Deceit, plunder and destruction
It was during the monsoon of 1991 that the activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan dared the rising waters and refused to leave their huts in the Sardar Sarovar Project [SSP] dam’s submergence area shouting the slogan, Doobenge Par Hatenge Nahi [We shall drown, but we shall not move]. It’s after 20 years that displaced people from the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar Dam have been standing in water for 15 days now at Ghogalgaon. The Madhya Pradesh government ignored them at first and then started saying that the people have already been compensated for their loss. However, in a special leave petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the state government and the National Hydroelectric Development Corporation [NHDC] Limited, the company which has built the Indira Sagar dam, accepted that the land for land judgment of the Supreme Court dated 11 May 2011 passed for the oustees of the Omkareshwar dam would also apply equally to the oustees of the Indira Sagar dam. The same was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court order dated 24 July 2012, making the oustees of the Indira Sagar Project [ISP] eligible also for land for land, with a minimum of two ha of land.
One of the largest dams in the country, despite there being a resettlement and rehabilitaion policy for the allotment of land for land, the oustees were neither informed about it, and were not even offered or allotted land by the project authorities. The oustees were told that they were entitled only to cash compensation and not land. The official figures show that with the pittances that the oustees were given in the name of compensation, 89 per cent of the Indira Sagar dam oustees could not purchase any land at all, and thus became paupers without any resources.
In total, the Narmada Valley Development Authority [NVDA], along with the Narmada Control Authority and NHDC are responsible for constructing 30 big dams and displacing nearly 10 lakh people and affecting lakhs of hectares of fertile and other land. It is the largest planned death of a river valley in the name of development, which has been challenged by the Narmada Bachao Andolan over the last three decades now. It is the story of deceit, plunder and the destruction of a thriving civilisation, with complete disregard for all the fundamental and democratic rights of the people and of the laws made by the state and union legislatures. This is not development but destruction alone and nothing else.
In the case of the SSP, the last 27 years of struggle, including Jal Satyagraha to Jal Samadhi, agitations have led to the land-based rehabilitation of 11,000 families in Maharashtra and Gujarat, but no one is rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh. The situation is the same for all the large dams in that part of Madhya Pradesh which is a part of the Narmada valley and includes places such as Bargi, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, Indira Sagar, Maan, Jobat, Veda, Goi and so on. The constant argument of the Madhya Pradesh government is that they don’t have any land to give to the oustees. And to rub salt into their wounds, the Narmada Control Authority, a central body entrusted with the responsibility to oversea implementation of the resettlement and rehabilitaion policy measures says that all the project affected families have been adequately rehabilitated.
However, it is surprising that the Madhya Pradesh government has land to allocate to corporations and investors from across the globe but denies the same to the project affected and only forces them to accept rocky, uncultivable or decades-old encroached land from its ‘Waste Land Bank’ and that, too, in some cases only. The same insensitivity is reflected in its silence in dealing concretely with the 10 month long Jobat Zameen Haq Satyagraha by the SSP oustees, mostly the hilly adivasis, displaced since 1994. The oustees, who are on the verge of reaping the second crop on the government seed farm land they have ‘occupied’ since the ten months is another slap in the face of the state. The lessons from the Narmada Valley are far from being reflected in the further planning of river valley development. The key question of development for whom and at what cost remains to be answered? The interlinking of rivers, which also includes Narmada, will only worsen the situation. The situation is no different with reference to other dam projects, be it the displaced people of Bhakra Dam, Hirakund dam or those from the Damodar Valley, they continue to suffer the curse of being the ‘modern temples’ of India. It is ironic and unfortunate that after 65 years of independence, when a law is enacted to provide for the resettlement and rehabilitation of project affected people as a legal right then none of these people are being taken in account. They will continue to be left outside the purview of the proposed ‘Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2012’. There has been a demand for retrospective application of any such law and constitution of National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Commission where any on could approach for settling their claims as a right. That could be a way to perhaps deal with the historical injustice meted out to these communities.
Madhuresh Kumar is national organiser of National Alliance of People’s Movements.