People have drowned, starved, and died, but nobody is talking about rehabilitation plans. Why?
Sardar Sarovar Dam was fully filled before schedule for Prime Minister’s 69th birthday, resulting in hundreds of villages and hectors of land under water. Thousand of families, faced displacement, and loss of livelihood.
Chetan Salve is a seasoned activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. He has seen first hand the chronic illiteracy, unemployment and dearth of infrastructure which make his state one of the most critical in India.
Further compounding these issues is the ever-impending Sardar Sarovar Project on the river Narmada, which, due to submergence, threatens the very survival of over 41,000 families in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. It was this threat which drove Chetan to give up his full-time job with Usama Dyeing Mills in Gujarat to realise his true calling, activism.
Consistent with the Project Coordinator role he held for the National Rural Health Mission (2007-2012), Chetan has produced a series of videos on health infrastructure. These videos reveal the government’s disregard for the health of India’s most vulnerable on issues ranging from sanitary drainage, access to Pediatricians and other health personnel, and clean drinking water. One of his most recent videos, for example, revealed government incompetence and corruption in the allocation of 18,400 INR meant for the installation of toilets in community centres and private homes. As articulated by Chetan, 1500 people remain affected by this lack of allocation of funds and likewise the lack of toilets.
Chetan’s work has also inspired change with respect to the ineptitude of administrators of the MNREGA’s (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) employment scheme. While MNREGA guarantees employment to any adult who applies for work in rural areas, or, in the situation where there is no work, an unemployment allowance to job-seekers. His untiring follow-up of the story resulted in salaries, whose total worth was 8.5 lakhs, reaching rightful labourers.
The work for which Chetan is most recently known for, however, is that surrounding theSardarSarovar Project, which was launched in his home region on the river Narmada. While the Government asserts that the project will ultimately affect 2 lakh, people, researchers claim that this is a very conservative estimate. The projects “Master Plan,” including government compensation of land for land(referred to as “rehabilitation”, was meant to be completed by 1981, but three decades have passed and still thousands of people affected by the project have not been rehabilitated. Along with the social movement Narmada BachaoAndolan (NBA), Chetan has launched a campaign against the government and in so doing has managed to rehabilitate 4000 families displaced by development activities. In one such action he organised a protest and land claim and videoed it in his capacity as a Video Volunteer:
“ I was persistent about my claims with the government. I organised a collective protest. And on March 21st I gave a warning letter to the government stating that if the government doesn’t give land … we will acquire land ourselves. The government didn’t pay heed to our warnings, therefore we took over the land ourselves. And now my community has been allotted one-hectare land.”
This reconnection of farmers to their means of income, namely arable land, has been essential not only to their ability to provide for their families, but also to their self-confidence, sense of identity, and the re-establishment of their communities.
Considering this devotion to the rights of the voiceless, it is no wonder that Chetan has earned the respect of others in his taluka, or region. With his video camera as a tool of exposure and impact, we look forward to the future that Chetan is shaping in his community one video at a time.
“This is Chetan, and this is my community.”