Thousands of indigenous people to be displaced by Narmada dam

Dam projects in India face renewed pressure from recently elected government officials in Madhya Pradesh to begin, or in some cases complete, construction, sparking widespread protests by the country’s indigenous people, called adivasi.

In the Narmada River Valley, 30 large dams will provide hydro-electric power and irrigation services to the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. Over one million people, however, have already been displaced by the dams, including tens of thousands of adivasi. Hundreds of thousands more will be impacted if the project continues.

On January 2, almost 2,000 people from the potentially affected villages rallied in Khargone and interrogated senior officials of the Narmada Valley Development Authority for nearly three hours. They demanded that the government either implement decentralized water alternatives, or provide irrigated agricultural land to the displaced families.

Similar protests occurred on January 5 and 7 in Panthiaji, Nemit, and Devit Bujurg, where thousands of villagers affected by the Omkareshwar and Upper Beda dams demand that work on the dams be suspended until all of the communities receive compensation, including land. On January 23, four Narmada Bachao Andolan activists began a six-day fast in Mumbai to convince the Chief Minister not to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

In 1997, protestors successfully persuaded several contractors to cease their dam building projects. Furthermore, a 21-day fast in Bhopal prompted the government to create a committee to explore and implement alternatives to the Lower Goi and Upper Beda dams. The committee, unfortunately, never materialized, though work on the dams was halted.

After the December 2003 elections, however, construction equipment was once again sent to project sites. The Chief Minister of the Madhya Pradesh government went to inaugurate the Upper Beda dam and was met by 5,000 adivasi protesters.

On January 20, in the face of renewed protests against the Narmada dams, the government agreed to resettle all people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam, to procure an additional 1,500 hectares of land for resettlement, and to provide for schools in the resettlement areas. It is certainly a legitimate fear, based on the government’s track record, that none of these promises will come to fruition.

For more information on the Narmada River Valley, please visit Friends of the Narmada River.