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Javed Iqbal - After the flood

by Dilip, 6 October 2013

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A series of floods hit India this the past monsoon season, from Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal — it wasn’t only Uttarkhand. Javed Iqbal travels to the Narmada valley, the site of one of the recent disasters, where political forces and the administrative system revealed a worrying lack of motivation when it came to responding to the man-made disaster.

The website of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited claims that the decades-old Sardar Sarovar Dam project on the Narmada (amongst 18 other dams on the river at different levels of completion), would build the capacity to generate over 1200 MW and 250 MW power to three states; and to irrigate 18.45 lakhs of hectares of land, covering 3,112 villages in Gujarat, 2,46,000 hectares of desert land in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares on the tribal hills of Maharashtra.

Yet it is a prime example of a utilitarian philosophy gone wrong, where the dictum of the ’greater common good’ has led to the reneging of democratic values, when the ’few’ (in and around 3 lakh people as per the 2011 census) are not even paid attention to. Those affected by the rise in water levels of the dam are condemned to an absent administration, horrific levels of corruption in the Resettlement & Rehabilitation policy, as well as the additional risk of the dam’s height being raised from 122.92 metres to 138.68 metres, which will further drown over 245 villages.

In the night of 23 August, Bhilala adivasi villagers from Morkata in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh realized something was wrong with the reservoir waters of the Narmada river. Water had slowly started to seep through the doors of Kamal Chauhan’s house, over a kilometre away from the river, and within two hours, he and his family were swimming through water that reached over their necks, carrying whatever belongings they had, to higher ground.

The next day, on the other side of the Narmada river, Chikalda, a Valmiki hamlet on a hill, from where one could see that the river had risen 60 feet above normal levels, disappeared completely. The homes of Munu Hussain, Munu Vijay, Munu Nana, Munu Kamal, and Antim Munuram were completely destroyed. "Nine of our pigs were taken away by the waters," said Munu Hussain, clearing the debris over his home with callused hands, "We found their bodies four days later, they got stuck in the bushes and drowned."
The waters had begun to rise at around 8pm at Chikalda and reached their highest level at 10pm but, unlike previous floods, the waters did not recede for days. 115 homes were destroyed. for one family in the Valmiki hamlet — Suresh, Mahesh and Rajesh Babulal, Rekha and her mother Gulshan Bai — who earned their living cleaning in the neighbouring towns, it wasn’t any different from the floods three weeks earlier, or last year, or in 2010, or in 1994, when the Tava dam waters had first destroyed their home.
At Picchodi village in Badwani district, the illegal sand mining on the banks of the river caused the water to enter through broken banks, mined into a soft flatbed. Though the villagers had moved against this activity earlier in the year, the damage had been done — the flood waters had turned a road into a river, ensuring the destruction of hundreds of acres of crop. Nisarpur, a village on the other side of the river, saw water levels on the Ori tributary of the Narmada rise slowly over three days, entirely submerging hundreds of shops and destroying over 105 homes.
A week after the destruction at Nisarpur, only one revenue officer had shown up at the hamlets most affected by the backwater floods. Dozens of families in Dhangarpara of Nisarpur were living in the private schools of the village until they were kicked out a week later. The village of Morkata was given 50 kilograms of wheat as relief, but this was only after they stormed the Collector’s office at Badwani.
By 2 September, angry villagers from across the region had begun their march against the administration, in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district as well as in Badwani, Alirajpur and Dhar districts of Madhya Pradesh. Meanwhile, up the river, those displaced by the Omakeshwar dam started their Jal Satyagraha, demanding fair rehabilitation and resettlement, especially land for land — to which the administration responded by ordering curfews and preventive arrests... read more:

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