Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

199. From Narmada Valley ....(1)

I have been reading Marathi monthly Andolan  for last few years and hence I am aware of the issues related to “Sardar Sarovar”. I had an opportunity to interact with dam affected people in Gujarat and Maharashtra. In May 2012, I visited Narmada district, Sardar Sarovar and had interaction with government officials. During that visit I felt the need to visit Dam affected area once again; but with someone who has been part of People’s Movement. So, when in the second week of August I received an invitation to join “Narmada Valley Journey”, without thinking for a moment, I registered myself.

On the morning of 17 August, we reached Khalghat, where 50 other friends from various places like Delhi, Patiala, Indore, Rajasthan, and different parts of Maharashtra joined. It was heartening to see so many youngsters who are already involved in making social change and were ready to learn about new issues. We were also accompanied by four journalists and the discussions continued for the next three days. Medhatai (Medha Patkar) was always ready to answer any questions and that made the group to keep on asking questions and generate learning. For the first two days we visited areas in Madhya Pradesh and on the third day visited areas in Maharashtra. We were not able to visit Gujarat but learnt about the situation there through discussions.

During these three days, from the interaction with various villagers and volunteer activists of NAPM (National Alliance of People’s Movement), following five points emerged and were underlined.  
1.  Even when Governments are claiming that the rehabilitation in Sardar Sarovar affected area is complete, in reality this is not the case.
2. The benefits of Sardar Sarovar are much lesser than was the projection and expectation.
3. In Sardar Sarovar affected area in Madhya Pradesh, a canal network is being implemented. For canals, land is being acquired; rehabilitation is not planned and corruption is rampant.  
4.  Narmada is witnessing a massive illegal sand mining; which  is causing havoc in the adjoining villages. These villages are rehabilitated on paper – but actually they are living villages. The silt Narmada is carrying into Sardar Sarovar is certainly going to reduce life of the dam.
5.   Villages which in reality are not yet rehabilitated face issues like lack of roads, lack of access to health services, lack of education, and lack of safe drinking water – in short, lack of basic necessary amenities.

Mystery of Canals

We started our journey together from Khalghat. This is a city on Mumbai- Agra highway and an important junction on the banks of Narmada. This area is almost 200 kilometers away from Sardar Sarovar. I knew that whatever I observe in this area, the situation would be much worse in the areas nearer to the dam.  Khalghat is also an important location for Narmada Bachao Andolan. Fifteen villages in the vicinity of Khalghat are going to be submerged. In 1990, residents in the area had stopped the traffic on this highway for 28 hours ( Rasta Roko as a protest). People also told us about Tractor Rally they had organized. The movement has used various innovative and non-violent ways to register their protest for their rights.

Mr. Dayaram Patel informed us, “On 4th July this year, the canals broke in Badwah block and about 500 acre agricultural land and houses were under water for considerable time.” Recently on 14th August, Gram Sabhas were conducted and one of the agenda was to take a decision about “Whether people want canals.” I do not know how such an important issue could be decided on a sort of voting without having a comprehensive discussion on the issue. Why these canals? Who is going to be benefited by these canals – I was wondering.

Then we travel to Amalatha in Khargon district and the canals we see shocks us. At a glance we could see a canal which is broken at ten different spots. We walked (with local people) for about one and half kilometers and the scene was ruthlessly repeated.

This was Main Left Canal of Omkareshwar dam. Its length is 15687 meters. As I said, what we saw in couple of kilometers, gave us idea about what could be the status of the canal. Later in the villages Nandra and Chota Badada (where the meeting went on till 9.00 pm), people passionately talked against these canals. For the last 28 years they are fighting for their rightful existence; for saving their village, their land, their home from the effects of Sardar Sarovar. That struggle is not over yet; and another struggle is imposed on them. Why the same community has to renounce their resources for the development – whose fruits will be enjoyed only by others?

Listening to people was disturbing. The plan canals for Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams will need 1000 hector of land and about 1100 villages will be affected by it in various ways. What I found irritatingly interesting was that the command area of these canals is the same area which is going to be submerged in backwater of Sardar Sarovar. Why a submerged area would need canal water for “surface irrigation”? Provision of “drinking water” is another purpose of these canals – but why do we need canals for drinking water for the area near the mighty river like Narmada? One villager said, “Half of our village has Sardar Sarovar backwater and half the village is covered by canals” – it sound ridiculous but in fact it is more serious as the canal planning is completely misguided and based on wrong assumptions.  What could be the purpose? Who is going to benefit by this?

Nandra villagers had another story to tell. They don’t want canal in their village (because they don’t need it!). When the contractor approached the village for canal construction, they asked him to complete the work in the earlier phase first. However as they opposed the work (this was sometime in March, around Holee), police arrested the local leaders of the movement, declared curfew (144 A); contractor brought 15 huge machines and the work in the village was complete overnight!  Listening to Lalubhai’s (a local protest leader) narration of this experience made me think about “what democracy is about”!  The canal is dividing lands, and in some cases the farmer has to walk for kilometers to approach his piece of land (divided due to canal) as there are no roads to cross canals. The government and contractors have neither consulted farmers before planning canal work nor do they bother to inform farmers in advance.

The quality (rather lack of it) of canal construction was obvious.

 It is clear that the alliance of government officials and contractors is ruthlessly working to increase their profit margin – at the expenses of local farmers.

Now both Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams do not enough water to release it in canals. The canals are destroyed by heavy rains. What will happen when the water is released in heavy rains? There is no system to manage drainage of overflowing canals. Those who are affected by canal work should be paid compensations – but nothing is being done in this regard.

It looks like local people get favorable judgments in the courts, but as the judgments are not implemented; the struggle does not end.

All the villages we visited on the first day; are still LIVING villages. Once Saradar Sarovar builds 17 meters Gates, all these villages will be vanished – they will be drowned. That thought made me feel extremely uneasy. We still can save those. Why government ends in planning schemes that are ultimately against its people – I fail to understand. The rosy picture of benefits of Sardar Sarovar has another side – and after seeing it one knows that for “India Shining” there are people who are paying the cost – the cost of their livelihood!

(To be continued)