Mass Protests at Narmada valley commemorate a Historic Struggle

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: August 1, 2019

Protesters highlighted demands for resettlement and urged a re-think on the Par Tapi Narmada Link Project

Narmada bachao Andolan

On July 31, thousands of people- farmers, labourers, women, gathered together at Badwani, near the river Narmada to strengthen their resolve to carry on their struggle and prevent the destruction of their natural resources. The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) held a large gathering at Badwani (Madhya Pradesh) to mark the failure of the state to adequately rehabilitate 30,000 families even 34 yearsafter the construction of Narmada dam began. Worse, thousands of houses, shops, temples and mosques in the Narmada valley still face the danger of being submerged.

In what has become an annual event, several social organizations, researchers, artists, journalists, representatives of the displaced people and activists participated in the gathering on July 31 to “resolve to continue fighting for people’s rights”. Through a statement, issued on the occasion, the NBA said, “Villages cannot be vacated by force. Without rehabilitation, forcible displacement would be against law as also against various decisions of courts and constitutional values.” 

Submerging 192 villages and one township before the fair and just rehabilitation would be “unjust”, the NBA said, adding that the state of Madhya Pradesh was lawfully bound to provide forest dwellers with land entitlements in accordance with the Forest Rights Act, 2006 while farmers’ land could only be acquired by applying the land acquisition Act, 2013.

The gathering of a few thousand was led by women. This protest assembly resolved that though there are as many as 32000 families in the area that face submergence due to the 139 metre level water in Sardar Sarovar, they would struggle and protest to ensure that neither nature nor their culture would be destroyed. Not only is the state of Madhya Pradesh shirking from its legal commitments, but neighbouring Gujarat is not even supplying electricity to the area.

The statement also noted, “Those displaced because of Bargi, Maheshwar, Jobat dams, have still not been rehabilitated and their livelihoods not been restored.” Other activists highlighted that false promises of the government have been exposed.

Gujarat’s former environment minister Praveen Singh Jadeja apologised to the people on behalf of the state of Gujarat and said that those of us [in the government], who have been asking for water in the name of Gujarat’s Kachchh and Saurahstra and supported Sardar Sarovar dam have been proved wrong. Issues and concerns raised by the Narmada Bachao Andolan have proved to be true. He added, “Gujarat and Central governments are neither in the favour of those displaced nor the farmers.”

The impact of the widespread struggle had compelled even an an institution like the World Bank had to bow down to the people. World Bank has reportedly said that if it gives its money to any company, then it will have to go by the law prevailing in the country. After the victory of the Narmada struggle in 1993, this was another big achievement of the struggle.

Participants also highlighted the fact that even a country like America had to break down more than 1000 dams and open up rivers when faced with mass protests. The struggle at the site of the Narmada river has drawn support from likeminded struggles in Brazil. It has been decades of a hard won respect that has been accompanied by making a dent in the discourse around big dams.