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Villages in dam's shadow fear the worst
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Thursday, October 19, 2000

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Villages in dam's shadow fear the worst

Anjanwarada (Jhabua), October 18: ``I don't know what to do next,'' says Khajan of village Anjawara in Jhabua when told that the Supreme Court has cleared the decks for the Sardar Sarovar Project. ``But we wil not give in tamely because for us its a question of survival.''

Inhabited by 250 members of the Bhilala tribe, Anjanwara is one of the 193 affected villages on the banks of Narmada in Madhya Pradesh which will be displaced by the big dam.

Khajan, an active supporter of Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao Andolan -- which has opposed the big dam all along and had filed the PIL in the Supreme Court in 1994 -- is shocked.

But others aren't. ``The demon of SSP has given us too many shocks these last 10 years,'' says Chinta, a landless tribal whose family of six depends on fishing for survival. Like him, most villagers appear resigned to a fate over which they have no control.

``It's god's will,'' says Binda, a woman past 75. ``We have to face whatever comes.'' Tragically, nobody in Anjanwara really knows what the SSP is all about. They first came to know about it on May 14, 1999 when government surveyers, accompanied by 40 armed policemen, barged into the village on horseback, recalls Binda.

``The police used lathi charge. One young girl was trampled to death. But we prevented the survey,'' says Binda. A more violent confrontation between the government and villagers took place in May 1993 which led to police firing.

Bind's mood of helpless rage is reflected in most villages of Nimar region where a strong agitation has been launched by the NBA.

Unfortunately, NBA at the grassroots level is dominated by the landholding Pattidar community. Villages like Anjanwara, inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes and Castes -- accounting for 40 per cent of affected population -- are markedly absent from the ranks of its local activists.

But they know that there could be trouble ahead. For the Khajans of Anjanwara as well as for Khatri Bhave, an old adivasi woman of village Domkhedi nearer the SSP dam site.

The first bulb in Khatri Bhave's house was lit by electricity generated because of the efforts of a young Kerala engineer, Anil Kumar, this August.Anil and his colleague Madhu arrived in this village in mid-July and after surveying the area, homed in on a small stream gurgling through the hills a few hundred yards from the village, recalls a resident of Domkhedi.

``With our help, they built a one metre high, four or five metre long dam across the stream to create a small reservoir. This water was then conveyed to a pipe running steeply downhill to feed a small turbine which generated electricity.''

Says sociologist K N Shukla: ``That bulb in Khatri's hut was not merely a symbol but actual manifestation of creative development -- a path suggested by the NBA and some others...It's switching off signifies the rejection of an idea representated by the minority judgment of the Supreme Court.''

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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