Rally for the Valley: Unyielding Struggle of the Drowning Valley

-Kailash Awasya

The Narmada valley will be booming with the slogans of hundreds of people who are reaching Indore station at 12 pm today to participate in the Rally for the Valley in support of two lakh people who are at the verge of submergence. The supporters of the Narmada Bachao Andolan has been mobilizing people of the Valley and giving them confidence and strength to be prepared for the grave situation that they have to face once the monsoons come. The Rally for the Valley is a warning to the Modi government that they are not in this struggle alone!

Narmada Bachao Andolan is in its thirty-first year of struggle and for the first time, we have encountered a situation where the Central Social Justice Minister of India has said that he had no idea about the execution of the most catastrophic and most devastating decision that would affect thousands of people living in the valley. In June 2014, 17 days after Narendra Modi assumed the office of Prime Minister of India, he gave orders to raise the height of the dam by 17 metres, i.e., from 122 to 139 m. Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) is the pet project of our Prime Minister. He is so committed to the cause that he staged a 51 hours fast in 2006 for the protesting against the then government’s move to stop further works on the dam. This was his answer to the people of the Narmada valley after 9 years! As we see our brothers and sisters wading through waters in the flood in Tamil Nadu and Kashmir and Assam, we know how terrible it is, as we face it every monsoon. It is the result of development projects which are executed without any understanding or vision about the catastrophe it would yield.

The height increase work has finished in the SSP which is a blatant violation of law and judgements of the Supreme Court. They should have initiated the rehabilitation of people in the affected areas first, and then only started the work. When we protested in the Ministry of Water Resources right after the order for increasing the height of the dam , we spoke to several ministers including, the Social Justice Minister, who told us that he had no idea about this decision and that he got to know about this development after the decision was taken. If the PM, operates on his whims and fancies, without consulting even the Ministers in charge then why do we even have them, or, the area experts, for that matter? If the ministers get to know of developments under their jurisdiction through newspapers/TV reports and official orders, then why do we even have a parliament to debate matters? Why do we even call this democracy? Let’s call a spade a spade and say we live in autocracy. But such draconic orders will not weaken the people of this country, they will continue their fights. Because for Modi and his corporate-backed power, it might be a matter of a single order, for us, it is a matter of life, of survival. People in the villages that are prone to drowning are in constant fear and uncertainty, especially since the monsoons this time are very heavy.

Look at the ground level fact finding report from Sardar Sarovar Project Submergence Areas in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat that was released recently. The report titled ‘Drowning a Valley: Destroying a Civilization” by the Fact Finding team who visited the villages on 9-10 May, 2015 including dignitaries like Hannan Mollah (CPI-M), Annie Raja (CPI & NFIW), Benoy Vishwam (CPI) and Soumya Datta (Environmentalist), Prof. Raj Kachoroo (Internationally Acclaimed Hydrolgist) and Dr. Sunilam (Samajwadi Samagam) documents the ground reality they saw in the villages of the valley. With information collected from interacting with people from our villages, the document details how the Sardar Sarovar Dam’s work is progressing by grossly violating the ruling of the Supreme Court and the recommendations of the Narmada Tribunal. It sends out a clear statement that those in power do not abide by the laws and norms of this country. The Grievance Redressal Authority has directed that my brothers and I should be paid Rs. 7 lakh for the inordinate delay in rehabilitation. We have not been given Rs 7/- till date.

It is when the thought that movements needs to think of negotiating in power politics, that we decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections.  Some of us contested in the elections under the banner of Aam Aadmi Party and many senior activists associated with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) decided to support us to use the platform of electoral politics to raise the issues of people’s movements and other human rights issues. So leaders of different social movements contested elections in 2014 to also send the message across that the voices of the oppressed cannot be scared away by repeated chants of the corporate funded ads.

It doesn’t mean that the NBA and NAPM completely endorsed my candidature. Yes, several people know me because I have met them or probably talked to them as part of the movement; but ours is a larger fight. There is an attempt by the Modi-government-backed media to malign this movement. The recent Jal Satyagraha that happened in Khandwa district on Omkareshwar dam which lasted for 24 days stirred such a controversy. The cause was genuine and the mode of protest was peaceful. Even after the photographs of women, men and activists with blisters in their legs and body due to being in water for so many hours were circulated, the media completely blacked the people out. Some reports stated that the Lok Sabha election candidature of some NBA activists was the reason for ‘lack of response’ from the State. This is a blatant lie. The State has been insensitive as ever. Of course, some of us were with the AAP, but we have volunteers who are associated with the Congress party and even BJP for that matter. Just because some political party leader visits us at our protest ground, doesn’t mean that we endorse his political position. Narmada Bachao Andolan has always negotiated with different political parties, but has always refrained from being under the patronage of a particular party. Whichever party comes to power, we have to fight because our fight is for the rights of the displaced due to the development project.

