Sarovar-Flood Of Fears
By Lyla Bavadam
10 August, 2004
year prior to the monsoons, restlessness and fear grip the people in
the Narmada valley. "Will our houses go under this time?",
"Will our village become an island when the waters slowly rise?",
"Will we be cut off from all assistance?" - these are questions
that dominate conversations in villages affected by the construction
of the Sardar Sarovar dam.
And the answers
continue to be insensitive. Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R),
government-style, becomes top priority during the monsoon, with the
district administration forcibly evicting people from the submergence
zones. During the rest of the year, R&R is a tedious process that
consists mostly of hapless and often illiterate villagers doing the
rounds of government offices holding pieces of paper that with each
visit gradually fall apart, much like their own lives.
And every year the
villagers literally take their lives in their own hands. Some refuse
to move - in a silent and desperate protest against an insensitive administration
- until the water enters their houses and they are arrested by the local
administration. Others try and make the best of a bad situation by moving
to a higher point beyond the reach of the waters and restart their lives
knowing fully well that the next year they will have to uproot themselves
yet again, giving up farms and grazing grounds.
Year after year,
hamlets and villages in the valley vanish forever under the waters.
Some resurface when the floods recede, with their farmland irrevocably
lost on account of waterlogging. This has been the state of R&R
in the valley, with an entire generation growing up not knowing the
security of a home.
"This is a
homicide of the people in the valley," says Medha Patkar. And Madhya
Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati applauds the "sacrifice"
the people of the valley were making for the nation.
THIS year the expected
partial submergence of Harsud, a town with a population of about 28,000
people, has brought dams in the Narmada valley back into national focus.
Harsud, in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, is close to the Kalimachak
river, a tributary of the Narmada.
R&R in Harsud
has so far involved forced eviction backed by government firepower and
intimidatory tactics. On June 27, a flag march was held in the town
by the Rapid Action Force to quell any protest against eviction. Armed
personnel were also deployed in the 129 villages around Harsud. Alok
Agarwal and Anurag Modi of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Shramik
Adivasi Sangathan say that the Chanera rehabilitation site intended
for Harsud town oustees is still empty. Only a few hundred Dalit and
other poor families have resettled here. Most of these families have
not even received their cash grants and are being forced to live in
tin sheds, which have been damaged by storms. The plight of people in
the surrounding villages of Harsud is even worse.
Harsud is a prime
example of the government's failure to carry out R&R as per the
directives of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award and the
Supreme Court. They had stipulated that affected families be relocated
at least six months prior to the expected submergence of a village.
Instead of spending time and funds on R&R, successive State governments
have concentrated on dam construction alone.
Ever since the Narmada
Control Authority in its Action Taken Report permitted the raising of
the Sardar Sarovar dam to 110.64 metres, the entire tribal belt in the
Narmada valley came under the submergence zone. The scale of devastation
during this monsoon will depend on the extent of rainfall here.
Exact figures of
the number of Project Affected Families (PAFs) are not easy to come
by since the State governments and the NBA disagree on the definition
of PAF and on what constitutes proper R&R. In Madhya Pradesh, the
Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) meant to assist oustees has endorsed
the illegal distinction between temporary and permanent submergence
and the State's refusal to allot oustees lands of their choice (the
oustees have therefore been forced to file a petition in the Supreme
Court). And in Maharashtra, there is a conflict between the State's
PAF aggregate and the state-endorsed Task Force.
changing number of PAFs raises doubt about the R&R claims made by
the governments in the States affected by the project. Gujarat initially
said that it had 4,600 PAFs but later admitted to having 4,728 PAFs.
Maharashtra's PAF figures went up from 3,113 to 3,221 and later, to
more than 3,300. In the past two years, the GRA in Maharashtra has declared
400 more PAFs. The Official Task Force set up in September 2002 did
a thorough resurvey and included 2,200 more families in PAF list.
with the maximum number of PAFs - 33,014 - later revised the figure
to 35,716. The figures in Madhya Pradesh keep rising since the State
has the maximum number of affected people and the worst R&R plan
so far. The NBA estimates that a few thousand more families need to
be included as PAFs in Madhya Pradesh.
The initial Award
had stated that R&R had to be carried out in stages. That is, only
after resettling all the people affected by a particular height of the
dam could construction be permitted to continue. This stipulation has
been long forgotten. People who were displaced when the Sardar Sarovar
dam was at a height of 55 m are still awaiting R&R.
The R&R completed
so far covers only one-fourth of the total number of people affected
just by the gigantic reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar. There is no official
tally available of the 23,540 families that stand to lose more than
a quarter of their land to the canal networks. Nor is there any record
of the 900 families that were displaced to make an R&R colony for
other displaced people. And there is definitely no notice taken of the
103 Adivasi families who will lose their land when the Shoolpaneshwar
sanctuary is expanded near the dam site or the thousands who will be
affected downstream by the dammed Narmada river.