Friends of the Earth International recently expressed deep concern at the growing humanitarian crisis in the Narmada valley of central India, where thousands of families were threatened by eviction without rehabilitation by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project.
Sardar Sarovar is the world’s second-largest concrete dam, completed in 2017. Initially financed by the World Bank, it has been at the center of controversy for a number of reasons, including its poor track record of rehabilitating communities affected by flooding. We learned that, flouting all policies and guidelines, nearly 32,000 families are yet to be compensated after the completion of the dam. Moreover, the Narmada Control Authority has been planning to fill the reservoir to its full level, threatening the submersion of hundreds of villages in the backwaters of the Narmada river. Recent media reports raising questions about possible corruption in the management of water, with farmers being deprived of their rightful share and work on canal networks remaining incomplete.
In protest, senior activist Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, along with six other activists, began an indefinite fast on 25 August, demanding that the dam sluices be opened, the water level reduced and the 32,000 affected families compensated first.
Their hunger strike continued until the ninth day, when the local state government delivered a letter agreeing to “make efforts to ensure the dam gates are opened and the filling up of the reservoir is postponed”. They promised to organize village-level camps to deal with local communities’ claims and issues, and to give rehabilitation-related benefits to 115 families who were previously declared ineligible. On 13 September, Chief Minister Kamal Nath demanded a meeting with the Narmada Control Authority to resolve the rehabilitation and resettlement issues.
The Narmada struggle has been an inspiration to a number of organizations across the world. Its relentless fight made the World Bank withdraw financing of the dam project in the early 1990s and compelled the Bank to establish the Inspection Panel – the first accountability mechanism in any multilateral bank. It continues to inspire movements across the world with its non-violent struggle.
We stand in solidarity with the Narmada struggle. We celebrate the response of the Madhya Pradesh state government, and demand that they now fulfill their promises, to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
For the latest updates on the struggle, see Narmada Bachao Andolan’s website.
Photo credit: Narmada Bachao Andolan.