Protesters against India dam evictions fear more violence after police action

by Rina Chandran and Suchitra Mohanty | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 8 August 2017 12:42 GMT

Picnickers stand in front of the overflowing Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam in Kavadia, 194 km (121 miles) south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad in this 2012 archive photo. REUTERS/Amit Dave

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Nearly 200 villages are expected to be submerged from a planned increase in the height of the dam

By Rina Chandran and Suchitra Mohanty

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI, Aug 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of protesters demanding better resettlement options for villagers displaced by a dam in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, are bracing for more violence a day after several campaigners were forcibly removed by police.

Activists in Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh say 40,000 families uprooted by the Sardar Sarovar dam need more time than a court mandated July 31 deadline to leave their homes, as the state's resettlement sites are inadequate.

Late on Monday, police took away Medha Patkar, founder of rights group Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement), and about a dozen others who had been on a hunger strike for more than a week.

"The state is increasingly violent in its dealings with us, and we have to brace ourselves for more violence as we continue the protest," said Madhuresh Kumar, an NBA campaigner.

"There are police at the protest site and in the villages, where villagers are being forcefully evicted," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

State officials said they took Patkar and other protesters to hospitals because they were concerned about their declining health, but Patkar suggested there were other motives behind his removal.

"If I am hospitalised as per CM (Chief Minister), not arrested then why my colleagues are not allowed to visit me," Patkar said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The Sardar Sarovar dam is the centrepiece of the multi-billion dollar Narmada Valley development project to provide water and power to millions in India's west through a series of dams, reservoirs and canals spanning three states.

The dam was completed in 2006, about two decades after construction began. The project has been mired in controversy since it was conceived in the 1960s, with protracted battles over water sharing, evictions and compensation.

The NBA has said the dam displaced 320,000 people - many of them poor tribal farmers who were not resettled on agricultural land - and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands more. Thousands have still not been compensated, it said.

Nearly 200 villages are expected to be submerged from a planned increase in the height of the dam.

In February, India's top court asked Madhya Pradesh to complete the resettlement sites by July 31, and pay 6 million rupees ($94,000) to each of the 681 families who did not receive any compensation.

Campaigners subsequently filed a petition with a state court, saying the sites lacked basic amenities such as water, electricity and sewage lines. They also appealed to the Supreme Court to extend the deadline, but this was rejected on Tuesday.

About 65 million people were displaced in India by dams, highways, mines, power plants and airports between 1950 and 2005, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Less than a fifth have been resettled.

($1 = 63.6545 Indian rupees)

(Writing by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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