The Free Press Journal, June 25 2017, New Delhi: In what is seen to be a shift in their strategy, the Narmda Bachao Andolan (NBA) and the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) have sought to engage the Ministry of Social Justice to ensure justice is done to lakhs of people affected by the rise in the Sardar Sarovar dam height in Gujarat.

But officials and ministers were taken aback when noted environmentalist Medha Patkar stormed out of the minister’s office along with a number of protesters on Friday, accusing the government of deliberately neglecting poor people’s basic human rights.

With the Supreme Court’s deadline of July 31 approaching nearer, a large number of project-affected people need to be rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra for which the two organisations held a meeting in Delhi on Friday and met Social Justice Minister Thaavarchand Gehlot, who is from Madhya Pradesh, asking him to provide justice to the farmers, OBC and tribal people of the Narmada valley. But the minister was unmoved.

Somya Dutta, an expert in ecology asnd energy who was part of the delegation led by Patkar, told FPJ that after the Uma Bharti-led Union Water Resources Ministry had granted its approval without checking the ground realities, the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) at Indore permitted the dam height to go up to 139 metres.

“This is creating havoc to more than 18,000 families in two states near the Narmada river,” Dutta said, adding “with gates at 17 metres soon to be closed, the backwater would spread to a much larger area, threatening people’s life”.

Gehlot was grilled by the protesters who felt that a large number of villages, its livestock, people, hutments, farm lands and standing trees would be submerged but the government had made no plans for rehabilitate people of the area that would submerge by next month.

Patkar told the minister and the department’s secretary Lata Krishna Rao that the government was going ahead with wrong facts and misleading figures to hit the people who should actually get justice from the ministry.

More than 80-85 rehabilitation sites were required to be made ready to shift people properly but neither the local administration nor ministries concerned were doing anything seriously, she said. “People are fearing for their lives and property and the social justice ministry was turning a Nelson eye to them,” Vimal Bhai, one of the leaders of the NAMP said, while talking to the Free Press Journal.

So far, the NBA and the NAPM have been fighting for their demands to protect the Narmada and thousands of Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) affected people, with the water resources and environment Ministries but for the first time they urged the social justice ministry to look into the genuine problems of the SC/ST people affected by the dam’s height.

Dutta who was also part of the fact-finding committee in 2015 which had extensively toured the affected villages, told the FPJ that his report had been sent to ministry officials concerned, as also to NCA and states governments. “But with Gujarat elections nearing, no one was interested in safeguarding people’s rights in MP and Maharashtra,” he said.