It is not that people of Narmada haven’t got anything till now. Due to our fights, almost 11,000 people have got land for land. But still there are thousands left, mostly because of the corruption in the rehabilitation process. Everyone from the ministers to the administrators to the bank staff to the rehabilitation officers are involved in this scam. They have devised means to prove that the rehabilitation is full and final, whereas the reality is something completely different. A preliminary inquiry will prove that the land allotted to the oustees in several cases are land already occupied by the Adivasis. There are several cases where the authorities have filed the name of 10 people for the same land stating that the rehabilitation is perfectly done. Even the state government after its inquiry has admitted that 758 fake registries have been identified, though our estimate is that it is more than 2000.

The state government also acts with extreme irresponsibility and insensitivity. Last week, we submitted an application for the registration of fishing cooperatives that would let the traditional fishing community from Madhya Pradesh residing in the banks of Narmada, which is a legally accepted right. In spite of repeated recommendations, the state government is not registering the co-operatives which is restricting the fishing community from earning their living. The government authorities are saying that since the three states are in dispute over the Sardar Sarovar waters, they cannot issue the order. But Maharashtra already has registered five cooperatives. So, why is it that they are not allowed in Madhya Pradesh? Notably, there are also some members of the CM’s party, associated with our movement.  Even they are not consulted on the situation of the people. So, either that is the mode of operation of the Bharatiya Janata Party or they have received orders from higher authorities to ignore the issues of the people of the Narmada valley! Gujarat government also ignores the traditional fish workers. Thousands of fish workers downstream of the dam wil lose their livelihoods with the water drying up. With Adani’s port in Mundra, is there a possibility for them to even survive there?

But life is going on! There are hundreds of shops and thousands of houses and even Jeevanshalas, schools under Narmada Navnirman Abhiyan which has around 1000 students in flood-prone areas. All that may go under waters even in this monsoon. In the current situation, it is assumed that thousands of hectares of fertile land is likely to face submergence. If the increase of height happens, Rajghat, Bhilkheda, Dharampuri, etc. won’t survive. But even that won’t drown our will to fight against this unfair and illegal measure of the government. We have been fighting this long and tiring struggle together for the last three decades. But we have reached a point where we have to rethink our strategies as the current government is one that is barely democratic. They listen to no one except the words of corporates. Why would they, when they have invested thousands of crores of money to get them to power!

Their whole image has been constructed and propagated with their money. That is why Modi has to ignore the protest from the Kisan Sangathans affiliated to even his party and process the Land Ordinance! In organised politics even the member at the lowest level and silent volunteer who held the flag and spread the word about the party has contributed to its success. The party is entitled to discuss and decide on matters after consulting them. The leaders are answerable to their party workers. But the BJP is headed by someone who doesn’t even agree to address a press meet! Would the media world and the journalists not have demanded answers from the PM for all that is happening in the country had they not been so heavily funded by the corporates backing his party? He is interacting with the country in the same manner he does in his ‘Mann ki baat’. He is the speaker, neither a listener, nor an arguer. Modi needs to come out of his world of selfies and twitter updates, he need to get out of his virtual world of bhakts, to the ground and see what the people are going through especially because he keeps projecting his humble lower class background. But a day will come when the people, his own people, his party members, his volunteers will seek answers from him. The Prime Minister of our country might be able to ignore our queries and pleas. But when his people start raising voices, it will become impossible for him to remain silent. We have seen that with Rohith Vemula and the fire he ignited. Smirti Irani is no longer the MHRD Minister!

The Rally for the Valley in 1999 was headed by Arundathi Roy and this time we have several youngsters, cultural activists, students, politicians coming in support for the valley. This time the Modi government but listen to our rights and demands.

(As told to Aswathy Senan)

(Kailash Awasya has been working with the Narmada Bachao Andolan for the past 25 years and has been working on land rights and farmer’s rights.
Aswathy Senan is a research scholar at Delhi University)

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