Flip-flop over vic­tim num­bers

The Supreme Court has given the go-ahead to the con­tro­ver­sial Sar­dar Sarovar Dam to run at its full ca­pac­ity. But the govern­ment is not sure who all will get sub­merged, let alone re­ha­bil­i­tate them


UTTER CHAOS reigns over at least 176 vil­lages and Dharam­puri town in Nar­mada Val­ley. Ev­ery day, rev­enue of­fi­cials, ac­com­pa­nied by pla­toons of po­lice and armed with a Supreme Court or­der, visit these places in Bad­wani and Dhar dis­tricts of Mad­hya Pradesh and ask the res­i­dents to va­cate their houses, shops, farm­land, pas­ture land and places of wor­ship by July 31. “Some of­fi­cials even threaten that they would un­leash wa­ter from the Sar­dar Sarovar Dam on our vil­lages if we do not re­lo­cate by the said date,” says Vi­jay Marola of Nasir­pur vil­lage in Dhar.

Go­ing by the lat­est af­fi­davit sub­mit­ted by the Mad­hya Pradesh govern­ment be­fore the Supreme Court in 2016, Marola, his old par­ents, in­fant son, wife and two younger sis­ters are among the 110,000 peo­ple (21,808 fam­i­lies) whose houses and land are likely to get sub­merged once the 30-odd sluice gates on the dam are closed to raise wa­ter level in the reser­voir from the present 121.92 me­tres (m) to 138.68 m. Though the dam height was in­creased to 138.68 m in 2014, the dam au­thor­i­ties have been lim­it­ing the full reser­voir level to 121.92 m to avoid sub­mer­gence of the house­holds that are yet to re­lo­cate.

On Fe­bru­ary 8, the apex court paved the way for the dam to op­er­ate at its full ca­pac­ity and directed the Cen­tral and state gov­ern­ments to re­ha­bil­i­tate all project af­fected fam­i­lies by July 31.

The apex court said this while bring­ing down the cur­tain on the le­gal bat­tle Nar­mada Bachao An­dolan (nba), a move­ment

against large dams across the river by project-af­fected peo­ple, had been fight­ing since 1994. nba’s de­mand was to pay right­ful com­pen­sa­tion to all those who were dis­placed in dif­fer­ent phases as the dam height un­der­went a se­ries of changes from the ini­tial 69 m in the late 1980s but are yet to be re­ha­bil­i­tated. The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion guide­lines set by the Nar­mada Wa­ter Dis­putes Tri­bunal Award (nwdta) says a dis­placed fam­ily who has lost 25 per cent of the land to the project should be com­pen­sated with 2 hectares (ha) of land with ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­ity. Of all the cases pre­sented be­fore it, the apex court has iden­ti­fied 681 fam­i­lies who were dis­placed but did not re­ceive land in lieu of the prop­erty lost to the project, and said they would re­ceive `60 lakh each. An­other 1,358 fam­i­lies, who were given false land al­lot­ment pa­pers or were al­lot­ted de­graded land, would re­ceive `15 lakh each. The court added that the num­ber of peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for com­pen­sa­tion could be higher.

The court or­der has brought re­lief to the 2,039 dis­placed fam­i­lies. How­ever, those fac­ing dis­place­ment to al­low the dam to fun­tion at its full ca­pac­ity say they have nowhere to go.

“In 2003, I was given `40,000 and a plot on the flood­plains of the Khooj rivulet (trib­u­tary of the Nar­mada) in com­pen­sa­tion,” says Iqbal Reyaz from Dharam­puri, who works as a daily-wage labourer. Five years ago, Reyaz de­cided to re­lo­cate to the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion colony, aptly named Dharam­puri Basa­hat, lit­er­ally Dharam­puri re­set­tled. He was the first one to build a house there. But it got sub­merged the very next year, dur­ing the floods of 2013. “No one com­pen­sated me for the loss of the new house, and I had to re­turn to my old house,” Reyaz says. “I was a fool to go there. Since the colony is in the flood­plains, no one from my town dares to shift there,” he adds.

