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Sardar Sarovar: The Pitfalls of India’s Biggest Development Project

Of the 6.5 crore people displaced by development projects in India over 50 years, less than 20% have been rehabilitated. But here's what happened even after rehabilitation in the case of Sardar Sarovar.

The Sardar Sarovar Project is expected to irrigate land, generate electricity and bring drinking water to the Western states of India. Inaugurated in September 2017, the mega-project has submerged around 250 villages in the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

While activists, economists and politicians debate the long-term benefits of the project, at least 80% of the displaced population is yet to be rehabilitated. But the post-rehabilitation story is not a finished one either.

Community Correspondent and Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement) activist Chetan Salve speaks to rehabilitated families from an agricultural community in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district. The rehabilitation process for these families began in 1993 and they were allotted land by the government in 11 resettlement sites, albeit without adequate water. For a community that practices farming as it’s economic mainstay, the dry land allotted to them is of little use.

“Our harvest depends on the rains,” says an aggrieved farmer who can only plant one crop a year. He emphasises that while the government keeps talking about allocation of land, the real problem is the condition of the allocated land. While the Narmada Development Division has built some borewells, there is only one borewell for every three farmers, which is far from enough for the dry terrain of the region. 

In another part of Nandurbar, 173 families were rehabilitated in an area so severely flooded that people were forced to live in the toilets of their homes for those were the only dry rooms. In Madhya Pradesh too, a farming community was rehabilitated in a patch of rocky land, and yet another in a marsh.

According to the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal, the government is to provide basic amenities like piped water, health and sanitation facilities, schools and so on. But in most sites, people are rebuilding their lives from scratch. "Of the 11 resettlement sites in the district, only five have proper facilities like functioning health centres and schools", says Chetan.

In Nandurbar, 95 farmers have had to invest in their own borewells to sustain their farms. The government has provided a compensation of 2.45 lakh rupees to farmers facing a similar predicament in other resettlement sites. Chetan, along with some of the aggrieved farmers, met the Executive Engineer of the Narmada Development Division with an application in December 2017 to compensate each farmer for their borewell with 2.45 lakh rupees; the Division has said that they are forwarding the application to the Secretariat in Mumbai, the state capital.

The Sardar Sarovar Project, the foundation of which was laid by the Nehru government, has been touted as India’s biggest development project, and also the most controversial. The state, over the years, has chosen to ignore the countering voices. In Madhya Pradesh, the state most highly affected, the government even invoked the National Security Act in an alleged attempt to quell the movement.

But the people’s movement against the project continues to firmly hold its ground. Chetan, through his reportage and activism over the years, has made a huge difference by holding the authorities accountable and ensuring transparency in the rehabilitation and compensation processes.

The farmers of Nandurbar, along with Chetan, once again met the district-level authorities in January 2018 but are yet to receive a concrete plan of action. Join their demand for proper rehabilitation and proper compensation for the lack of irrigation facilities by calling Sandeep Sonawane, the Executive Engineer at the Narmada Development Division in Nandurbar, at +91-2564-2229, and ask him to ensure that the farmers are compensated with immediate effect.

Video by Community Correspondent Chetan Salve

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV editorial team


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