03 May 2006


The Truth about Rehabilitation of the Oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project: A Report on the "Pol-Kholo Yatra"

The Pol Kholo Yatara was an attempt to unravel the truth about the status of rehabilitation of lakhs of people, adivasis, non adivasis, farmers, fishermen etc. affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The yatra was a tour of 12 villages in Dhar, Khargone, Badwani, Jhabua districts in Madhya Pradesh and Nandurbar district in Maharashtra, where the participants met with thousands of villagers from almost 100 villages. It began from Indore on the 25th of April 2006 and concluded on the night of 28th April. It was very clear after the visit that the claim of the government that all the people displaced by the dam had been rehabilitated was entirely untrue.

One of the most striking banners regarding this was seen in Chotta Barda, a village on the banks the river Narmada in the Nimad region of MP that said, ^”This entire village has been rehabilitated and the people you see here are ghosts.^‘ This in a sense completely captured the impressions that we had throughout the Yatra. Village after village we visited along the banks of the river Narmada, were bustling with activity and showed no signs of people being rehabilitated in other sites. These were people living in anger and frustration against a callous government that has declared in its affidavit that rehabilitation is completed even in the areas affected by the increase in height. In the mountainous Adivasi regions that we visited we were met with people whose houses had been submerged in the past years, and were living in half submerged lands and homes without being rehabilitated.

There is no way that the government can compensate for the environmental, social and cultural damage that the project will cause. Entire histories of villages, communities and people who will be uprooted from century-old settlements and scattered all over into half-constructed rehabilitation sites, will be erased. The only compensation that the government can give is for basic physical and material losses incurred, but even here it has failed miserably in compensating for even basic material rehabilitation and loss of livelihood. When affected people try to negotiate for their rights they are considered ungracious and trouble makers.

By any simple logic one would think that it would be mandatory to provide compensation for at least the same, if not better living conditions. These rehabilitation measures have also been spelt out by the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal. But what the team saw was people losing their homes, livelihoods and even their dignity. Among them, the most marginalised tribal areas and the poor of non-tribal villages, migrant workers, women and disabled people are fighting for survival, dispossessed of all their rights. Comparing what we witnessed with the statement given by the MP Government about rehabilitation, we can only feel rage at the government for having reduced a large number of people into a "bunch of false numbers" and completely denied the struggles of their survival, if the height of the dam is raised. We saw areas in Alirajpur tehsil of Jhabua and Dhadgaon tehsil of Maharshtra a part of which came under submergence even at 69 metres of the dam height that were still not rehabilitated, leave alone those at 121 metres. Notices have been given to people in some villages to leave by June this year, as the area will come under submergence, but their rehabilitation has not even begun while on paper they have been shown to be completely rehabilitated. Dharampuri, a large village with 4000 families living in it, was one such village that we visited.

Several specific problems were seen with the rehabilitation and its process. Some of them are listed here.

1. The NVDA^“s and the government^“s agenda seemed to be to decrease people^“s entitlement rights as much as possible. This was done either by not counting several people entitled to receive compensation or through corruption, both in terms of showing false number of affected families, as well as people having to give bribes to officials for getting their compensation cheques. On one hand there is the issue of sons and daughters above the age of 18 and dalits and widows not being considered for entitlement, and on the other, as we found in village Elkalbara, the number stated by the NVDA are more than the actual number in the village. Another such violation is seen in the case of granting entitlements to women. Women, even when they have joint land holdings, are being shown as dependants of husbands and in case of widows, as dependent on adult sons. Their independent land entitlements are therefore dismissed. This is particularly true of widows, single women, and disabled people . In Avli village, Thikri Thesil, district Badwani, many widowed women voiced their complaint. ^”We want our own plots, if our sons don't keep us where will we go?^‘

2. The surveys that were carried out for entitlements have been inefficient, done in a hurry and had huge discrepancies in them. Entire sections of villages had been left out. There is no proper rationale for marking houses that would be submerged. The marking and levels written on the markings were changed several times in the past years and even months. In Khalghat, the higher levels were lowered and in Dharampuri they were increased from 138 to 148m one night before the team of three ministers visited the village.

3. Livelihoods of those who are involved in non-agricultural occupations are not even taken into account. It was appalling to note the government^“s manipulation in reducing its responsibility of rehabilitation towards them by using techniques like cancelling auctions of riverbed land, so that they don^“t have to compensate the melon cultivators who would lose their means of livelihood due to submergence. The kevats who are involved in transporting people in boats from one ghat to another since the Mughal period have no occupation in the rehabilitated sites. Their loss of livelihood will not be compensated for. The same is the case with the melon cultivators, fisher folk and potter communities, all of who are dependent on the river or river soil for their livelihood.

