A dam discharging water combined with a tall statue of a tall leader is a breath-taking tourist attraction.

As a dam is built, water fills behind it, submerging vast areas. Every being which cannot live under water dies if it does not leave. Those that leave, need a place to which to go. Human society supposedly cares for other humans. So people who live in submergence areas are re-located, resettled, rehabilitated. This has created a new species of humans who are victims of development, called project-affected families (PAFs).

Rehabilitation of PAFs seems unquestionable, but it needed PAFs to repeatedly petition the Supreme Court, which ordered that rehabilitation was to be completed before dams are raised in stages. Dam PAFs number in tens-of-lakhs all over India, actually suffering or threatened by loss of rozi-roti-kapda-makan. They have been in and out of High Courts and Supreme Court, demanding their rights.

Successive State and Central Governments of various political parties construct dams under the auspices of the PBEC Club, an elite club of certain politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and contractors in the States and Centre. The PBEC Club has cheated PAFs through corruption at all levels. PAFs show proof that governments have filed false Action Taken Reports concerning stage-wise rehab before learned judges.

At the end of their tether, PAFs continue peaceful demonstrations in public, but a tethered media ensures that news of the demonstrations remains confined to the immediate area of the demonstrations. The learned judges are satisfied with the veracity of Governments’ ATRs. Construction continues and water rises behind the dams. Hitherto poor but self-sufficient rural and forest dwellers wind up in towns and cities to become resentful slum dwellers.

PAFs are generally unlettered and have neither knowledge nor economic means to take their sufferings to Courts of Law in their search for justice. Some members of society who are better placed educationally and economically help and sometimes lead PAFs in their search for justice. These folks often leave secure positions in society to help PAFs. Advocates do pro bono work. The PBEC Club targets them. They are accused of having hidden agendas, criminal charges including sedition are foisted against them, get branded as Maoists, anti-nationals, etc. ... and suffer the consequences.

Governments under thrall of PBEC and economists, slavering at the spin-offs from large projects, are interested only in economic growth which large projects generate. Significantly, the advocates of economic growth including members of PBEC, have never had to worry about their own rozi-roti-kapda-makan. With regard to PAFs, they offer “arguments” like you-can’t-make-an-omelette-without-breaking-an-egg. PAFs’ lives are the “eggs” to make the “omelette” which the PBEC enjoy.

Cost of the “eggs”? Oh, compensation is available only to PAFs who own land or pucca houses. Perhaps 25% of all PAFs are land-owning farmers, although many have no documents to prove ownership. The rest are from the earth on which they have lived for generations, landless agricultural labourers, artisans, small traders, fisherfolk or forest dwellers. They are entitled to nothing. Corruption ensures that not all entitled PAFs receive compensation. After paying officials for getting their names put on the list, they again pay when receiving compensation. Omelettes sure are tasty!

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India’s economic growth rate dips. The automobile industry, which largely influences growth rate, is tanking. Factories work two days a week, lay off workers. Poor farmers routinely sell their produce at rates lower than cost of inputs and regularly suffer loss under market forces. They suggest that automobile makers sell their cars at lower rates so that workers are not laid off. Economists are not amused at their insolence. But who cares about PAFs?

Chandrayan is a milestone of India’s scientific and technological capability. The media focusses on the moon. The media-invisible PAFs continue to suffer injustice.

Constitution Articles 370 and 35A are scrapped and communication lockdown imposed in Kashmir. Kashmiris suffer. PAFs empathize because they continue to experience a similar lockdown, although their plight does not make even a ripple in the ocean of governance or the tethered media.

138.68-metres is the full reservoir level of the 163-metres high Sardar Sarovar dam, 15-minutes drive from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel standing 182-metres tall in a tourist complex with modern amenities. The Rs.3,000-crores Statue of Unity stares at the SS Dam, with the reservoir behind it submerging the earth and forests and fields on which the communities of PAFs lived and worked.

PAFs had been agitating over years asking only that reservoir filling be halted until they are rehabilitated. But the lies (of ATRs) have gone half way round the world before truth gets out of bed. Politicians celebrate filling of the reservoir. The Executive is under the PBEC spell. Legislatures are too busy politicking to pay attention to PAFs. Petitions pleading for justice fall on deaf ears of an uncaring Judiciary.

PM Modi recommends tourists to visit the SS Dam and Statue of Unity. Tourists generate monthly ticket revenue of nearly Rs.7-crores. Each visitor contributes his mite towards India’s unity and economic growth, and takes pride in India’s scientific and technological capability.

What of the PAFs? They suggest how Rs.3,000-crores and Rs.7-crores per month can be better spent to give them a chance to start their lives afresh, feed, clothe and educate their children. They fail to see how a statue can induce them to feel united with those who have caused their sorry plight or with uncaring people who spend time and money to gawk at a majestic statue and a dam. PAFs are dammed out of their former homes and their progeny damned to live in invisible misery. Will their travails count for anything to people like us? Only time will tell.

In the meantime PAFs soldier on. They sing: “Narmada ki ghati mein, ab ladai jaari hai; Badhe chalo, badhe chalo, rokna vinaash hai ... “. Truth will triumph. PAFs may forgive, but will not forget.

S.G.Vombatkere was commissioned as an officer into the Corps of Engineers (Madras Sappers) in 1962. In 1994, President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal (VSM) for distinguished military services rendered in the cold, high altitude region of Ladakh. He retired from active service in the rank of Major General.

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