On April 3, ahead of assembly elections due at the end of this year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan accorded Minister of State (MoS) status to five Hindu godmen from the state, perhaps expecting political gains. One such immediate gain of the BJP government was obviously the withdrawal of ‘Narmada Ghotala Yatra’ announced by Computer Baba and Yogendra Mahant, two godmen among the five new MoS. The other three MoS babas are Narmadanand Maharaj, Hariharanand Maharaj and Bhayyu Maharaj.
On July 2 last year, Chouhan’s government had taken up a drive to plant more than six crore saplings along the banks of river Narmada within a day. While the officials claimed success of the initiative, the two godmen were to lead a campaign on the “missing trees”, however, suddenly after receiving MoS status, the babas are now silent on the scam which they wanted to campaign among the people of the state. In fact, far before these godmen, the discrepancies in the plantation drive are being raised by the opposition parties, various NGOs, civil right groups and environmentalists.
Interestingly, the Madhya Pradesh government aimed to create a Guinness World Record with its one-day plantation drive. Although the representatives of Guinness World Records were present at different spots during the drive, they did not award any record and instead have recently asked the state government to produce videos of each of the 1.2 lakh plantation sites as proof that 6 crore saplings were planted on a single day.
While about Rs 102 Crores was allotted for the plantation of fruit and non-fruit trees on the banks of Narmada river by the state government during 2017-18, no official assessment of the plantation drive has been conducted so far. Activist Vinayak Parihar alleged that an audit of the plantation has proved that not even one crore saplings have survived because the plantation was carried out in a hurried manner. That is only about 16.66 percent success in plantation.
The deforestation affected Narmada
In May last year, a team of environmentalists found shocking facts about how the ancient river Narmada was being destroyed. The experts travelled along the Narmada River from its origin at Amarkantak in Anuppur district in Madhya Pradesh down to Barwani district abutting Gujarat in the west. It was found that due to the deforestation in the surroundings of Satpura and Vindhya ranges, 60 out of 101 tributaries which used to feed Narmada have dried up.
Sardar Sarovar Project Impact
In September last year, the Sardar Sarovar Dam build on Narmada River was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The mega project had been the subject of controversy since 1961, the year its foundation stone was laid. Activists claim that the rehabilitation of 80 percent of project-affected families is still incomplete. The Medha Patkar-led Narmada Bachao Andolan, which has been at the forefront raising demands for the project affected people, claims that nearly 40,000 families are still to be rehabilitated in 192 villages and one township in Madhya Pradesh alone.
Elaborating on the environmental impact of the project, Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, claimed that the 150-km stretch of the Narmada downstream from the dam is dry most of the year.
While these are some of the reasons for the Madhya Pradesh government for taking up such a huge afforestation move which is turning out to be farcical.