Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | June 27, 2014
An image from my visit to the Narmada Valley in 2007 was to haunt me for a long time to come. I was sitting in a boat when tribal children from up the hill were coming down to meet a group of us who had come to the valley. They displayed a discipline and maturity far beyond their eight years of life. Their faces were a peculiar combination of submission and anger. These are the Narmada children who were raised watching their parents fight a ‘war’ to protect their livelihood and their land from the state, their purported protector.
The Narmada valley today is a watery grave. Towns after towns have been submerged along with its rich flora and fauna, temples, masjids, roads, schools, cemeteries, and all that bore signs of a rich civilization that existed in the valley prior to submergence. Few know that Narmada is the only place where uninterrupted civilization has existed since the Stone Age.
The Sardar Sarovar is slated to be raised yet again from its present 122 m to 138.68 m. Medha Patkar, the most public face of the resistance to Sardar Sarovar, was sitting on a dharna in Delhi for two days last week.
While the issue has run its course from occupying the front pages of the news print to settling down as a small brief in the inside pages, my recent visit to the valley revealed that the condition of the oustees in the valley, however, is the same. Few actors may have changed—a dead father replaced by a son, a dead husband replaced by a wife, but their problems remain. They don’t tire telling you their story with the hope that someone listens. I met Manglya from Maharashtra whom I had met in 2007; more gaunt and much more aged, but with the same unmistakable strength on his face, still fighting for compensation. A man said, “We don’t even have money to come to NBA to write letters to the grievance redressal authority because it takes 100Rs from the village to come to Badwani.” The supreme court judgment 2005 states that “In terms of stipulations, raising of the dam which would cause submergence would not be permitted unless rehabilitation programme is carried out.” However, rehabilitation is in a terrible state but submergence continues.
On Wednesday Patkar met Uma Bharati, the water resources minister and Thawar Chand Gehlot, social justice and empowerment minister. While Bharati blamed the present state of affairs on the UPA government but gave her word to look into the matter, Gehlot surprisingly commented that he came to know of the decision through the newspapers. Looks like the social empowerment minister needs a bit of empowering himself.
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