Riding boats across Narmada, dam evictees join stir ‘for future generations”

Gond tribals and anti-nuclear activists took out a celebratory rally here after a public hearing, scheduled for Friday, on the Chutka Nuclear Power Project was indefinitely postponed by the Mandla Collector. They had threatened to picket the hearing on the environment impact assessment report, as they had received copies in English, and not in Hindi as they demanded. The project, on the drawing board since the 1980s, has been planned in a 497.73-hectare area in Narayanganj tehsil, on the banks of the Narmada. The area falls in a “high damage risk” seismic zone.

Villagers of Chutka, Tatighat, Kunda and Manegaon, predominantly of the Gond Scheduled Tribe, have been protesting against the project since it was cleared by the Union government in 2009. Most of them were displaced by the Bargi Dam in 1984.

On Friday, scores of Gonds, all dam evictees, came to this the village in boats to support their tribesmen. They crossed over from Seoni district, across the Narmada, where they now eke out an existence as marginal peasants and labourers.

“It is mother Narmada’s will that the parmanu [nuclear plant] must go away. Otherwise we would have drowned. We came here to tell the bureaucrats not to take away the homes of our brethren again. I am so happy that they did not come. Even if I don’t have food today I can dance,” said 50-year-old Radhabai from Bakherimal in Seoni.

Ram Singh Uike, 70, said he had received Rs. 30,119 for his 19 acres in the 1980s. “I have faced more sorrows than any man should face. The money got over fast and we are like birds which fly from one place to another for food.”

His kinsman Raghuvir Narti said: “This is for our future generations. We have decided not to vote for any party that brings the plant and to support the party that stops the plant. If no party supports us, we will ensure poll boycott in 54 villages in the block during the Assembly elections.”

Activists of the CPI(ML)-K.N. Ramachandran group led the protest against the state and nuclear energy. Then came the rally by around 500 villagers along with members of the Chutka Parmanu Sangharsh Samiti, which has been spearheading the protests.

Uike’s boat group was led by former Gondwana Gantantra Party leader Mahatlal Barkade. He said the villagers would remain wary of not only the state but also activists.

Officials of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, which had called the hearing, and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which will run the project, were in the dark over reasons for the cancellation.