CACIM DELHI DEMOS BULLETIN 22 : Time to reflect on the victories

From Kathmandu, Tuesday, April 18, 2006
After yesterday’s victories, the Bhopal dharna/demo
camp in Delhi is now already wrapped up, and many have left town; and the Narmada site is already partly packed up, and is readying to leave. More on this below, in Delhi Demo Diary Notes.
There seems to have been no talk, after yesterday’s sudden events, of what to do with and about the ‘National Day of Action’ that the movements and their supporters decided last week, April 11, would happen today, April 18. If euphoria had not overtaken so many, it might have been very interesting, and very productive, to have tried to convert what was to have been a national day of protest and struggle into a national day of celebration as well as reflection – to take the struggles forward, and to find common ground. But perhaps the time for this switch was far too short, for such a huge country. Perhaps this can be part of the next steps.
Yes, there have been victories – and by saying all this, it is by no means to belittle any of this – but obviously the victories are incomplete, and partial, and dependent. How can the movements move forward from here?
The Delhi support groups have met today, and at the time of writing the Narmada group is in part discussing just this question. We give an introduction below, in item 1, Delhi Demo Diary Notes; will try and give a more detailed report tomorrow.
Yesterday, in CDDB 21, we gave an extract from the highly damning report of the Group of Minister’s fact-finding mission to the government of India. Today, we give below the full text of the report, plus links to where it available.
We end this issue of the Bulletin with two reflective essays by individuals who have been long involved and associated with the Narmada valley development process, Enakshi Ganguly-Thukral and Harsh Mander. The pain and anguish of what is happening, and of how little seems to change, remains.
Jai Sen, for CACIM
[1] Delhi Demo Diary Notes (April 18)
[2] Bhopalis In Celebration : The Sweetness Of Victory (April 18)
[3] Bhopal Battle Won, Struggle For Corporate Accountability Begins (April 18)
[4] Medha and others break fast / Damning Group of Ministers’ Report / Supreme Court does not stay dam but issues notices for replies within a week (April 17)
[5] Statement from Medha on leaving the 20-day fast (April 17)
[6] GoM’s (Group of Ministers’) Damning Confidential Report (FULL TEXT) (April 17)
[7] When will we ever learn? (Enakshi Ganguly-Thukral, April 17)
[8] Damned, as always (Harsh Mander, April 9)
Note : All back issues of this Bulletin (the CACIM Delhi Demos Bulletin), number 0 onwards, are available here.
April 18 2006
Today both the Narmada and the Bhopal dharnas are folding up. Both the groups are leaving late tonight for Madhya Pradesh, one to Narmada valley and other to Bhopal. By 5:00 pm the posters and banners that have festooned the Jantar Mantar area for the past 2-3 weeks, were being removed and tents dismantled. Clothes and other materials were being packed up in bags.
A strange quiet is settling over Jantar Mantar, the site of so much activity and drama over these past weeks.
People from the Narmada valley spoke of how they will now intensify their agitation in the valley. Regarding the Bhopal demo, Madhumita Dutt has already left last night for Bhopal to co-ordinate and fix timelines for the various things promised by the Madhya Pradesh government a couple of days ago, and now by the Prime Minister, yesterday.
In the meanwhile, the planned National Day of Action that was to be observed today was called off. We are yet to know the exact reasons but the word here is that it was too short a time – one week – to co-ordinate nationwide activities and groups.
Both the Bhopal as well as the Narmada support groups organised their planning meetings at Gandhi Peace Foundation today. The Bhopal meeting took place in the morning, while the Narmada one started in the afternoon and is continuing at the time of writing.
We have no information as yet as to what was decided in the Bhopal meeting, but do have some on Narmada as the meeting is still going on. One thing that has so far been planned is a Yatra (rally) in the Narmada Valley from April 24-26, to inform the valley people as to what went on in Delhi over the past full one month of the dharna / demo in Delhi and also to intensify the agitation at the ground level. Discussions are also taking place on how to achieve effective co-ordination for action amongst groups in Delhi on the Narmada issue.
Here are some photos of the Bhopal hunger strikers in celebration after the Prime Minister agreed to four of their six demands yesterday, and calling off their fast
And for those interested, here is an article on the front page of the newspaper in India, The Hindu, on the Bhopalis calling off their fast (but which largely however covers the same ground as covered in the report in yesterday’s CDDB 21).
A summarisation of the Bhopal demands, the ground made so far, and the challenges ahead :
On 18.4.06 11:54am, “Gopal Krishna”
wrote on the ECWatch list :
On 17th April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally met the campaigners seeking justice for the victims of Bhopal Gas Disaster of 3rd December 1984 and assured speedy work on three of their six demands.
