Sardar Sarovar Dam: In Narmada Valley, a rights movement makes its last stand
Far away from the front pages and the TV screens of national media, a rights movement is silently progressing in Madhya Pradesh. Thousands of residents of the Narmada Valley are protesting against the administration's attempts to close the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
Activists claim the administration is yet to arrange for relief and rehabilitation of about 40,000 families in 244 villages across three states, which need to be evacuated before they drown.
Leading a rally calling for justice for these families, well-known activists including Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantara, Soumya Dutta and others were arrested on 7 June at the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra border.
Students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), University of Hyderabad (HCU), Jamia Milia Islamia, Shivaji Vidyapeeth and Azim Premji University were also reportedly detained.
National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has alleged that Gujarat police carried out these arrests without showing any written orders. NAPM also claimed that police officials “dragged women protestors” and assaulted school children. A Class 9 student of Salsabeel Green School, Kaamil, reportedly fractured his shoulder because of police action.
Activists also claimed that their attempts to lodge an FIR against Gujarat police were thwarted and their grievances were eventually recorded only as an ordinary complaint.
They also alleged that the doctor at the local Public Health Centre turned up drunk and thrashed the victims. The activists are now demanding prompt registration of FIR against Gujarat police and suspension of the PHC doctor.
A long fight
The Sardar Sarovar Project has attracted endless controversies for over three decades now. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been at the forefront of these protests and has now taken up the task of agitating for proper evacuation, after fulfillment of the administration's relief and rehabilitation obligations.
NBA and allied activists are claiming that the Narmada Control Authority had decided to close the gates of the dam in the approaching monsoon season.
Once the gates are closed, 244 villages will be submerged and the administration is not supposed to let that happen before evacuating and resettling the affected persons.
Activists fear that the administration is gearing up to forcibly evacuate these villages and evict the residents without ensuring proper relief and rehabilitation.
Sadly, a Supreme Court judgement of February 2017 has indeed authorised the administration to use force if the lands are not vacated by 31 July. However, the judgement had also ordered the Madhya Pradesh government to pay Rs 60 lakh each to 681 affected families in the state, before beginning the evacuation.
For the moment, it looks like odds are against the people as the administration can use the SC judgement to justify forcible eviction. However, activists are already showing resistance, which indicates that another round of a prolonged struggle could be in the offing.