What is it like to live on a land which can get submerged anyday? Anjan Bada or "unknown land" in Alirajpur, in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh is virtually that today. This village on the banks of the Narmada river almost got submerged with 25 other villages a decade ago, when the Sardar Sarovar dam's height was increased to 110 meters. The people scampered to mountain tops. None of them has been rehabilitated.
Khajan Bhai is one of those villagers who experienced the horror of seeing the river rise and swallow his farm land and house. "All of us lost what we had. Our crops were ready for harvest when the river swallowed them forever," he recalls.
Now, the dam authorities are planning to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam, further to 138 metres, even as 197 villages continue to exist in the submergible area around.
The people from these villages are still demanding rehabilitation although the Madhya Pradesh government claims the rehabilitation process has been completed.
One of the committees of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) that gives approval for increase in the height of the dam has given its nod. Villagers, led by activists, are now trying to take their case to the other committee of the NCA, under the Ministry of Water Resources. Once the latter approves the increase in height, the dam gates would be finally erected. Once that is done, the area in its vicinity would be under water with 197 and more villages on it.
People are continuing to stay on in such land. Sripad Dharmadhikari, who has studied dams and written books on the same, says the rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh is in a shambles. People are shown land they cannot accept and so they refuse. And then, these people are shown on paper as having taken cash instead. There was another scheme where the government offered half the cost of land in advance and the rest after the villagers had bought the land. This turned into a scam as the money was not sufficient to buy land and villagers were forced to make false registration under the threat that they would be thrown out anyway. Middle men and officials allegedly made hay. This is being probed by a panel appointed by the high court. About 3,500 cases are under scrutiny.
The government of Madhya Pradesh has identified 86 rehabilitation sites till date. All that needs to be done is to transplant the villages in submergible areas on to these sites, after arranging all necessary amenities.
"We know some families that have been given land there, but there are no amenities. No water, electricity, or schools. Besides, the cultivable land is far away. How can we go there?,'' asks Kamla Yadav, another villager from Badwani fighting with the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists for her village of Chota Badada.
Shyama Bai, a fisherwoman from Khichudi village, on the banks of the river has already lost her land where she grew melons before the dam was raised to 110 metres. "Now our homes are under threat. But most of all our livelihoods. What will we eat even if we save our lives?" she asks. The rehabilitation package does not offer cultivable land to farmers or any other alternative livelihood for fishermen. "There are 5,000 fishermen families on both sides of the river. The dam will ruin them completely," she says.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are pushing for the completion of the dam and an increase in its height just in time for the coming elections. The governments are, however, blind to the opportunity to create a model for rehabilitation in the 86 sites that they have identified. These could have all the amenities besides being linked to farm land and fishing facilities, that would provide a new and better life to each of the displaced families.
These could win the BJP more than just elections, a place in history.