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Mainstream, VOL LV No 40 New Delhi September 23, 2017

Injuring Mother Narmada

Saturday 23 September 2017, by Devaki Jain


The rhetoric says that the dream of dear Mother Narmada, of flowing from Madhya Pradesh into Gujarat and irrigating lakhs of hectares, has now been fulfilled with the raising of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to 136 metres and its opening. What a reflection of the distortion of history and the deprivation of the legitimate worshippers of Mother Narmada!

On either side of the great river Narmada, which flows downwards, are hills or, in other words, Narmada flows in a valley and on both sides there are sloping lands. The black soil, the richest of its kind in the whole of Asia, offered home to orchards full of fruits, fields full of grain and of course life-style for the residents where they could not only earn a living but also feed themselves with vegetables, fruits, grain and milk. The river flowed causing no harm to anyone. If there was need to make some canals, to capture some of that water, that was done and could be further done. Thus objections to raising the dam height was not to object to Mother Narmada’s generous spirit but not to injure, destroy her fertile banks and displace those who were protecting her by looking after the banks—and perhaps avoid landslides which would distort her flow and the species she nurtures.

So much knowledge was garnered on dams and rivers, in committees in the Planning Commission, in reviews at the international level on large dams. So much commitment was visible, tangible and the valley-dwellers revealed in their various satyagrahas and conferences.

All for naught—such a brutal neglect of people’s knowledge and voice.

As the determination of the dam-builders grew, compassion turned its eyes to the dwellers on the bank who would be driven out of home and livelihood. Promises were made but not kept. I cannot imagine that Mother Narmada would be at peace that while she was feeding water to the drought-prone areas of Gujarat she was denying her kin—those who had lived on her banks for decades if not centuries—life itself as they tried to make a living in the dirty little towns nearby as labourers and rickshawpullers, their wives as domestic help or “escorts”. Great Benevolent Divine Mother, I weep for you.         

An internationally respected Gandhian economist, Dr Devaki Jain was a member of the erstwhile South Commission headed by Dr Julius Nyerere (1987-90); along with 26 other hand-picked economists she helped develop an action agenda for South-South economic cooperation.

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