Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Rajiv Shah, Counterview
By Our Representative
Giving a fresh twist to its opposition to the Narmada project, the Sitter Gaam Adivasi Sangathan, representing 70 villages around the Narmada dam, has taken strong exception to the Gujarat government going ahead with the Garudeshwar weir, being constructed about 12 kilometres downstream of the dam, without any approval from their gram sabhas. It has invoked Schedule V of the Constitution of India, under which approval from the gram sabhas is a must before going ahead with any major project that may affect their livelihood.
The Sangathan, which is backed by top Vadodara-based environmental NGO Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, is driven by the fear that, with the construction of the weir, the entire 12 km stretch and the nearby areas, may be converted into a tourist spot, for which largescale land acquisition from several of the 70 villages may take place citing the “public purpose” clause of the amended land acquisition Act. Experts say, this cannot happen, as under Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or PESA, gram sabha approval for any such land acquisition is a must if adivasis are involved.
In a letter submitted to the district collector, Narmada, following a protest rally on December 10, which happened on the Human Rights Day, the Sangathan said, “The Garudeshwar weir, which is going to be 31.75 metres high, is likely to submerge cultivable land of several of the villages like Gora, Vasantpura, Nana Pipariya, Mota Pipariya, Indravarna, Gabhana and Kevadia.”
Suggesting that this will adversely affect the livelihood of the tribals, the Sangathan said, “For us, the Narmada river is part of our cultural-spiritual life. In fact, it is our lifeline. We pray here, we bathe here, we wash our clothes here. We have been disposing of cremated bodies of our ancestors in this river. In case the river waters rise because of the weir, there is also the fear that the crocodiles may enter our villages. Besides, this is the area which is also the command area of the Karjan dam, which supplies water for irrigating our lands.”
Reiterating that the weir is being built without proper environmental clearance, as has been suggested by one of the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) members, Shekhar Singh, the Sangathan quotes from his letter dated March 24 to the NCA, saying, the Gujarat government should be immediately asked to stop construction of the Garudeshwar weir, as also all other activities related to it.
“The letter clearly said that unless the Gujarat government or the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) does not get its full feasibility report on the weir to the environmental sub-group of the NCA, no work should be allowed for the weir”, the Sangathan, in its letter, said, adding, “Even this has been ignored by the authorities.”
Pointing towards an earlier protest against the weir, which took place November 5, 2913, following which the SSNNL officially told the Sangathan to report all future issues to the district collector, Narmada, the letter said, “It appears clear that you have not taken into account any of our demands. We again demand that till necessary clearances, including from the gram sabhas and the NCA, any work on Garudeshwar weir should be deemed as illegal and it should be stopped forthwith.”
The letter was submitted to the district collector’s office, and a copy was sent to the SSNNL, Gandhinagar, following the protest rally. A Sangathan statement issued following the rally said, “We had expected that the district collector and the deputy collector would personally turn up to receive our letter. However, unfortunately, the district collector shied away from meeting the protesters, many of whom were women, who personally approached him on phone.” Apart from the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara-based women’s organization, Sahiyar, too, backed the rally.