He has agreed for a clean-up of the contaminated site, clean water and a commission to execute medical and economic rehabilitation schemes.
The six demands were:
1. The setting up of a National Commission on Bhopal to oversee medical and social rehabilitation;
2. Supply of safe water to communities currently drinking poisoned water;
3. Speedy prosecution of the accused, including Union
Carbide Corporation and its former chairman; environmental remediation;
4. Curbing Dow and Carbide’s business in India; and
5. Memorialising the disaster by including it in
school and college curricula and
6. Building a Bhopal Memorial in consultation with survivors.
Bhopalis who were on hunger strike called off their fast but they are upset with the Prime Minister who rejected their demand that Union Carbide’s successor, Dow Chemical, be held accountable and its products be banned in India. Four organisations, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karamchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Pursh Sangarsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Bhopal ki Aawaaz had presented their charter of six demands to the Prime Minister. Campaigners like Nityanand Jayaraman, Madhumitta Dutta and several others ably assisted this struggle.
A team Ministry of Chemicals will begin spadework on the clean-up and safe water supply. There is no timeframe but it is hoped that there will be a real clean-up.
Now the struggle for corporate accountability begins.
Gopal Krishna
On 17.4.06 11:08 pm, “” wrote:
Narmada Bachao Andolan
– 62 Gandhi Marg, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh 451551. Ph: 07290-222464
– C/o B-13 Shivam Flats, Ellora Park, Vadodara, Gujarat 390023. Ph: 0265-2282232
– Maitri Niwas, Tembewadi, Dhadgaon, dist. Nandurbar, Maharashtra. Ph: 02595-220620
Press Release
Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
Date: April 17, 2006
Medha Patkar, Bhagwati behen and Jamsingh bhai ended their fast this evening, on a battle-cry to continue the struggle into the Narmada Valley and around the country.
The Group of Ministers report was made public early morning. The report full text is available at the Hindu newspaper website, at this address.
The report gives an account of all the places the Team of Ministers saw and visited and clearly states that, “The complaints from various quarters that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement of oustees of Sardar Sarovar Dam has not taken place in consonance with the orders of the Supreme Court have been found to be correct.”
It further says, “The reports of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Sub Group and the GRA on the basis of which Narmada Control Authority (NCA) granted permission for raising the height has been largely paperwork and it has no relevance with the situation on the ground.”
It is great that the Group of Ministers’ report on the situation in the valley is truthful, and indeed it finds the very lapses that we point out. The position of the NBA on rehabilitation stands vindicated.
The application filed by 48 project-affected persons of Madhya Pradesh in the Supreme Court came up for hearing today, after its initial hearing date of 3rd April was pushed back. The first hour of the hearing saw Additional Solicitor General, Gopal Subramanium (representing Union of India, UOI) taking a completely anti-people stand. He submitted an application on behalf of the UOI, in which the prayer was that the Centre proposes to set up another committee/ Authority to do rehabilitation on a war footing. Completely violating the time frame for rehabilitation, he said that submergence would come in end-August and the Authority would do the rehabilitation before then. When he was countered saying that monsoon comes in July and submergence can happen anytime afterwards, he replied that he was instructed to say that submergence would come in end-August!
In any case, the hearing continued in the afternoon, with the state of M.P. denying all the contentions of the applicants and stating that all rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh had been completed. This was countered by the counsel for applicants, Shri Shanti Bhushan, Shri Sanjay Parikh, Shri Muralidhar, Shri Prashant Bhushan and Mrs Indira Jaisingh. Finally, the Chief Justice ordered that the states must give their responses within a week, after which another week has been granted for rejoinders to be filed. The next hearing has been set for May 1st. Though the SC did not immediately stay construction, they clearly stated that if they found rehabilitation had not been done, they would be forced to stay the construction. They also stated that while the applications are pending in court, this would not prevent the Prime Minister from taking a decision in this regard, which power is actually bestowed on him by the Supreme Court by its verdict of 2000.
