s life, and not just violations of laws.We challenged illegal sand mines and stopped vehicles, taking the brunt of the attacks.We counted trees which are in thousands in each village, and checked seismological data, backwater levels and archaeological survey reports. Yet, they filled their tables with percentages, mostly 100, as achievements, and didn’t care to see the destruction in the offing.
The minority judge Justice Bharucha’s opinion in the NBA judgement (2000) said it all. The letter to the World Bank President by the Morse Commission concluded in no unclear terms that this dam can’t be completed without using unacceptable means. This was in 1993 when those international experts — a Canadian judge, an American ecologist and a British anthropologist under the leadership of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) vice chairman — concluded that the Bank should withdraw from the Sardar Sarovar Project. The Bank did, but not our own government!
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, kept aside all formalities, rejected all legalities, and dictated that the dam should be completed at any cost. His own ministers, Uma Bharti and Thawar Chand Gehlot from Madhya Pradesh didn’t utter a word or were not allowed to even save people of their own state. Nature is dumb and its mute music is not audible by us, the ordinary humans, anyway.
The river is a human entity, they now say. It is since generations revered as a woman, as mother, by the very people who are being weaned away from it. The new fervour created with the euphoria about the CM and the PM that they are committed to saving Narmada from pollution is a bluff. Nothing has changed in any village or town, which the Yatra passed through. Not one illegal mine has stopped, nor has any liquor shop closed. The Yatra has held large meetings and worshiped Narmada by spending crores. However, it has left behind no solace to the dam oustees.
The Modi government’s and Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s decision to complete the Dam, erect the gates, and push for the closure of gates, to be decided on the 17th at the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) meeting, has been a part of the election game. Only corporates would gain from this. While Chauhan projected himself and chief minister, as the saviours of Narmada in the gathering at Amarkantak on May 15th, in the next few days,the valley will leave behind a new devastation! What a contradiction!
*Narmada Bachao Andolan