Monday, May 29, 2006

Big dams and little people

India has 3,600 big dams that have devoured over 50 million people already, and the promised gains from the dams have still not arrived. The Indian Government remains unwilling to own up to the vast costs in terms of exclusivist policies, of ruined farm lands, of homes lost. And of human misery.

During the last 20 years of the Sardar Sarovar Dam-affected adivasis' struggle, people's participation at various stages - especially in the last year - has greatly strengthened the movement. What has been especially significant is how people's organisations, activists, students and intellectuals have worked together with the farmers and adivasis to make this their own movement, a true people's movement. Diverse programmes and events around the country - relay fasts, protests, artistic expressions, writings, and films - every action has been important to the struggle. From adivasis, dalits, slum dwellers, and farmers to public personalities, students, teachers, and politicians - people from across the country have raised their voices against this dominant model of unjust development and have begun a historic mission to fight for the truth.

This is a time for us to form one movement against the forces that work against democracy, that favour inhuman development paradigms while displacing people from their homes, lands, and livelihoods. These forces have set forth a great challenge before the people. To fight against every form of injustice as a single, collective strength.

Despite a tough month-long struggle and despite enough substantial field evidence (including that obtained from the Pol Khol Yatra) in support of their claims, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) cannot rest nor can they celebrate. The construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam continues. The killer dam, which will destroy and drown thousands of families and hundreds of villages, more so adivasi villages, is not just illegal but inhuman.

The new committee constituted by the PM, with Mr. V.K. Shunglu and two other government bureaucrats, has been asked to conduct a survey through the National Sample Survey Organisation from 19th May to 19th June. The committee has been assigned the task of surveying the number of displaced people, the land available, and the area to be submerged through a sample survey, and has been asked to aim to complete rehabilitation within 3 months.

Several agencies, including state and central government bodies have visited the valley, and the group of three ministers, including the Prime Minister, know that the construction of the dam is against the orders of the Supreme Court, yet neither the Prime Minister nor the Central government has intervened or taken a firm stand against it.

Can the rehabilitation of 35,000 families be completed in 3 months? When law and policies clearly call for allocation of land and house plots one year before submergence and for rehabilitation to be completed 6 months before submergence, why is a central government committee (that violates these legal provisions) being set up now?

The Supreme Court, after asking for affidavits from all affected parties, was to make a decision on the dam in February - which it delayed. Even after the 8th March decision of the Narmada Control Authority to raise the dam height to 121.92 metres, 2 months have lapsed without any order to halt the illegal construction of the dam. At the 1st May hearing, the Court postponed its judgement to 8th May, when again despite glaring evidence of failed rehabilitation, it refused to halt construction on the dam and decided to hear the matter on 7th July (after the report of the Shunglu Committee is submitted to the Prime Minister on June 30th).

This decision reflects a complete denial of justice by the country’s highest judicial institution. Despite evidence that the Court is violating its own orders, the construction on the dam continues incessantly. This will result in the evident submergence of adivasi villages, houses and fields, more so with the approaching monsoons. Given the circumstances, the report of the Shunglu Committee seems to have little purpose other than to conduct a post-mortem on the matter.

Across the country, the tide is rising against the rural and urban poor, farmers, and labourers. With large-scale infrastructure, development and city beautification projects displacing more and more people, the challenge before us is enormous. The struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam is merely one example of this.

Please do not be a mute witness to injustices carried out on such a large scale. There is a growing and murderous development paradigm that is spreading across the country, even if it remains concealed from our own well-fed realities. Please find it in yourself to support the movement against displacement. Oppose violence against the poor. Speak up against forced evictions. Do not condone what is fast becoming state-sponsored murder.

The Convention of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) will be held in Bangalore from 30th May to 1st June. The meeting will discuss the critical issues facing us all across the country, to build greater solidarity across movements and communities, and to develop long-term strategies in support of people’s struggles.

For more details on the NAPM Convention, please write to: muktaATriseupDOTnet