Hirdaram Bavliya, Clifton Rozario, Yogini Khanolkar, Dipti Bhatnagar, Kamla Yadav, Sevalia, Bawa Mahariya, Rumaliya, Gaindalal Mukati, Kailash Awasya
[5] On 17.4.06 11:08 pm, “” wrote:
Narmada Bachao Andolan
– 62 Gandhi Marg, Badwani, Madhya Pradesh 451551. Ph: 07290-222464
– C/o B-13 Shivam Flats, Ellora Park, Vadodara, Gujarat 390023. Ph: 0265-2282232
– Maitri Niwas, Tembewadi, Dhadgaon, dist. Nandurbar, Maharashtra. Ph: 02595-220620
The Supreme Court has taken cognizance but has not stayed the on-going construction of the dam. It has, for the time being, permitted Modi and his coterie to commit another crime, this time ‘jalhatya’. I feel shattered, but with some hope that the truth will prove itself within the next fifteen days, that is by May 1st. The Centre has exhibited utter disrespect for the facts on the ground and even the first-hand report of its own three Union Ministers, while falling prey to the pressures by Modi and Gujarat Congress as his ally. Modi is all out to commit another heinous crime against humanity; his betrayal of Gujarat in this will also be proved. He is falsely projecting his own and the BJP’s gain as Gujarat’s victory.
The Prime Minister is, on one hand, saying that he is yet to study the Ministers’ report, while the Additional Solicitor General of India has already made a statement that is illegal and baseless, even laughable. Who can believe that rehabilitation of thousands of families can be completed within three months, or before the monsoon flood, when the governments have not been able to locate agricultural land or adequate land for housing over the last 25 years?
The Prime Minister and the Congress Party have exhibited unbelievable weakness in challenging the communal and criminal pressures of Gujarat politics. The PM has not yet used his powers and authority vested in him by the Supreme Court judgement of 2000, nor has he acted on his own Ministers’ report.
The case of Narmada has once again proved a total subversion of the system, from its democratic framework to rationality and scientificity, to honesty as well as integrity before ugly and selfish political motives.
The truth cannot be concealed beyond a limit. When it is revealed, the dam may then prove to be a tomb marking the death and devastation of lakhs of adivasis and farmers whose massacre, not suicide, will go down in history. But this dam will also become a death knell for future big dams and development that victimise the toiling masses and communities that are nature-based. We warn the Centre and all three state governments on this.
The state has not responded favourably to the non-violent people’s movement of adivasis, dalits, farmers who are supported strongly by civil society, and are committed to justice. Instead the state has acted in favour of violence in the name of development. They seem to be under pressure from violent communal and corporate politics in Gujarat. Yet, they still have fifteen days to act with courage and conscience.
The UPA government has not chosen the right path, and if it doesn’t do so even now it will be compromising on its integrity as a council of Ministers, its Common Minimum Programme as well as its so-called secular politics and the ‘human face of development’ argument. It should not any more prove to be toothless and truthless.
The people of the Narmada valley along with all victims of development will fight to the finish, for life. We will do everything to expose the barbaric game that is playing itself out across the country at the cost of ‘oustees’.
The truth buried under the false and farcical hype will soon be known to the people of Gujarat as well, who understand the displacement faced due to the earthquake in Kutch in 2001.
We are now determined to take up the fight far beyond … me and my two other comrades, Jamsinghbhai and Bhagwatibehen have to move from our 21-day long fast back to fight with the unprecedented challenge again.
We certainly feel pain and anguish over the state of our country, the constitutional rights being crushed underfoot by criminalised communal politics. We, however, will return to the valley, thanking and involving all those who are now an inseparable part of our ‘National People’s Movement for Just Development’.
We call to the nation to join us to save the river valleys and also our country.
Medha Patkar
[This is the text, obtained exclusively by The Hindu, of “A Brief Note on the Assessment of Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R & R) Sites and Submergence of Villages of the Sardar Sarovar Project.” The note marked confidential and dated April 9, 2006, was signed by Union Minister of Water Resources, Saifuddin Soz, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Meira Kumar, and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chauhan.. Available at The Hindu,,
and on the CACIM webspace @] The Group of Ministers (GoM) comprising Prof. Saifuddin Soz, Minister of Water Resources, Smt. Meira Kumar, Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment and Shri Prithviraj Chavan, MOS in the PMO, deputed by the Hon’ble Prime Minister to Madhya Pradesh, arrived Indore late in the evening on April 6, 2006.
Soon after arrival in Indore, a meeting was held with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan and some of his Cabinet colleagues and officers.
The Madhya Pradesh Government made a presentation and wanted the GoM to appreciate that the Madhya Pradesh Government had taken concrete steps to rehabilitate Project Affected Families (PAFs) and that Rehabilitation and Resettlement would be completed by 30th June, 2006. In that connection, the GoM was requested to visit some sites such as Khalghat, Dharampuri, Lakhangaon and Borlai etc.
When asked as to how many SC/ST families were affected, the Government could not provide any information.
Early in the morning of April 7, 2006, the GoM left for a visit to Rehabilitation and Submergence sites.
