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|April 5, 1999||
Villagers protest against SC order on Narmada dam
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
For 14 years, Rukmani Pattidar (60), a villager from Bhawaria in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, has been visiting Bombay almost every year. It is not as if she is particularly fond of the city or its inhabitants. But she makes the pilgrimage to bring to the notice of the chief minister of Maharashtra her plight once the Sardar Sarovar Project in Narmada Valley is constructed.
The only places she has seen in Bombay despite visiting it so many times are Azad Maidan, the city's version of Delhi's Boat Club, and Mantralaya, the seat of government. And she has slept only at Chowpatty beach or in different city jails.
"I have come to Bombay umpteen times and, you won't believe me, the police have put me behind bars almost every time. Don't I even have the right to protest?" she says.
Pattidar's is not a lonely protest. Nearly 2,000 people from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat gathered in Bombay on Sunday, April 4, to protest against the Supreme Court's interim order allowing the Gujarat government to resume work on the dam from February 18.
"For four years, construction of the dam was suspended. We thought its height would not be increased and we would be saved. But now our lives are once again in danger," she weeps.
Mohan Patila from Sindhuri village in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra echoes her view: "After the World Bank withdrew from the SSP project and construction of the dam was stopped, I thought our villages would not be submerged. But the Supreme Court's decision has shattered us."
According to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the organisation leading the protest against the dam, the total number of villages that will be submerged if the project is completed is 19 in Gujarat, 33 in Maharashtra and 193 in Madhya Pradesh. And 41,000 families are likely to be affected.
So far only 49 villages have been submerged. Yet, according to the NBA, no alternative accommodation has been given to any of the residents.
Says Kamal Patil of Sindhrui village, near Nandurbar, "My village was drowned because of the dam, but the government has not given me any alternative place till date. I owned 5 acres of land, but the government gave me a plot at Akalkua where farming is extremely difficult."
But does this treatment not make him revolt in a violent manner? "Yes, I feel like retaliating," he admits. "It is thanks to Medhatai [Medha Patkar] that our protest is non-violent," he says.
Ramesh Vattida, a farmer from Barwani near Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh, says, "I haven't been able to sleep ever since the Supreme Court allowed construction of the dam. I am a well-to-do farmer. Why should I shift from my state? Our government is telling us to shift to Gujarat. I can't adjust, especially as the land which the government is offering me is barren."
Meanwhile, the Manav Adhikar Yatra (human rights march) of NBA has condemned the Maharashtra government for filing "false affidavits" regarding the displacement and resettlement of tribals affected by the controversial project.
According to Sanjay Sangavai, an NBA activist, "The state government did not do enough to protect the rights of these poor tribals and presented a weak case in the Supreme Court. That's why we lost. But we are going to file another petition against this interim order as construction of another 5metres will affect the lives of at least 2,500 families in three states."
"I have been to New Delhi, Bhopal, Gandhinagar and Bombay to meet all kinds of politicians. I only hope my protests will bring me justice," says Patidar.
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