Sardar Sarovar dam's waters won't drown out the Narmada Bachao Andolan: All you need to know

On Friday, the water levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam rose to 128 metres, Nirsapur, a town in Madhya Pradesh, was submerged in the process, villagers continued to protest inspite of flooded homes.

Published: 17th September 2017 11:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2017 07:35 PM   |  A+A-

Sardar Sarovar Dam in Kevadia in Gujarat. (Photo: Twitter/ANI)

Online Desk

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi "gifts” the nation the Sardar Sarovar dam on his birthday today, the voices of the Narmada Bachao Andholan (NBA), led by Medha Patkar, refuse to be drowned out by the rising waters of the world's second largest dam. 

On Friday, the water levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam rose to 128 metres as preparations were being made for the inauguration ceremony today. Nirsapur, a town in Madhya Pradesh, was submerged in the process, but the villagers refused to leave their flooded homes, continuing NBA’s jal satyagraha led by Medha Patkar.

Higher the dam, more the displaced; but compensation? 

The original height of the dam was to be only 88 metres, as per plans in 1999. But slowly the Narmada Control Authority raised it, with Supreme Court approval, to 138 metres in June 2014, displacing more and more people every time the height rose. Overall, about 200,000 people have been displaced from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

NBA has filed numerous PILs in the Supreme Court regarding the compensation for the displaced families. The hope of justice from the apex court came in installments with the latest directions passed in February 2017, promising Rs 60 lakh for each of the 700 families expected to be displaced.

Biggest scam after Vyapam? 

Compensations did not always reach the people displaced. In 2015, Patkar revealed details about the Sardar Sarovar dam rehabilitation scam, which showed financial irregularities of about Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 crores. At a press conference, she said that about 2,000 registries had been created, fabricating the details of monetary and land compensation given. These details were quoted from a report produced by the Shravan Shankar Jha commission.

Narmada Bachao Andolan

Adivasis, farmers, environmentalists, human rights activists, you name them and they would represent NBA. Founded by Medha Patkar in 1985, NBA redefined activism for the whole country, demonstrating that it was impossible to fight for just one cause. Although their main cause was to save the river and the people near the Narmada that would be displaced, they worked to break social norms and created new liberal ones by promoting women’s education and inter-caste marriages.

Medha Patkar (foreground) at the site
of her hunger strike last month at
Madhya Pradesh. (Express Photo)      
What made NBA’s fight stand out was the number of films and literature supporting it. Anand Patwardhan’s “A Narmada Diary” is an award-winning documentary, while British film maker Franny Armstrong’s “Drowned Out” depicted a gripping story of a villager’s choice to drown rather than allow a dam to be built.

Popular author Arundhati Roy was closely associated with NBA’s movement. In an essay titled “The cost of living” she wrote these unforgettable words:

“Big dams are to a nation's 'development' what nuclear bombs are to its military arsenal. They are both weapons of mass destruction. They're both weapons governments use to control their own people. Both twentieth-century emblems that mark a point in time when human intelligence has outstripped its own instinct for survival. They're both malignant indications of civilisation turning upon itself. They represent the severing of the link, not just the link—the understanding—between human beings and the planet they live on. They scramble the intelligence that connects eggs to hens, milk to cows, food to forests, water to rivers, air to life and the earth to human existence.”

NBA may have lost the river to the government, but their activism is not dead yet. Young volunteers and activists keep flooding in and keeping it going. In a recent interview with news magazine Outlook, Patkar revealed that it was difficult to achieve the goal fully. She says, “We have to connect micro to macro and move forward, but as we are still stuck in this rut, we can’t just say, ‘Let us soar over all this because this is not so important'." 

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