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Narmada Valley, where powers-that-be are 'oblivious' of destruction they've caused

Chikhalda, the ghost village
By Shabnam Hashmi*
I must admit that I have not worked on the Narmada issue. After my visit to the Narmada valley in December 2019, I have gone through a large number of policy papers where I found how Narmada rehabilitation policies have been violated and are not being implemented on the ground.
During my visit to the valley, I met a large number of men women and children -- displaced, deprived of land, home and livelihood, but not dejected. It was amazing to see and meet Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) teams in action in every village, settlements and displaced colonies with the will to carry on the struggle for dignity.
What I saw and heard left a deep impact on me, and for the first time I discovered the magic of Medha Patkar and hundreds of her fellow travelers.
Chikhalda is a striking example of how those in power, to whose whims and fancies the administration works, are totally oblivious of the destruction that they cause, not only in physical terms, but to their cultural and social roots.
Long-term repercussions of dislocating people and making them refugees in their own land are disastrous and history will not forgive various governments responsible for these manmade disasters.
According to archeological research, Chikhalda was home to Asia's first farmer, land being highly fertile. There were 36 religious places in Chikhalda, some of them of the 10th or 12th century – Neelkantheshwar, Narasimha and Shri Ram temples. There were mosques, dargahs and a jamat khana, and also a Jain temple. The village had primary and secondary schools.
The village supplied milk to nearby villages. Poor Bhil Adivasis and Dalits earned a living working on the fields of cultivators.
I visited the village on December 26. It looked like a ghost town, with hundreds of crumbled homes, empty streets and strong smell. There was total devastation. Water had still not receded completely. I saw a large number of houses which had totally collapsed.
I spoke to the local residents. Waheed Mansoori narrated the whole incident. This is what he told me:
"The schedule for filling the water which was agreed upon was to fill the Sardar Sarovar dam to the full capacity of 138.68 metres by October 2019, but this was done before September 17, the Prime Minister's birthday, on September 15-16. People were terrified.
"When Narmada waters started entering, especially in the houses on the lower side, there was no way even to come out and escape. It was raining heavily. It was like National Register of Citizens (NRC) being implemented.
"We were not leaving our homes but it was like leaving our country, our traditions, our culture, the inter-woven relationships, our Muslim-Hindu unity, everything. This village saw no riots, not even in 1947. According to the Archeological Survey of India, the first Asian farmer was born here.
"Leaving all this behind, the villagers are very disturbed and broken. The government doesn't see all this. To fill water like this in the dam, if the Prime Minister has his birthday on September 17, for praising him, the schedule was preponed by a month.
"Large number of villages have been submerged, livestock has died and environment has suffered in the valley. People couldn't take out anything from their homes, not even food items.They could just grab their children, documents, and one set of clothes, which they were wearing, livestock, and waded out of the threatening water that steadily seeped into their homes.
"It is highly condemnable. In the name of development they are doing destruction. They have spent Rs 63,000 crore on the dam but rehabilitation has not been done. The agreed upon amount of Rs 5.80 lakh has not be given to all the displaced persons. There are many people who have got the money but not the plot, and there are those who have got the plot but not money.
"There were 800 houses. There are still 250-300 cases pending. They have been put some of them in non-eligible slots. In many cases adult children have not got compensation. When a policy has been made then it should be adhered to.
"People are staying in tin sheds with their papers, waiting for their turn to get rehabilitation package so that they can leave from their tin sheds."
Medha Patkar in Nisarpur village
Another resident,  Kalu, said, while his father got compensation, he was living separately, but he hasn't received it. He said he had submitted the papers, his name had come but he was made non-eligible later.
People told me, the model of the dam has been changed, and as a result the assessment of backwater levels was reduced, so 15,946 families were removed from submergence. There was no survey here of the rivers and nalas. About 7,000 hectares land became islands, the roads to the land have vanished. Because of the water in rivers and nallas farmers are unable to access those lands, they couldn't harvest their crops from such places.
