Tribal resistance in Madhya Pradesh is intensifying over the lack of compensation and rehabilitation to those displaced by the construction of Kharak Dam over four years ago.
After four years of protests and legal battles, over 300 families of adivasi farmers and labourers have now resorted to a Jail Bharo Andolan. The families had been protesting against MP government since December 16 at the District Collector’s office in Khargone. Speaking to NewsClick, Nitin, an activist associated with Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), said, “The adivasis walked for over 30 kilometres and marched to the Distict Collector’s office to protest. The families have presented their rehabilitation claims time and again, but it did not yield any benefits. The entire compensation process is stalled and people are now in jail.”
He added, “The adivasis are questioning that without their lands, without their homes, where would they go? So, they will be in jail instead.”
The protesting families have been in the Khargone jail from December 18 and have been singing songs of resistance, and protesting from inside the jails through a hunger strike.
Also read: Four Years On, Tribals in MP Still Await Compensation for Kharak Dam Construction
While fresh arrests are still being made, 21 people were released yesterday, but they were reportedly beaten up in custody. Moreover, the MLAs of Bhagwanpura, Khargone and Burhanpur have so far not sent any representatives to communicate with either those in jail or those protesting. The activists on the ground are demanding that the issue of the arrests be raised in the ongoing session of the state Assembly.
On December 18, the displaced families of Khargone had courted arrest while raising the slogans, ‘Haq Nahi toh Jail Sahi’. Following which they were taken to Khargone Jail. In their support, adivasis of Burhanpur have now launched a Jail Bharo Andolan against the Madhya Pradesh government, asking the authorities to either act upon the demands of those who were displaced from Kharak Dam, otherwise all protesters in Burhanpur are ready to be arrested.
The Supreme Court in 2017 passed orders which directed the MP government to constitute three Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs), who would be deciding on the rehabilitation award entitled to each family. However, the GRAs have not been allowed to function properly by the MP government since the past four years, and people have not received their rightful rehabilitation awards even after the GRAs have passed them. In some cases, MP government has sought to illegally constitute their own GRAs in violation of Supreme Court orders and disrupted the process of rehabilitation for displaced families.
Speaking to NewsClick, Madhuri Krishnaswami, also known as Madhuri Ben of JADS, said, “Their fields were flooded, houses wrecked and families displaced due to the construction of the dam and now the authorities are refusing to even compensate the tribals. This protest is our last resort.” The government has repeatedly said that it does not have enough funds to compensate the tribals. Reacting to this, she added, “If the government wants they can easily provide compensation to all the affected families, the government has crores of money to spend on the tea parties of the leaders in the government… but not for the people. Who is the government for?”
Notably, the approximate cost of compensation to be given out the tribals is Rs 20 crore, the same amount of money the Madhya Pradesh government spends on providing tea and refreshments to its cabinet.
Also read: ‘Nebulous Future of Adivasis and Fight for Their Rights’
According to a previous press release by the NBA, the construction of the Kharak dam was started forcefully. The press release stated, “Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Jitendra Singh Chouhan, along with 150 police personnel, arrived at village Choukhande with an earth-work machine and tried to start work on the dam forcibly. When villagers tried to speak to the SDM, he ordered a lathi-charge.” The NBA had also warned of illegal accusation of land as the dam had not received any clearance under the Forest Conservation Act and environment clearance under provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act. Despite this, the state government started land acquisition for the dam in 2011. Additionally, NBA had also expressed fears that the structure will submerge seven villages in Badwani and Khargone districts.