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Oustees' massive anti-Narmada dam bullock cart rally, joined by fishermen, women protests absence of rehab sites

By Rahul Yadav*
People displaced due to the Narmada Dam in Gujarat, including farmers, labourers, and potters, took out a bullock carts rally on May 25 in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, joined by fishmen and women, to protest against the absence of rehabilitation sites, on one hand, and massive corruption in compensation offered to the oustees, on the other.
The bullock carts were turned into a stage after three kilometers’ long rally, from where representative of the valley, Bhagirath Dhangar, Pemalbehen, Shyama Sonavarbi Mansuri, others, talked about “false affidavits” submitted by the Madhya Pradesh government to the Supreme Court about rehabilitation of the oustees having been completed.
“Is it justified for the government, in the name of sacrifice for development, to use police force to evict the people? Will they destroy our centuries old ancestral villages, temples and mosques? The government doesn't have the capability to rehabilitate, it is only capable to indulge into corrupt practices”, said Mansuri, considered a symbol of women’s power in the valley.
Wahid Bhai told the gathering that the government representatives that have accepted the river as a living entities shouldn't act like animals themselves. Pemal Behen, a labourer, asked farmers and labourers to come together to fight injustice, adding, the offer of Rs 1.20 lakh “in lieu of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is nothing but a plan to cheat them as this amount is not even sufficient to make the plinth for their houses.”
Mahesh Patel and Bhagirath Dhangar, representing farmers who have been in this struggle in the last three decades, said that this rally was an expression of determination that people will not move out till all their rights are met. “The intimidation tactics of the government and also their strategy to divide and rule on the party lines, needs to be understood by one and all”, they added.
Providing contradictory figures of those to be rehabilitated, they said, “On one hand the government said 8,177 families from Kukshi tehsil, 2,601 families in Manavar tehsil, 338 in Dharampuri tehsil (all in Dhar district) would be declared as displaced, yet the Dhar district collector provides a figure of 6132 families.”
Among those who joined the rally included Kukshi MLA Surendra Singh Baghel and Badwani MLA Ramesh Patel “Why has the chief minister never talked with any of the farmers in the last 13 years?”, they asked.
Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, who led the rally, said that the government couldn't make houses for the displaced persons, hence is now offering Rs 40,000 as rent and Rs 20,000 for food expenses, adding, “This is nothing but mere drama. It is an insult to people of Nimad that they are being offered a meagre sum Rs 20000 for food after displacement.”
“When these farmers have the capacity to feed the country, how can they tolerate being reduced to the status of beggars with such an insulting amount?”, she wondered, adding, “The government’s decision to give Rs 1,50,000 to those who had accepted special rehabilitation package under pressure is peanuts.”
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*With Narmada Bachao Andolan

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