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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
    CURRENT ISSUE MAY 15, 2006
 
   CONTROVERSY: SARDAR SAROVAR PROJECT
 
Reaping Rewards From Rehab

The Narmada Bachao Andolan's push for rehabilitation has the Government scrambling to clean up its act even as the oustees rake in the benefits
 
  PICTURE SPEAK
GAINING GROUND: Thanks to rehab, Girdharilal Mukati can afford an opulent house
The battle for the Narmada and her waters is being fought on many fronts. On the streets of Delhi, Bollywood stars drop in at the Narmada Bachao Andolan's (NBA) protest rallies. In the parched states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, and power-starved Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, there is an understanding that a fair price will have to be paid for a share of the Narmada waters and electricity from the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP).

On the ground, there is a third, largely unreported, conflict: that of an anxious Madhya Pradesh Government trying to speed up relief and rehabilitation to ensure that the NBA's charges-of compensation for oustees being either absent or inadequate-don't stick. Nothing captures the essence of this high-stakes skirmish between the NBA and the mp Government better than the Nisarpur rehabilitation site in Dhar district. It will house around 3,500 Nisarpur families together with residents of five other villages who have been displaced by the SSP. This is one of the biggest rehabilitation sites in the valley and was also ground zero of the NBA's protest when a three-member team led by Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz came calling.

  PICTURE SPEAK
FEW TAKERS: The Nisarpur rehab site (above, below) lies largely deserted
The original Nisarpur village is not your regular remote hamlet inhabited by bumpkins. It boasts of Paramount Academy, an institution with pretensions to being an English-medium public school, complete with a shiny school bus painted in the regulation yellow. The rehab site is equipped with a power sub-station, open stretches of land, a 30-bed hospital, a panchayat building, a post office, a higher secondary school, an overhead water supply tank and a sewage system. The plots earmarked for rehabilitation are fairly spacious (90 feet by 60 feet) and have all the basic facilities, including sanitation, water and electricity-a much better proposition than the present pigeonhole existence of the villagers in crammed dwellings, standing cheek-by-jowl. Yet, there have only been a dozen-odd houses on the site since 2002. Even those who have built their homes on the site prefer to remain in Nisarpur village. There's a reason. Going by Government records, Nisarpur should have been permanently submerged once the dam crossed a height of 95m. It today stands at 110m, but the bed of the Uri Bagri river, a tributary of the Narmada and the lowest point in Nisarpur village, is bone dry, the waters nowhere in sight. "People who have taken compensation for their homes are waiting for the reservoir level to reach their doorstep before they move. If they don't, we'll have to evict them forcibly," said Barwani District Collector Arun Tiwari.

   NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN

Politics Of Protest

  PICTURE SPEAK
PRO-DAM: Gujarat CM Narendra Modi (right)
Last month, when Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar went on a fast-unto-death in Delhi and simultaneously slipped a petition before the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) on grounds of poor rehabilitation of the oustees, her actions seemed to trigger more questions about herself and the NGO than about the fate of those facing displacement by the dam.

Doubts were raised as to whether the NBA was using the dam oustees as mere tools in its overall strategy to block the project. Also under a cloud was the NBA's style of functioning: is it a genuine democratic movement or a violent pressure group at the ground level masquerading as a Gandhian entity? The doubts perhaps stem from the NBA's record so far. "In some cases, NBA activists have destroyed even schools and clinics at rehabilitation sites in a bid to prevent resettlement of oustees. The NBA is an anti-development NGO which is ruthlessly using oustees as weapons. The sooner the courts and the people at large recognise this, the better it will be for the nation's health," alleges V.K. Saxena, president of the pro-dam NGO, the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL), which has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the NBA.

Consider this. Several sites are lying vacant in the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh reportedly because NBA activists have not allowed oustees to settle there, often by resorting to violent means against pro-dam oustees and Government officials involved in rehabilitation efforts. In the past fortnight, two cases of violence were registered against NBA workers by Government officials. Besides, NBA activists have been indicted in over 200 firs in the Narmada valley in less than a decade. Questions have also being raised over whether the NBA is pro-rehabilitation or anti-dam.

In the mid-1980s, amid the NBA agitation to secure a good deal for the Narmada oustees, the Gujarat Government had announced a substantial resettlement package for oustees in Madhya Pradesh and also invited them to come and settle in Gujarat. Following which, the NGO adopted a no-dam stand. Almost a decade later, in the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court stayed construction on the project, on an NBA petition, for five years. This, at conservative estimates, resulted in a loss of Rs 6,000 crore to the public exchequer. Initially, the NBA received a major boost when the Digvijay Singh Government refused to cooperate with Gujarat in resettling the oustees in Madhya Pradesh. Subsequently, however, Digvijay relented.

When the Narmada waters were released for the first time in 2002 into seven rivers, including the Sabarmati, Gujarat donned a festive look. Besides providing water in parched regions, the move revived areas like Dholka in central Gujarat, considered the state's rice bowl till it was hit by a severe water crisis. That scenario is not likely to be replicated soon given the NBA's stiff resistance to the SSP.

