Mumbai, June 10 :
New Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel faced her first challenge when a large number of tribals Tuesday opposed her plans to complete the Sardar Sarovar Dam by raising its height to 17 metres.
A delegation of tribals, under the banner of Narmada Bachao Andolan, met Nandurbar collector P. Pradip while demanding that the long-pending issue of rehabilitating project-affected tribals in Maharashtra be settled before raising the dam height.
The NBA move came following reports attributed to the chief minister that with Narendra Modi becoming prime minister, the permission to raise the height of the dam on Narmada river will be granted soon.
“The people in Narmada valley have shown courage to question this. We have presented data to establish the truth regarding displacement and environment. Now, we will be more cautious about the politics behind the vested interest,” NBA activist Yogini Khanolkar said.
According to NBA, there are about 250,000 people residing in the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) submergence area in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
They have their homes, markets, agriculture and horticulture, trees and places of worship, all of which that cannot be just submerged by raising the dam height and closing the gates without their proper rehabilitation as it will violate Supreme Court rulings, the NBA contended.
It demanded that if the SSP reservoir water level rises by 17 metres, who will be responsible for the contempt of court and the illegal submergence.
“The question is whether Modi will act like chief minister of Gujarat or prime minister of India — will he take steps to ensure no condition is flouted and no family that has not obtained rehabilitation benefits gets affected,” said NBA activist Medha Patkar.
The NBA delegation informed the Nandurbar collector that in Maharashtra, a minimum of 1,000 tribal families are yet to be rehabilitated with land, houses, plots, irrigation and other amenities.
It has also demanded full-fledged health facilities and rationing with regularity and boat service in every village, because people have faced death or destruction without these since last year.
“… while monsoon is at the doorstep, senior officials have promised they will ensure regular availability of doctors and medicines,” said NBA’s Noorji Vasawe while narrating incidents of snake bites and crocodile attacks, lack of jetties or water lifting schemes.
The NBA reiterated the tribals will not accept monetary compensation in lieu of land as it does not benefit them and 51 tribals who opted for it felt cheated and are prepared to return the money, said another activist Manglya Pavara.
The NBA has demanded that till the issue of rehabilitation and compensation as per law is not implemented, the authorities should halt any process to raise the dam height and review the cost benefits of the SSP project that is taking a toll of nature, life and livelihood.