‘No land to rehabilitate 2.5 lakh people in submergence zones’

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has urged the central government to halt the mega Sardar Sarovar Project at its present height of 122 meters which will bring the requisite benefits without uprooting thousands of rural and tribal population from displacement.

During their two-day agitation that concluded at Jantar Mantar here on Thursday, representatives of the displaced families led by Medha Patkar knocked at the doors of Union Ministers Harish Rawat and Jairam Ramesh to get a hearing. Their common refrain was that the UPA government should not succumb to pressure from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi into allowing the dam to be raised to its final height, while 2.5 lakh people in 245 villages are still residing in submergence zones and there is no land to rehabilitate them.

The Narmada Control Authority (NAC) under the Ministry of Water Resources oversees the compliance of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal award by the basin States of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Writer Arundhati Roy, activist Annie Raja and Manoranjan Mohanty were several prominent citizens who visited the dharna site at Jantar Mantar to express solidarity.

“If the government is unable to rehabilitate and resettle the thousands of project affected people, then the dam should not be raised any further,” NBA leader Medha Patkar told the authorities.

The dam is at a height of 122 meters and Mr. Modi wants the Centre to give permission to raise it to the full height of 138 meters. Resettlement of project affected people and environmental compliances have to be done six months ahead of raising the dam’s level in stages. Ms. Patkar said there should be a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits, environmental procedures and rehabilitation and resettlement of people.

‘Modi seeking to gain political benefit’

The Staus Report of the NAC) of December 2012, says that the irrigation potential created by the dam is about 5 lakh hectares, but, Ms. Patkar said “the actual irrigation is only to the tune of 1.14 lakh hectares mainly because the Modi government has been focusing attention on raising the height of the dam and gaining political benefit without completing the canal network.”

“Although the project got the largest Central funding (Rs. 5,736 crore) under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme), less than 30 per cent of the canal network has only been laid in 30 years. Even so, the Gujarat government has decided to de-notify 4 lakh hectares from the project command area to reserve it for SEZs and other corporates. This is a major change in the master plan and for this alone, besides other non-compliances, the Centre should comprehensively review the project,” she told journalists.

Struggling for more than 25 years to get proper rehabilitation as prescribed under the award, the uprooted families ask only one question: “If there is no land with the government to give us after submerging ours, why is it continuing with the mega project? We are being asked to sacrifice our lands, our homes and our lives for whose benefit?’’

Ms. Patkar demanded that the NAC should conduct an independent review of the project.

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