Over a thousand adivasi residents from across South Chattisgarh have been camping in Basrur region from February 6 demanding the stalling of the Bodhghat Dam project.
Adivasi residents from 56 villages, spanning over five key districts of Dantewada, Naryanpur, Bijpaur and Bastar, are likely to be impacted if the project which is slated to generate 300 MW tons of electricity takes off. The dam is to be constructed over the 243 km long Indravati river, to irrigate 3,66,580 hectares (ha) of farmland across Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Sukma districts.
The villagers will be losing over 5,000 hectares of forest land as well as approximately the same amount of private land.
Meanwhile, the Congress-led state government under Bhupesh Baghel has stated that “no matter how much resistance, the project will go on.”
The Rs 22,000 crore project was initially a pet project of the Indira Gandhi government in the 1980s, but was stalled after facing opposition from the local people even then.
Under the Baghel government, a nod to the project was given early last year, following which survey work is likely to commence soon. The ongoing agitation by tribals who are camping in Basrur village of Dantewada district began after the project received the go-ahead from the Baghel government last year. The protesting tribals have been camping out with food stocks and rations in protest stating that they “will die but not part with the land of their ancestors.”
For many, the struggle to stake claim to their land has spanned across generations. Along with the loss of precious cultivable land, with resourceful trees like Sal and Sheesham, the project also rests on the premise of illegality.
Speaking with NewsClick, veteran activist Arvindra Netam who had visited the site, said, “This has been a long standing project, first proposed at the time of Indira Gandhi government. Back then it was proposed to be a hydel-power project, now the government is claiming that this will be an irrigation project. The government had announced the project through newspaper advertisements and no consultations were initiated with the people on the ground in complete violation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, which extends protection to tribal areas and states that any project would require a gram sabha clearance.”
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He added, “There are multiple reasons for opposing this project, the main being the lack of adequate surveying in the region. Our ancestors are buried here, how will people leave the land?”
The area which is likely to be affected houses the vulnerable Gonds, Maria, Moria and Halba and Dorla tribes who are now fearing major loss of livelihood and adverse environmental implications.
Sukhman Kashyap, a member of the committee protesting against the project, said, “Tribals have vowed to not let the project take off. The land which will be given to us for cultivation will not have any borewells and tribals will be pushed into poverty.”
While the government has stated that the 300-MW generated from the project would be solely utilised for lifted irrigation, activists doubt any benefits for the tribal population. Speaking to NewsClick, tribal leader Dikri Chauhan, said, “The government is arbitrarily forcing people to give up their land. We have seen no development for people, or their livelihood. Not only that, there is no acknowledgement of the importance of traditional, sacred land of the tribals.
Researchers have claimed that the Bodhghat Dam is particularly regarded as environmentally damaging because its functional effectiveness is directly linked to the projects proposed downstream.
The project would, therefore, “lead to the inundation of a large area of forest, a resource fundamental to tribal people and whose dependency on the resources from forest is almost total and complete”, according to a report on the project. The report added that, “The non availability of cultivable land and the wood lots for meeting the resource needs of people for fuel wood, timber, food and fodder would have adverse effects on people driven from the project area.”
The entire project area, which provides an ideal setting for designation as a ‘Biosphere Reserve’ owing to its biological richness and its pristine nature, would become open to ecological destruction, it added.