The Sardar Sarovar dam built on the River Narmada in Gujarat is destructive on many counts. What the prime minister dedicated to the nation on September 17 at the Kewadiya dam site is a project that had made life miserable for lakhs of people. The project was envisaged as a solution to generate electricity and promote agriculture in Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat and the drought-affected areas of Rajasthan. The reservoir spreads over many villages in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The construction of the dam that lasted many years has led to people’s struggles and lengthy litigation. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has been fighting for justice in court rooms and government offices for 33 years.
Nations of the world have recognized that massive projects that lead to mass evictions are wrong and the damage they do to the environment and people’s traditions are beyond repair. The World Bank pointed out in 1992 that big dams were being decommissioned everywhere, as it withdrew financial aid for the project.
About 2.5 lakh people have been evicted for the dam, according to official data. Half of them were the tribal people in the three states. The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal’s order to grant them land elsewhere was never followed. Even the court verdicts in 2000 and 2005 were ignored.
Now the government is raising the dam’s height by 17 meters, flooding 192 villages and a town in Madhya Pradesh. About 40,000 houses will be submerged and lakhs of people will be rendered homeless. About 30,000 hectares of arable land will be lost under water.
The laws of the land and the orders of the courts and tribunals have clearly laid out the mode of rehabilitation. The government is not supposed to raise the water level before ensuring rehabilitation. Yet the officers are submitting false affidavits before the court on behalf of the government. The Narmada Control Authority allowed closing all the shutters of the dam and raising the water level to 138.68 meters, based on the incorrect reports by the committees for environment and rehabilitation. They wrongly claimed that the construction has been completed. The construction of canals is only halfway done.
The government abandoned the tribal people, farmers and fishermen to ensure a steady supply of water and electricity for the corporates.
The rehabilitation works are far from over. The villagers are being asked to leave their houses and move to miserable tin sheds. The government is supposed to ensure drinking water, electricity, washrooms, school, hospital, market and leisure facilities when it rehabilitates a community. However, the government is hurting the people by raising the water level without giving them alternate land. They do not even know where to take their livestock.
The government should not go forward with development that does not take into confidence the people. These activities only result in polluting the soil and water. What we need is decentralized eco-friendly development.
Even Kerala has to be extra careful when rolling out development activities. Kerala’s climate is fast-changing because of the projects that take their toll on nature. We must keep it in mind when we think about future projects such as the Athirappilly dam.
Real development is about conserving earth before handing it over to future generations.