GHOSTS LIVE HERE
A ‘Pol-Khol’ yatra was organized from April 25th to 27th through several villages in the Narmada valley which face submergence as a result of the Sardar Sarovar Dam construction to expose the claims of the Government that everybody displaced has been resettled and rehabilitated. Medha Patkar, Madhya Pradesh MLA Dr. Sunilam, Swami Agnivesh and about a hundred activists from all over the country traveled from one village to another only to hear desolate voices and tales of negligence and corruption in the process of resettlement and rehabilitation. The frustration was aptly expressed by Shaira behen of Khalghat, ‘We will not leave our birth place. If uprooted we will prefer to live in makeshift slums over the main road and be ready to be overrun by the buses and trucks rather than move to the rehabilitation site.’
As you enter the village Chota Barda in the submergence area of the Sardar Sarovar Dam a banner welcomes you which says ‘This village has been deserted, it has been rehabilitated; The people who you see here are ghosts,’ put up by the villagers, all of whom still continue to live here even though the Government claims on paper that the village has been resettled. This banner conveys the tragedy and anguish of the people going to loose their land soon to the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Most of them have been left in lurch with little idea of what the future holds for them.
Almost all the guidelines for resettlement and rehabilitation as prescribed by Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award are being violated by the Narmada Valley Development Authority. There was not a single village in which people did not have complaint against the procedures being adopted by NVDA. Usually the rehabilitation sites are quite a distance away from the original village. It is especially a problem for fisherfolk and boatmen community whose livelihood depends on the river. If they are forced to move away from the river they will face a situation of displacement from their jobs too. Some people in Khalghat are being relocated 11 km away and in Ekalwara 6 km away. For the people whose livelihood depends on agriculture some of them are being given agriculture land quite far away from the resettlement sites. In one case a person from Ekalwara complained that his agricultural land was being given 85 km away from his to be residence.
According to NWDTA every adult son should get 2 hectares of land. But the authorities are telling the people that they will not rehabilitate two generations. They are usually ignoring the requests of adult sons for separate pieces of land and asking them to complain to Grievances Redressal Authority.
People are being given compensation for their houses and lands after surveys by the authorities. These surveys are being carried out in a high handed manner. In Chikhalda village the entire survey was carried out within 8 hours in the presence of 3000 police persons in an atmosphere of terror without any prior notice. Masoom behen from Khalghat complained that even though her house fell in the submergence area survey was not being carried out by the officials inspite of her repeated requests. In Dharampuri one of the two neighbouring household was being told that they fall in submergence whereas the other was being told that they do not. A road along with houses on one side was being shown to be falling in submergence whereas the other side was not. In Ekalwara people told that officials keep issuing arbitrary lists. Every list of houses falling in submergence is different from the previous ones with some families who were earlier being told that they would get submerged missing from the new list and new names being added who were earlier not in the submergence list. NVDA had earlier reported that at the height of 121 metres of the Sardar Sarovar Dam 31,000 families would be submerged but later it arbitrarily reduced this number to 23,000. The process of survey seems to be getting carried out in an adhoc manner.
Some people are blaming the Narmada Bachao Andolan for deliberately delaying the resettlement and rehabilitation process. However, a visit to the Narmada valley and listening to people’s woes will make it amply clear that rampant corruption in the bureaucracy in collusion with middlemen has complicated the matter beyond redemption. Recently 37 engineers and employees of NVDA Badwani office were suspended when they were found to be involved in a Rs. 9 crores scam related to false payments having been made without carrying out the desired development work at the rehabilitation sites. People being given compensation for their houses are being asked to pay upto 40% amount as commission. People in Awali complained that the Deputy Collector Solanki and Patwari Rawat were demanding Rs. 2000 from the first installment of Rs. 18,700 and Rs. 6000 from the second installment of Rs. 24,000 and totally gobbling up the third installment. Illegimate persons are withdrawing compensation in the name of real people who are getting displaced. The Village Sarpanch of Awali complained that there is no facility for drinking water, water for cattles, hospital, etc. at the rehabilitation site and it was impossible to live there.
The NVDA and the governments of M.P. and Gujarat are putting up a sham in the name of rehabilitation and cheating not only the people but also misleading the Supreme Court. They are spending money but most of it is being siphoned off in corruption and nobody seems to be concerned about that because right now it has become a matter of prestige for the governments to show that rehabilitation is being completed, even though it is on paper. Most of the people who were resettled from M.P. to Gujarat have preferred to go back to their original villages but on paper they probably continue to live in Gujarat.
The struggle of Narmada Bachao Andolan has gone on for 20 years in trying to stop the Dam. It may have to go on for another 20 years to ensure proper rehabilitation for everybody getting displaced by the Narmada Valley Development Project.
Dr Sandeep Pandey
(About the author: Dr Pandey was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership (2002), did his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, U.C., Berkeley, 1992 before heading back to India to become a social activist. Took out a 1500 km Global Peace March for nuclear disarmament from the Indian nuclear testing site Pokaran to Sarnath, a place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, beginning 11th May and ending on 6th August, 1999. Presently with Program on Science & Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University for 5 weeks. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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