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Submergence fears trigger protests in Madhya Pradesh, as Gujarat moves to close down Narmada dam's gates

By Our Representative
Protests have erupted in the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh against the inter-state body, Narmada Control Authority (NCA),which  allowed the Gujarat government to close down the Narmada dam’s 30-odd gates. This follows large-scale fear among villagers of the state's highly fertile Nimad area their houses and land, along with their means of livelihood, would be submerged.
In Kukshi town of Dhar district, people from 76 villages gathered to protest against the notice handed over to 6,132 project-affected families (PAFs) , who have been told that their houses, along with shops, schools, temples and mosques, would have to be vacated immediately, as the closure of the dam’s gates would lead to their submergence.
Organized by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the demonstrators sounded the alarm that about 40,000 families would be adversely affected because of the closure of the gates, which would take the water levels in the Narmada dam’s reservoir up from the present 121.92 metres to 138.64 metres.
Most of the PAFs belong to the agriculturally rich western Nimad area, engulfing Badwani, Dhar, Khargon and Alirajpur districts.
Addressing the gathering, Bhakirath Dhangar of Chikhalda village said, “Narmada is our heritage. It is our wealth. It does not belong to the capitalists. The Shivraj Singh Couhan government of Madhya Pradesh is using force to evict us. We will not give up our fight for our rights.”
Vijay Marola, a young villager, noted, “Our gram sabhas would decide whether to allow our village to go in for submergence or not. Who is the government to decide it on our behalf?”
Mukesh Sipahi and Suresh Patidar of Nisarpur spoke about how about 3,000 families, 46 religious places, and 3,500 big trees would be uprooted in their area as a result of the planned submergence.
“Our cattle would be adversely affected. Potters, fisherfolk, traders and landless workers would all lose their livelihood. We would not let our motherland to be snatched away from us”, they added.
Devram Kanera compared the uprooting of villagers in the Narmada valley’s Nimad area with the recent killing of farmers in police firing in Mandsaur. “The Madhya Pradesh chief minister on both the scores has proved himself to be anti-farmer”, he alleged.
Kukshi MLA Surendra Baghel, supporting the protesters, said that the fight for justice would continue till they were successful, and he and his party, Congress, were with the anti-dam forces led by the NBA.
Addressing the rally, NBA leader Medha Patkar said, the governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have “insulted” the PAFs by allowing the gates to be closed down without rehabilitating them. “This would destroy cultural heritage and nature along the Narmada river. This is destruction, and not development”, she underlined.
“The only aim of closing down the gates is the BJP move to win the elections in Gujarat”, Patkar insisted, adding, “The gates’ closure is the outcome of the pro-corporate thinking of the Gujarat government and the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Those who are suffering are mainly villagers of Madhya Pradesh.”

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