THE WA­TER WARS

As the Sar­dar Sarovar dam fills up, is­sues of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, com­pen­sa­tion come to the fore too

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

As the wa­ter level of the Sar­dar Sarovar dam inches to­wards its full ca­pac­ity of 138.98 me­tres (thanks to a plen­ti­ful mon­soon), Mad­hya Pradesh and Gu­jarat are locked in yet an­other dispute. The MP gov­ern­ment has ac­cused Gu­jarat of clos­ing the sluice gates of the dam ahead of the sched­ule agreed upon by the states in con­sul­ta­tion with the Nar­mada Con­trol Au­thor­ity (NCA), the agency set up to im­ple­ment the or­ders of the Nar­mada Wa­ter Dis­putes Tri­bunal. The clos­ing of the gates, al­leges MP, threat­ens to sub­merge the land of more than 2,000 fam­i­lies in 60-odd vil­lages of the Dhar and Bar­wani dis­tricts of the state.

The dam height was raised in 2017, but this is the first year when it is likely to fill to ca­pac­ity. By Au­gust-end, the wa­ter had reached 135 me­tres, flood­ing the banks in Chikhalda and nu­mer­ous other habi­ta­tions in MP. The state had protested even then—as per the sched­ule agreed upon, the stor­age was to reach 135 me­tres only by Septem­ber 30. With gates closed ahead of sched­ule, MP says it didn’t have ad­e­quate time to move peo­ple from ar­eas that would get sub­merged by the back­wa­ters.

Sources in the Nar­mada Val­ley Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (NVDA), the nodal agency for all mat­ters con­cern­ing the dam, told in­dia to­day that even if MP had an­other month, they might not have man­aged to evac­u­ate peo­ple from th­ese ar­eas.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, the Supreme Court ruled on a fi­nal set­tle­ment in which each project-af­fected fam­ily that had not ac­cepted the ear­lier com­pen­sa­tion pack­age was to get Rs 60 lakh. The then MP gov­ern­ment an­nounced an ad­di­tional Rs 900 crore un­der which fam­i­lies that had ac­cepted the ear­lier Rs 5.8 lakh pack­age, would get an ad­di­tional amount.

The Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment says it has trans­ferred its share of the com­pen­sa­tion. By March 2019, the Mad­hya Pradesh gov­ern­ment had dis­bursed Rs 419 crore as com­pen­sa­tion and spent Rs 90 crore as a sec­ond in­stal­ment pack­age.

The is­sue has now taken a po­lit­i­cal turn, with the cur­rent Congress gov­ern­ment in MP al­leg­ing that Gu­jarat has “not trans­ferred the en­tire com­pen­sa­tion amount we had de­manded”. “Gu­jarat should look at it from a hu­man­i­tar­ian point of view. How can it let peo­ple drown?” asks Suren­dra Singh Baghel, MP min­is­ter for the NVDA. Pub­lic re­la­tions min­is­ter P.C. Sharma even says Gu­jarat owes MP Rs 10,000 crore for the lost land and rev­enue.

Gu­jarat chief sec­re­tary J.N. Singh de­nies the al­le­ga­tions. “We com­plied with all the di­rec­tives of the Supreme Court and the NCA. So we are well within our rights to close the gates to fill the dam to full height,” he says. Adds an­other of­fi­cer on con­di­tion of anonymity, “If 2,000 fam­i­lies were be­ing sub­merged, there would have been a hue and cry on Septem­ber 16 when the dam reached full height. But noth­ing of the sort hap­pened.”

Fin­gers are also be­ing pointed at the pre­vi­ous Shivraj Singh Chouhan gov­ern­ment in MP. “Gu­jarat says they have trans­ferred the com­pen­sa­tion amount. The ear­lier BJP regime in MP says it has utilised the amount. If so, why are there peo­ple who have still not got com­pen­sa­tion?” asks Baghel.

The Nar­mada Bachao An­dolan (NBA) has been protest­ing the sub­mer­gence of the vil­lages for long now. NBA leader Medha Patkar be­gan a hunger strike on Au­gust 25, but re­lented nine days later af­ter the MP gov­ern­ment promised ac­tion. “Our data shows that there are 28,000 project-af­fected fam­i­lies. The MP gov­ern­ment had worked out a Rs 1,857 crore re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pack­age, which is in­ad­e­quate. This should be re­vised,” says Rahul Ya­dav of the NBA.

The crux of the is­sue is the dif­fer­ence in the num­ber of project-af­fected fam­i­lies, as seen by the states and the ac­tivists. The NBA says a to­tal of 192 vil­lages and a town, Dharam­puri, are af­fected; the MP gov­ern­ment says only 178 vil­lages are af­fected. “MP has been telling the NCA through­out (2008-2016) that there are no more fam­i­lies to re­ha­bil­i­tate. Who are th­ese peo­ple then?” asks Ya­dav.

PRAVIN BARNALE

NO SUR­REN­DER Medha Patkar protests with vil­lagers at the NVDA of­fice in In­dore

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