The history of the Sardar Sarovar Dam is marked by vast corruption scandals, rampant human rights violations and deplorable environmental devastation. The role of the state and its institutions in the Narmada Valley is the best example in the country to prove that our law is utilitarian in its approach and paternalistic in its outlook. One cannot expect perfect justice, in an imperfect world. There is no doubt that in national interest, people can be required to resettle, but the question is deeper than what is visible to the naked eye. It becomes inevitable to question the dominant narrative that defines the discourse of development today.
In the houses on the bank of the subtly swaying Narmada, the families of farmers huddle together as they wait for forces of development to make their way to these quiet, understated shores. Instead, the water flows in the utterly opposite direction. The floodgates- both literal and metaphorical- opened, and their lives were and are being submerged in the dark waters of despair. Promises of rehabilitation prove to be in vain, as everything they know- from their cattle, and their homes, to sometimes even their families- are swept away with the overpowering currents of the Narmada, no longer as gentle a force as it had been before being blatantly tampered with.
As of January 2017, the dam height is 138.68m. Nevertheless, most of the promised benefits are not provided. As the construction of canals lags, much of the planned irrigation benefits are not realised. It is reported that multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford Motors and Tata Motors, located in Gujarat, have reaped much of benefits from the dam at the cost of drinking water provision (The Indian Express 2014).
The failures that reach back to the origin of the Sardar Sarovar Projects, cannot be overcome by a patchwork of reports and commissions and the draconian nature of those benefiting from it is at display again, since Supreme Court’s order, dated 8th February 2017. The 13th point in the order reads:
“All the occupants including all the 'project affected families' shall vacate the submergence area under reference, on or before 31.07.2017, and in case there are individuals in the submergence area, after the aforesaid deposit has been made into the account of the Grievance Redressal Authority, after 31.07.2017, it shall be open to the State Government to remove all such individuals forcibly.”
Crisis looms large over the life and livelihood of not less than 20000 families and anywhere up to 40000 who are to be affected by submergence, if the gates of Sardar Sarovar Dam are closed and the water is impounded up to 139mts that will submerge thousands of houses, farms and all the structures and services, social centres and cultural monuments along with a few million trees. The Supreme Court’s order comes with an assumption that the work at rehabilitation sites is complete, which is a complete falsity. Approximately 176 villages face the threat of submergence, yet again only cries will echo in the valley, if this is allowed.
Travelling back in the past, people’s struggle which has now been going on for the last 32 years managed to get land based rehabilitation for almost 14500(unfortunately not all) families, a victory unprecedented in its numbers. The strength of a people’s movement was elucidated by the people in the valley.
And today, it is beyond comprehension, that the rule of law which is meant to protect us from arbitrariness and avoid turning our lives solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short (the explanation Hobbes uses to validate the establishment of states), is today doing the unleashing the exact same nastiness unto the lives of the inhabitants of the Narmada Valley. How can the apex court issue an order to use force against peaceful and harmless villagers? Further the authorities carrying out the implementation of these laws are doing their part in creating a havoc. From the very beginning, even after conditional clearance, the project authorities pushed the dam ahead with suspicious haste, denying right to information and participation to the oustees and to the general public. The state and central, both the governments sought to hasten the process by submitting totally false data regarding the rehabilitation of the oustees and compliance with the environmental conditions. Though the majority judgement of the Supreme Court glossed over MoEF’s clearance, the minority judgement of Justice Bharucha pointed out the basic lacuna in the clearances. And even today, they are reading into the order with their own interpretations. The prerequisite to complete the Rehabilitation and Resettlement process and making all facilities available at these sites has been conveniently brushed aside. No drinking water facilities, drainage, roads, houses, civic amenities, schools, dispensaries and so on are put in place, but the government is all set to “remove all such individuals forcibly”.
Thus the general Sardar Sarovar history of compliance is a history of omissions, unmet deadlines, errors, extensions and ex post facto revisions. “Temples of modern India”, indeed is an extraordinary piece of rhetoric. But it’s quite astounding as to notice how many of us have managed to look beneath these vibrant arrays of enchanting words. Why should one? After all it came from Chacha Nehru. Another word that has marvellously charmed us Indians has its origins in our colonizers. Yes “development”. Let’s all be cosy in our niches sipping our teas, cheering for our favourite IPL teams and scrolling down facebook feeds. The nation is developing, people are all happy, acha din aarahe hain! It is out of utmost contempt I retort that we have failed in our agency to react and to even respond.
There is a struggle that has been going on for over thirty years. By people who have been threatened of their life and livelihood in the name of “development”. Besides life and livelihood the proposed developmental project is to adversely threaten the ecological balance of the region. But wait a minute, what does ecological balance or imbalance has to do with us when our leaders themselves disprove of climate change and global warming. It is okay if a few people die here and there for the nation. So what if 250 villages are going to be submerged as long as it leads to “development”.
Our mainstream media has successfully managed to invisiblise the plight of the Narmada Valley and its people. The Supreme Court has openly proclaimed that no dams have ever caused environmental destruction and records on environmental data are all forged, throws light at the inefficiency and ignorance of the people in power. When state machineries have failed and bureaucrats waiting to snatch a portion of their compensation who are these people looking up to. Let’s all remain ignorant. Let’s all remain dormant. Let’s stand for these temples which feed into the pockets of the rich and privileged. Let the hold on to our beliefs- they aren’t going to come for us, the state is going to protect us, development is all good, and my interests are secure. Let us close our eyes, let’s close our ears, and let’s close our mouths. Let’s be good citizens.
Like every other schemes, Sardar Sarovar and other mega projects in the Narmada valley have been conceived without the knowledge and consent of the affected people, and this has shown its repercussions all the way since the commencement of the project.But in the current situation, the time has come to show solidarity and support to the people in the valley again to take the movement beyond the previous victories it has to its credit. We cannot allow the state to take away the Right to life of the people. Let’s not be “good citizens”.