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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 32 New Delhi August 1, 2015

Thirty Years of Narmada struggle

Social Activists Express Solidarity at National Convention in New Delhi

Friday 31 July 2015

Call upon the Government of India to Review Decision on Sardar Sarovar Project and Expedite Rehabilitation as per Law and Judicial Orders

That the struggle of the people in the Narmada valley is symbolic of the struggle of millions of common people across the country and is a united fight to sustain peace, justice and democracy in these trying times, was the conclusion that emerged out of a day-long Convention on the eve of 30 years of relentless struggle by the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Sardar Sarovar Project-affected areas for their legal, human and constitutional rights.

Gathering at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on July 28, 2015, more than two hundred people, including many present and former MPs, retired judges, senior social activists, lawyers, artists, film-makers, writers, technical experts, environmentalists, academics and young persons participated and expressed solidarity with the resilient adivasis, farmers, fisher people, landless and thousands of other oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) who have been challenging the illegality of the elevation of the dam height in violation of the binding norms of the Narmada Tribunal and the judgements of the Supreme Court. Numerous supporters from the Left parties were present. The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan also participated in the Convention.

D. Raja, MP, CPI, Rajesh, MP, CPM, Swamy, MP, Rajya Sabha, former CPM MP Hannan Mollah, extending their solidarity, declared that their State and national units would give increased support to the Andolan and mobilise political support for the cause, both inside and outside Parliament. They condemned the anti-people nature of the NDA Government and called upon the Prime Minister to act within the confines of the law, instead of taking the side of big business.

Affected people from the Valley highlighted that there was not enough understanding of what would happen after displacement, with or without rehabilitation and resettlement. As Sanobar Bi from Chikhalda village said, women have been the worse affected. Alluding to Modi’s favourite Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, she said: “Of what use are toilets for people who have no homes or livelihood?!” Representatives from three States spoke of their 30 years of struggle and the gradual disintegration of their culture because of displacement, lack of good land, poor state of resettlement sites, massive corruption etc.

Veterans Kuldip Nayar, Admiral Ramdas and Retired Justice Rajindar Sachar heard the representatives from the three States of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and opined that the struggle in Narmada was emblematic of what was happening in the whole country. They conveyed their complete solidarity and assured that they shall raise the issue at every possible forum.

The Convention began with a presentation by Hannan Mollah, environmentalist Soumya Dutta, senior socialist leader Dr Sunilam and reservoir expert Dr Raj Kachroo, who shared their findings and feelings after their visit to the valley and mentioned the highlights from their Fact-Finding Report. They stated that the decision to raise the dam height had serious implications on the lives of thousands of people, while on the ground rehabilitation with land and livelihood was far from over. The recent issue of throwing 16,000 families “out of submergence” on the basis of wrong back-water calculations was decried and a review was called for as also rehabilitation of all these oustees.

Activists from Gujarat, including Rohit Prajapati, Lakhan Musafir, Sagar Rabari and Krishnakant, exposed the hoax of “development” by the SSP in Gujarat and asked: when less than 15 per cent reservoir water was utilised, less than 30 per cent canals had been built, why was there an urgency, on the basis of illegality to push the dam ahead? It was only for companies that lakhs of hecatres of land were being de-commanded and millions of litres of water were being doled out at throw away prices to bottled water companies, they pointed out. Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand reiterated that with such a development model the problem was gaining momentum in the country.

Medha Patkar reflected upon how the initial concerns of environment, destruction of the local economy and adivasi culture had all come true in the past 30 years. Admiral Ramdas, an old supporter of the NBA, stressed that the law had been far too slow and often misleading for the people. Advocate Sanjay Parikh, legal expert for the NBA, reflected on how the growing perception that struggling for environmental justice automatically mean being ‘anti-development’ had also influenced the judiciary—and that was a matter of grave concern. Rohit Prajapati echoed the sentiment of the gathering and stated that if the government had declared war against the people, the people were ready to accept the challenge.

Annie Raja, NFIW, Kavita Shrivastava, PUCL, K.B. Saxena, former Secretary, Government of India and expert on land issues, Suhas Borker, senior mediaperson and film-maker, and many others spoke in various sessions and questioned the legality of the present dam work in the light of the massive legal and human rights violations and huge backlog of R&R. Advocate Sanjay Parikh expressed concern over how the growing perception that ‘raising environmental questions was being anti-development’ was influencing the judiciary.

The Convention concluded with a strong resolution that those in Parliament as well as those in villages, cities and streets would carry forward and intensify the struggle for justice. The Andolan declared that there would be a padayatra in the whole of the valley starting from August 6 from Khalghat till August 12 concluding at Rajghat, where a satyagraha will be offered.