Days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Gujarat for inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, activists opposed to the displacement of tribal families in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have upped the ante. On Thursday, while a group of activists and affected tribal families protested in the national capital, another protesting group, led by the Medha Patkar-led National Alliance of People’s Movement, led a dharna outside the Mantralaya gates in Maharashtra.
Modi is slated to inaugurate the newly-constructed gates of the Narmada dam on his birthday on September 17. The new gates have raised the height of the dam to 138.68 metres.
Hundreds of families from tribal hamlets in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar were part of the protesting group outside Mantralaya.
Contesting the government’s claim that the work of rehabilitation of families in the submergence zone of the dam had been completed, NAPM activist Yogini Khanolkar alleged that “thousands of families in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are yet to be rehabilitated”.
“In fact, thousands of families previously declared as project-affected people (PAPs) when the dam height had been raised to 121 metres had been deprived of the rehabilitation benefit. While they are yet to be compensated, the government has now stopped identifying them as PAPs,” she said.
Khanolkar further complained that the villagers were being forcefully evacuated to temporary tin shed shelters, and that the rehabilitation sites remain inhabitable and lacking basic facilities. “The rising water levels have endangered the lives and livelihood of tens of thousands of people,” said the memorandum submitted to the CMO by a delegation of the activists.
While the delegation had sought an appointment with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the latter was in Gujarat for the foundation laying ceremony of India’s first bullet train.
The protesters have requested Fadnavis not to participate in the September 17 function, while cautioning the government against use of force to stop them from demonstrations near and outside the function venue. The protesters in Delhi submitted a similar representation to Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari.
The Gujarat government has organised a two-week long ‘Narmada Mahotsav’ that will culminate with the inauguration of the newly constructed gates on September 17. But the protesters have said such a celebration can only take place in the real sense where the dam gates are set open allowing water to recede till the rehabilitation of all affected families is done.
Assembly elections are scheduled in Gujarat this year-end. The NAPM has alleged that the Prime Minister wants to use the Sardar Sarovar project as an election plank. Meanwhile, activists have threatened to launch a Jalsatyagraha in MP’s Chota Barda from Friday.