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Ensure natural flow of Narmada to salvage sea ingress in downstream river: People's Tribunal testimony

By Our Representative
A Peoples’ Court or Jan Adalat, held in Bhopal on culmination of week-long struggle, called Narmada Aur Kisaani Bachao Jung, has been told that efforts should be stepped up to ensure the natural flow of Narmada river is properly monitored and regulated at a time when several major and minor dams have been built on it and its tributaries. This, it was suggested, necessary to protect the river's ecosystem, which is facing severe strain.
Those who gave testimonies following a 220 km rally, which began next to the Narmada dam, converting into a 55 km foot march from Sihore to Bhopal, were adivasi, farmers, fish workers agricultural labourers and mill workers, many of whom who faced displacement.
Issues raised included the bleak situation along Narmada, allegedly resulting from destructive development projects, especially large dams, devouring prime forests and other resources; displacement without rehabilitation; downstream impact of the Sardar Sarovar dam, and so on.
Heralbhai, a fish worker, and Kamleshbhai, an advocate, who had come from the downstream region of the Sardar Sarovar dam, said a serious issue of sea ingress demanded no new barrage, currently under implementation at Bhadbhut on the mouth of Narmada river. It would adversely affect the estuary and the coastal regulatory zone CRZ, affecting downstream fisheries and the river's ecology, they said.
They demanded that the Sardar Sarovar dam's gates should be opened up and there should a release of 6000 cusecs of water. Pointing out that a several decades old report by international expert Wallingford had recommended only 600 cusecs as the adequate flow for the downstream, they said, when the population has increased manifold and water requirement of industry and agriculture has gone up drastically, there is a need to review this.
Giving testimony, fish workers of Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar and Bargi reservoirs asserted their fishing rights, while the Sardar Sarovar-affected tribals and farmers talked of the devastation faced by them because of the dams.
Kailash Avasya spoke about injustice done to hilly adivasis who are still not rehabilitated, while Ranvir Tomar, Suresh Pradhan, Kamla Yadav, Shyama Behen and Madubhai pointed towards rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) issues in the plains of Nimad. Wahid Mansuri raised questions about the clearance given by the Narendra Modi government to the Sardar Sarovar dam, demanding he dam's gates be opened till rehabilitation is concluded.
Rajkumar Sinha said new proposals for 13 power plants on Narmada river need to be rejected, as there is no further requirement of power for Madhya Pradesh. The proposals have been made to help private corporate power generators, he said,, while Meera Bai and Dadulal Kudape insisted that the proposal to have nuclear power plant at Chutka should be rejected because of its environmental issues.
VM Singh, a farmer leader, demanded that two laws need to be passed urgently -- one on freedom from debt and another on appropriate prices for agricultural products. These bill, he said, are already before Parliament, demanding a separate session for this.
Among those who heard the testimonies, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar said forcible acquisition of land was taking place by undermining the 2013 land law, while former Justice of Supreme Court, Gopala Gowda acknowledged the seriousness of the situation along Narmada, wondering, “In a democracy, where majority rules, when 74% of the poor rural population belongs to the farming sector, how can we be ruled by the corporate sector?”

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