An unusual bustle takes over Hiralal Solanki’s boxy shelter every morning. He possesses two assets that are scarce at the relief camp: a gas cylinder and a stove. With food supply cut, the Sardar Sarovar project-affected families fall back on munificent neighbours to help them tide over the shortage. The other option? Stock firewood and survive on PDS (public distribution system) rice cooked on earthern stoves.
“If we don’t help our brothers during times like this, when else will we? It’s a matter of survival. Supporting each other is the need of the hour,” said Mr. Solanki, 23, cooped-up with two younger brothers and a sister-in-law, and a dusty stack of household items, in a tin shed in Nisarpur in the Dhar district. At Kotda village, now under water, he left behind two shops and a hut.
Fending for themselves
With the cessation of food supply at 26 camps set up in Dhar, Barwani and Alirajpur districts on October 31, around 3,000 families, awaiting rehabilitation or settlement of claims, have been left to fend for themselves. As the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat was filled over months to its brim of 138.68 metres on September 17, the swelling backwaters of the Narmada submerged 178 villages in Madhya Pradesh, displacing hundreds.
“According to the work plan, the provision of food was only until October 31. Oustees are now going about their work and making their own food arrangements,” said Pawan Kumar Sharma, Commissioner, the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). “For now, there is no plan to extend the contract for the provision of food.”
However, he added, provision of medical facilities, electricity and water would continue at the camps.
Dispelling palpable fear among the families of eviction from the camps, set up in 2017 after a Supreme Court order, with a possible expiry of its contract too, Mr. Sharma said, “The camps are the property of the NVDA, so there is no question of a contract with a third party.”
Offering families a reassurance against eviction, local Congress activist Nikhilesh Rane, residing at the camp, said the Minister for Narmada Valley Development Surendra Singh Baghel had promised them no one would be evicted.
As for the district administrations making alternative food arrangements, Dhar District Collector Srikanth Banoth said, “It’s for the NVDA to decide on the provision of amenities at its camps. Earlier, the contract for food supply was until October 15, which was later extended to October 31. Unless the department sanctions the supply, we can’t do anything about it.”
Moreover, the camps were temporary in nature and meant to facilitate only “transition” for eligible families from affected villages to sites of rehabilitation, said Additional Chief Secretary M. Gopal Reddy.
“We want to settle claims of each eligible family as early as possible. We have undertaken a survey of riverine patches cut-off from the mainland to assess the feasibility of sustaining settlements there versus resettlement,” he said.
Mr. Sharma said that profiling of families at camps was under way. “We’re sorting out rights and claims of the affected families so that they get their due. We have settled most of the claims already.”
Meanwhile, Mahendra Tomar, member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said the provision of amenities essential for survival couldn’t be discontinued at the camps. “The Supreme Court in an interim order has ruled that until the complete rehabilitation of families, relief work should continue,” he said.