On the waterfront
IF THE waters of the Narmada have been rising in recent weeks, so have the rhetoric and histrionics of those involved in the 14-year struggle against what they describe as “the unjust submergence and destruction imposed on the people in the Narmada
Ms Medha Patkar, who threatened to commit jal samarpan if the construction of the dam was not stopped, had to be forcibly removed along with 61 others after incessant rains and the release of flood waters of the Bajri, Tawa and Kolar started to submerge
the satyagraha area. This satyagrahis, who have decided to stay put because they have not been rehabilitated, are accusing the government of withholding vital information, regarding the project and demanding public hearings in the submerged areas to get
first hand accounts from the oustees. They are also saying that the rehabilitation policy is only taking into account about two lakh persons who will be displaced and not the thousands who will be displaced downstream, and that the recent submergence has
been caused by the backwater effects of the dam subsequent to the raising of its height from 80 to 85 metres.
But the Gujarat government, while dismissing their contention as “yet another example of false propaganda”, is insisting that given the height of the dam the waters would touch only six villages in Madhya Pradesh, that not a single hut would be submerged
and that even in the event of severe floods, which occur only once in a hundred years, the waters would touch only 33 villages in Madhya Pradesh, affecting 1,300 families. What is becoming increasingly apparent, however, amidst all this acrimony is the
urgent need for both sides to bury differences and work towards a solution which will have wider acceptability. The Supreme Court, while permitting the height of the dam to be raised, had told the Gujarat government to complete the resettlement and
rehabilitation of the oustees. It had also asked the PD Desai committee to submit a report on the actual position of resettlement and rehabilitation by April. This report is now in court. There appears to be a need for an independent mechanism to oversee
the rehabilitation process and put an end to all the allegations and counter-allegations being made by the two sides.