Many areas were declared out of submergence area. When water was filled to the full reservoir level, 138.68 metres, in the dam, many places which were not included in the submergence area got submerged.
It's a big tragedy for farmers and labourers alike. After the farmlands got submerged, along with the farmers, the conditions of labourers became pathetic, as their livelihood was totally dependent on other people's farms. A large number of labourers had to migrate to other states.
As far as farmers are concerned, according to the tribunal's decision, those whose 25% land was coming in submergence they were to get up to 5 acres land. And according to the February 8, 2017 Supreme Court judgment, in lieu of 2 hectares of land as compensation, they were to be given Rs 60 lakh.
There are thousands of farmers who have not got this package, despite the fact that their lands have been submerged, I was told. There was a big agitation here in Chikhalda on July 27, 2017, and due to the agitation, the Madhya Pradesh government had to announce on July 29, 2017 that every displaced person who is eligible and has been allotted a plot of land would be given Rs 5.80 lakh to build their houses in the rehabilitation areas.
"Yet, over 15,000 people today have not got the package. We have struggled, we have achieved a lot but the struggle is on and a lot has to be achieved", said a villager.
While we were still there, we saw a few people come in to the village to retrieve some household goods if they were in any condition to be retrieved. It had already turned into a ghost town. There were two families who were taking the bricks from their old homes to rebuild their houses elsewhere.
Gandhi statue being  put at a higher level
Says Chikhalda panchayat secretary Waheed Mansoori, the administration had wanted to remove the Gandhi statue and take it outside. He told them not to touch the statue, insisting, "We will first talk to our people, to Medha Patkar, before we take a decision." He told me: 
"Consultations took place quickly and Medha Patkar said even if the village submerges we will not let Mahatma Gandhi's statue submerge, and that while they can submerge the village, they cannot submerge Gandhi's thought. The statue is very heavy, it weighs 2 quintals, it is made of marble and was donated to the village by Raka Charitable Trust of Rajasthan.
"Medha Patkar planned with other members of the NBA, and a farmers' team placed the Gandhi statue in a boat in order to put it on a higher level, as they sang Gandhiji's favourite bhajans."

Meanwhile, Rahulbhai from NBA reached the village. We were discussing Gandhi's statue, raised questions about the rehabilitation of religious spaces. He said there are about 40 religious spaces, including mosques, dargahs, a Ram Mandir, a Narsinh Mandir, a Mahadev temple etc., some of whom are more than 400 year old.
There is Tribunal Award directing the governments to rebuild the religious places and structures. While the government shows that rehabilitation has been done, they are yet to rebuild any of the 40 religious place.
On the one hand, the government is doing politics in the name of Ram, but, on the other, in 178 villages facing submergence, thousands of temples have been submerged, why no one talks about it? There is so much noise about the Ayodhya temple, but they are not bothered about thousands of historical temples being submerged.
Rahulbhai told us, "We lived together as Hindus and Muslims and celebrated our festivals, but after the submergence, the villagers have been sent to 5 different locations, dividing communities."
According to the latest available information, Chikhalda had 1,086 eligible families. Of these, while 500 of them and 100 new adults have got Rs 5.80 lakh compensation, 150 families are still living in tin sheds in different places. They are still to get Rs 5.80 lakh, and some haven't even received plots for the construction of houses.
Further, 300 families are living in rented houses, they are yet to receive Rs 5.80 lakh. Then, there are approximately 26 shopkeepers who have not got land to rebuild their shops. Farmers, 100 of them, whose farming lands have turned into islands and their harvest has been destroyed, they have not got compensation.
The Dhangar community from Chikhalda has not been provided fodder for livestock and the grazing lands have also not provided.
Narmada pipelines are closed. Electric instruments have been submerged, new connections have not been provided, it is not possible to sow anything as yet.
