Review the Sardar Sarovar project | Rehabilitate 48,000 families 

Medha Patkar and oustees protest at Water Resources Ministry, challenge the illegal SSP and its canal network in irrigated villages! 


New Delhi: Hundreds of Sardar Sarovar oustees stormed the national capital today and addressed the country from the streets of Jantar Mantar on the issue that affects lives of more than 2.5 lakh farmers, adivasis, fish workers, landless, boatsmen, potters etc in the Narmada valley and the socio-economic and environmental interests of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Reacting to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a rally in the Narmada Valley seeking an immediate increase in the height of the dam, over 300 people affected by the dam project protested the Gujarat government’s plan and warned the Central government against such a move.

The final decision on the controversial Sardar Sarovar is most critical not just from the angle of the valley, but for its implications on the country. The Sardar Sarovar Project is symbolic of the flawed development paradigm adopted in post-independent India which has resulted in huge costs and minimal benefits. The country is prompted to re-think this path of ‘development’ which can only come at the cost of lives and livelihoods of lakhs of people in the valley.

About 100 people protested outside the Ministry of Water Resources, which leads the Narmada Control Authority and has falsely declared the remaining families to be rehabilitated in the three states as ‘zero’. Leading the protest, Medha Patkar questioned, “When 48,000 families are yet to be rehabilitated with alternative land and livelihood, when the expert committees of MoEF have exposed serious non-compliance on numerous environmental issues, when costs and benefits are in complete doldrums, when the present Grievance Redress Authority of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have not consented to the increase in dam height, when the report of the judicial commission inquiring  into the Rs. 1,000 crore corruption scam in Madhya Pradesh is yet to come out, how and why should the height of Sardar Sarovar be increased further, illegally submerging the lives and livelihoods of lakhs, thousands of hecatres of land, villages communities and rich cultural heritage?

The oustees have been compelled to reach Delhi, and challenge not just the Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Social Justice and Ministry of Environment, but the Prime Minister himself, who promised the Supreme Court in 2006 that that dam will not be pushed ahead, without the lawful rehabilitation of all the affected families. After 28 years of peaceful struggle on multiple fronts, the oustees organized as Narmada Bachao Andolan, one of the largest peaceful social movements in the country, have exposed the saga of ‘costs’ that has increased 10 times and ‘benefits’ of the Project that is barely 10%. “The dam must be reviewed and all the people must be rehabilitated”, the oustees demanded in a single voice.

Playing up to the upcoming 2014 General Elections, the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments are pushing for this destructive Sardar Sarovar Project which is beneficial only to a few private corporations. The most recent decision to ‘de-notify’ 4 lakh hectares of land from the command area is a complete fraud and deviates from the original project plan. This, especially in the light of the increased project costs, must be reviewed by the Planning Commission.

As of today, there are more than 48,000 families living in the 245 hilly adivasi and thickly-populated plain villages of the submergence area. Although an intense struggle has led to the historic retreat of the World Bank and land-based rehabilitation of 11,000 families in Gujarat and Maharashtra, thousands of other families remain to receive various entitlements such as cultivable land and house plots in resettlement sites, alternative livelihood for the landless, fishing rights in the reservoir, land for potters. Despite the huge losses that Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra will incur, the people of the two states do not have rights to a drop of water from the reservoir or ‘free’ electricity.

In such a situation any act that pushes for further submergence in the valley is completely illegal, warned the oustees. The oustees, mostly poor dalits, tribals, and fish workers, have already faced severe impacts of water release from the upstream dams in the valley in 2013 and 2012, leading to destruction of thousands of hectares of land and houses of more than 1,000 families. Over the past 2 months, hundreds of oustees stormed the Collectors, Tehsildars, NVDA and NCA before reaching Delhi to demand ‘compensation’ for the submerged crops and properties, a measure already directed by the GRA, but not yet executed by the state government!

The policy of encashment, pushed forward by the Madhya Pradesh government in the last decade, has bred a huge scandal of corruption amounting to more than Rs. 1000 crore. With thousands of fake land registries, irregularities in declaration of oustees, house plot allotment and construction work at resettlement sites the matter is under inquiry by the Justice Jha Commission.

Hundreds of farmers and adivasis, affected by the massive network of the Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar canals also protested destruction of fertile and irrigated agricultural land in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh. The people demand that the Government review its plan to acquire and excavate canals in the villages that are already irrigated or are affected by the SSP and Maheshwar reservoir. They also questioned the severe impacts on crop losses caused due to water logging, muck disposal and non-implementation of the necessary command area development works. The people demand compensation for the same along with land-based rehabilitation for all families as per the Orders of the Supreme Court.

Khema and Rajbai, speaking on behalf of the adivasis affected by the Jobat Dam in the Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh, stated that even after a decade of illegal submergence, they have not yet been given alternative land. “The state government’s actions are in serve contempt of the orders of the High Courts and Supreme Court.”

The oustees warned the authorities and Central Government not to succumb to the pressure of the Government of Gujarat and violate the rights of the oustees guaranteed by the Narmada Tribunal, State Policies, Action Plans and Judgements of the Supreme Court.

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