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

Houses Burnt in Resettlement Site; Loss of Property Worth Lakhs of Rupees; PAP Jailed for Demanding Redressal of Grievance

62, Mahatma Gandhi Road,
Madhya Pradesh - 451551
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Two houses were fully, and another two partially, razed to the ground in a fire caused by low-hanging electricity cables at Thuvavi Rehabilitation site (original village Chimalkhedi, Maharashtra) in Dhaboi taluka, Vadodara district, Gujarat. The fire began at midday and was contained by fire fighters from Baroda later that afternoon, by which time the houses, adjoining storage spaces, and all their contents had been completely destroyed.

Despair turned to anger as villagers confronted the visiting SSPA engineers over the government negligence they felt was responsible for the fire. Several requests to get the dangerously low-hanging power lines repaired had been ignored.

The fire occurred on Sunday, April 3rd 2005. Local Panchayat officials made meager compensatory cash payments of Rs.1000 – Rs.1500 to the four affected families whereas lakhs of rupees worth cash and property were destroyed. Among the losses were piles of stored teak timber, cash, clothes, gold and silver jewelry, goats and chickens and all furniture and kitchen utensils. The affected families are temporarily put up in a room of the school building.

After visiting the site that day to assess the damage, officials from the Nigam contacted the electricity board to request repairs, but at the time of writing (five days after the event) no response has been received and the village still remains without power.

Thuvavi resettlement site was inhabited in 1994. For the families (thirty-one people in all) who have lost all their possessions in the fire, this will be the second time they will have to rebuild their lives. The teak lost from all four houses, brought from their original homes in the Narmada valley, constituted the families’ most valuable asset. One man lost over one lakh in cash, stored in his house after the sale of his sixty head of cattle. The animals could not be brought from the valley to Thuvavi for lack of water and adequate grazing land. After the loss of his family’s last remaining resources, a man said “We feel like dying”.

Kasiram, one of the persons who lost the entire possessions, was declared a PAF (major son) several years ago but remained landless and houseless until last year when he was allotted land in Vadchil, Maharashtra, approximately 300km away from his parents, siblings and other family members in Thuvavi. The land was awarded ex-parte, in contravention of his legal right to three choices. The teak with which he intended to build his proper house was destroyed in the fire. Kasiram’s father is unable to support him since he too lost everything.

All these years the affected families were made to drink extremely salty water, harmful for human consumption. They can’t use the underground water even for cultivation as it will spoil the soil which is already of poor quality. Recently after years of demand, the authorities are providing fresh tanker water from January onwards. But there are no signs of a permanent solution. These unsolved grievances exemplify the consistent weakness of R&R implementation by the Government of Gujarat, which is legally obliged to redress these grievances before continuing the construction of Sardar Sarovar.

In another incident, Kantibhai Rumal of Savli Resettlement site, ( Original village, Mokhadi) Tilakwada Taluka, Narmada District has been arrested for threatening to commit suicide in the SS dam. In early March, Kantibhai sent a letter to Chief Minister Narendra Modi in which he threatened that he and his family would drown in the dam unless they received proper compensation for their land submerged by the SSP alongwith other amenities. On Wednesday the police took him into their custody, and since refusing bail he is serving a fifteen-day sentence for threatening the government with his life. Driven by absolute despair, these are conspicuous and final gestures of resistance by oppressed individuals. No organization suggests, encourages or condones the practice and politics of suicide, but every organization, whatever its alignment with the state, is obliged to consider who, other than Kantibhai, is responsible for the conditions that promoted this as the only option. This incident is the fourth of its kind happening in the last two years after the suicide attempt by 15 youths in December 2003, following similar letters written to officials by Narayanbhai and Vikrambhai. In each of these incidents the government has tried to scare and suppress the real issues and humiliate and criminalize the affected persons. NBA demands immediate release of Kantibhai and speedy action towards redressing his and hundreds of other long pending grievances.

Philip Mathew