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Posted at: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM (IST)

Depths of despair in the heart of India

Chandrakant Naidu in Bhopal
Fraud and deceit follow as Narmada oustees are resettled in parts of Madhya Pradesh amid high drama involving Medha Patkar, the environmentalist devoted to saving the river
Depths of despair in the heart of India
Social activist Medha Patkar during her indefinite fast at a village in Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. PTI file
AROUND half-an-hour into nightfall, a dimly-lit streetlight pole seeks unavailingly to light up a barren stretch that bears no other major sign of activity near Nimola village in Dharmpuri tehsil of Madhya Pradesh. The place is shown as a village throbbing with life and civic amenities in the records submitted by the state government before the High Court and the Supreme Court. The site meant to relocate the Narmada valley Project-affected families (PAF) has been declared largely occupied while just four houses bear a mute testimony to blatant falsehood of the administration.

Salima, a middle-aged woman, separated from her husband, says she and her two daughters are allotted a plot in a burial ground for tribal people. A week after the July 31 deadline for relocation several hundred like Salima are left with nowhere to go. 

Future inundation

With the raised height of Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, 192 villages across four districts in Madhya Pradesh, a large town, 33 villages in Maharashtra and 19 villages of Gujarat are to be inundated.

With the sluggish pace of resettlement the villagers in Madhya Pradesh began agitating and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), led by social activist Medha Patkar, as usual became their rallying point. On the tenth day of fast by Patkar and 12 other women the government intervened by sending a team of officials and a spiritual leader Bhayyu Maharaj to resolve the issue. The fast could not be ended as Patkar wanted the officials to show they had the authority to take spot decisions. The NBA wanted a joint effort by its representatives and the government authorities to identify the issues and resolve them as was done in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had asked a team of four citizens including a former chief secretary, a former director general of police and two senior journalists to see how the government has sweated it out to set up new villages. The team's visit exposed how Chouhan has been taken for a ride by the capillary-level administrative machinery. 

Relocation mess

The marking of area coming under submergence is arbitrary and erratic. The preparedness at the relocation sites is grossly inadequate. Compensation has been paid to many people who allegedly never lived in the area.

Salha village is abuzz, with tin shades being set up to settle the displaced. Only a small percentage has accepted the proposal to relocate, though. The major disincentive is lack of basic amenities such as piped water supply, drainage, electricity supply and toilets.

The black cotton soil running deep in the area discourages construction at a cost envisaged by the government. Construction on black cotton jacks up the cost by more than 50 per cent. A visit to the original abodes of the PAF reveals the reasons for villagers' hostility to haphazard rehabilitation process. A three-month compensation package of Rs 80,000 has been fixed, irrespective of the size, need (medicine, medical treatment etc.) of the families who opt not to avail of temporary three-month shelters. 

For a haweli owned by a large undivided family of Jagdish Singh Mandloi in Ekalwara in Manawar Tehsil, the government has quoted Rs 12,000 as compensation, a pittance by any standards. Some much smaller tenements are also being offered the same. 

Most rehabilitation sites have not provided for space or alternative avocation for people engaged in traditional occupations like fishing or pottery. 

'No grievances'

A Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA), created by the Supreme Court, has been asked by the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) to wind up. The NVDA was founded nearly 40 years ago to facilitate the execution of irrigation and power generation projects. The GRA provided a platform for the PAF to ventilate grievances against the authorities.

The government's claims on resettlement are supported by a large set of photographs of community projects such as schools, PHCs, Community centres, water tanks and houses. They are obviously picked up selectively from diverse locations not related to the areas where relocation is due. 

The NBA had moved both the High Court and the Supreme Court demanding that Sardar Sarovar gates should not be closed till rehabilitation is completed. The Supreme Court sent the agitators back to the High Court which has deferred a decision for ten days. Why is the MP government in such a hurry to finish the rehabilitation work? With the elections due in next few months, the Gujarat government would want to have some fanfare and the Madhya Pradesh government has been expected to expedite the job. 


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