The Saga of the Satpura Range’s Drought: Three Decades of Sardar Sarovar Project

Manjunath Naragund

Writer is an independent researcher and freelance writer. He is from Belavanaki village of Ron Taluk in Gadag district from Northern part of Karnataka.

Nandurabar is an important district of Khandesh region of the Northwestern part of Maharashtra. One side the region is covered by river the Narmada and the Tapi on the other side, this also falls under the purview of the Sardar Sarovar Project. This mega project includes around 30 largest and 130 medium dams. At the initial stage, the purpose of project was to provide drinking water and electricity facilities to the drought hit regions of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. However, over a period time the region witnessed different episodes. The project caused to deforestation of more than thousand hectors along with displacement of native tribal people.

The project was highly opposed by many including Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy in early 90’s. Later stage, this resentment was diverted into two branches; one was as an environment movement and other was protection of rights of Adivasis. In this context, by revisiting of all these past there is a need of understand the plight of drought in the Satpura Range.

satpura drought

Ten years old girl Sunita carrying 40 liters of water in Satpura Range
Photo courtesy: Rehman Punnodi

Geographically, the Satpura Range stretches in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Besides, it also divides river the Narmada and the Tapi. We could able to trace out this drought region covered by rich natural resource with the help of Drought Duty programme jointly organized by Ekta Parishad, Jal Biradari, National Alliance of People Movement and Swaraj Abhiyan during June 21-29. Including me from University of Hyderabad, Advait Shukla from Mumbai Institute of Forensic Science, Druva Singhal from St. Stephen College, New Delhi, Aparana Sing from Asia College of Journalism and Rahman Punnodi from Calicut took participation in this programme. We were assigned the study of three villages of Taloda taluk of Nandurabar district of Maharashtra. It was surprise to know that these three villages were absent in the district map. However, the main purpose of our study was to assess the quality of water and water resources. Besides these objectives of the team was also to shed light on other problems of the Reva Nagar, Chidimal, Guriyamal and Khurdamal along with water problems.

As prefixed, we stayed in Reva Nagar. This village has been set up for the refuges of Sardar Sarovar Project. The village has around 7000 population, most of them depending on agriculture. Their main water resources is being fulfilled by tube wells. Though it is rehabilitation village of refugees of Pavara tribe, they are not a benefited from a drop of water of the Sardar Sarovar Project. Similarly, electricity connectivity yet to be reached here, road facility is not up to the expected. As said by Veersingh, the resident of this village, the government has not provided any subsidy to these refuges to drill bore well. This was the story of Reva Nagar, while the picture of Malkhurda which is 10 KM away from here entirely different.

Malkhurda is a village of 30 Pahadis, which is situated above 4000 feet of the Satpura Range. We stayed here in the house of Bokobhav. The true story he revealed during our stay in his house was a live example of how today’s governments suppress the rights of Adivasis. According to the Forest Act -2006, a programme has been launched to survey pahadis through GPS technology. Since, most the pahadis constructed under tree satellite cannot cover these pahadis. Thus, the rights over land has been rejected to these tribes. On the other hand, health, education and electricity facilities of these people remained as a mirage. The story of Chidimal and Guriyamal, which are close to this village, is also same.  Even after 6 decades, the electricity is here a pipe dream. The condition of pregnant women of the region very pathetic, at the time of delivery they have to cross 10KM steep distance of the Range. There are many examples who lost lives during this critical time. Many of the women folk of the region migrate to neighbor state Gujarat for construction works except Kharif season. Most of them are pregnant women, they had worked in the fields and building construction works even before a week of the delivery. The water sources of the village have totally been dried. As described by Karmsingh, a resident of Malkhurda more than 200 cattle in a year an average of 20 per month died due to scarcity of fodder or by drinking polluted water. Importantly, the life style of Bhils tribe of the region largely depending on cattle. The absence of machines whether in agriculture or any other activities was main reason behind it. This is the conditions of cattle, whereas the picture of Anganavadis of Guriyamal unimaginable.

There are 40 students officially registered in the school.  However, during our visit we find only six students who attend regularly. Mid day meal programme was nowhere found here. Chidimal village is having 370 populations, but only 4 people have reached up to the 10th standard. Most of the children are suffering from hunger. Thus, Reva Nagar, Chidimal, Guriyamal and Malkhurda heart touching stories look like perpetual and common to them. The issue of water is different because minimum 8 people spend their whole day only with 50 liters of water. In another shocking the story, stone or mud being used for defecation.

The question is that whether the government knows these unheard stories or not. The rule of the WHO recommendation to use minimum 50 to 100 liters of water per person is literally not applicable to these villages. We faced all these episodes as the reflections of new life during our visit to pahadis.

The 10 years old girl named Sunita who has not registered in school, from dawn 4 am to sunny afternoon with the help of two metal pot fetching 40 liters water from a spring by crossing 3-4 KM valleys of the Satpura for the last two years. They have to wait minimum one hour to fill one pot in this water scary spring. This is not merely Sunita’s story rather problem of all children of this age as said by an elder of the village. This is a reflection of abject of drought. Though, Chidimal, Guriyamal and Khurdamal seem to be Gandhi’s Self-sustained Republic Models, Right to Life under the Constitution has been totally ignored here. Whether it is in the form of education or food or health. When we turn the pages of history with regard to the empowerment of tribes, Isolation Approach of Varrior Elvin, Assimilation Approach of G. S. Ghurye, and Integration Approach of Nehru in the post-Independence era open the gates for discussion.

In this context, as far as this issue is concerned, discussing Integration Approach of post-Independence makes sense. Bringing the tribes into the main stream of the society as well as safeguarding their age-old culture, language and practices are the main objectives of this approach. This approach plays a decisive role in the lives of tribes as it has a positive perspective of development. However, when we see these villages this conclusion seems to be wrong. Because, 90% of the governments programmes are unknown to them. When we enquired about Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, they had no information about such schemes. We have to introspect that how much share of these sons of soil are sharing in a multi color India such as Digital India and Make in India who are living in an extraordinary pitiful condition. In essence, here, drought is not merely nature’s curse but plague to government will power and its programmes and policies as well. 


English translation by Shiva raj:  He is JRF PhD Research scholar in School of Politics and International Relation in Pondicherry Central University and his area of research is on South Asia

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