Su­naki Bai, 55, was very much aware of the prob­lems she was go­ing to face at the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion colony, which has also been named af­ter her vil­lage. Chikhalda Basa­hat is a des­o­late place, lo­cated on a rocky ter­rain and sur­rounded by aban­doned govern­ment build­ings and thorny weed Prosopis juliflora. “I and my son were al­lot­ted two plots here in 2003. As his fam­ily ex­panded, he re­lo­cated to the new plot some four years ago. Then, I was re­luc­tant to shift be­cause the place did not have drink­ing wa­ter fa­cil­ity, elec­tric­ity, roads or hos­pi­tal. More­over, none of my neigh­bours wanted to shift to this bar­ren place,” Bai re­calls. All the ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties still re­main a pipe dream in Chikhalda Basa­hat. But Bai re­lo­cated last year af­ter her son’s house was bur­gled, while the fam­ily was away to work as daily-

The govern­ment has re­duced the num­ber of project-af­fected fam­i­lies to re­duce the over­all cost of the project. It is also to avoid fu­ture lit­i­ga­tions by af­fected fam­i­lies

wage labour­ers. What wor­ries her most is that her grand­chil­dren have dis­con­tin­ued their stud­ies ever since they shifted to the new colony. The govern­ment school, built just five years ago, has caved in. The only other school at ap­proach­able dis­tance is run pri­vately and is 7 km from the colony.

Anil Gana­pat, res­i­dent of Kha­parkhera vil­lage who has been al­lot­ted a plot in the colony next to Chikhalda Basa­hat, cites an­other rea­son peo­ple from the Nar­mada Val­ley are un­will­ing to re­lo­cate. “There are more than 3,000 cows and buf­faloes in my vil­lage and most of the 500 fam­i­lies peo­ple de­pend on them for a liv­ing. The govern­ment has al­lot­ted us plots, but has not pro­vided even a small patch of land for our cat­tle. How would we sur­vive?” he says.

While the au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for re­set­tle­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion (R&R) works do not have the an­swer for Gana­pat’s ques­tion, they ad­mit that most peo­ple are un­will­ing to re­lo­cate due to the lack of ba­sic ameni­ties. “We are devel­op­ing roads and lay­ing elec­tric­ity ca­bles at all the 88 lo­ca­tions (where the vil­lages will be re­set­tled). We are work­ing at full speed,” says S R Yadav, di­rec­tor (R&R) of the Nar­mada Con­trol Au­thor­ity (nca), re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing the or­ders of the Nar­mada Wa­ter Dis­putes Tri­bunal.

But go­ing by the nwdta guide­lines, the au­thor­i­ties should also pro­vide a pri­mary school for ev­ery 100 fam­i­lies, a drink­ing wa­ter well for ev­ery 50 fam­i­lies, a seed store for ev­ery 500 fam­i­lies, be­fore ini­ti­at­ing the evic­tion process. Barely a month left to meet the apex court dead­line, will they be able to com­ply with the nwdta guide­lines?

“We are just fol­low­ing the Supreme Court or­der which says project-af­fected vil­lages be re­lo­cated be­fore July 31,” Te­jaswi Naik, dis­trict col­lec­tor of Bad­wani told Down To Earth. When asked how the govern­ment plans to re­lo­cate un­will­ing fam­i­lies, Yadav says: “Let the dead­line near. They will have no choice but re­lo­cate.”

On May 28, hun­dreds of res­i­dents fac­ing dis­place­ment met Union So­cial Jus­tice Min­is­ter Thawar Chand Gehlot who was on a visit to Bad­wani, and re­quested him to per­suade the Cen­tre to ex­tend the dead­line for re­lo­ca­tion. Gehlot’s min­istry over­sees the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work. But he re­fused to give any as­sur­ance.

Peo­ple re­duced to num­bers

Adding to the frus­tra­tion is the con­fu­sion prop­a­gated by the govern­ment from time to time. On May 25, the state govern­ment no­ti­fied the state gazette, which has the re­vised list of house­holds that face dis­place­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the gazette, 18,346 fam­i­lies now face dis­place­ment. While this should bring re­lief to the 3,462 fam­i­lies, who have been ex­cluded from the evic­tion list, they are more than wor­ried.

One such fam­ily is that of Ramesh­war Bhola Ji Pati­dar, a 52-year-old farmer from Nis­arpur vil­lage in Dhar. They are among the 345 house­holds in the vil­lage of 1,542 house­holds that do not fig­ure in the re­vised list of af­fected fam­i­lies. Pati­dar claims that he has wrongly been ex­cluded from the re­vised list. “My im­me­di­ate neigh­bour, who lives just 1.5 m from my house, is part of the list, whereas I am not. Will my house be spared if his house gets sub­merged? Even if the wa­ter does not en­ter my house, how will we lead our lives with wa­ter on our doorstep? In that case, should I not be de­clared project-af­fected?” he asks.

Devram, leader of nba from Kha­parkhera, cites an­other prob­lem that will arise be­cause of the re­vised list. Even if the houses that have been left out in the re­vised list do not get sub­merged, they would re­sem­ble an is­land. Has the govern­ment thought about pro­vid­ing ba­sic ameni­ties to these peo­ple? Suresh Prad­han, who has also been ex­cluded from the re­vised list, how­ever be­lieves in what a govern­ment of­fi­cial has told him: they will make bridges for all house­holds to con­nect the main­land.

In Dharam­puri, Kam­lesh Thakur is re­lieved af­ter he learns that he does not have to va­cate his house and gar­ment shop. “The govern­ment has as­sured that ex­cept

88 houses, rest of the 1,387 houses iden­ti­fied for dis­place­ment ear­lier are out of dan­ger,” says Thakur. He is happy be­cause there has been no com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the govern­ment about the `50,000 and a plot of 1,800 sq ft in nearby Devpura vil­lage that he had re­ceived in com­pen­sa­tion. In fact, all the 1,299 fam­i­lies from Dharam­puri, who do not fig­ure in the re­vised list, have re­ceived be­tween `40,000 and `70,000 in com­pen­sa­tion.

So is this a mis­take or a govern­ment dole? “It is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of re­duc­ing the num­ber of af­fected fam­i­lies to re­duce the over­all cost of the project and thus avoid any fu­ture lit­i­ga­tions by project-af­fected fam­i­lies,” says Medha Patkar, who has been spear­head­ing nba since 1990. Or else, why would the govern­ment pay com­pen­sa­tion to all these fam­i­lies, she says. nba claims that all the 45,000 fam­i­lies in 192 vil­lages and one town would be af­fected once the dam runs at its full ca­pac­ity. Da­yaram Nyas of Gandhi Bhawan Trust, Bhopal, says the govern­ment just does not know the ex­act num­ber of project-af­fected peo­ple.

A Down To Earth anal­y­sis cor­rob­o­rates the views of Nyas. Be­fore re­vis­ing the num­ber of project-af­fected fam­i­lies in the state gazette this year, the govern­ment in its 2003 af­fi­davit sub­mit­ted to the apex court had claimed that 192 vil­lages and one town would be af­fected. At least 37,754 fam­i­lies would have to re­lo­cate. It changed the fig­ures to 176 vil­lages and 21,808 fam­i­lies in an­other af­fi­davit filed 13 years later.

This flip-flop is due to a flawed cal­cu­la­tion by the Cen­tral Wa­ter Com­mis­sion (cwc) in 2008 while as­sess­ing the ex­tent of “back­wa­ter” (in­crease in the wa­ter level up­stream of the dam once the sluice gates are closed). The flaw was iden­ti­fied by an in­de­pen­dent team of civil so­ci­ety in 2015. As per cwc es­ti­mates, back­wa­ter lev­els in case of full reser­voir or ex­treme flood­ing (once in 100 years) would never go be­yond 144.9 m in its up­stream if the dam height is raised to 138.64 m. Based on the es­ti­mates, the govern­ment re­vised the num­ber of af­fected fam­i­lies to 21,808 from 37,754. But the cil so­ci­ety team ob­served that flood lev­els at Kal­ghat, which is at the fag-end of the sub­mer­gence area, reached 146.64 m in 2013 even when the dam height was 121.92 m. In 1994, when its height was 90 m, flood lev­els reached 148.80 m at Kal­ghat.

“Even an ex­pert com­mit­tee of the Union en­vi­ron­ment min­istry had re­jected the govern­ment’s back­wa­ter level cal­cu­la­tions,” says Patkar.

But it ap­pears that the govern­ment just does not want to make up its mind about the num­ber of project-af­fected fam­i­lies. Barely 10 days be­fore the state govern­ment no­ti­fied the gazette, Renu Pant, di­rec­tor of the Nar­mada Val­ley De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, told the press that 5,000 fam­i­lies from 112 vil­lages are go­ing to be af­fected once the dam func­tions at its full ca­pac­ity.

Amid the chaos, the dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tions have also in­structed govern­ment staff like teach­ers, an­gan­wadi work­ers, and asha work­ers not to at­tend any in­sti­tu­tions in the vil­lages no­ti­fied for re­lo­ca­tion.

Protests gather pace across Nar­mada Val­ley af­ter the Supreme Court al­lows the Sar­dar Sarovar Dam to op­er­ate at its full ca­pac­ity and asks the govern­ment to re­lo­cate all af­fected fam­i­lies by July 31

(Clock­wise from ex­treme left) (1) Sun­dari Bai of Dharam­puri has been al­lot­ted a plot on the flood­plain of the Khooj river. The colony has no ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties, not even a school, and gets sub­merged almost ev­ery mon­soon. (2) Sukhdev Pati­dar of Nasir­pur has been al­lot­ted a low-ly­ing plot on a rocky ter­rain, which gets wa­ter­logged ev­ery mon­soon. He says he would need to fill the plot with 2.5 m of earth to make it hab­it­able. (3) Re­set­tle­ment colony for Kar­mal vil­lage. The of­fices built for govern­ment of­fi­cials who would im­ple­ment the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work have been ly­ing va­cant

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