| NBA Press Release
|| 10 January 2004
Upper Beda affected tribals hold huge rally in Khargone; Mass demonstration heralds beginning of struggle of people affected by the Omkareshwar dam
62, Mahatma Gandhi Road,
Madhya Pradesh - 451551
With the advent of the New year and the new government in Madhya Pradesh, voices against the wanton destruction of the rich land, water and forests of the valley and for sanity and survival are being once more raised in the Narmada valley. On the 2nd of January 2004 , the tribals and other communities affected by the Upper Beda Project, one of the thirty large dams in the Narmada valley, held a huge rally at the District Headquarters of Khargone and interrogated the District Collector and senior officers of the Narmada Valley Development Authority for over three hours. The gathered 2000 affected tribal men and women demanded that the state government implement decentralized water alternatives in lieu of the dam, or alternatively distribute irrigated agricultural land to all displaced landed and landless families before land acquisition and work on the dam begins.
Similarly, on the 5th of January, around 4000 people affected by the Omkareshwar dam marched through the pilgrim town of Omkareshwar and holding their first public meeting heralded the beginning of the struggle against the Omkareshwar dam. After the public meeting, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate from Khandwa came to Omkareshwar and responded to the questions of the affected people for nearly 2 hours. The slated oustees demanded that all dam work and land acquisition proceedings must be suspended until the affected people are given irrigated agricultural land in the command of the Omkareshwar Project.
2nd January 2004 : Upper Beda affected tribals raise the voice of their struggle at Khargone
It may be noted that the Upper Beda Project proposed to be built on the Beda river at Village Nemit is one of the thirty large dams in the Narmada valley. The Beda river is a tributary of the Narmada. 14 adivasi villages are to be affected by the dam. The struggle against this dam has been ongoing for the last six years. In 1997, as a result of the struggle of the people, the contractor for this Project deserted it. Subsequently after 21 days of indefinite fast in Bhopal by the affected people of Veda and other dams, on the 2nd of May 1999, the state government issued an Order constituting a High level Committee to explore and implement the alternatives to the Lower Goi ( Badwani) and Upper Beda dams. But after this neither did the Committee do any further work. Nor was any work on the dam taken ahead. Just before the elections, when the Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh government came to inagurate the dam, nearly 5000 adivasis in the area gathered to oppose the Project. Immediately after the elections, construction machinery was sent to the project site, which enraged the affected people. That was when the affected people not only stopped the work on the machines, but also decided to raise their voice for their rights by rallying in Khargone.
On the 2nd of January, nearly 2000 affected people from 14 affected villages took out a rally in Khargone and gheraoed the Collector’s office for nearly 3 hours. During the gherao and the ensuing dialogue, District Collector Khargone Shri Aniruddha Mukherjee, Chief Engineer, NVDA, based at Sanawad, Rehabilitation Officer, NVDA and other senior officials were present. From the people’s side, dam affected tribal leader Vesta Patel, Banabai and Vishrambhai as well as prominent activists from the Man dam area Ramkuwar and Paro, and Radheshyam Verma of Maheshwar area as well as NBA activists Alok Agarwal and Chittaroopa Palit presented the arguments. The Upper Veda dam affected people demanded that decentralized water alternatives be implemented in the command area. They said that instead of this Rs. 92 crore Upper Veda Project, if One crore Rupees is distributed to every command village panchayat in all 72 villages of the command, for the implementation of water alternatives, not only would the villagers be able to solve their water problems in a record time, but the decentralized investment would ensure huge employment opportunities in every village for the next many years to come. The affected people demanded that while there must be public investment in developing developing water and irrigation sources, this investment must be freed from the clutches of the contractor-politician-bureaucrat nexus who have milked all public investment for graft in the last few decades. This public investment must be made directly available to the people and communities through the village panchayats and be used for employment –intensive tasks of water conservation and regeneration.
The affected people also demanded that if the government wished to build the dam instead of the alternatives, they must first make available irrigated agricultural land of around 1323 ha. to all affected landed families and 2 ha. of land each to landless families from the irrigation command of the Upper Beda dam of around 9900 ha., to be acquired under the Madhya Pradesh Displaced persons Act, 1985. When the NVDA officials mentioned that they would explore giving encroached land in small bits of 10-20 hectares, or that they could distribute land from 10,000 hectares of uncultivable charnoi pasture land in the area to the affected families, the oustees showed the NVDA officials the NVDA Report on the Upper Veda Project of March 2002, wherein was detailed the availability of 2000 ha. of land to be acquired under the Madhya Pradesh Displaced Persons Act,1985 in the Upper Veda command. This greatly embarrassed the NVDA officials who stated that although the Report had been made in March 2002, the land details were old and needed to be updated and checked !!
