Displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, hundreds living on the hills lining the Narmada banks are denied basic amenities

A satisfied smile flashes across Chuna’s face. At least for few months, she won’t have to worry about feeding her children. Leaving behind all the day’s work, 35-year-old Sarla was also rushing to the village outskirts. She didn’t want to let this opportunity go.

Just like Chuna and Sarla, all men and women were running towards the village end, near the bank of the river, where in the name of a ration shop, wheat, sugar and salt were scattered on the ground. The village was getting PDS grains after a gap of six months. Running towards this makeshift ration shop, the villagers were simultaneously worried by the thought that the PDS shopkeeper may leave before they reach and their children may have to face hunger and starvation again.

This was the scene in Bhitada village in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district — one of the villages that have been affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project. One can reach this village only after travelling 44 km by road followed by a one-hour travel boat ride and a three-km-long walk. The whole village has been divided into five clusters or falias and these clusters are inhabited by about 350 families. Each cluster is at a distance of about two km.

According to the draft Food Security Bill, it is the responsibility of the State government to ensure that each family below the poverty line gets subsidised ration from the PDS shops. But families living on the bank of Narmada — affected by the Sardar Sarovar project and inadequate rehabilitation — are forced to live on the mercy of government officials for their day-to-day sustenance. They get rations after months on end and that too for only a few hours. By the time the news of ration arriving spreads in their scattered homes in the village, the makeshift PDS shop gets dismantled. Nandla Bhai who came to deliver PDS ration was selling the salt costing Re. one a packet for Rs. 5 to the villagers. He justifies his action saying, “Transporting the ration over such a distance increases the cost of the goods.” But transport charges are being paid by the government! Nandla didn’t have any answer.

There are 15 villages in the Alirajpur district that are surrounded by the Narmada due to the dam project. As the dam’s height kept on increasing, these villages got submerged leading to loss of land and homes. Improper rehabilitation has led these villagers to struggle for their basic needs like food, health and livelihood. Government schemes like PDS, mid-day meal, MGNREGA and anganwadi are implemented in these villages in the official records but because of inaccessibility, their scattered nature and inefficiency and corruption on the part of the government, most of these schemes remain exist only on paper.

Around 13 years ago, these villages were filled with lush green fields. There was a road to reach the village. But beginning from 1996, these villages started getting affected. By 2000, their farms and houses were completely submerged. In this situation, many villagers had to seek shelter in the hills that line the bank of Narmada. The rocky nature of these hills makes it difficult for the villagers to even find a place to set up their homes.

Anjanwada is one such village. The health, school facilities and nutrition for children here remain a challenge. The population of this village is around 360. The government has started a primary school for the children in the village but for most of the children, the school is only accessible by an arduous boat ride or an hour long walk through the rocky terrain. The school and the anganwadi are situated at the same place. The anganwadi is unable to provide nutrition to needy children since it is difficult for them to cross the river or cover the long distance daily. There is no health centre in the village. Electricity and roads still seem like a distant dream for these villagers.

Khajan Singh of Anjanwada lost his 12-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son three years ago as he couldn’t provide them timely treatment. The nearest health sub centre is located in Kakrana, 12 km away and can only be reached by a two-hour-long boat ride from Anjanwada.

The Madhya Pradesh government claims that all 45,000 displaced in the Sardar Sarovar Project have been given adequate compensation. Meera Kumari of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), however, says, “ Nearly 3,300 families have been given the first instalment of cash component. But due to the Fake Registry Scam, they have been unable to buy the land. As of now, the matter is in High Court.”

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