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Thousands near Narmada dam to lose homes as area will be submerged

The government says about 18,000 families are affected, and 6,724 live in the submergence areas

Rezwan | Global Voices 


Indian authorities are moving ahead with the inauguration of a controversial dam, and thousands of families who have refused to leave their homes in areas that will be submerged stand to be forcibly evicted.

The government says about 18,000 families are affected, and 6,724 live in the submergence areas, although activists and academics put that number much higher and accuse officials of fudging the count to lower costs and avoid litigation.

Residents are supposed to be offered a “rehabilitation” package, including compensation for land lost and resettlement to a new home. However, many have refused to leave their villages, complaining that the compensation is unjustly low and resettlement sites lack drinking water, sanitation, primary medical centers, schools, electricity and even roads.

The main purpose of the state-initiated Sardar Sarovar project is to generate hydroelectric power and supply water for drinking and irrigation to the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

But from the start of construction in 1987, protesters have said it will come at the expense of local people. The World Bank initially approved a loan to the Indian government of $450 million toward the $6 billion project, but withdrew the funding in 1993 following immense criticism and protests. Works were temporarily halted as per a Supreme Court ruling from 1995 to 1999, but resumed thereafter.

Over the years, the dam's proposed height has been increased little by little from the planned 80 meters to the current 138.68. This means that the will affect even more people. Social entrepreneur Siddharth Agarwal tweeted a Google Earth video he made to illustrate how the areas will be submerged:

In February 2017, the Supreme Court gave a directive that the rehabilitation of affected families be completed within three months, and that the valley must be vacated by July 31. On June 17, 2017, the Narmada Control Authority gave the final go ahead to the government to close the Sardar Sarovar gates, making the project “officially” complete.

The grand inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Dam project in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled on August 12, 2017 and the is likely to be filled to capacity by August-end, leading large areas to be submerged. The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had a recent update on Twitter:

Those affected who stayed now face forced eviction.

Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a group of indigenous people, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists who for three decades have been resisting against the installation of large dams across the Narmada River, has been leading the charge in defense of these victims.

On July 27, 2017, Medha Patkar and about a dozen other activists from started an indefinite hunger strike in the Dhar district of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to demand proper compensation and rehabilitation for those affected.

However, on the 12th day of the hunger strike, on August 7, Patkar was forcibly removed from the protest site by police and shifted to a hospital in Indore.

Social activist Image from Flickr by Joe Athialy. CC BY-NC 2.0

Patkar and have their critics, however, who argue they're impeding vital development in India.

There are also online trolls who appear to be posing as victims of the thanking the government for resettlement with, suspiciously, the same exact message each time:

But people in other parts of the country have also mounted their own protests in solidarity:

On August 8, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by seeking an extension to the July 31 deadline to rehabilitate families affected by the Sardar Sarovar For the moment, it seems those Indians who live in the submergence area are destined for the forced eviction from their homes.

This article was published on Global Voices on August 9, 2017

First Published: Sat, August 12 2017. 13:40 IST