Hundreds of people affected by the rising water level of Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh came out on the National Highway-3 in Dhar district in protest demanding proper rehabilitation on August 13.
The current protests were sparked off after five people of Rajghat village in Madhya Pradesh were electrocuted while trying to bring food to their families amid the flood. Two of the five died on spot while others are under treatment.
Chiman Darbar, 40, and Santosh Mankar, 35, both residents of Rajghat village, were trying to reach their families with food supplies and other essentials from Barwani village when their boat rammed into a power cable due to influx of water killing the two on spot. Their village has turned into an island inundated by the back waters of Sardar Sarovar,
Medha Patkar of Narmada Bacahao Andolan, who spearheaded the protest stated that about 32,000 families have been affected by the Sardar Sarovar project in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, who have not been rehabilitated in accordance with court’s order and directions.
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Apart from 33 villages in Maharashtra and 19 villages in Gujarat which are severely affected, 192 villages in Madhya Pradesh are in the process of submerging as the water level continues to rise in the back waters of Narmada and the government of Gujarat refuses to open the gates of Sardar Sarovar dam in Kevadiya in Narmada district of Gujarat.
“There are families amid those protesting who are yet to receive rehabilitation package since they were first displaced more than 30 years ago. This is a perennial issue, whenever it rains heavily, water level rises in Narmada that falls in the back water of Sardar Sarovar,” Mahendra, an activist associated with Narmada Bachao Andolan told NewsClick.
“In the past two years, when it had not rained much, the Madhya Pradesh government had a chance to plan the permanent rehabilitation of the villages. Instead, 88 houses were built for 192 villages in 30 relief and rehabilitation sites and out which 33 houses were only built of tin. People refused to settle in the tin houses. Besides, the relief colonies lack basic amenities like toilets, schools or health centres,” added Mahendra.
The activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan along with locals were sitting on indefinite protest in Rajghat village of Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh since August 7, opposing the gradual submergence of the 192 villages of Madhya Pradesh that fall in the catchment area of Sardar Sarovar.
As per the officials of the Narmada Valley Development Authority, the river had already crossed the danger mark of 123.28 m and was flowing at 127.40 metres in Rajghat village.
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Subsequently, Gujarat government decided to open 26 out of sluice 30 gates of Sardar Sarovar dam on August 9, after over two years of its installation in 2017. With the heavy inflows in the dam, the 1200 MW (Mega Watt) river bed power house was also started after a gap of two years.
However, with the release of water in the dam along with heavy rains that continued to lash parts of Gujarat, three districts in the downstream of Narmada – Vadodara, Bharuch and Narmada were put on high alert.
As the water reached the 131.5 m mark in the Sardar Sarovar dam, higher than the permissible 130.1 m mark, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited authorities opened the flood gates to maintain the water level in the dam and water began approaching the villages of Madhya Pradesh.
However, the protestors refused to leave the spot when Amit Tomar, the collector of the district reached Rajghat village in Barwani district. The protest ended at 3 AM on August 9 after the Collector agreed to accept various demands of the protestors including proper rehabilitation, joint survey of the flood affected areas, to include representatives of Narmada Bachao Andolan in government rehabilitation committees and a meeting with Narmada Valley Development Authority soon.
However, the activists of Narmada Bachao Andolan, an organisation that has been fighting against the Sardar Sarovar project for about 30 years, asserted in a statement that the organisation won’t stop protesting until people affected by the project get justice.
The statement further said that the heavy rains in the last few days has also exposed the ill preparedness for disaster management in the region.