The GoM visited Khalghat, Dharampuri, Lakhangaon, Borlai 1, 2 and 3, Awalda, Piplud and Nisarpur. The GoM was stopped at other places including Picchodi where people narrated their tales of woe. The representatives of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) had insisted in Delhi in their memorandum that a visit to Borlai, Awalda, Piplud and Nisarpur would be necessary to find out whether the claim of the Government of Madhya Pradesh that the PAFs had been rehabilitated was correct.
The GoM visited Khalghat site where Madhya Pradesh Government had offered land to 407 families. Only 2 families had accepted the land. The top soil there is black. The people say that they have to dig 10 feet deep to find the cultivable land. The Government had not succeeded in persuading the oustees to accept the land. Hundreds of people on the spot complained before the GoM that the Government had not conducted a proper survey and offered the land without consulting the oustees. Shri Mohan Lal Sharma (resident of Gazipur, District Dharampuri) who spoke on behalf of oustees, complained before the members of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) that the Madhya Pradesh Government had acted in haste and allotted the land which was totally uncultivable. The members of the NVDA did not contradict Shri Mohan Lal.
It was for the first time that the GoM heard from Shri Mohan Lal that the Income Tax Department deducted Rupees One lakh from every unit of 10 lakhs that was paid to the oustees by way of compensation and for purchase of land. It was Shri Mohan Lal again who said that people were pressurized to accept cash. He said that a bribe of Rs.20,000/- had to be paid for receipt of every cheque that was given to the oustees. The crowd present on the spot gave full-throated support to the Shri Mohan Lal who they said had represented their grievances correctly.
>From Khalghat, the GoM went to Dharampuri. It is the largest area selected by the Madhya Pradesh Government for settlement of oustees and 4,000 PAFs are slated to be settled there (No, they are shown to have been settled there already). Not a single plot of land has been occupied by any PAF.
Approximately 2,000 people, who had gathered there, explained through their representatives (about a dozen people explained their grievances) in detail and said that it was not possible for anybody to settle there as no infrastructure had been built. In official papers, it has been indicated that the PAFs have been settled. The GoM was amazed that no sanitation, no drinking water, no system of sewage, no roads, much less the facilities like hospital, water reservoir, school, post office etc., have been provided there. There is no hope that such infrastructure will be built there soon. The officials presented a status report in respect of R & R sites at Dharampuri indicating that facilities that need to be provided by way of infrastructure would be provided and certain facilities were in progress, whereas the GoM saw nothing happening around.
In any case, the PAFs, under no circumstances, can be settled there before first of July, 2006 when the monsoon sets in.
Dharampuri had been shown to the GoM as a success story by the Madhya Pradesh Government and it turned out to be the worst example of not doing anything by way of settlement when there was apparently no difficulty in respect of resources. The people there showed to the GoM two dry water pumps and a heap of stones that had been dumped there a day before the GoM’s arrival indicating that roads would be built soon.
Lakhangaon and Borlai 1-3
From Dharampuri, the GoM proceeded to visit R & R sites at Lakhangaon, Borlai 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The GoM saw some stray dwellings without any infrastructure such as drinking water, sewage system, electricity and roads etc.
As per the status report of the Madhya Pradesh Government, 18,965 PAFs were indicated to have been settled, whereas the GoM could see, at the most 80 incomplete dwellings in Lakhangaon, Borlai 1-3 (including the dwellings shown to the GoM at Picchodi). The GoM found that there were no amenities of life like drinking water, roads and electricity etc. anywhere. The only water reservoir in Borlai 3 was not operational. In Borlai 1-3, the GoM could not see any semblance of infrastructural facilities. In Lakhangaon, of course, some structures by way of hospital and a primary school (not functional) and three hand pumps showed the fact that a determined leadership can settle the oustees. One can see that PAFs (18 of them) here can be settled properly at Lakhangaon within next six months, provided effective effort is directed towards that goal.
Visit to Piplud, Awalda and Nisarpur
The members of Narmada Bachao Andolan had, among other things, urged the Minister for Water Resources that the GoM should visit Piplud, Awalda and Nisarpur so that GoM could ascertain properly whether the oustees from these submergence villages had been settled or not.
Nearly 2,000 people had gathered at Piplud to state their tales of woe. They pointed out that not a single PAF had been offered cultivable agricultural land anywhere in Madhya Pradesh as per the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award. At this place, 10 epresentatives explained in detail that the NWDT Award had been flouted and even land acquisition proceedings had not been completed. They narrated that many of the oustees had not been offered compensation for their houses. They also said that many of those who had been pressurized to accept cash compensation, had been given amounts of money with which they could not purchase even 2 acres of land, let alone 5 acres of land to which they were entitled. A tribal named Kailash from Bhikheda explained that more than 300 persons from Manavar Tehsil had been shown in records to have been offered one plot of land measuring 7 hectares in Borgaon and strangely enough, the land was not cultivable. The representatives of these oustees gave details how people were pressurised to accept cash compensation and how people had to pay bribes for receipt of cheques.
The GoM next proceeded to Awalda, a far flung village inhabited mostly by adivasis and tribals. The GoM felt that, by any standards, the entire population in the village lived below the poverty line. A group of 1,500 people met the GoM there and the youth there were restive and narrated their tales of woes in a very emotional manner. It was here that people said that they had not been given land for land and that they had been pressurized to accept cash and an oustee Shri Motilal Patidar of village Chhota Barde said that he had been given Rs.5,53,000/- whereas he needed to purchase 5 acres of land for Rs.13 lakhs and this cash award was not adequate at all and he was forced to accept it. The entire crowd raised slogans against cash compensation and they said it was a fraud and officers insisted on this because they received bribes. It was in this crowd, that a woman Sajan Bhai Yadav, who had come from Pipri Gaon, narrated most pathetically how they (the oustees) had lost their home and hearth, their Khaliyan and Shamshan and they were now on the roadside. The crowd said that the Gram Sabha was never consulted and every thing was happening “Zabardasti”. The crowd said that they had no money to travel to Bhopal and seek redressal of their grievances. The people at Piplud and Awalda had categorically stated that no member of R & R Sub-committee or the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) ever visited these villages. It was stated in good detail that Chairman of the Redressal Authority was headquartered at Bhopal and he once in a while visited Indore and never did Justice Sohani, Chairman of the Grievance Authority visit these villages.
The GoM finally came to Nisarpur where a crowd of 4,000 people voiced its grievances through 18 representatives which included four women. The administration had succeeded in telling the crowd that they must allow the representatives to present their case in an orderly manner.
So, M/s Parasmat Kanawat (having been Sarpanch of Nisarpur for 30 years) Pradeep Kumar, Bagirath Rathore, Mangti Bhai & others narrated pathetic tales of extreme high-handedness on the part of Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). They categorically stated that not a single family of the PAFs in Nisarpur had been settled as per orders of the Supreme Court. They said in one voice that until they were ehabilitated, there was no question of allowing the height of the dam to be raised. They said that the R & R sites at Nisarpur which is supposed to settle 700 families of oustees did not have any infrastructure and the house plots for building their houses were located at the depressed land which gets water logged and one of the essential needs of the site was drainage, which was missing. The people said that NVDA officials claimed that R & R sites would be ready by 30th of June, 2006 and it was a rude joke to the oustees. The oustees said that these claims were absolutely false. They claimed that R & R sub-group and the GRA had never visited the Narmada Valley for the last six years. They rejected cash payments as a fraudulent practice. The crowd vociferously demanded that their Rehabilitation & Resettlement should be a pre-condition for raising the height of the dam.
General Observations
1. The complaints from various quarters that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement of oustees of Sardar Sarovar Dam has not taken place in consonance with the orders of the Supreme Court have been found to be correct.
2. In spite of the extreme shortcomings in respect of
Rehabilitation and Resettlement of oustees, the Madhya Pradesh Government can organize proper effort for rehabilitation, say, within a year from now. The leadership there has to show its political will to accomplish this gigantic task.
3. The Chief Minister of Gujarat had assured the Water Resources Ministry, in a recent letter, that Rehabilitation and Resettlement in Madhya Pradesh could be fully ensured in accordance with the orders of the Supreme Court. It will have to be ascertained as to how Gujarat Government could come to the rescue of the Madhya Pradesh Government in this behalf.
4. The outcry against the SRP (cash award) must be responded by stopping this practice as it has bred corruption and thousands of people the GoM met in the valley, have rejected the same as a practice breeding corruption. Besides, this practice has been adopted by the State Government with the approval of the GRA. It is yet to be seen whether the Supreme Court would find this practice to be in line with its specific instruction which said: “every displaced family whose more than 25% of agricultural landholding was acquired would be entitled to be allotted irrigable land of its choice to the extent of land acquired subject to the prescribed ceiling with a minimum of two hectares land and that project-affected families (PAFs) would be allotted a house/plot free of cost”.
5. The GoM found that there was no moral and legal justification for deducting Rupees One lakh by way of Income Tax for every unit of Rupees Ten lakhs that is to be given to an oustee as a settlement under SRP.
6. In due course of time, the Government must explore a better system of redressal of grievances than what is sought under the present GRA. It is a fact that 5000 petitions for redressal of grievance are pending before the GRA. The Chairman of the GRA is headquartered at Bhopal and his visits even to Indore are few and far between which has meant a great hardship for the oustees.
7. The position of the adivasis (oustees), particularly in the areas like Kakrana and Kharia Bhadal, which the GoM could not visit, is reportedly very bad. The GoM will pay a visit there if required, in due course of time.
8. The Ministry of Water Resources had been insisting that Madhya Pradesh Government should adopt the mechanism of referring ATRs to Gram Panchayats according to the previous Government’s assurance given in the then Chief Minister’s letter of 29th August, 2003. Since the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister has finally responded positively on this issue recently, the ATRs will now be sent to Gram Panchayats, as stated by the Chief Minister in his meeting with us on April 7, 2006. That will, however, not have any effect on the problems at hand.
9. The GoM felt concerned about SCs & STs for whom there doesn’t seem to be any special provision in respect of Rehabilitation and Resettlement.
10. The reports of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Sub Group and the GRA on the basis of which Narmada Control Authority (NCA) granted permission for raising the height has been largely paperwork and it has no relevance with the situation on the ground.
Enakshi Ganguly-Thukral, April 2006
Available at
I began this note on the 18th day of the hunger-strike by Medha and her colleagues of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), Bhagwatibai and Jamsingh Nargave. The Hindu that morning carried an article by Usha Ramanathan, an old comrade-in-arms in the ‘development- without -displacement discourse’. It has been 20 years, but her arguments evoke a sense of déjà vu, as does the reaction from everyone else – the media, the middle class and the political leadership. Perhaps the arguments put forth by Usha have earlier origins; they have to, because many thousands had already been dislodged and thrown out of their homes even before the 1980s.
My engagement with this debate began in the mid-eighties. Medha too had made her entry into the valley around the same time. There were researchers, activists, lawyers, environmentalists and engineers—all engaging with the issue. Dam vs. no dam; big dam vs. small dam; dams without displacement and severe environmental consequences, at the very least. Each one of the arguments put forward called for re-examination of the development model at the ‘cost’ of some. They called for cost benefit analysis of projects, taking into account the huge social costs and adequate and appropriate rehabilitation of those whose displacement is imperative, even after adopting the least displacing alternative.
I remember vividly my first walk over the Vindhyas and the Satpuras in 1986, crossing over from Maharashtra to Gujarat, through many of the villages that today are submerged in the waters of the Sardar Sarovar, the meeting of the Narmada Dharangrasth Samiti in Dhadgaon (as the movement was known in Maharashtra), crossing Narmada for the first time in a scooped up- log dinghy, the old Hapeshwar temple, now under water. I made many more trips to the valley, every time returning with a sense of despondency and fear at what would happen to all the villagers. There seemed to be little or no intent on the part of the government to be just. Clearly there was no land, at least not enough to rehabilitate the thousands who would lose their all. The demand moved from no dam to a one for adequate and appropriate rehabilitation, land for land chosen after due consultation and infrastructural facilities at the new site. Was it so unreasonable a demand? After all, they were being made to pay a huge price for development.
In “Big Dams Displaced People: Rivers of Sorrow Rivers of Change” (SAGE, 1992), a volume which had taken me four years to put together, the studies on all dams covered right from the Hirakud, one of the first dams to be constructed, Pong, Nagarjuna Sagar and Ukai reflected the same experience. What was happening in Narmada and the Tehri was exactly the same. It was a long history of lack of rehabilitation or ill-planned, badly executed, inadequate and inappropriate rehabilitation. Those who lost all, gained nothing and, were instead pauperized. The waters of the Damodar Valley Project flooded villages of West Bengal every year. My father, a hard core bureaucrat, who had been posted at different times in the flood control department in Assam and in DVC in Bengal would often say, “if you tamper with nature, it has a way of getting back at you. The DVC is an example of that”. But the nation was on a dam building spree; the temples of modern India were coming up one after the other. And there was no stopping it.
For two decades the Narmada Bachao Andolan has drawn young people from across the country – people who saw the movement as one representing the concerns of all those already displaced, and those who would be in the future. Generation after generation of young people moves in to fill up the space of those who work, struggle and move on, so that the peaceful movement can thrive and resist the violence perpetrated. But the construction of dams has gone on at its own pace, relentlessly. Harsud, where in 1989, thousands from all over the country had congregated, calling for a more sustainable developmental model, is now a ghost town, given up to the Narmada Sagar dam, one of the other monsters on the Narmada. It is almost as if there is a competition –who will survive whom – the peaceful resistance or the violence in the name of development. Matching the resilience of the NBA is the stubborn refusal of the government to give in to their demands. The withdrawal of funding from the World Bank, a major coup, only seemed to make the government more cussed.
