“You can stand in front of the map of India and throw darts anywhere on it without bothering about the environmental or human costs. If a man or woman is going to be grounded to dust, the only option is to fight back.” (The Times of India 20 October 2000 P1)
Narmada River, 1312 km long, starts its journey fromÂ MaikalÂ ranges atÂ AmarkantakÂ inÂ the ShahdolÂ district of Madhya Pradesh, flows through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat before it joins the Arabian Sea. From pre-historic time, Narmada River, the fifth longest river in India,Â has supported human civilizations that lived on the banks of the river. Millions of people are dependent on the river for cultivation and fishery. All through the way of its flow, theÂ river has thousands of temples on its bank and tribal people as well as others worshipÂ this river as one of the seven sacred rivers.
After the independence of India, 30 large, 135Â mediumÂ and 3000 small dams were raised on the river. Under theÂ NehruvianÂ Development policy, this dam projectÂ was started in the year 1946 and the aim of the project is to produce thousandsÂ megawattsÂ of electrical power and develop the nation.Â With the passing of time, several dams were builtÂ and they were referred to as ‘temples of modern India.’Â Some of them areÂ SardarÂ SarorarÂ Dam,Â MaheshwarÂ Dam,Â MaanÂ Dam,Â IndiraÂ SagarÂ Dam,Â BargiÂ Dam,Â GoiÂ dam, andÂ JobatÂ Dam.Â (www.narmada.org/sardarsarovar.html).
Was this damÂ projectÂ reallyÂ successful?Â Who losses and who wins? Whose voices matter here?
This mass dam project provides large profits to a small group of people.Â Industrialists, contractors, field workers and the government may benefit from this; people from cities may getÂ electricity from these hydro electric dams, but what about the people whose lives are based on the water from Narmada River?Â According toÂ aÂ documentary named ‘Drowned Out’, due to the dam project, for centuries, Tribal people-Â AdivasisÂ andÂ DalitsÂ haveÂ survivedÂ using water resources nearby the river. From birth to death, every important occasionÂ in their lifeÂ has revolved around the river. When they were ordered toÂ clear out their places,Â what would they do rather than accepting the compensation andÂ look for a slum in cities or going to the government resettlement areas and living with salty water and inadequate facilities or dying in their own lands due to flooding?
The damÂ causes devastating effects on ecological balance.Â SomeÂ of the fish and plant species have disappeared from the river.Â ContinuousÂ irrigationÂ leadsÂ to degradation of fertilityÂ agro landÂ and soil.Â These large dams could also become the reasons for flooding in thousands of hectares of forest. (http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/narmada.html)
Social justice is not protected and peoples’ problems wereÂ notÂ addressedÂ by higher officials.Â The affected people have never been informed of the potential effects of the project.Â Due to the destruction of the resources by the Dam, villagers had to locate new sources of food and income. Many people have migrated to cities for workÂ and end up with living in slums. This issue breaks up traditionally close family structures.
Ecological damage caused by the Dam has destroyed villagers’ way of life and violated their rights to food, work and culture. Compensation does not give any satisfaction to the poor victims. All the affected people have not been resettled. Giving money instead of farming land would not do any good to poor farmers who do not know anything but farming.
Some people may say that there are many hotels, restaurants and buildings being constructed near the dam, which will improve the tourism field. In fact, tourism has been affected when natural rapids have been cleared out by the construction. It may be said that the construction gave people jobs, but after the construction, people who worked there were left behind.
Overall, even though the aim of the project is partially achieved, compensation and rehabilitation were not beneficial to the victims. To limit the negative effects of the project, what can be done? The Indian government should give all the farmers lands, but it says that there is not enough land to give to the victims. Then, what is the solution for the poor people? People from all over India should realizeÂ the seriousness of the issue and urge the politicians to come up withÂ effective solutions.
Aren’t the victims also Indians?Â Isn’t it true that they also should be included in the development scheme? Is it fair to leave them in pool of poverty for others’ better lives? We should think about this and raise our voice for the victims.
The writer is a correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz.