Anti-dam activists to launch protests

Adapted from an Indo Asian News Service report, September 24, 2006
Taking a leaf out of the agitation launched by the people of Kumaon in Uttaranchal against cutting of trees three decades ago, the people affected by the Indira Sagar Project plan to launch a ‘Chipko satyagraha’, protesting the raising of the water level in the dam on the Narmada river.
They plan not to move from their land, which will fall under the dam backwaters, even if it means endangering their lives.
‘Chipko’, or which literally means to hug, was a movement launched by the people of Uttaranchal in the 1970s under the leadership of environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna. The non-violent movement, that involved hugging of trees by local people to prevent them from being cut down, won international plaudits.
The Narmada Bachao Aandolan (NBA), fighting for the rights of people affected by construction of dams on the Narmada river, also plans to challenge in the Supreme Court the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order allowing the water level in the Indira Sagar Project (ISP) dam to be raised from 225 to 260 metres.
‘We will challenge the September 8th High Court order in the apex court since a “faulty” survey pertaining to ISP has put to risk the lives of thousands of dam outsees,’ NBA activist Chittaroopa Palit told IANS.
The group is at loggerheads with the Madhya Pradesh government over the relief and rehabilitation of the people affected by the construction of dams on the Narmada river in central India.
ISP is one of 30 big dams proposed along the river.
With the dam’s height being raised, water has started flowing into villages that were not included in any survey and also into those where surveys assumed a water level of 262.13 metres, the activist claimed. ‘We demand lowering of the dam height to 245 metres until proper rehabilitation is complete,’ Palit said.
She demanded fresh surveys be conducted, the reports made public and officials found guilty for faulty surveys punished.
Meanwhile, the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) and National Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC) have decided to conduct a fresh survey of the affected families following the raising of the height of the ISP reservoir.
NVDA Vice-chairman Udai Verma, who reviewed the situation and directed the officials to conduct the survey, said ‘the villages from which demands for land acquisition and houses are coming are being looked at as a priority. Soon after the survey, the process of rehabilitation will start in line with Supreme Court directives.’
The construction of large dams on the Narmada river in central India and its impact on hundreds of thousands of people living in the river valley has become one of the most contentious issues for the past two decades.
The protests of the people of the Narmada valley against large dams began when the people to be displaced by Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) began organising themselves in 1985-86.
Since then a number of protest movements have been launched and a host of court rulings passed but the plight of the sufferers has got aggravated by the day even as government budgets on their rehabilitation have swelled.

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