And Hope Collide
By Angana Chatterji
23 April, 2005
least 65 people died in Dharaji village, near Bhopal, and many remain
missing from flash floods as waters were released on April 7 from the
Indira Sagar mega-dam on the Narmada river.
Through Madhya Pradesh,
Maharashtra, and Gujarat, 30 large, 135 medium, and 3,000 small dams
are being built by the state, asphyxiating 1,312 kilometres of the Narmada
into a series of lakes, devastating the lives and livelihood of 20 million
people. Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is the other massive dam on the
Narmada, costing about $10 billion, almost half the irrigation budget
in postcolonial India. The 133-mile-long reservoir will drown 91,000
acres of land, the canal network will damage 200,000 acres. The reservoir
will displace 200,000 people, affect another 200,000. More than 1 million
lives will be destroyed, 56 per cent of whom are adivasis. Peasants
and adivasis disproportionately suffer the injustice of damming the
Narmada. 15.4 million adivasis live in Madhya Pradesh alone, from over
40 tribes. Adivasis are 8.2 per cent of Indias population, and
more than 40 per cent of the nations displaced.
Relief and rehabilitation
have failed the multiple constituencies in need. The ministry of environment
and forests gave provisional environmental clearance to the SSP in 1987
as construction began. The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA)
in 1979 had mandated the rehabilitation of all impacted families at
least one year prior to submergence, directing land-for-land resettlement
for land owning families that stand to lose 25+ per cent of their property.
The government of Madhya Pradesh ratified its rehabilitation policy
in November 1987. Premised on the NWDTA, this policy failed to ensure
land compensation for all landless persons, or the eligibility and assured
access of all cultivators, including landless workers, to housing and
cultivable agricultural land, or the opportunity for all oustees to
find re-employment in their traditional vocations post-resettlement.
It failed to include married women as co-title holders to new land,
single women, married women staying in their natal villages, divorcees,
widows, the elderly and disabled, deserted persons, families living
on what the state defines as forest and/or revenue encroachments, sex
workers, and other marginalised genders and groups.
The dam has proceeded,
often at gunpoint, without voluntary consent or ethical rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court of India, petitioned by the Narmada Bachao Andolan
(NBA) in 1995, restricted the SSP to 80.3 metres. Since 1999, the court
has sanctioned successive increases in dam height against its own injunctions
that resettlement be completed in all respects at least six months in
advance of any likely submergence. The dam towers at 110.64 metres today,
as resettlement and rehabilitation remain incomplete at 85 metres. In
spite of this, the environment subgroup of the monitoring agency, Narmada
Control Authority (NCA), has given permission to raise the height of
the SSP to 121.92 metres in 2005, while the resettlement and rehabilitation
subgroup is yet to decide. As the dam rises, the reservoir swells to
submerge more and more villages. The people, without reparations, are
exiled to neglect.
Madhya Pradesh houses
the largest numbers of SSP affected, while Maharashtra and Gujarat are
also yet to rehabilitate their displaced. Adequate land for rehabilitation
has not been identified or purchased in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
or Gujarat. Cash compensation is being given in violation of the NWDTA.
In Madhya Pradesh, the state has refused to buy private land. Many have
written to the grievance redressal authority, asking to replace the
uncultivable or insufficient land allotted to oustees, as records are
falsified and evidence manipulated. The Madhya Pradesh government notes
that the total number of affected families in the state has increased
from 33,000 to 40,000. Over 10,000 families live in the submergence
zone impacted below 110.64 metres. In August 2004, the Madhya Pradesh
government listed 12,681 families as affected between 110 and 121 metres
while the Andolan places the number at 20,000. Few have been rehabilitated
since, and thousands have lost homes, fields, livelihoods. With the
exception of some petitioners in the below-mentioned case, no family
not wanting to relocate to Gujarat has been given cultivable land in
Madhya Pradesh. The state forcibly displaces people to Gujarat. Their
histories do not reverberate there, the ghosts of their ancestors do
not walk those lands. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi, the fascistic architect
of the Gujarat genocide of 2002, continues to rule, championing maldevelopment
foisted on skin and bone of adivasis and peasants. What opportunities
for justice there? For cultural survival?
The Supreme Court
of India, on March 15, 2005, offered a historic judgement in the case
of NBA versus the Union of India and others (Civil Writ Jurisdiction,
Petition No. 328 of 2002). Justices Sabharwal, Balakrishnan, and Sinha
delivered a ruling on applications filed by project affected persons
from Picchodi village, Badwani district, and Jalsindhi, Jhabua district,
in Madhya Pradesh, affected at 95 and 100 metres, within the petition
filed by the NBA. The judgement stated that every displaced family losing
25+ per cent of their lands be entitled to irrigated land and allotted
a house/plot free of cost; that the affected be resettled as a village
unit per the NWDTA. Further, the court adjudicated that families have
been resettled in Gujarat without consent, in violation of their rights.
Importantly, the court stipulated that submergence must occur pari passu
with settlement and rehabilitation, and determined that oustees be provided
basic civic amenities and benefits as specified in the Award. The court
refuted the distinction between permanently and temporarily affected
persons made by the Madhya Pradesh government to de-emphasise displacement
and state responsibilities to impacted peoples. The court ordered that
adult sons be allocated two hectares of land, rendering eligible thousands
previously denied resettlement, while attesting to the patriarchal structure
of the law.
The same justices
had acknowledged the serious deficiencies in rehabilitation and directed
the Madhya Pradesh government to comply with the NWDTA in April 2004.
Yet the court refused to halt the construction of the SSP de facto supporting
illegal submergence and its concomitant displacement. Through the March
2005 ruling, the Supreme Court has confirmed its earlier decisions of
2000 and 2002, affirmative of the NWDTA, noting that an increase in
dam height will further displacement, and that construction may proceed
only after every affected person is rehabilitated. The NCA has expressed
support for this decree. Will action follow intentionality?
In dam-flooded Narmada
Valley, across cultures, castes/tribes, classes and genders, reality
is Kafkaesque. In December 2004 and February 2005 respectively, two
farmers in Madhya Pradesh committed suicide. In an organised fraud involving
state officials, in January 2005, Rs 17 lakhs were drained from the
Sardar Sarovar Punarvashat Agency. In April, in Gujarat, four houses
in the Tauvavi resettlement burned from faulty electrical wires. Kantibhai
Rumal, from Savli, demanded rehabilitation, stating in a letter to Narendra
Modi that his family would otherwise commit suicide, and was incarcerated.
In the amnesia of
nation-building, development remakes worlds through violent dreams of
progress. The Andolans dissent safeguards conscience in an increasingly
authoritarian state, aided by the brutality of its hegemonic institutions.
State apparatuses in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, successive
Central governments, in the construction of dams have committed indefensible
human rights abuses on the affected people of the Narmada Valley. Party
politics (BJP, Congress), and its attendant nationalism, determines
the structure of violence perpetrated on the disenfranchised. The dynamics
of nation building include the assimilation of some differences, the
annihilation of others, as homogenisation of populations mobilises human
beings as resources for state productivity. India as a biopolitical
state functions to regulate and police lives in manufacturing "normal,"
docile, producing, and consuming subjects, where governance necessitates
cycles of violence.
The monsoons approach,
as people await the raging waters where terror and hope collide.
Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural
Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies.