In Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district, social activist Medha Patkar and 24 women from the villages affected by the increasing water levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam have been sitting on an indefinite hunger strike for nine days now. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) had called for an indefinite satyagraha, demanding rehabilitation and protection of lives and livelihoods of over 32,000 affected families. The water level of dam has increased to over 134 metres, that has led to widespread flooding in over 192 villages in the Narmada valley.
Medha Patkar’s health started deteriorating as the agitation in the Chhota Barda village of the district entered its second week. However, she has refused to call off the hunger strike unless the demands raised by NBA and the affected villagers are met by the government.
More than 2 lakh villagers are threatened with submergence as the Narendra Modi government is slated to close the Sardar Sarovar dam gates within a few weeks. The locals are facing an unprecedented crisis. This is happening despite the fact that 32,000 families are yet to be rehabilitated as per the orders of the Supreme Court. The protesters sitting on the indefinite hunger strike have been demanding that the dam gates not be closed before the families have been rehabilitated as per the orders from the court of law. They have also demanded that the water level in the dam be maintained at 122 metres, and that there is no forcible submergence of villages in the area, and the people who have already been affected by the water level be duly compensated.
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The protesters had previously appealed to the government to conduct surveys in the area, so that the effects of the closing of the dam gates on the villagers could be gauged beforehand. But the government failed to pay any heed to it, even after repeated appeals from the people. The protesters said that the issues would not have cropped up if the government had listened to them in the first place. “Now, the fear of hectares of agricultural land being submerged in water is looming large, and thousands of homes will have to be abandoned,” one of the protesters said.
NBA wrote an open letter on August 30 to Kamal Nath, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, urging him to take immediate action in the matter to ensure the safety of the villagers, and save their lives and livelihoods. The letter read, “Even as your government has protested against the decision of filling the reservoir to its limit of 139 meters, but the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) affiliated with the Gujarat and Central government have continued to fill the reservoir without paying any heed to the concerns of rehabilitation of the displaced, environmental damage, and in the absence of any fact-finding reports or affidavits.”
The letter also pointed out that until now, three poor farmers from Nimar and other tribal regions have died while battling with the rising water levels. NBA said that according to a letter sent by the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh to the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) on May 27, 2019, a total of 6,000 families from 76 villages are residing in the submergence area. However, according to NBA, the number of families being affected is as high as 32,000. They have also said that 8,500 applications, out of which 2,952 are for farmlands and the remaining are for the eligibility of compensation Rs 60 lakh, are still pending with the government. The letter stated that according to the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal and the orders of the Supreme Court, ensuring complete rehabilitation of the people in the submergence area is the legal responsibility of the state.
Also read: Flood-hit Tribals from Narmada Valley Gather at Delhi to Demand Rehabilitation
Communist Party of India (CPI) wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to protect the lives of activist Medha Patkar and the villagers who have been agitating for more than a week now. "I seek your urgent intervention to save the life of Medha Patkar and hundreds of villagers in Barwani District," Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Binoy Viswam said in the letter. In light of Patkar’s worsening health, Viswam added, "Her life is precious for every Indian who stands for environmental protection and real sustainable development. I request you to understand the seriousness of the situation and advise the government of Gujarat to desist from this disastrous move.”