During a recent television interview, the young reporter asked me—how did you protest in those days? what was the role of the media? And the Politicians? All I could say was – the same as you see today.
The potential oustees and the activists would sit at the Boat Club or outside the Planning Commission or Shram Shakti Bhavan. They engaged in non-violent protests, just as they do today. As for the attitude of the media, little has changed. It had to be high drama then to make news; it has to be even more ‘sansani’ now. With many more news channels, one would have thought there would be more space for the voices of the people. But then displacement of poor and the marginalized does not make for a ‘sexy’ story, not enough to gather revenue from the advertisers, unless the condition of the activists is allowed to deteriorate, as Medha’s and Bhagwatibai’s has been. Or unless stars lend support. The print media is unfortunately no different. There was international support was there then as it is there now, except that with the internet, communicating across the world has become much easier.
Development related displacement remains a ‘non-middle class’ issue. It does not raise the ire of the middle class or the ‘beautiful people’ enough for them to come on to the streets and march with the affected. Even the other issue-based activists took their time lending their support. That is how we have become – divided by issues, caste, class, region and religion. So divided, that we find it difficult to stand side by side with causes that seem alien to us. I am angry about the injustice meted to Jessica Lal. But I am also angered by the fact that the same people who can see injustice in that case, do not see the injustice being meted out to the Narmada oustees or those from Bhopal sitting across the road! I asked my journalist friends – what makes an issue a middle class issue? Why is it that they are unable to position the Narmada debate as a middle class issue? Is it only the fear that it may be my kid who gets shot in some pub that makes the middle-class wake up? Well in that case, the demolitions in Delhi ought to remind us that our lands and properties may be next on the ‘development path’ of some industry, road, mine or flyover and this model of development can be cruel and demanding. It is time we came out to support those on the streets at Jantar Mantar. Who knows, we too may need support from the rest of India soon too?
Watching reports of the failed talks of the ‘high powered committee’ on the Narmada, followed by the pugnacious speech of the Gujarat Chief Minister, only reminds one of numerous other such meetings over the years. The arguments, the demands, the disappointments- nothing has changed. As before, the political leadership polarised and unyielding, out to gain political mileage with scant regard for the people it represents. As before we await the verdict of the Supreme Court.
Even as I write this, Medha and her friends have moved into the 20th day of the fast. There seems to be very little happening towards finding a solution. Back in the 1980s and even in the early 1990s we still lived in hope. We had hoped that research, movements and campaigns would change perspectives on development, displacement and rehabilitation. More fool us—Medha, Baba Amte, Sundarlal ji, Mahendra Bhai, Ramesh Bhai Desai, Walter Fernandes—and all the others who spent many years in these campaigns or supporting these campaigns with research information or litigation. Today the space for resistance and dissent is shrinking. Non-violent protest leads to violence, and the state supports it. The firing in Kalinga Nagar, Orissa bears testimony, to this as does the arrest and firing on protestors against displacement by the upcoming dockyard in Vishakapatnam.
Gujarat is witnessing violent projects against Aamir Khan because he stood up for human rights of the oustees. The NBA office in Baroda has been ransacked and Narendra Modi has started a fifty-one hour fast, because of what he believes is the anti-development stand of the Andolan. And this is a people’s man, a man elected to office by popular vote, who has no time or sympathy for those who will lose their homes. And neither do his counterparts in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan. He allows violence in response to non-violence and sits on fast at the Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s abode.
We all know that there is no stopping the Sardar Sarovar dam. We also know it will never deliver the promised results. However is it so unreasonable to demand proper and fair rehabilitation of the oustees before carrying on with the damn dam?
Enakshi Ganguly Thukral
17 April, 2006
[8] Hindustan Times
April 9, 2006
by Harsh Mander
In the shadows of the tall offices of the nation’s power elite in the capital, for some flickering moments, a few hundred dispossessed women and men gathered tenuously. They were desperate because their homes and lands were shortly to be drowned forever. Years of brave resistance failed to prevent this day, because they are powerless before a government and courts that refuse to see and care. It was perhaps fitting that they were arrested in the dead of night by a battery of policepersons several times their numbers, to silence and exile them into their customary oblivion.
The greatest success of numberless local struggles of people displaced by large development projects over the many decades after Independence have cumulatively been in breaking the muffled silences that surround the astounding inequities of their dispossession by the State. They have also raised searching questions, which we have still not answered, about the nature and ‘price’ of development and who is condemned to pay it.
