"What Do We Do? Face the State Army With a Peoples Army?" Asks Patkar as MP Prepares To Evict Narmada Villagers By Force
THE CITIZEN BUREAU
NEW DELHI: Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan, currently on fast when all else has failed in convincing the farmers that his government has their interests at heart, is preparing to move the police to evict thousands of families from the Sardar Sarovar dam site with brute force on July 31 citing the latest Supreme Court order as the justification.
Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan) who has spent a lifetime struggling for the rehabilitation rights of the thousands of adivasis, farmers, tribals and the marginalised communities facing the threat of submersion as the result of the controversial dam spoke to The Citizen, very worried about the future of the villagers who have nowhere to go, and who are still in what has been home to their families for centuries in the hope that a miracle will save them.
“It is heartburning”, the indomitable fighter said in a somewhat desolate tone, “it is not just the threat of floods that faces the villagers, it is now a flood of the police and we believe even the Army as Madhya Pradesh officials say that the soldiers will be called out as well to evacuate the villages.”
Patkar who sees the calamity descending with speed this time around said that this is being done at the instance of the Prime Ministers Office. “There is no hurry otherwise, but the Gujarat elections are drawing close and PM Modi wants to announce this dam as a major victory of the government, he wants to take people to the site in the name of development with everything being managed by the PMO in Delhi,” Patkar said.
Corporates are standing in line for the pay offs. Coca Cola and others, Patkar said and as is well documented, stand to benefit from the water. As she said, “Adanis, Ambanis, 30 lakh litres for Coca Cola, 60 lakh litres for Ford, Nano, for the cities, for the neighbouring states like Gujarat, but there is no allocstion for the villagers being thrown out of their homes, there are no figures for them.”
The project that was set to displace hundreds and thousands of villages with little thought was virtually brought to a standstill by the Narmada Bachao Andolan as Patkar took the lead, with the support of a multitude of organisations and individuals over the long years, to wrest concessions from successive governments. These ranged from lowering the height of the dam, to rehabilitation of the villages on the evacuation list, to agreements for land for land exchanges for the villagers and the government ---a long list by any standards.The courts were moved, protests held, long marches, fasts by Patkar and others over these tumultous years with the Courts playing a major role in ensuring the rights of the advisasis and the downtrodden of these villages.
As Patkar points out the villages now threatened go back to the first human beings on this planet, and synthesise all civilisations since. An experts committee of notable figures in the past, as she said, had submitted a report that excavations to go into the origin of man, and the practices thereafter in this part of India and the world would take a 100 years and would be invaluable. But clearly this is not a consideration with those for whom the dam remains just a symbol of development.
Patkar said, at present 192 villages and a township, that is 40-50000 families are under threat. Not just from the floods but from brutal action by the state government that has not held a single dialogue in all these years with the activists and the villagers. Patkar pointed out that the CM only meets his party leaders, takes instructions from Delhi, and seems hell bent on trampling on the rights of the poor villagers who are resisting the eviction, as they have not been given land in compensation, and those who had earlier agreed to cash have not been paid the instalments either.
And as Patkar pointed out, the issue is also of cattle, of trees, of the many services that come to be associated with the villages centering around livelihood that will be lost with the eviction, and subsequent flooding of the area, as well. Who will calculate this loss, how can this be compensated, she asked. In just 8 villages there are 28000 big trees that will be uprooted, she added.
The Narmada Bachao Andolan had moved the courts against rampant corruption in the rehabilitation process. Forgeries and fake receipts had been cut, and this needed urgent attention. The villagers are not getting even a fraction of what they have been promised, what is their due, and this needs urgent remedial action, she said.
The MP government has started arresting villagers adding to the woes as it were. Patkar and her Andolan have been struggling to get them released. But now, in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Chouhan seems to have decided to use force as per the acceptance of the July 31 date for eviction. But as Patkar pointed out, this date can be accepted only if the other part of the agreement of full rehabilitation is completed. The state government, as she said, insists it has done the work required on this front but the Andolan and the villagers find that this is far from true. Patkar was categorical that nearly 50000 families of the 120 odd villagers have still not received even the basic rehabilitation facilities, that include land comparable to the fertile land holdings in the area.
Patkar is now moving pillar and post to get the support required to stall the process. And prevent forced eviction of the villagers. “What do we do? Do we meet the state army with a people’s Army?”she asked.