PUCL Bulletin, 2001

1000 Tribal Families Affected by the Man Project, Narmada Valley to be Drowned in Cold Blood


An Urgent Appeal for Rehabilitation

Dear friends, You may have received some information about the grim situation building up in the Man Project submergence zone. The Man Project is one of the 30 large dams being built in the Narmada valley and is situated in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. This Project will submerge over 1000 Bhil and Bhilala tribal families in 17 villages affected by the Project and their rich and fertile lands, deep black cotton soils irrigated with water from wells and the river.

It may be noted that the Man Project received the legally binding environmental clearance from the Central Environment Ministry in 1994. The condition of the clearance was that the affected tribals must be resettled with non- forest agricultural land. The state government policy for the oustees of the Narmada Projects that was made in 1987 and firmed in 1992 also required that the affected people must be resettled with land for land. Despite this from 1991 to 1994, the state government completely violated the conditions of the environmental clearance and the provisions of its own policy and finished the rights of the people with paltry amounts of cash compensation.

As a result, in 1984, the Appraisal Committee of the Central Environment Ministry blacklisted the Man Project for complete violation of the conditions of the environmental clearance. In 1997, when the oustees were given eviction notices, they organized themselves under the aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and raised their voices. After a long struggle, in April ­May 1999, the Madhya Pradesh government agreed to constitute a committee for the rehabilitation of the affected people. This committee which was constituted under the chairmanship of the Narmada Minister of Madhya Pradesh comprised of the affected people, elected representatives, government officials and two members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. The government order of 2nd May, 1999 that constituted this committee clearly stated that no construction work on the dam would be allowed to be carried out that would endanger any affected person whose rehabilitation had not been completed. But despite this clear order, from October, 2000 onwards the state government began work on the spillway section of the dam, thus creating a situation of imminent submergence of hundreds of tribal families who are yet to be rehabilitated. The Man affected tribals then took out a protest rally in Dhar on the 24th of January this year demanding immediate stoppage of work and rehabilitation of the affected people. Subsequently after representations to the NVDA, a government order of 30th January stopped the work on the spillway section of the dam. The actual physical work had to be stopped by demonstrating people at the dam site demanding that the order be carried out.
But on the initiative of the Chief Minister Shri Digvijay Singh, as per public statement given by local Congress MLA Shri Karan Singh Pawar, the work was again restarted on the 9th of February, 2001. On the 9th, police people from two police stations came to the villages of Khedi ­Balwadi and Khanpura to threaten the people and tell them to leave their villages. However the people of these two villages, especially the women confronted the police and finally speechless, the police had to flee.

Subsequently, on the 11th of February, fifty trucks of police came to the dam site presumably to stop any take over of the dam by the local people, but actually to let the affected people know that their struggle would be met by state repression.

The representatives of the 17 villages along with the NBA activists met and petitioned Menaka Gandhi, Minister of Social Welfare, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Chairman, Commission for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes on the 12th and 13th of February. As a result, the state government was forced to hold a meeting today, on the 20th of February, 2001.The officials conceded during the meeting and that through a written document that "If the dam construction proceeds as per plan, the crest level 286.10m will be achieved by the monsoon of 2001. At this height, at the maximum water flow of 10.00 cumecs along with backwater effect, 993 families will be affected. Of this 283 families have already vacated the submergence area and 710 families are yet to vacate the submergence area and the houses of 522 families are likely to be submerged. It is possible that another 222 families will vacate the submergence area before the monsoons and it is being proposed that an emergency plan be prepared for the rest of the families.

As per the proposed Emergency plan two temporary camps are proposed to be set up. The location of this will be decided under the guidance of the people's representatives and the District administration. Arrangements will be made for the residence, health, security and food. It is estimated that as per the length of the monsoon season, the camp will need to be held for two months. The affected people who will come to these camps will be given half the amount of daily wages that accrue to an unskilled labourer (as per the District administration's rates) for meeting his daily needs, in addition to food. (Government document, February, 2001) Thus, although the lands and homes of around 5000 tribals will be drowned permanently this monsoon itself, the government has no plan for them except a temporary camp where they will be offered food and half the minimum wages for unskilled labourers for two months!

At today's meeting, the 12 villagers and the four NBA activists who attended argued for the work on the spillway section of the dam to be immediately stopped and for the distribution of agricultural lands, the NVDA officials argued that the dam must be completed by June, 2001.They said that the ABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) credit for this dam require that the dam be constructed by June, 2001. Callously enough, they argued that the livelihoods of the affected people do not need to be restored and that cash compensation was enough. Thus at the end of today's meeting, the Committee did not agree to stop the work on the dam nor give the affected people agricultural lands. In fact, the Narmada Minister Shri Subhash Yadav stated that they would amend the provision of the rehabilitation policy that provided for land for land, so that they would not be required to give lands to the people! The NBA activists pointed out that even if the state government were to amend the state rehabilitation policy, they could hardly amend the conditions under which the Ministry of Environment clearance was given to the Project. Thus, the government has decided to carry on the construction and drown out the people. The people of the Man project area have resolved to stop the Project through non-violent but militant struggle. But the reality is that the spillway section of the dam is being plugged in at the rate of a foot a day. It is crucial that all work on the dam must immediately stop.

It is clear that the tribals of this area need all your support to win this struggle and to save the homes and lands of these 5000 tribals from sure submergence this monsoon.

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