(Article) CSM - November 2012: Jal Satyagraha: Public Power
Oustees of the Omkareshwar Dam project called off their jal satyagraha after the Madhya Pradesh government accepted all their demands and constituted a ministerial committee to look into their grievances. On the 17th day of the protest, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan announced that the government had agreed to the key demands of the agitators — reducing the water level of the dam to 189 meters and providing land for land compensation to all those who had lost their land. “Compliance with the order given by the Grievances Redressal Authority about giving land for land to farmers surrendering 50 per cent [of their financial] compensation will be ensured within 90 days,” Mr. Chauhan said, after holding a “direct dialogue” with the affected farmers of Ghoghalgaon, Kewla Buzurg, Aikhand and Kamankhera at his residence. “A highlevel committee will hear problems of the dam-affected people,” he said.
On September 10 the Madhya Pradesh Government partially accepted the demands of the ‘Jal Satyagraha’ in Khandwa district. Accordingly the water-level of Onkareshwar dam was almost immediately reduced to the legal limit so that the illegal and premature submergence of several villages was undone. The government has promised that land in place of land will be provided to the displaced people. However till the time of writing on September 11, the Jal Satyagraha in Harda district (Indirasagar or Narmadasagar dam oustees) was still continuing.
Even in Khandwa (Onkareshwar dam) the government has also stipulated a condition that a significant part of the cash compensation will have to be returned by any family before it can receive land. This condition ignores how much damage and distress people have suffered due to the illegal and premature submergence of their land as well as the delay in providing land to them for such a long time. Initially why did the government insist on providing only cash ignoring court orders? How much loss was caused to people by this illegal action of government? Keeping in view the enormous distress already suffered by the people, the government should waive the condition of first returning a signifi-cant part of the cash compensation received earlier by several families before they can get their land. Already the government has faced widespread criticism for its insensitivity in ignoring the legal demands of people facing displacement. Now the government can at least partially make up for this by showing a lot of generosity.
Secondly, beyond the immediate issue faced by the oustees of Onkareshwar and Narmada-sagar projects who were involved in the Jal Satyagraha, the much wider issues of all people affected adversely by the various dams on the Narmada river and its tributaries should be taken up. There is a lot of evidence, such as that gathered recently by the Jan Satyagraha Sanvad Yatras or the various presentations made by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), that the lives of lakhs of people have been adversely affected by dam projects like Sardar Sarovar, Bargi, Tawa and Narmagasagar (Indirasagar).
“We have agreed to bring down the water level of dam to 189 metres and to compensate the farmers’ land. It will, however, affect irrigation in 20,000 hectares of land and generation of 120 megawatts electricity,” said Chauhan. “The Supreme Court had given the go ahead to increase the water level to 196.5 metres, but we have reduced it for the time bring,” he added. The Madhya Pradesh government has also formed a three-member ministerial panel to look into the matter. Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh earlier today lashed out at the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in the state over not been able to finalize the rehabilitation and provide relief to the villagers.
“I think the state government is responsible to solve this issue. And there are two three things involved. Number one at what level the rehabilitation and resettlement has taken place. Number two if the rehabilitation, resettlement has not taken place at a level where the water is at just now, I think the government should immediately finalize the rehabilitation and provide relief to the land oustees,” Singh told mediapersons in New Delhi. “Number three is the issue: what is the full reservoir level, if the full reservoir level has been reached then they should try to reduce the levels by opening the gates and they will be generating power through that,” he said. “So, it is a very complex issue, but the foremost is the misery which these villages have been subjected to and this should be settled as soon as possible,” he added. The Jal Satyagraha, under the aegis of Narmada Bachao Andolan, was launched to demand proper rehabilitation and reduction in the water level of dam at Indira Sagar Project on river Narmada. Most discussion takes place only on directly displaced people, but actually several categories of people are adversely affected. For example, the Report of the Independent Review (also known as the Morse Committee Report), prepared in the context of the Sardar Sarovar Project, had identified several categories of people who are likely to adversely affected:
- People living in the submergence zone numbering about a hundred thousand.
- People whose land will be fully or partially claimed by the extensive canal network, numbering about 140 thousand.
- People who will be isolated in tapu (island like settlements) after the submergence.
- Certain sections of people living in upstream areas, specially those likely to be affected by backwater floods.
- People of Kevadia Colony.
- Certain sections of people living in downstream areas such as those dependent on fisheries.
- At least some people even in the beneficiary areas, specially those whose land may have to bear the impact of waterlogging.
- Indirectly affected people such as those living in sanctuary area or in the areas that will have the resettled people in future.
Among these various sections of people, the official rehabilitation programme is concerned almost entirely with the first category, and here too, a large number of people may be left out as the rights of the socalled ‘encroachers’ (that is, those peasants, specially tribals, whose rights to the land cultivated by them are not properly defined) are not recorded. Even for those who get recognised as project evictees, the overall record on the whole is quite dismal so that even in the case of the majority of them there is likely to be a deterioration in living and working conditions.
With that assurance, the 51 oustees standing in waist to neckdeep water for the last 16 days broke their jal satyagraha amid an atmosphere of victory. The Chief Minister said sincere efforts would be made to find a solution to the problems of the affected farmers. The high-level committee would comprise Commerce and Industries Minister Kailash Vijaywargiya, SC-ST Welfare Minister Kunwar Vijay Shah, Minister of State for Narmada Valley Development K.L. Agrawal, Principal Secretary, Narmada Valley Development, Rajneesh Vaish and the Indore Divisional Commissioner. The oustees thanked the media and supporters from across the country and abroad who had helped their cause. “The protesters endured a lot during these 17 days and suffered a lot of damage to their bodies by standing constantly under water. However, their displaced brethren from the Indira Sagar project continued their jal satyagraha (in Khardana and Badhkhalia villages) against the State’s decision to raise the water level beyond 260 metres, which, they claim, is in contravention of Supreme Court orders.
Thus the overall conclusion is that a very small part of the affected people get recognised for the purpose of rehabilitation or even compensation, and even regarding those who are recognised many of them generally do not have access to satisfactory rehabilitation. This has been a main concern of the NBA and this has been fully supported in RIR. There is now a clear need for a close look at the plight in which all categories of people adversely affected by the various Narmada dams find themselves today, so that their genuine demands can be taken up in a more organised way.