The multitudes dispossessed by the 'Gujarat model' -Aseem Shrivastava & Aryaman Jain
Extractive projects like Sardar Sarovar have hit many people.
TheGujarat government has filled up the Sardar Sarovar this year, floodingthe Narmada. In Madhya Pradesh alone, reportedly, more than 28,000 families still live in the submergence zone. They have not been given due rehabilitation or compensation. However, despite opposition by many groups, the Gujarat and Union governments are going ahead with this forced mass displacement of communities. Disturbing videos are circulating. In one, a woman is seen refusing to leave her home, even asit is flooded to waist level. In another, two childhood friends are seen consoling each other as they watch the only place they’ve called ‘home’ go under water. There are thousands of such scenes along the Narmada. Crops grown over the season have been destroyed and around 13,500 hectares of forests are being drowned by this developmental mayhem.
Ingress of sea water
Beyond Sardar Sarovar,the once mighty Narmada is now a seasonal drain that carries sewage andindustrial effluents. At the mouth of the river in Gujarat, because of lower freshwater pressure on account of the dam, the sea water has ingressed several km inland, rendering vast fertile lands saline. With some 10,000 hectares of agricultural land having been destroyed, the farmers of the area are devastated. Just in Bharuch, a fishing communityof around 30,000 has lost its livelihood. The estuary’s once-thriving population of the coveted Hilsa fish is in danger due to the ingress. Inresponse, the Gujarat government has built a barrage which, paradoxically will only end up destroying the breeding grounds of the Hilsa.
When the dream of the Sardar Sarovar was sold to the people of Gujarat, these features of the dam were not mentioned. Even today, when proponents continue to defend the project after all that hashappened, they fail to report these ‘gifts’ of the dam.
But how was such a disaster allowed to unfold? For years, industrial lobbies constantly pushed politicians to build the dam despite activists raisingimportant questions about it. The politicians found it opportune to go along with the industrialists’ agenda.
The Sardar Sarovar was promised as a new lease of life for farmers across Gujarat. Even the Supreme Court, in allowing the project to go ahead in a 2000 verdict, relied pivotally on the argument that there was no other way to provide water to the dry areas of Gujarat. Farmers as far as Kutch were promisedNarmada waters. They are still waiting as the canals leading to their agricultural lands have not been built as yet. Instead, the situation has worsened. As Gujarat neglected its own water resources and the changing climate, farmers, fishermen and herders have begun leaving, signalling the beginnings of a climate refugee crisis.
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