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Sardar Sarovar oustees up in arm against MP officials on refusal to assess damage due to submergence

By Our Representative
Unprecedented submergence in the densely populated villages of Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh in the last week of August has spurred a series of mass actions by the Sardar Sarovar project-affected families – most of them poor landless labourers, fish workers, potters, adivasis and other farmers, who are waiting to be fully rehabilitation with alternative land, house plots, amenities at resettlement sites, alternative livelihood etc. 
The situation brought oustees, backed by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists, and the Madhya Pradesh officialdom face to face. The officials argued it was not necessary to assess the damage, as the submerged area had already been acquired for the Sardar Sarovar Project. This led villagers to retort that mere land acquisition was not rehabilitation, that as per the Narmada Tribunal Award, until rehabilitation was complete, no properties can be submerged and the oustees have every right to continue to reside in their original villages and cultivate lands.   
First, more than 500 families gheroed the Badwani collectorate, the oustees in three tehsils of Dhar District – Manavar, Kukshi and Dharampuri -- took out rallies, and at some places stormed into the offices of the tehsildar, demanding answers for "sudden and illegal release" of reservoir waters from the upstream dams, leading to submergence of their farms with standing crop, houses, household items, fodder, food grains,fishing nets etc. 
They raised issues related with lack of relief services and disaster preparedness of the administration and said, claims of rehabilitation by the Narmada Valley Development Authority were fake. On September 2, at Manavar tehsil the deputy tehsildar had to face angry questions from women and men, who came in hundreds from the villages of Ekalwara, Semalda, Gangli, Kavthi, Perkhad etc. It was only when the the deputy tehsildar finally agreed that an assessment of the damanges would be recorded that the oustees returned.
On September 4, at Kukshi, almost 800 oustees, largely women from the villages of Chikalda, Nisarpur, Karondia, Kothada, Koteshwar, Gehelgaon, Khaparkheda, Bajrikheda, Malwadi, Bodhwada etc. grilled the tehsildar and resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) officer for almost five hours and said there was "rampant corruption in the R&R process". As arguments became heated, local MLA Mukam Singh Kirade reached the spot and spoke to the collector. Only after this the officials agreed for video-recording of the affected houses and properties.
On September 6, at Dharampuri, 500 women and men marched through the main streets and reached the office of the tehsildar, where the assistant R&R officer was also called, who listed to the woes after facing the wrath of the women, who said that till now (since August 23) their kitchen fires have not been lit and the government, which has been claiming of rehabilitation, did not care to even visit the villages when water was released in the midnight.
At all the three tehsils, the oustees also issued legal notice on government officials, including collector, district Dhar to ensure that the assessment of all losses and impacts are duly recorded as per the revenue book circular rules and the oustees are duly compensated. The oustees issued an ultimatum to the authorities that if their demands are not met soon, the struggle would be intensified and cases would be instituted against the officials in courts.

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