Thursday, November 23 (Bhopal):
There is no national rehabilitation policy in India. Rehab depends entirely on project authorities and concerned state governments. Madhya Pradesh has declared in an affidavit in court that it has no land to settle the ousted. The Gujarat government is making some kind of an effort, but the human tragedy of uprootment is too vast and complex and the number of villagers displaced too large.
More than 140 families from Krishnapura in Gujarat are going back to their original village 14 years after they shifted there because they are being displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project. The families are shifting to an uncertain future and are leaving behind a trail of broken promises.
Over the last few days, the villagers had been getting ready to move back because the Gujarat government failed in their case to deliver the promised rehabilitation package of five acres of productive land to every family, who would lose more than a quarter of their holding. In the vast sprawl of fertile land, they were largely given those bits that were stony and covered by the deadly dab grass that is impossible to uproot. Absentee landlords had been glad to rid themselves of this land and allow the government to acquire it for rehabilitation.
One of those relocated to this place said, "Dab grass has made this land useless and it keeps increasing. We have tried everything to get rid of it, but failed. We asked the government several times to give us land somewhere else, but they refuse. They say that there is nothing wrong."
Besides the land, practically no other facility was provided. A villager lamented, "Neither a temple nor cremation ground nor a medical centre was built. Between 50 families, they had to provide one well for drinking water. We are 170 of us and there is only this half-dug well that was started four years ago."
Villagers in Madhya Pradesh have always had the option of going to Gujarat, since their government was clear it had no land to rehabilitate them. In the last decade, many of the people, particularly the landless and small farmers who did go, have returned. Among them is Moti Singh Chauhan and 52 other families. He was shown land in Sonipur village in Gujarat's Panchmahal district from a moving jeep. While the land was fertile, there were a host of other problems that made living there impossible. Moti Singh explained, "Some of the neighbouring villages were hostile to us. They would let their cattle loose on our fields at night. Our crop was destroyed. The place was also overrun by thieves."
Eighty per cent of those who have been ousted because of the potential dam are from Madhya Pradesh. The courts had directed every affected village to be shifted as a whole unit. Instead, people have been scattered to different rehabilitation sites. The result of this has been that social links and communities have been broken up. The vast number that remain, live with the fear and with the burden of eviction. A villager said, "Our daughters get married, but people hesitate in giving their daughters to villages which bear the stigma of submergence. Earlier we had no problem, but now we are shunned."
There are no real statistics available on how many people have been displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Project so far and also about how many times this cycle has taken place.