The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) today sought immediate intervention of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the fate of 21 Jal Satyagrahis, protesters standing neck deep in water seeking justice in Ghoghalgaon, Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh.
It exressed grave concern for the health and lives. In a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi,AHRC Right to Food Programme Programme Coordinator Avinash Pandey said that the Satyagrahis are oustees of the Omkareshwar Dam and they have been standing submerged for 12 days now.
He deplored that the prolonged submergence has started to have serious consequences on their health. Their legs are giving way, their skin has started peeling-off and they are getting sick. This is why I seek your immediate intervention to save their lives.
According to him, the protesters, together with Alok Agrawal of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), have entered the river on 10 April 2015, to mark their protest against illegal submergence of their lands by the NHDC Limited (a Joint Venture of NHPC Ltd & the Govt. of Madhya Pradesh, and formerly known as Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation Ltd.). They are accompanied by hundreds of other oustees from the project-affected villages of Ghogalgaon, Ekhand, Bilaya, Gol Sailani, Saktapur, Toki, Kelwa Khurd, Kelwa Bujurg, and Kamankheda.
AHRC pointed out that the submergence violates the Indian Supreme Court judgement, dated 11 May 2011, which directed the authorities to allot a minimum of 2 hectares of land to all the families displaced by the dam. In case of failure to do so, the Supreme Court directed the authorities to provide the families a grant sufficient for the purchase of a minimum of 2 hectares of land.
The authorities of NHDC, however, it deplored, duped many a family with faulty and inadequate compensation, by keeping them in the dark about their land entitlements. They have also failed to allot any land or grant to many families, even though 4 years have passed since the judgement. On finding out the anomalies, many families have chosen to refund the compensation. However, as the NHDC Ltd. has failed to allot land to the oustees returning compensation in the last two-and-a-half years many have fallen into debt traps. To return the money, numerous families have had to raise funds from private moneylenders at astronomically high interest rates. Submerging their lands, in this situation, is not merely a sham but also a wilful violation of the order of the Supreme Court.
He said NBA activists have informed him, for instance, about the case of an elderly Dalit couple Tarabai and Rajaram Sikdar. The couple borrowed 6 lakh rupees from the local money sharks in December 2012 to refund the compensation to NHDC Ltd. following the Supreme Court judgement. They have not received any land yet and the interest alone on the borrowed money has ballooned to 4 lakh rupees. This has not stopped the NHDC Ltd. from submerging the couple's lands on 11 April 2015 by raising the water level of the Omkareshwar Dam up to 191 meters. The couple is not alone in this plight. Over 2,000 marginal and small landholders are in the same predicament of losing their livelihood and food security; they are being pushed into starvation.
AHRC said that that this is not the first time oustees of the Omkareshwar Dam have been compelled to undertake a Jal Satyagrah to get heard. They were forced to do the same in September 2012 merely to get heard. No self-respecting democracy can do this to its own citizens even once, while India is forcing them to be ready to lay down their lives to avail their legitimate rights. This is why I seek your immediate intervention, with what appears to be an unreasonable Madhya Pradesh government, for ending the plight of the Jal Satyagrahis.
Pandey urged the Prime Minister to instruct the Madhya Pradesh government and the NHDC Ltd. to immediately lower the water level in Omkareshwar Dam from 191 meters to 189 meters, and put a moratorium on any increase thereafter, until the Relief and Rehabilitation process is complete for all of the oustees. He also urged to ensure that the oustees are provided with either 2 hectares of land per family or financial grant for the same at current market price.
He asked to ensure that NHDC Ltd. does not get away with trying to forcibly resettle the oustee families in forest villages or in rocky and barren lands with no livelihood opportunities. They must be settled next to their allotted or purchased lands.