Fisherfolk have not been provided fishing rights beyond their submerged village area. They were unable to earn a livelihood for many years due to fluctuating water levels. They are struggling to get passes to access the reservoir. Their demand is for ten years' lease, as was done in Bergi dam, also in the Narmada Vvalley.
Then, there are 10 displaced families are still to get land or Rs 60 lakh as compensation. In the colonies where the displaced persons have been kept, basic amenities have not been provided. Ther are no street lights, water, electricity, drainage or internal roads.
After farmlands got submerged, along with farmers, the conditions of labourers became pathetic, as their livelihood was totally dependent on them
We reached Nisarpur village late evening. Nisarpur was one of the richest and biggest villages of Dhar district with about 3,000 families residing in it. It had 400 shops and 100 hawkers. It served as a market for at least 30 villages.There were 46 religious places here.
Best of agriculture and horticulture was supported by godowns and some houses on the higher side were taken out of the submergence level, so while it has been come a village, has become a ghost town on the lower side, some homes are still intact, where Aabout 300 families live. These are yet to get one or more rehabilitation benefits. 
A rehabilitation site
There are hundreds of applications from Nisarpur itself, pending with the Narmada Valley Development Authority or the Grievance Redressal Authority. Urgent settlement issues await 200 families compelled to stay in tin sheds. After their houses got submerged, they did get any plot or grant.
When we walked down the lanes, we found that they were still muddy and it was quite difficult not to slip on them. About 25 people had gathered to meet us. Women, some of whom had fasted for 17 days in 2017, reported about snakes and rats coming into the lanes and the houses which people have left.
A large number of houses have collapsed. The stench is unbearable. People whose homes have been declared to be 'out of submergence' area are living in the middle of these crumbled houses and stench.
With majority of the people having moved out, how do they sustain their life?, I asked myself. A village is not merely houses, it has a whole survival system, with shops, livestock, neighbours, relationships, celebrating festivals together. Lower parts get filled up with water. How does one expect people living on the higher plane t access the roads which were in the lower portion? Some of the lanes were srill filled with water.
No doubt, a big resettlement site is reserved and hundreds of houses, small and big, have come up at the site has many amenities, including a hospital, schools – government and private – yet there are a number of complaints, e.g. there is no lady doctor in the hospital.
Drains for prevention of waterlogging have not completed. These need to be urgently looked into.
In Dharampuri the only township affected by Sardar Sarovar, I was told by many families that though they have been declared out of the submergence area, their properties and lands have been acquired and not returned. Those remain in the name of the executive engineer of the Narmada Valley Development Authority, Madhya Pradesh. Their number is above 1,380.
In Dharampuri, 88 houses shelter 211 families, there is Sheetla Mata temple, four other religious places, and 2 mosques. These were considered as part of the submergence area, but even they have not been fully rehabilitated.
The fisherdolk of Dharampuri have been given plots on the banks of Khuj river, which were submerged during the flood. They have to be replaced with hundreds of new plots. So far only 32 plots have been changed. When there is flood in Narmada, there will be water in Dharampuri city.
I will remember visiting village Pichhodi by the long green chilies that I carried back home to Delhi. I don't eat chilies, but they looked so beautiful that I couldn't resist asking for a few to carry with me.
In Pichhodi during the 2019 floods, 55 houses were submerged, all of them have got Rs 5.8 lakh, but 17 families have not got plots so far. Earlier claims are pending from 845 families, out of whom 525 families have srill not got the plots. Seventeen families which are eligible to get Rs 60 lakh compensation have still not got it. Also, 29 families live in tin sheds, they have got only the first installment of Rs 2.80 lakh.
I was informed, 75 acres of agricultural land belonging to 19 families has been marooned, apart from 90 hectare of grazing land. At the R&R site 62 plots have been given, but there are no basic facilities there. About 710 families srill live in the village.
---
*Social activist, founding trustee, Anhad, New Delhi. These are excerpts from "A Report Based on Visit to Areas in MP Affected by Sardar Sarovar Dam", edited for style. Click here for full report

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