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Unparalleled Genocide

More than the ecological impact or the economic loss, the Narmada issue concerns us personally directly through its planned pogrom of the people of Narmada valley. It is ironic that Narmada valley which is possibly the oldest centre of agricultural civilization and what we consider the Indian culture is targeted for erasing through drowning. For the average urban Indian it is really diffcult to conceive of the impact of the dam on the lives of lakhs of tribal people who live totally dependent on the river and the forests around. They venerate the river and the forests and they depend on both for survival. The husbandry of their natural resource base had been so efficient that they have remained self sufficient for so long. But the concept of sustainability dawned on us only after our own excessive exploitation had damaged its very base. Using the machinery and the power of the State driving them out of their homes might succeed and its impact is not as outstandingly patent as the concrete edifice of a dam. In fact in our country the millions of human lives which have been rendered destitute because of the various development projects have never been calculated as part of the cost of development. The growing slums in the cities and shanties along the roads and the rail tracks, the beggars and the scrap collectors who eke out an existence in the urban refuse piles all constitute a section of the society earmarked for annihilation to make the lives of a small number of people easier.

In fact it is not possible to accurately estimate the magnitude of the social disintegration and the cultural collapse directly due to SSP. In the modern developmental jargon we have coined a new term for these people whose existence suddenly collapses due to some decision taken in some far away Yojana Bhavan. They are called the 'project affected people' further abbreviated to PAP. Truly indicative of what is coming is the case of 800 families who were uprooted in 1960 for the Kewadia colony of the SSP staff. They have not been given even monetary compensation upto now. According to procedures framed ostensibly to save public(!) money, rehabilitation assistance is available only to those directly affected by reservoir submersion.

Yet lakhs of families fall within the deadly reach of this mega developmental project. The canals of this project alone are going to cause the uprooting of 1,70,000 families. The Wildlife Sanctuary which is going to be established as a window dressing of environmental concerns will force the evacuation of 108 villages. In the name of protecting the reservoir and for compensatory afforestation, countless thousands will be forced out of their hearths. Since below the dam there will no longer be the river, the survival resources of many more will disappear. There is no figures for the multitudes who currently eke out an existence by fishing, or by grazing cattle in the forests or collecting non-timber forest produce. The list is pretty long. The lives of at least 10 lakh people will be drastically affected. Yet according to governmental norms none of them have the right for resettlement and rehabilitation (R & R).

Even if we are to leave aside such vague numbers and come down to the formal PAPs definitive figures are surprisingly absent. Each year since the first estimates of NWDT their numbers are increasing. Tentative current official estimates are that in Maharashtra 3500 families, in Gujarat 4500 families and in Madhya Pradesh 33,014 families will definitely be flooded out of their homes. Even though the dam height is fast approaching 80 m, even now the basic surveys of submergible area oustees have not been completed. Hence the figure is expected to be even more.

In 1979 for the first time in India, the NWDT formulated a National Rehabilitation Policy for the PAPs. The policy promises as much land as lost due to submergence in addition to a plot for their house, short term monetary grant, monetary compensation for unmovable assets, grants for rehabilitation, infrastructural facilities for the community, irrigation etc. Although all these conditionalities had been laid down more than a decade ago, until now not even a single family who have been dislocated has received them. This gross injustice has been reported by several organisations like the World Bank and even pro-dam organisations such as the "Arch Vahini" demanding just rehabilitation.

In the project affected areas of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, all that the government has done so far in the name of resettlement and rehabilitation is essentially forcefully evicting people, promising them neither monetary compensation nor equivalent land. In Gujarat, for 924 families, relocated in 1981 belonging to 5 villages, all that the government did was to pay compensation according to the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. These tribal families relocated in very poor quality lands far from their native places now live in utter misery. Even though these people were not materially affluent or prosperous, they had dependable social security in their tribal social order and clan relationships. And of course they had the sustainable healthy survival knowledge to meet all their material requirements from the forests and the river. When such internally and externally integrated communities were broken up and scattered in many places their collective cultural fabric was totally shredded. The functional order of individual villages when broken up rendered each family really destitute. In the new ecologically impoverished surroundings, their survival knowledge, art and craft, beliefs and traditions have utterly no relevance. In short, they have been condemned to slow dissolution and death. But compared with what is happening currently, those were kinder days. Now as the waters rise, as the construction activity gathers momentum, hundreds of families are driven off their homes and lands using the police. Either by design or due to the chaos, cattle and other material assets are usurped from these innocent disorganised people and they are dumped with nothing to fall back upon in some remote degraded land.

When the pastoral people are not given land for grazing their cattle, when the forest tribes are not given forests to depend upon, when people who have lived since time immemorable secure in the close bondage of kinships and mutual dependence are scattered over the winds, it is the modern development's genocide. This puts to shame marauding, plundering armies of the so-called less civilized times. Hundreds of families from Vadgam, Khatlebi, Makadkheda villages of Gujarat, the Manibeli village of Maharashtra and Chilkar, Amlali, Khatarkheda, Debani, Chachgua villages of Madbya Pradesh who were promised land and housing in rehabilitation centres, finding that they have been exiled to wasted lands have abandoned the so-called resettlement areas and come back to the Narmada Valley. Even the World Bank's Morse Commission report (an institution not famous for its stance in support of the poor people anywhere in the world) has described democratic India's governmental R & R in explicit critical terms. This report categorically states that there is no chance of real resettlement or rehabilitation for all the PAPs.

At the same time Gujarat government unheeding every plea from the affected, recommendations from NGOs and eminent people, Govt. of India's directives and even court orders continued with the construction of the dam and closed the sluices which coupled with the copious monsoon rains, resulted in unexpectedly quick and early impoundment of waters in the reservoir. Houses and fields of between 1200-2000 families were inundated during this monsoon and there was not even a symbolic move to rehabilitate them anywhere. In pouring rain, as the waters were rising and swallowing all that they had in their lives, people who had no recourse but to cling on to whatever they have were driven away by brutal police force. In a few locations there were a few tin sheds on slopes above the rising waters. What shelter they can afford to people who have nothing else excepting what they are carrying in their hands to rebuild their lives is a question which everyone of us, beneficiaries and supporters of this development must ask ourselves. During the monsoon of 1994, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists who were working in the project affected areas and the people who refused to be driven away from their homes were repeatedly subjected to police brutality and arrest. In the suddenly rising waters many villages along the banks of Narmada which were not facing the threat of submersion were completely cut off and the people marooned. With no governmental machinery to help them in any manner, humanitarian assistance to these manmade flood affected people also became the responsibility of NBA.

This prompted the NBA activists and the flood dislocated villages to hold a public dharna in Church Gate in Bombay during July 1994. Their plea was for just compensation to those whose properties have been damaged by the waters and they were pleading for a factual, honest reappraisal of the whole project. Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar invited Medha Patkar, leading the dharna, along with activists and affected people for discussions, he refused compensation outright. His condition was that if NBA abandoned its opposition to the dam, government will consider rehabilitation. He also agreed to make available boats to the isolated villages. The government also agreed to constitute an independent fact finding team to visit and take stock of the rehabilitation centres. In spite of all these peripheral concessions and half hearted promises, the fact remains that the State, the Judiciary, political parties and the intelligensia in this huge country have not taken upon themselves any responsibility nor shown any concern for this enormous crime against nature and man.

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