The Hindu, July 8 2017, Barwani: Tucked away near the Narmada river in Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh, the people of Chhota Barda village has just one topic of discussion — what will they do if their houses get submerged days from now?

They say that they have been told by the administration to start vacating their houses a week from now. By the month-end, they say, they have been asked to shift to a site 7 km away, where many of the families have been offered alternative land.

Gates closed

After getting permission from the Narmada Control Authority to close the floodgates of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the Gujarat government has closed all the 30 gates of the dam, causing water level in the reservoir to rise to 139 metres from the earlier 122 metres. This will generate hydel power, irrigate fields and provide drinking water to parts of Gujarat.

However, it will submerge many villages such as Chhota Barda.

“If it rains continuously for 24 hours, much of our village will be submerged,” says Vinod Yadav, a doctor who practises in Anjad nearby.

As the ongoing march by farmers’ organisations enters the village, residents serve the guests lunch in a large open space next to a temple.

The Narmada is visible, flowing at a lower level at some distance. This very space — which has been submerged in floods in the past, too — will go under water, villagers say.

“This is already in the submergence zone. It will go under water any day,” social activist Medha Patkar tells The Hindu.

The district collector of Barwani and the Narmada Valley Development Authority Commissioner at Indore, could not be reached despite attempts over phone.

Residents claim that the alternative land offered is far away from their fields, which lie close to the village and are outside the submergence zone.

“There is no motorable road yet from the site to our fields. How do we sustain our livelihoods?” asks Naren Yadav.

They also claim that basic facilities have not been provided at the alternative site. “There is no drinking water facility there yet. There is no drainage system there yet,” says Himanshu Chaubey, a resident of the village.

Trouble on ground

Mr. Chaubey claims that the land he has been allotted is in a depression. He adds that officials have offered to give him just ₹ 2000 to level it.

Dayaram Yadav has an additional complaint. He says that his house was not surveyed when the survey took place more than a decade back.

“There are 70 such families, whose houses have not even been surveyed. What do we do? We built our houses here. Where do we go after leaving them?” he asks.

Some villagers say they will not move out of their village, leaving the property on which they spent money to perish.

Asked what they would do if the waters indeed come in and submerge their houses, they reply with a counter question — will they have an alternative when their houses will get submerged without a new settlement that’s anything close to what they built over decades?