-Uday Mahurkar

Having acquired the houses under the Land Acquisition Act, the Government has compensated the oustees. But a large number of the villagers in NBA strongholds like Barda, Jangarwa, Piplud, Bagood, Pichhori, Avalda, Dhanora and Pipari have refused to move. While it would be difficult to determine how many among them are die-hard supporters of the NBA campaign, it is said that some villagers have already spent the amount paid to them for relocating. A sub-engineer of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA), responsible for all the rehabilitation work in Madhya Pradesh, admits it may have made a mistake in handing out compensation upfront. "The NVDA should have paid in instalments to ensure people actually moved to get the cash," he reasons.

  PICTURE SPEAK
BETTER OFF: Sukhlal and Sameer's wives are happy with the compensation
Ever since the NVDA announced a generous special rehabilitation package (SRP), the extent of financial gain convinced villagers to move. For instance, a 1.874-acre plot of land belonging to Hare Singh, a farmer in Bhilkhera, was headed for permanent submergence. The SRP states that if more than 25 per cent of a farmer's land is permanently submerged, land-for-land compensation is mandatory. What's more, every adult son of the land-holder is also entitled to at least 2 hectares of land. Hare Singh and his three sons, Devram, Gopal and Dinesh, got 2 hectares each, and now have over four times the original land holding of the entire family.

Not surprisingly, sentiments against the dam may now have made way for the nitty-gritty of rehabilitation. On the other hand, however, it is in the interest of a large number of landed villagers, in the areas of the valley facing submergence, to remain entrenched. The Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal Award allows them to continue cultivation so long as their fields don't go under water. Farmers like Majeed and his six sons received 2 hectares each in the rehab site in Gujarat. Yet, they continue tilling their original land in Madhya Pradesh's Kasrawad village, hence raking in bountiful crops from their holdings in both the states.

While the NBA's top leadership continues to swear by Gandhian ideals of non-violence, some of its rough and ready storm-troopers at the ground level have been accused of unleashing violence against NVDA officials working on rehabilitation sites. And NBA banners threatening officials with dire consequences if they continue with their efforts bear testimony to this. At the Dharampuri rehab site, where residents of the original Dharampuri township in Dhar district are to be resettled, a mob attacked the contractors on January 7, damaging equipment, mini-trucks and hot mixer machines. The confrontation was reportedly triggered after the local land acquisition officer, having doled out compensation, issued villagers notices to relocate to the new site by March 31. The NVDA lodged an fir with Dharampuri police against unidentified persons. In Awalda last week, supporters of the NBA tried to disrupt construction at another rehabilitation site. "The rehabilitation issue is just their ruse to get the project delayed," alleges NVDA Executive Engineer S.K. Vaghela.

Desperation on the part of the NBA in its current tirade against raising the dam height to 121.92m is also not being ruled out by political observers at this critical juncture: the largest number of families-almost 24,000 (although the NBA claims it is higher at 35,000)-to be affected by the dam are in the 110m to 121.92m phase. "After that, the number of affected families will be negligible and only uninhabited land would get submerged," says Tiwari. Clearly, if it can't breach fortress SSP now, the NBA will find its war on big dams losing steam once that height is achieved. Yet, rehabilitation of such a large number of people isn't easy, especially given the deep-rooted mistrust of Government agencies. NBA activists level charges of corruption against NVDA, something borne out even in Comptroller and Auditor General of India reports. "They don't do fair deals," complains Bhagirath Narayan Dhanghar, a staunch NBA supporter of Chikalda village. Last year, the NVDA suspended 38 officials and employees for irregularities in rehab work.

The process is also bogged down by bureaucratic bottlenecks. Ramesh Harijan, a 35-year-old Dalit of Chikalda, opted for an SRP of Rs 5.69 lakh to buy land. The NVDA handed him half the amount upfront and he used it to pay an advance (bayana). When Harijan returned to collect the remaining amount at the time of registering of the land, the co-operative bank's officials claimed they had already paid the amount to his seller, who later refused to hand over the land to him. Likewise, Girdharilal Mukati, an affluent farmer of the agrarian Kumawat community, discovered he and his six brothers would have to pay registration charges all over again for residential land because they had not included their mother's name while drawing up the papers earlier. Following an amendment to the law in 2002, the living mother's name is mandatory as a joint holder in joint property cases-a criterion that hadn't been revealed to them at the time of registering of the land. "We could lose Rs 5 lakh or Rs 6 lakh," Mukati says.

Even so, compared to the rest, Mukati's doing rather well. From just one big house, each of the seven brothers and their children today have huge plots of 90 feet by 60 feet. At the rehab site for Eklera village, seven plush villas owned by the family stand in a row. Roughly 30 km away at the Bhilkheda rehab site, Bhil tribal brothers Sukhlal and Sameer have constructed pucca houses with their compensation money. Previously landless labourers, now earning a livelihood in the fertile farms of Narmada valley is easier for the duo. "We're satisfied," says Sameer. Together, Mukati and Sameer present a picture the NBA doesn't want to talk about and, for some strange reason, the Madhya Pradesh Government won't.

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INDIA TODAY - The most widely read newsweekly in South Asia.
CURRENT ISSUE
MAY 15, 2006
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

Casting For Votes

OTHER STORIES
 

Farewell To A Hero

Culture of Conflicts

Razing and Rioting

The Doda Deathtrap

Family Matters

POLL MALL

"People Have To Pay For The Oil Price Hike"

Cleaning Up

Terror And Tragedy

Reaping Rewards From Rehab

General Testament

The Last Romantic

Family Mystique

How Kaavya Lost It

Money and Muscle

 

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