Narmada Bachao Andolan Gathers Momentum As Government Apathy Continues

Rally for the Valley 2016. Indore Station. Photo: Natasha Narwal
Rally for the Valley 2016. Indore Station. Photo: Natasha Narwal

31 years ago people living along the vicinity of River Narmada rose up against a government decision to convert the pristine river into a series of dams and reservoirs which would submerge their lands. In these 31 years much is gained and a lot lost but nothing is forgotten. Narmada Bachao Andolan till this date remains the largest people’s mobilization around environment that this country has ever seen.

Badwani: Successive governments, (both central and states) have kept increasing the plan of Sardar Sarovar dam height to reap more and more benefits of water supply and electricity while largely ignoring the threat of submergence that still looms large over lakhs of families (both rural and small-town and specially adivasis).

Continuous agitation by these families forced the apathetic state to even begin recognising their rights to rehabilitation and alternative livelihood but a lacklustre bureaucracy ensured that rehabilitation process was itself fraught with irregularities and corruption and incomplete even till today.

In 2014, a freshly elected BJP – led government under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi swept aside a 2001 Supreme Court order of prohibiting any construction on the dam until all rehabilitation is complete and went ahead with raising the height of SSP from 122 meters to 139 meters.

The re-emergence of a people’s resistance in these parts owes its origin to threats of fresh submergence and a gross violation of Supreme Court orders.

Since 2014, Narmada Bachao Andolan is fighting against this dictatorial twist in government policy through constant dharnas, gheraos and satyagrah until finally the PM via Water Resource Ministry addressed the issues raised by them. In a press conference, Medha Patkar of NBA summarily rejected the letter from PMO as copy / paste job from a previous letter and flagged this as ‘utter insensitivity of the state towards a large-scale humanitarian problem’. NBA deplored the claim by governments of India, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh that rehabilitation is complete without even taking cognizance of the Jha Commission Report which has exposed massive irregularities in compensation and rehabilitation over an investigation that spanned over last 7 years. NBA’s reply to the PM’s letter NBA’s reply to the PM’s letter also condemned the illegal exclusion of 4374 Project Affected Families in 2008 and further exclusion of 15900+ families from the list deserving compensation and rehabilitation. A whole township of Dharampuri now stands excluded from the project affected list without any scientific basis.

Rally for the Valley 2016 followed soon after the press conference where activists, students and environmentalists from all over the country gathered at Indore and travelled further into the affected areas of Khalghat, Dharampuri and Manawar. Led by Dr. Sunilam of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti and Kumar Prashant, Senior Gandhian associated with Gandhi Shanti Pratishthan, Delhi, the mobilization received massive reponse. People came forward in large numbers and exposed the false claims of rehabilitation where in reality they are still living in precarious flood prone conditions.

The mobilization of people is now directed towards Rajghat, Badwani where under the name of Narmada Jal – Jameen Haq Satyagrah, an indefinite demonstration will take place demanding that the illegally constructed gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam must not be closed or it will mean a watery grave for a widespread unrehabilitated area.

It must be noted that while the submergence areas around Badwani in Madhya Pradesh is abuzz with activity, a parallel demonstration of few thousand adivasis from different R&R sites and about 100 in the original villages on the river banks has begun with a relay hunger strike near the Dam site, in the project colony (Kevadia), in Gujarat since June 15 this year, which continues till date.

Narmada Jal – Jameen Haq Satyagrah is evocative of the narrative around ‘destructive development’ and ‘community rights over resources’ that gathered momentum 25 years ago in the historic people’s rally of Harsud, a town that was submerged in the Indira Sagar reservoir. This time too, the anguish of the people is much larger than just displacement and rehabilitation. The NBA press release elucidates that originally ‘water for irrigation’ in the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra and Kutch (Gujarat) was used as the major excuse for building the dam and today most of the waters from Narmada is being diverted to industrial projects like this agreement between Government of Gujarat to supply 30 lakh litres of water per day to Coca Cola.

RTI Activist Bharat Sinh Jhala from Gujarat said at the press conference, “It was told that all the Gujarat villages will get irrigation. We haven’t seen it being provided to any villages or farmers. Water is available only to industries. Water may have reached till Kutch, but only for industries, not for farmers, or adivasis. 2000 plus villages in Gujarat have seen full droughts and partial droughts repeatedly in the last few years but Narmada water has not reached them. We now understand that Medha ji is not anti-Gujarat, but the development model of the government is actually anti-Gujarat.”

Along the entire stretch of Narmada starting from Pithampur Industrial Area in Madhya Pradesh to Dahej Petro-Chemical Complex around Bharuch, Gujarat, waters from Narmada is being touted as the main water supply for industrial uses. Add to it a plethora of interlinking plans and pipelines that is draining waters from Narmada for a variety of uses other than irrigation or drinking. It must be noted that during the Kumbha Mela held in Ujjain this year waters from the Narmada was pumped into the dry River Kshipra at huge costs to make the holy dip pilgrimage of Hindus a success. Meanwhile, agriculturists, fisherfolk and artisans living in rural hinterlands and adivasi areas are flitting between floods and droughts as evident by the entire Narmada episode.

But 31 years and the Narmada Bachao Andolan has only shown new determination and increased resolve at every stage. As Narendra Sinh Mandloi of Ekalvara village believes – “We will fight for Narmada forever because our culture has birthed in its soil.”

Rishit Neogi is a people’s movement researcher, activist and writer.

A graffiti by NBA artists
A graffiti by NBA artists

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