An online petition has been floated by well-known environmental expert Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, former professor of the Indian Institute of Management-Kolkata, appealing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his urgent intervention to protect of the right to life and livelihood of over 40,000 families in Narmada Valley facing submergence due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Among others, world renowned linguist and social activist Noam Chomsky has signed the petition. Text:
Water is life, and the people of India from ages have welcomed the arrival of monsoon. In the past few days, the arrival of the monsoon has become a threat to life and livelihood of a large number of our people. I have received information about the impending plight of the people residing in the Narmada Valley that is unfolding as the monsoon arrives. A few days back, many concerned citizens had gathered in the national capital to express strong disappointment about the inhumane act of closing of the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which appears to be inconsistent with the order of the Supreme Court of India dated 08 February 2017 in the Special Leave Petition No. 7663/2016. Closing the gates of the dam will drown more than 40,000 families living in the Narmada Valley who are not rehabilitated yet.
I write to you on behalf of these people of the Narmada Valley, artisans, farmers, labourers, fish-workers, and many others who are staring at submergence of their land and livelihood due to closing of the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, at its full reservoir level of 138.68 meters. For these people without rehabilitation, basic amenities like drinking water and electricity are not available. Some sites have black soil, which makes it very difficult to construct houses. House plots are at a lower level than the road, so during the rainy season waterlogging causes diseases.
The said Supreme Court order clearly states that Resettlement and Rehabilitation of the Project Affected Families to be complete in all respects before any forcible displacement of these villages is directed. Closing of the gates is de facto a method of forcible eviction and thus, not only a barbaric act but also a disrespect of the court order. More than 40000 families, with their residential houses, livestock, hospitals, schools, shops and all other civic amenities, are still living in these villages. The resettlement and rehabilitation sites are not even close to completion.
The tenders to carry out the necessary work at these sites were issued last month by the government. Given this condition, the government is now proposing to erect tin-sheds to accommodate lakhs of people. Intimidation tactics—e.g. putting up posters in the villages asking people to leave, sending officials with messages to the people that the police will use force to throw them out, making them sign ambiguous and incomplete affidavits that state their agreement to vacate—are inhuman acts of brutality by the government.
Thousands of trees are going to be submerged without carrying out compensatory afforestation as directed by the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 and the Rules and Guidelines there under. In a country whose soul is so deeply embedded in religion and whose identity is formed by its culture, drowning of thousands of temples and mosques and hundreds of archaeological sites without taking necessary steps to shift them is unacceptable not only to the people facing involuntary displacement but the whole country.
The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) reportedly claimed zero balance in funds for rehabilitation work in 2015, but very recently the information gathered through RTI Act by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the gazette notification clearly show that this was incorrect.
Our country has a thriving democracy and as the head of a democratically elected government, you can still opt for a people based path for economic development. I appeal to you to extend your kind help to the people facing submergence and ensure justice. Your urgent intervention seeking a status report from the NCA, which has been the justification for the closure, may be useful in finding where the truth lies.
There are people from Scheduled Tribes, thus enabling PESA Act, but no consideration has been given to tribal rights and to the resolutions of the Gram Sabhas.
You have come to power with a massive people’s mandate. I request you to intervene and ensure the following to stop the injustice and to safeguard the constitutional rights of the people of Narmada Valley:
- Direct the Madhya Pradesh government to do a comprehensive re-survey of project affected people and give priority to rehabilitation first by following orders of the Supreme Court so that no family is evicted without rehabilitation.
- Direct the Madhya Pradesh government to take advice from every Gram Sabha following section 4 of PESA Act to seek their consent and advice on appropriate ways of making rehabilitation sites and providing amenities essential to them.
- Order the Madhya Pradesh government and authorities to provide the benefits to farmers as per the Supreme Court orders and ensure alternative livelihoods, rights of fish workers on the reservoir, rights of artisans to land on the banks of the river, rights to boatmen for free access to the river, new plots to shopkeepers or sufficient compensation by bringing adequate change in policies.
- Direct authorities to provide lists of work done till today, number and details of applications received by various authorities, such as NCA, NVDA, GRA and others concerned so that remaining work can be planned in a more comprehensive and amicable manner.
- Direct the Madhya Pradesh government to constitute a committee to assess the impact on environment, river and forests by submergence and also the impact in downstream flow of the river. Last year, the sea intruded into the River up to 30 km, adversely impacting the agriculture and industry, and the communities living in those regions.
All this is essential to ensure the faith of people in non-violent, democratic and constitutional governance and struggle for their rights. I, on behalf of the people of Narmada valley, now appeal to you for immediate attention and intervention to save the people threatened by submergence.
*Also addressed to Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Cabinet Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India, Uma Bharti.
Click HERE to sign the petition