[ This article was originally written and published in Gujarati in "Bhoomiputra" in February 2000. Translated into English by Himanshu Upadhyay. ]

Questions on Downstream Impact of Sardar Sarovar Project: A letter to Sarvodayi friends

Dhirendra and Smita

Bhoomiputra; February 1-15, 2001

Our congratulations to Bhoomiputra and the author Veljibhai Desai for publishing his article against the Narmada Dam. By avoiding the debate on the issue of opposition to Dam and by not allowing others to do so, we would only be working towards hiding the truth and at the end it would be harmful for our society only.

After the construction of the dam who will receieve how much water only god knows. But everybody who has faith in truth is required to perform the duty of assessing whether the work on Resettlement and rehabilitation and environment front is done dully or not at every five metres and whether those benchmarks are followed strictly or not. If somebody whether from Gujarat or from other states draws our attention to non-compliance of such benchmarks, and we respond to her act by calling it 'enmity to Gujarat', our reaction would be an unjust attitude. An expert committe should be constituted to look into the issues of the status of Resettlement and Rehabilitation and Environment, to issue guidelines and to work for ensuring compliance of benchmarks without being pressurised by anyone.

If we will keep misguiding people by narrowminded argument representing merely minority point of view such as 'what can we do now when so much money have been spent allready?' or 'everyday the state is loosing Rs.4 Crores without any gain if the projectis stalled?'; the pilgrimage of "development for all" will remain very far from reaching it's destination.

The situation of river narmada is very heart renching. 15 years ago one couldn't cross the river near garudeshvar on foot. Now for last 5 years one can easily cros the river by foot in summer, but this year the situation has changed so much in downstream area that it has become possible to cross river on foot even in winter. The reason for this is stopping the release of water downstream from reservoire. The impact of such a decision of closing sluicegate on downstream villages is grave, we wonder when will we start considering it? The villagers who live downstream are not very vocal, so it will take some time for them to start articulating these questions, but we would like to draw your attention to whatever complaints we have come across.

The very first obvious impact is on the health of the people who use the river water for drinking and other puposes. At so many places the course of stream has receded distant from banks, and at other places due to small pudles of dirty water, there has arose the fear of malaria. Near new shulpaneshvar temple there is no place where pilgrims can take bath, not only that but the moss ridden bank smells so bad that one can't even stand there. we are waiting for the exact information about the impact on fisherfolks. A study must be undertaken to assess the impact of sea water ingress on coastline villages. at places like Chanod and Bhalod, it will cause serious problems for pilgrims and boatmen.

Under the rhetoric of uniting the people of Gujarat to fight opposition to dam we can't go on giving a blind eye to the negative impactes of the Dam. To fight opposition doesn't mean not to listen to it at all. can we make nature and environment more green by doing so? looking at the benefits only ant to turn away face from question of evictees by imposing the responsibility of rehabilitation on respective state governments, doesn't all these look myopeic and harmful for national integration while securing integration of gujarati population? shall we people who keep talking about Gram Swaraj snatch away the rights over Land, Water and Forest from local people?

The pilgrimage of Sarvodaya is still away from reaching it's destination, and we think that it's time to put Ekadash Vrata in practice instead of merely reciting it. Only if we follow those principles in practice the destination will come closer.

Yours,

Dhirendra, Smita.

Dhirendra and Smita are Sarvodayi activist working with adivasis living Downstream of Narmada river.