Drowned And Out
By Medha Patkar
04 August, 2004
The Hindustan Times
is no more. This 700-year-old town, now besieged by the Narmada Sagar
Project (NSP), was where in September 1989, 35,000 people raised the
slogan, "We want development, not destruction!" They had warned
the nation of the massive human and environmental devastation that projects
as the large dams on the Narmada held in store. Now at the very site
of that popular uprising for human and sane development, one can witness
the most tragic scenes of broken homes, fleeing families and an ancient
town turned prematurely to ruins.
If you move through
the streets of Harsud today, heaps of rubble greet you with dust yet
to settle. One can't believe that all this could happen within a fortnight,
in violation of the law, human rights and a society's conscience. It's
an illegal move, but more than that, a cruelly conceived conspiracy
by the State to push the giant dam project ahead without concern for
the people living there or what they would do after being displaced.
People were made to dismantle their own houses, overseen by the rapid
action forces marching inside the crowded township.
They were offered
a meagre compensation for their houses: Rs 25,000 cash (ultimately found
to be part of the compensation that was due anyway) and assurances that
everything would be provided at the resettlement site, New Harsud. But
the intimidation tactics worked, and the people didn't just vacate their
houses, but also demolished them - many even paying labourers Rs 100
a day to do so.
Harsud is still
bustling, full of labourers and their supervisors, some shopkeepers,
and a handful of houses such as that of Surendra Khandelwal, one of
the few who have refused to leave. Others such as Nanibai and other
landless labourers' families in Ward No. 9 are left out of the project-affected
list altogether. Meanwhile, at least 32 shopkeepers find no place in
the rehabilitation policy. And they can't simply run away as there is
nowhere to go.
There are hundreds
of visitors, common people from all over coming to witness this destruction
of a town. There are contractors and transporters, police and some remaining
owners recovering their possessions and planning for the demolition.
Yet, all this bustle can't hide the cries of women and children, old
and young, many of whom are now on the streets. They catch people like
myself or any politician who happens to pass by, showing their notices
and asking for help. Many who have already shifted out come back everyday
and stay for hours, despite knowing that they are already homeless,
sleeping in the verandahs of their relatives' houses or in sheds.
The Narmada Sagar,
one of the 30 major dams on the Narmada and one of the two gigantic
dams, is supposed to submerge 254 villages. Of these, 176 have already
been affected, and 29 more will be affected before the monsoon ends.
It is a project that was approved by the ministry of environment
and forests (MOEF) and the Planning Commission, subject to the conditions
of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA). The NWDTA, compliance
with which is supposed to be monitored by the Narmada Control Authority
(NCA), requires that rehabilitation of affected families be done
at least six months prior to submergence. All landowners losing 25 per
cent or more of their landholding are promised replacement land.
And yet, the approximately
22,000 population of Harsud was 'asked' to leave without completing
the land acquisition process. Many are yet to even get cash compensation.
Complaints abound of names missing from the official lists, while major
sons of property owners (to be considered as separate families) are
not yet included. To top it all, the resettlement site is not even ready
with the minimum of amenities. Meanwhile, the monitoring authorities
are not in the picture, as the NCA has been purposely kept out of rehabilitation
monitoring so as to give a free hand to the dam builders.
One of the most
disturbing aspects of the Narmada Sagar project is the role played by
the statutory company, Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation
Ltd. (NHDC). With its unlimited power over construction, impact assessment
and compensation, it has proved to be criminal and corrupt in all of
these roles. The decision to raise the height of NSP to 245 metres a
year ahead of schedule without resettling the affected people indicates
the ruthlessness that accompanies such corporatisation of the State.
While the NVDA has also always been callous, the NHDC is even more arrogant
So village after
village goes under water, with families becoming bankrupt. With their
rights to life and livelihood being thrown into the dustbin, they -
many of them being Dalits and adivasis - stand as a testament to the
bankruptcy of the law itself. Unfortunately, the judiciary has failed
to stand up to protect these citizens. Thousands of families face the
same fate of being declared Non-existent Resident Indians. They are
being displaced by water and erased on paper.
All of this is justified
in the name of power: huge targets for electricity supply based on consumption
indicators dictated by western standards. Under this vision of energy-intensive
technological development, equity and sustainability are hardly conceived
of as a priority even by those who are sensitive to the social and environmental
losses. In addition to the human toll, 40,000 hectares of forest with
rare flora and fauna have been clear-felled for Narmada Sagar while
about 20,000 hectares were cut for Sardar Sarovar. Compensatory afforestation
is nothing but a joke here. Crores are spent on it and only corruption
The Sardar Sarovar
Dam is as disastrous as the Narmada Sagar. It is more known due to the
19 years of struggle. The people of Harsud and its hinterland have not
been a part of the resistance undertaken by the people from Manibeli
in Maharashtra to Nimad in MP. Yet, while this struggle has achieved
many gains, the fight continues in the face of inadequate rehabilitation.
The Madhya Pradesh
government, in particular, has most flagrantly dodged its legal responsibility
to give land as an alternative source of livelihood to people displaced
by the SSP. (Rehabilitation is also far from complete and adequate in
Maharashtra and Gujarat.) Not one family has been allotted land in MP.
If the government was serious about rehabilitation, it would have prepared
a master plan with details of land to resettle as stipulated by NWDTA,
project clearances, the Planning Commission and Supreme Court judgments.
But, it has failed to do this.
While SSP rehabilitation
may be a step up from what's happening in Harsud, this is little consolation.
While some have been lured by (insufficient) cash payments, thousands
of others have not. They assert their rights, not just to rehabilitation,
but also to the very question of the project. If they had not done this
over the course of the past two decades, they would have had the same
fate as the families ousted from the Bargi and Tawa dams in the Narmada
valley or Jaikwadi in Godavari. Because of their struggles, 11,000 SSP-affected
families have been given sites with land and amenities. Yet, this can't
be celebrated when there are over 40,000 others left to fend for themselves.
They are still on the banks of the Narmada and they haven't yet demolished
Amidst this season
of destruction, with the Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar dams immiserating
thousands of families, it is necessary that Indians stand up and respond
to these injustices.