A note on a civil society public meeting held in Delhi on Sardar Sarovar Project and the development debate around it:
The current model of development has a far wide acceptance among political parties and the executive, but has it been accepted by the Indian people, the vast majority which has silently suffered at its altar?, asked Hannan Mollah, Secretary, All India Kisan Sabha. He was speaking at a public meeting organized by the Delhi Solidarity Group and the National Alliance of People’s Movements titled ‘The Fallacy of Sardar Sarovar Dam and Development Debate Today’ at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi. The meeting was addressed by Usha Ramanathan, legal researcher, Sanjay Parikh, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court, Prof. KB Saxena, former Secretary, Government of India, and Medha Patkar, Saraswati Bai and Gokhru Bhai of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
Hannan Mollah further emphasized that time has come to re-visit the cost-benefit analysis of a number of development projects since independence, since all around we see things in decay after 70 years of independence. This is reflected in the current unrest in the rural hinterland and the grave situation of Indian agriculture forcing farmers to commit suicide and leaving farm labourers to die in penury.
Usha Ramanathan talked about the learning from the various movements across India and their contribution to the jurisprudence and redefining of the laws by the demands they have made on the various institutions of the system. These movements have taught us about our responsibility to reduce the kind of pain the affected people going through. She also pointed out that the dilution of standards on the basis of pragmatism in the courtrooms of India has become a matter of serious concern. If the struggle of Narmada fails then it’s more than anything else failure of various Institutions at many levels in this country. Referring to the dedication ceremony of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, she said, “PM can dedicate any number of dams to the country, but does that make the problems of the project affected people go away, they remain and it is our collective responsibility to address those.”
Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Parikh expressed his disappointment and said that in case of the Sardar Sarovar and courts of this country, it’s a submergence of justice and nothing else. He went through the various judgments of Supreme Court and other courts in last two decades and showed how every time they have violated their own judgments one after other and the final death nail was the February 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court.
The judgment was a complete disappointment since it did away with the established norms, principles, rights and entitlements of the people through Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal or judgments of 2000, 2005 and even the much watered down 2013 Land Act. Even now there is a chance to correct this mistake, but will courts and institutions of this country rise up to the challenge of protecting and guaranteeing those rights to the people. Unless we do that, it will be difficult to restore the faith of the people in the system.
Professor KB Saxena spoke about dismantling of a number of notions around politics, development, civil society and the challenges in front of the progressive movements of the country. He lamented that all parties have accepted the elite section oriented development approach and there is a complete unwillingness of institutional mechanisms to provide resources and relief to the affected people. He suggested that there is a need to create a new institutional mechanism for the displaced people to get their grievances registered.
The fact that we can no longer ignore the demands of the people, something achieved by the struggles of the people, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been enough. The hope that laws and establishment of entitlements can guarantee relief has been dismantled the way governments have brazenly violated the 2013 land act and with that the notions of consent, rights, and recognition of project affected people and many others. He emphasized the importance of keeping the temperament of people alive and sensitizing every class of the society about these issues.
Gokhru Bhai and Saraswati behn of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said that we have fought the lies of the government and exposed their every claim and proved their theft of our life and livelihood through three of our struggle. We never asked for the cash and demanded our entitlement of land for land, an established principle by the NWDT award and accepted by the SC as well, then why do they want to push cash down our throats. We have survived their threats and violence all these years, they have tried to finish us many times, but we are not afraid of them. We will fight and we will win this battle against injustice. The way courts and governments have responded to our struggle, it seems that the justice has been killed in the files and hallowed walls of the court and government offices. It’s a testimony to the fact that marginalized and oppressed of this country has no option to challenge and fight this oppressive State, and we are determined to do that.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, Medha Patkar, leader of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) dissected in detail every aspect of the Sardar Sarovar dam and its supposed benefits peddled by the Prime Minister and Chief Minister while inaugurating the dam. She said in these polarised times and not only religious but also development, conversations/samvaad is the only solution for our society and polity. She located the Narmada valley region over a longer historical period and geographical space and termed the Narmada Valley Development Project as a ‘destruction’ project of the river valley and a civilization, something now being attempted throughout the country with the plans like interlinking of rivers.
Citing the data around the water utilization, distribution, diversion, and incomplete canal network and massive escalation of costs, she said that the Sardar Sarovar Dam is primarily for the corporate interests. The way water has been diverted and allocated to the car industries, coca cola factories, and Delhi Mumbai industrial corridors, it can only be said that the farmers and those in parched areas of Kutch will not get the water.
The politics over the Narmada has guided the politics of Gujarat and now with upcoming Gujarat assembly elections, it has assumed prime importance in BJP plans. However, the recent statements of the former CM Suresh Mehta expose the hypocrisy of those in power. NBA has always believed in the people-centric development and worked tirelessly for promoting the rights of the nature-based communities and for protecting the rivers, forests, and culture around nature. The State has tried to defeat and divert the attention but our efforts have constantly been to expose their sinister designs.
She systematically presented various data contradicting those shown by various authorities and lamenting that these false data were filed in the Supreme Court over oath. She mentioned the working and importance of ‘Narmada Jeevanshala’, schools run by Andolan, and emphasized on how it has changed the life of people there. She emphasized on the things said by others and talked about the struggling life of local people and said that the Andolan will continue until the rights of the people in the valley are achieved.
The meeting expressed happiness and welcomed the reports and editorials questioning the big dams and their contribution to the development paradigm, which has appeared in last few days. It only gives hope that the questions raised by the Andolan over these years are been recognized and need to be debated more across the country. NBA activists also called upon those present to come and lend their hand to fight against injustice and to help secure the rights and entitlements of the people in the valley.