The oustees also presented the NVDA ‘s own report to show that the Upper Veda Project had received its clearance from the Central Ministry of Social Welfare based on the condition that every landless family in the submergence area would be given a minimum of 2 ha. of agricultural land. The NVDA official from Indore refused to read this letter out to the gathered public, although finally the Chief Engineer NVDA had to confirm it. The oustees stated that they were ready to send 20 men and women representatives per village from all 14 villages as soon as possible to travel with the state government officials and inspect the private agricultural lands in the irrigation command of the Upper Veda Project that could be disbursed to them.
Upper Beda Dam affected people refuse to accept cash, return cheques for dam site on 7th January 2004
Meanwhile, the state government completed the land acquisition of 70 hectares of land for the dam site and brought cheques for distribution to the dam site affected villages of Nemit and Devit Bujurg on the 7th of January. Over 500 villagers gathered to meet the government officials and oppose the Project. The families of Villages Nemit and Devit Bujurg whose 70 hectares lands in Village Bedania are being acquired for the dam site refused to accept the cheques from the district administration or any sort of cash compensation. They stated that they would not give the possession of their lands to the state government for dam construction unless they were given irrigated agricultural land in the command area. The Panchayat of Devit Bujurg where the owners of the dam site land live also refused to endorse these land acquisition proceedings that is constitutionally necessary for the completion of these proceedings as this area in scheduled and attracts the conventions under the 74th Amendment. It may be noted that Devit Bujurg is the first village in the Upper Beda command.
5th January 2004: Omkareshwar dam affected villagers mark the beginning of their struggle by holding huge rally
The Omkareshwar dam is part of the series of large dams being constructed in the Narmada valley and is to be built at Village Panthiaji a few metres upstream of the holy and exquisitely beautiful pilgrim town of Omkareshwar, at the conjuncture of the Narmada and Parvati rivers. 29 villages are being affected by this dam. The Omkareshwar dam lies on the Narmada ,40 kms upstream of where the currently stalled Maheshwar dam was to be built. The Omkareshwar reservoir will be hemmed in the on the other side by the gigantic Narmada Sagar dam.
It may be noted that the Omkareshwar Project is slated to produce 520 MW of power but as per the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that has been signed between the state government and the joint sector agency NHDC, only around 12% of the electricity produced will be made available to Madhya Pradesh that is suffering from a severe power crisis. The utility of Omkareshwar power for the national grid is questionable given that the demand for power all over India is 80,000 MW and power production is 1,10,000 MW. Moreover, although the total outlay of the Omkareshwar Project has been increased to Rs. 2200 crores, the power tariff has not been finalized and therefore the real possibility of Omkareshwar power being least cost and viable is yet to be established. It is also a matter of extreme concern that the three volume Reports of the premier Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has stated that 40% of the Omkareshwar and Narmada Sagar commands will be severely waterlogged.
Soon before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the dam on the 31st of August 2003, the villagers of Panthiaji were forcibly evicted and their standing crops were razed by bulldozers. As the actions of the officials of the Narmada Hydro-Development Corporation (NHDC) and the government spread terror, corruption and extortion in the area, at the initiative of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the affected people of the area constituted the “Omkareshwar Bandh Parabhavit Sangh”. On the 5th of January, 2004, under the joint aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Omkareshwar Bandh Prabhavit Sangh the first struggle program of the affected people was held at Omkareshwar town. Nearly 4000 men and women affected by the Omkareshwar dam participated in this program. The program was also attended by the representatives of the affected people of the Upper Veda, Maheshwar and Man dams.
After the public meeting, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate Khandwa came to Omkareshwar at the invitation of the dam affected people, was given their petition of demands and also had to answer the questions and complaints of the affected people for two hours. He assured the people that the district administration would apprise the State government of the demand of the Omkareshwar dam affected people to be rehabilitated with around 7000 ha. irrigated agricultural land in the proposed 1.29 lakh hectares command area of the dam. He also said that the district administration would take action on the written complaints of the oustees regarding demands and extortion by the NHDC officials. On receiving many complaints about under-estimation and exclusion of lands and settlements during the surveys and the demand of the local people for level and population re-surveys, he agreed to resurveys on a case to case basis. He also agreed to land settlement works such as updating of land titles and ownership records through camps in various affected villages. The affected people clearly announced that unless they were given irrigated agricultural land in the command, they would not move or leave their lands, waters and forests and were ready for any level of determined struggle in defence of their rights. The people were represented by Omkareshwar dam affected Shri Phattu Giri, Kumari Priti Khandelwal, Ex-MLA Rana Raghuraj Singh, Maheshwar dam affected activist Shri Mangat Verma and NBA activists Shri Alok Agarwal and Chittaroopa Palit.