Silent Water Protests That Await Loud Answers: What”s Kept In Store?

Posted on September 13, 2012

By Neha Bhandarkar:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

-John Lennon, Imagine

A protest which was one of its kind, one that showed a self imposed ordeal with solidarity, for filched rights in the name of development, took place when the 51 villagers of Gopalgaon in Khandwa district stood literally neck deep for seventeen days opposing the decision of the state government to raise the Omkareshwar dam’s water level from 189 to 193 metres. The pressurised MP government has finally agreed to fulfil the demands of reducing the water to 189 metres.

Looking into the timeline of the incident, it will come as a surprise that this protest started way back in mid July this year, to oppose the state’s decision to raise the water level in the Omkareshwar dam. A multipurpose project, this dam was built at a cost of Rs 2,224.73 crore. Its installed capacity is 520 MW and it is a joint venture between Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation and the state government. The project is believed to generate 1,167 million units energy every year, along with meeting the irrigation needs of at least three districts. However these 51 villagers protested under the banner of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) trying to draw the attention of the government to their submerged lands. They are allegedly protesting against the compensation that the government has failed to provide according to the SC ruling. Earlier in August, the Grievance Redressal Authority (GRA) that was appointed for the affected families of the Omkareshwar dam project had directed the Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC) and the Madhya Pradesh government to reimburse the ousted with ‘land for land’ after examining the applications and the Supreme Court order of May 11, 2011.

While the displaced villagers stood defying the water levels to be risen and waiting for the rehabilitation of their lands that was submerged in the dam, there was hardly anybody aware of this silent demonstration. With the NBA in dispute over inadequate special package, and land for land as per SC ruling as well as the media showcasing the grim condition of the strong-minded villagers, the protests have finally received some positive response. The NBA under its purview organized protests at Khandwa collector’s residence demanding the reduction in dam’s water level. This on-going ‘watery’ situation didn’t escape the eyes of the world, when the Hong-Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission wrote letters to the Prime Minister, chief minister of MP, and National Human Rights Commission to intervene in the matter.

What comes to one’s astonishment is the laid-back and ignorant attitude of the governing bodies, who are elected by the common masses for their own welfare and progress. The way this entire episode has drawn national attention in a non-violent manner cannot be disregarded. Had there been anything remotely similar that had taken place in an affluent place, or in an urban backdrop, there certainly would have been an immediate uproar with almost all sort of vandalism. According to newspaper reports, the affected villagers had developed ‘washer men -foot disease’, which results in skin dissolution and fungal infection. Also there was no medical help till fifteen days later.

It was not even over 72 hours since the determined protestors had won their battle, when the police arrested over 200 demonstrators dissenting in Kharapani village in Haldar district of MP. This peaceful protest has been going on since last fifteen days against the state’s decision for increasing the water level in Indira Sagar dam to 262 metres. The resolute villagers after eviction got back to the dam waters again continuing their protest.

Down south, agitating against the Koodankulam Nuclear plant in the village of Idinthakarai, demanding CM Jayalalitha’s intervention, more than 1,000 protesters who were on a hunger strike since Monday are inspired by Madhya Pradesh’s ‘Jal Satyagraha’ and have decided to adopt a similar strategy.

The projects that are underway in order to increase energy units and irrigation facilities for the lands, must also come up with alternative plans to avoid any such similar crises. The projects must be properly chalked out with an ‘engineer’ point of view. Assistance from government organisations to plan the same can be one of the ways. The whole idea that revolves about these modernising tools need to be constructive and practical in all angles.

Concluding with John Lennon’s song, Imagine

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

Development is supposed to be absolute, and not detrimental, the one that is for all the people and not against them.

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