Hundreds of farmers, potters and fishermen from 178 villages that were submerged by the backwaters of the Narmada, marched to the office of the Narmada Valley Development Authority in Bhopal demanding rehabilitation and alternative employment on Saturday.
Ever since the Sardar Sarovar dam downstream was filled to the brim, the Narmada has developed an erratic current and an unstable course, posing a challenge to fishermen in Madhya Pradesh.
“When the backwaters swelled, the catch dwindled dramatically. And now, several species have become extinct in the river,” says Mansarovar Verma, 53, a fisherman of Chikhalda village in Barwani district.
“We don’t want contractors from outside to take over water bodies. Local fishermen have a traditional right to them,” said Medha Patkar, of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, who led the rally and then staged a dharna with the protesters.
Fall in catch
“Water has entered forests, and dead leaves are detrimental to fish. Furthermore, garbage from submerged villages has caused a large-scale pollution of the river,” said Mr. Verma.
He now catches 2-4 kg of fish a day, earning only up to ₹400 a day. Three months ago, he netted 8-10 kg, bringing home ₹1,000 a day.
“We want compensation or land for the loss incurred. We don’t want to work for a fishing contractor, who’ll set terms for us,” he said.
Earlier, a drop in the water level after the monsoon gave them an opportunity to cultivate muskmelon and watermelon on the river banks around the month of January. After the water level rose, this too became impossible.
The government has opened 32 societies for fishermen in Dhar, Barwani and Khargone districts, which share the river’s banks, to dispel the fears about contractors taking over fishing.
Several species, including ‘mahseer’, has gone extinct.