NBA Press Release
  09 April 2005
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

NBA expresses grief and shock at the 150 persons being swept away in Narmada currents due to Indira Sagar dam releases

NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN
Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-233162
Email: nobigdam@sancharnet.in

The Narmada Bachao Andolan, the organization of thousands of families living in the Narmada valley and along the banks of the Narmada river, expresses extreme grief and shock at the missing status and possible death by drowning of 150 pilgrims who were swept away at Village Dharaji due to the sudden release of waters from the Indira Sagar dam on the night of the 7th of April. Thousands of pilgrims were bathing in the Narmada at night at Village Dharaji, an important point of pilgrimage and home to a spectacular water fall - a few kms. down-stream of the Narmada Sagar Project, when the water-level suddenly rose by 5 feet due to the sudden release of waters of the Narmada Sagar dam. The rapid current carried off many pilgrims. 150 are missing and feared dead.

It is clear that the life-giving, sacred river Narmada that nurtured millions along its banks as well as those living in towns and villages near and some far, has been turned against its own people by the Indira Sagar dam that is to have the largest impoundment in the country. The Indira Sagar has rendered the river both upstream and downstream dangerous and treacherous by completely changing the seasonal river regime that can swell and shrink at any time now due to human manipulation of the river waters.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan expresses deep concern at the very existence of the Narmada Sagar dam that constitutes a huge risk to the life and safety of large populations both upstream and downstream now and in the time to come. It demands that charges of gross criminal negligence amounting to culpable homicide be framed against the NHDC for the loss of life at Dharaji and the guilty officials arrested immediately.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan warns the concerned governments that if no action and caution is taken now, the Indira Sagar dam will cause untold human misery and loss of life and destruction in the days to come, both upstream and downstream because of sudden impoundment or sudden release, as also the possibility of a huge disaster and swift death for the thousands of villages downstream all the way up to the sea, in case of breach of the dam in the monsoon or due to seismic conditions. It also demands that the State Government and the Project officials immediately publicize and the people of the valley have a right to know what system, if any, is in place to avert any such tragedy in the future as well as the possibility of even larger disasters.

The Narmada - a placid and slow flowing river, flowing intermittently through hills and plains, is fed not with snows from any glaciers at its source like the great Himalayan rivers, but from the water stored in the forests in the valley which seep through the veins of the earth to perennialize the river. This river is the hub of life, economy and culture for the population on its river-banks and vast areas beyond. Sand-mining, fishing, collection of drift wood, and draw down cultivation of melons, cucumbers, vegetables and wild rice on the rich silt on its banks as well as drawing water for irrigation through a network of pumps, bathing and drinking and swimming and stop in the river for people, especially children and cattle - all the natural activities of human life at the river as well as has become extremely dangerous or has disappeared today both upstream and downstream because of the intermittent and massive water releases from the Indira Sagar dam. In the last one year itself nearly 75 % of the 15,000 worker families in the riverine occupations - Kewats and Kahars and those of other communities have been rendered unemployed because the stoppage of all downstream flows in November 2003 leading to the riverbed being exposed killed all the fish and aquatic life which will take years to regenerate. Similarly, the stoppage of silt and sand flows due to the ISP dam and Omkareshwar coffer-dam and the sudden and unseasonal water flows has rendered draw down agriculture and sand mining impossible.

The river has also been a site for intense cultural and religious activity Scores of temples and religious shrines along the river and the unique ritual of the Narmada Parikrama where lakhs walk along the river-bank have all been rendered extremely dangerous by these unseasonal releases water. The tragic disaster at Dharaji gives clear indication of this. The pilgrim town of Omkareshwar and the famed temples are only a few meters down stream of the Omkareshwar dam under construction by the same NHDC. It is clear that the waters pounding at the Omkareshwar dam will lead to the both the erosion and disappearance of the Omkareshwar temples, as well as human tragedies like Dharaji again and again, or to the river becoming out of bounds for the people of the valley. It is a point to ponder that when the officials cannot control and regulate the releases of the Indira Sagar dam, what is to happen when the cumulative impact of the 30 large dams in the river - the ISP, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, SSP, Bargi, Handia, Chinki, Tawa and other large dams are all built. In the circumstance that the State and Central governments and NHDC officials have become callous to people's survival concerns, the Narmada Bachao Andolan calls on the people of the Narmada valley to raise voices of sanity to examine and stop these insane projects.

Radheshyam Verma
Bhagwan Mukati
Dharamchand Jain
Chittaroopa Palit