With the advent of planned development after freedom, the visibility, scale and sweep of mega-dams made them potent emblems of the reconstruction and regeneration of the battered economies of long-suppressed post-colonial nations. Leaders and policy-makers typically viewed the forced uprooting of substantial populations as legitimate and inevitable costs of development, acceptable in the larger national interest. Nehru, while laying the foundation stone for India’s first major river valley project, the Hirakud Dam in Orissa in 1948, said to the tens of thousand facing the grim prospect of displacement: “If you have to suffer, you should do so in the interest of the country.”
It is important to recognise that the staggering, unremitting and largely untold human suffering of people displaced by big dams is the direct outcome of State policy and law, and their implementation and interpretation by officials and courts.
Among the recurring trends in the experience of displacement and rehabilitation as a result of big dams in India, is that the State typically refuses to consult with and inform the people condemned to eventual submergence. There is typical confusion among resettlers in virtually every large project about even the precise contours of submergence – which villages or segments of villages would be submerged, and when. In the Narmada valley, even which persons are affected and who are to be compensated and rehabilitated has not been resolved, although their homes and lands have been submerged. Again, typically oustees are rarely consulted or even informed about the phasing and content of their rehabilitation package, their entitlements and their choices.
The only significant reparation for displaced persons guaranteed by law is the payment of monetary compensation for compulsorily acquired individual assets, mainly land or houses. However, the manner in which the law is framed and interpreted ensures that the displaced landowner or house-owner is invariably the loser. Rural, especially tribal people, are unused to a monetary economy, and usually spend their money in consumption and repaying loans and in barely months are left pauperised. Landless farmers, fisherfolk and artisans, who lose their livelihoods but few assets, are barely compensated.
It is only in recent years that, chiefly under the impact of people’s movements, project authorities, state governments and international funding agencies have accepted responsibility for rehabilitation – one that extends beyond the payment of monetary compensation for expropriated individual assets and the provision of house sites. Involuntary relocation is always extremely painful, but a sensitive project bureaucracy can do much to relieve its trauma.
In practice, however, it has been observed that the driving objective of project authorities has not been to assist the families to relocate. Instead, frequently the only objective is to vacate the submergence zone of what are perceived to be its human encumbrances, with the brute force of the State. In many parts of the Narmada valley, this forced relocation occurs without even settlement of compensation claims.
Resettlement sites are often inhospitable; their locations are selected without reference to availability of livelihood opportunities, or the preferences of displaced persons. In the Narmada valley, even years after the relocation, basic facilities are not established in the resettlement sites. The locations themselves are sometimes small islands or at the far end of the reservoir, perched on top of hilltops, surrounded by kilometres of reservoir waters. For many settlements, small perilous wooden boats are still the only uncertain modes of transportation. Earth roads are submerged six months in a year.
Similarly, health and education facilities are ‘provided’ merely by the creation of buildings for sub-health centres or schools. Health workers or teachers are not positioned, health centres are not provided with the requisite equipment and infrastructure and in the end, buildings crumble and begin to resemble ghost town structures. People are abandoned to live and die, often literally in darkness, without even elementary healthcare, clean drinking water, electrification and education.
The Narmada Award requires oustees to get irrigated agricultural land in lieu of land they were forced to sacrifice. If implemented sincerely, this provision alone could have enabled affected people to rebuild their lives. But this has rarely been done. The government of Madhya Pradesh, in particular, continues to flout this provision with elaborate and shameful official subterfuge. It is an unconscionable failure of our legal system that courts have permitted the expeditious completion of the dam, even though the limited rights of rehabilitation of affected people are flouted with impunity by state governments.
Opponents of big dams have argued persuasively that these are part of a development strategy that intrinsically impoverishes poor people. The debate around big dams in India, in fact, have been inextricably intertwined with largely irreconcilable ideological battle lines about the nature and impacts of State-induced development. The opponents to big dams have also challenged the dominant orthodoxy that development, especially State-induced development, necessarily entails the human costs of displacement or involuntary resettlement.
They are not opposed to the expansion of irrigation or the generation of electricity. All they argue is that technologies exist and should be further developed, which provide water and energy to people with far less devastating human and environmental costs. The staggering costs of any mega dam, for instance, could permit the creation of innumerable small water harvesting and micro-irrigation systems for every village, that do not require vast populations to be dispossessed nor precious forests to be submerged.
The construction of large dams raises fundamental questions of equity, fairness and justice before law, in the matter of distribution of benefits and burdens. The deprivation suffered by displaced people also raises vital issues of constitutional norms and human rights, including the right to survival, and the basic right to live with dignity. It forces us to answer why people who already are impoverished must always pay the price of what we call development, whereas others who already live with privilege continue to reap the benefits of this development.
CACIM – India Institute for Critical Action : Centre
in Movement
A-3 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110 024, India
Ph 91-11-5155 1521, 2433 2451

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