4. People who have no titles to land and or self owned homes have been completely left out of the list of displaced people. In almost all the villages visited, many major sons and daughters who were to receive compensation have been left out. Under the NWDT, there are entitled compensation and major sons of landed farmers are entitled to at least 2-hectares of land. But the government disregards their claim to land on any arbitrary pretext. Widows and adult daughters are shown as dependent and excluded from plots allotments.

5. Though it is being constantly said that people are themselves opting for cash compensation, we found that it was untrue. The officials threatened people that if they did not opt for cash compensation then and there, they would not get anything. In village Awali, Pipri and Chota Barda and other villages, people complained that while they were demanding land and plots, they were being given cash compensation. The payment of cash instead of land for land in itself is a violation of the legal provision. We were narrated many stories by several people who were paid only half the cash compensation, which was insufficient for them to buy land and were not given their second instalments. This is occurring on a large scale. The amount of land and cash being given to people does not seem to follow any rationale and is quite arbitrary.

6. While very little land for land has been given to people in return of agricultural land, the few allotments that have been made show complete callousness of the government. Agricultural land has been allotted 100-200 kilometres away from the resettlement sites. The resettlement site for people of Chikalda is Gehelgaon and the agriculture land allotted to them is in Dhar tehsil, about 100 km away. Some of the land allotted falls in the submergence area of other dams. Some of the land is that which has already been marked by the government for afforestation activities. In some cases land which has been declared barren as per government records has been given away to people as agricultural land. These are either criminal blunders or conscious efforts by the government to dupe people. The responsible officials of NVDA and government should be penalized for this.

7. The situation in the tribal area that the yatra visited was a story of neglect, cheating and condemning people to impoverishment. The generations old adivasi communities residing in the villages of Anjanwada, Bhitada, Badhal and Kakrana of Madhya Pradesh are living in nightmarish conditions with parts of their lands submerged, houses gone underwater and in spite of demanding land for land they have got almost no land fit for cultivation in Madhya Pradesh. It is shocking to know that the government of MP has prepared no rehabilitation site for any of the 26 affected villages in Jhabua district when they have been claiming that the rehabilitation is complete. We heard the people of Bhitada who narrated stories of their being cheated in the purchase of private land in Nimad. Many of the family members were left out of entitlements and people were made to purchase ^”irrigated land^‘, but after purchase the farmers took away the pipes and pumps leaving the land without water. The re were many such stories of them not being compensated adequately and then being cheated.

As students, writers, social activists and concerned citizens who visited the villages during the Pol Kholo Yatra we want to put on record that the reality we saw in the villages is far from what is being reported by the state. None of the villages that we visited, which are slated for submergence if the dam height is increased to 121 metres, have been rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of this magnitude is not possible in three months, and even trying to do so would mean large-scale disruption of lives and livelihoods. It is not possible for rehabilitation to go along with the construction considering the magnitude of the displacement and rehabilitation. We demand that the government orders an immediate stopping of the dam construction.

We also indict the State government of Madhya Pradesh for giving false rehabilitation reports and playing with the lives of lakhs of people. It is clear that the government of Madhya Pradesh does not have land to give to the displaced families or compensate adequately for their losses. The Dam has already displaced many people without proper rehabilitation and it is clear that such large-scale rehabilitation will never be possible. We strongly feel that the government calls for a review on the whole project and raising the dam height in the view of the fact that rehabilitation of the people affected in such a large magnitude is not possible without causing serious violation of their rights. The Yatra was attended by many eminent people including Dr Sunilam (MLA from Multai), Sandeep Pandey (Magsaysay Award winner and peace activist), Swami Agnivesh, Vasanth Shintre (eminent Left leader from Indore), Shankar Lal Bagri (Chairperson of PUCL, MP), Anil Trivedi (eminent Gandhian) among others joined the Yatra. Besides this, film makers, writers, academicians, doctors, students, musicians, social activists and members of several support groups and organisations from the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka, among others attended the Yatra.

To view and download photographs from the "Pol Khol Yatra" to the Narmada Valley, please click here.

Sandeep Pandey, Dr. Sunilam, Swami Agnivesh, Rinchin, Nidesh, Kavitha Krishnan, Awadesh