Magazine article New Internationalist

Resettled by Registered Mail: Thousands of People Are Still Living in the Sardar Sarovar Submergence Zone. According to the Government, They Are No Longer There. They Have Been Resettled by Registered Mail

Magazine article New Internationalist

Resettled by Registered Mail: Thousands of People Are Still Living in the Sardar Sarovar Submergence Zone. According to the Government, They Are No Longer There. They Have Been Resettled by Registered Mail

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

[Graph Not Transcribed]

Last night in Badwani at the City Heart Hotel, Mahesh Patel came to see me. I was having vehicle problems. I hired a jeep in Indore, a great solid thing, but my driver does not like driving it on rough roads. He is a city driver. All roads which go anywhere I need to go are rough. Today we are going to Domkhedi, deep in the remote hills of the tribal belt. The road will be atrocious. And he wants to go home for Eid.

Badwani is in the Nimad plains, a town to be lapped by the reservoir behind the Sardar Sarovar 150 kilometres away. Mahesh Patel, in the Badwani scheme of things, is a local magnate. He is also an important figure in the Narmada struggle. Mahesh would find a jeep for me at midnight if he had to, and he does. He tells me how Narmada politics have been part of his life since he was a schoolboy. In 1979, when the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal agreed that Gujarat could build so high a dam that Nimad farmers would be submerged, they protested. But the protest leaders went into politics and when they got power they forgot about Sardar Sarovar. This was a terrible betrayal.

Medha Patkar first came to Badwani in 1986. She pointed out that the Nimad farmers had rights under the Tribunal Award. Her idea of a people's movement across classes and castes up and down the Valley was new to them. They were sceptical. But after a year or so, Mahesh Patel began to think this might succeed. Since then he has given his full support. Through the Andolan, he stands for a better society. 'In this country, development projects help the few and penalize the many. Because of the Andolan there is a change of heart, here and in the whole country.' Mahesh Patel reinspires my optimism.

As we rattle westwards towards Domkhedi, I read the minutes of the 48th meeting of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Sub-Group of the Narmada Control Authority. The NCA is responsible for seeing that the conditions of the Tribunal Award for the Sardar Sarovar are met. This is a 'last ditch' body from the Andolan perspective. Since the Supreme Court insisted that the conditions of the Tribunal Award remain sacrosanct, the best hope for delaying construction is that the NCA will find that conditions are breached. The conditions governing resettlement undoubtedly have.

Indian bureaucratise is a special language. It assembles a labyrinth of words, figures and initials in which to bury meaning. If I understand correctly, the 7,040 families affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam at 90 metres have virtually all been resettled. They have either moved or been allocated agricultural land and house-plots. The Sub-Group was advised that the letters had gone out by Registered Post Acknowledgement Due (RPAD). This appears to mean that if you are living in Domkhedi and such a letter arrives, you have been re-settled.

This technique of tidying people away by registered mail recalls a report Medha Patkar showed me in Mumbai. The Maharashtra Government set up a Tribunal to hear the grievances of oustees. The judge did just that. He listened to their stories of unpaid compensation, unusable land, undrinkable water and so on. Did he do anything about them? No. He 'heard' them. Perhaps India's prowess in tidying away humanity by paper is part of the colonial inheritance. International experts are masters at it too.

Eventually we reach the road's end and the river's edge. Here at Hafeshwar is a temple whose history goes back 5,000 years. The Shiva lingam is exceptionally holy because it emerged naturally from the earth. In the coming rains this beautiful age-old shrine and its surrounding grove will be submerged.

Thank goodness we do not have to walk. We take the ferry - given by Arundhati Roy - for the rest of our journey. We set off up river. Or rather up reservoir, for that is what it has become. At this season the river should be a trickle. But they have closed the Sardar Sarovar gates. …

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