A farming community threatened to be submerged by the Sardar Sarovar is being forcefully evicted to relocate to a rocky piece of land. How will they rebuild their lives and livelihoods?
Haji Kumawat refers to the Narmada as his mother, and would rather submerge in her waters than move from his village which faces the threat of submergence. Kumawat’s family, along with 610 others in Sondul village in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani live a life of uncertainty, facing the dual threat of submergence and forced evictions by one of India’s most controversial ‘development’ projects- the Sardar Sarovar Project.
The International Displacement Monitoring Centre has estimated the number of displaced persons (by development projects) in India over a period of 40 years to be 6.5 crores. 80% of them have not been rehabilitated, according to the estimate.
In Sondul, the government did demarcate the areas threatened by submergence and allotted new plots at a rehabilitation site to the affected families as directed by the Grievance Redressal Authority, and gave a compensation of INR 1.5 lakh each. The allotment was made almost 15 years ago but the residents continue to live in the village because mere allotment of land in the next village does not solve the problem.
The plots allotted to the families of Sondul, who are predominantly farmers, are in a rocky expanse of land. “How will we practice agriculture there? Will we come back here to tend to our farms? There are no facilities there either, no water, no schools, the village council buildings are in ruins”, says Mansaram Jamde, a resident of Sondul.
The story of Sondul is not a one-off instance of improper rehabilitation. In another village in Barwani itself, the residents were given plots of land in a marshy area where they could barely stand, let alone build houses; the families were forced to live in makeshift homes, waiting for proper rehabilitation and compensation. In another instance in Nandurbar in Maharashtra, a woman and her baby were living in a public toilet because the resettlement site was inundated with flood waters.
In February 2017, the Supreme Court ordered those who had gotten compensation but had refused to relocate to evacuate by July 31, 2017. The residents of Sondul resisted the order because they had no proper place to move to, but the threat of forced eviction looms large. In November 2017, they approached the Narmada Development Authority in Indore with an application but the Authority has not given them a response yet.
Their demands are clear. They want to be rehabilitated in a place where basic amenities are available and in a place where they can have a sustainable source of livelihood. They also demand a higher compensation amount because prices have increased manifold from the time the compensation amount was sanctioned.
Community Correspondent Pawan Solanki is a second-generation Narmada Bachao Andolan activist who has been documenting the lives of those affected by the dam since 2014. He belongs to a tribal community also affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project and actively works with the affected communities to ensure rehabilitation and compensation.
Support the community’s demand for proper rehabilitation and compensation by calling the Narmada Rehabilitation Officer of Barwani, V.S.Guha, at +91-9425460521 and urging him to meet the demand.
Video by Community Correspondent Pawan Solanki
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV editorial team