Fishworkers and Boatmen assert their Right to Water and Fisheries in Sardar Sarovar

NBA press release, 30 September 2006

The governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as the Union of India always made propaganda of the rehabilitation policy of the Sardar Sarovar Project Affected People as that of being an ideal policy. The Narmada Bachao Andolan pointed out the inadequacies apart from the lack of implementation, which proved the government affidavits before the Supreme Court, and compliance reports of various agencies to be false.

The partial reservoir that is created at the height of 119 meters has brought in severe impacts in the hilly adivasi areas and also the plains of Nimad, proving NBA’s claims to be right.

While there are 35,000 families still in the 122 mts affected area, all did not face submergence this year and the thickly populated villages were saved. However, in addition to adivasis losing all their land and livelihood, a few hundred families in Nimad lost their agricultural land but a few thousand others, watermelon growers on the riverbank have also lost theirs. The latter are the families who are otherwise living on fishing, boating or agricultural labour. Many of these cultivators had land rights while the others have proofs, of years and decades old auctions of this land or old encroachments, which give them entitlement for rights and they earned 15,000 to 50,000 rupees annually from the same. In spite of the Andolan raising the issue since years, the government has not even acquired the ‘owned land’ of these poor families and denied them the right to regularize old encroachments. The families are up against this injustice, to claim their rights to land, which is illegally drowned.

The traditional fish workers living on fish since generations have no place in the rehabilitation policy except that the principle of resettling the affected at a standard of living higher than before displacement is mentioned. It was in the action plans in the state of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra prepared in the early 1990’s, that the promise of settling non -agriculturist families with an alternative source of livelihood, which the state government would help them to acquire, was mentioned, but never fulfilled.

The boatmen, who have the old records of the kings allotting them the ghats for maintenance and boating as the only mode of transport across the river, form another category of the deprived but not rehabilitated. There is no provision for any kind of compensation or alternative source of income guaranteed to them.

Altogether there are not less than 10,000 families belonging to these three categories that are offered only the compensation for their affected houses, which are at the lowest level in all the villages, and house plots at the resettlement sites. Most of them have genuine complaints of compensation being inadequate for building a similar house at the new place, houses being left out of surveys for no justifiable reason and have a large number have yet to get the alternative house plots even when most of them in the villages of Badwani and Dhar districts are affected below 110mts and 122mts. They thus have no place to go even when they are either already affected or can be affected at the present dam height itself. The Grievances Redressal Authority as well as the Narmada Control Authority has failed to take cognizance of either individual or collective petitions since years.

The adivasi fish workers in Jhabua district (M.P.) and Nandurbar district (Maharashtra), who are also farmers but have lost their main agricultural land without replacement also demand right to the fisheries, which cannot go to the big trawler owners and reservoir contractors as has happened else where. At least five to ten families in every affected village in above-mentioned districts have their claim to fishing rights and desire to have necessary equipment for the same.

It was the massive boat rally, (photographs attached) and the large public gathering of fish workers and farmers on the day of the closure of the ‘Satyagraha’ on 23rd September 2006 that made a beginning of our struggle for our fishing and boating rights and right to land in lieu of the submerged river-bank land.

The farmers also raised question related to their water rights. Not less than 10,000 water pumps irrigate thousands of hectares of land in the river basin, which is beyond the affected area. The townships of Badwani, Kukshi are also dependent on the Narmada waters for drinking purpose. The official letter written by the Government of Gujarat to the Narmada authorities in Madhya Pradesh indicates that no water can be lifted from the reservoir by the state of Madhya Pradesh. SINCE THE RESERVOIR WATERS WILL BE RESERVED FOR GUJARAT AND RAJASTHAN, BOTH MAHARASHTRA AND MADHYA PRADESH WHICH ARE RIPARIAN STATES, WILL LOOSE THEIR RIGHTS OVER THE RIVER NARMADA FOR A STRECH OF ABOUT 450kms (BOTH THE RIVER BANKS). How unjust will this be for the generations old riparian communities, we continue to ask.

How many thousands families will face the impacts which are not assessed, recognised and compensated, the governments must be compelled to reply. Will the courts take cognizance of the injustice never brought out before it, by those who boast of complete and fair rehabilitation? Whatever may be the answer, considering the examples and experiences of the Bargi and Tava dam-affected and taking lessons from the same, we will continue to struggle for rights until we win.

We appeal to the civil society to come forward and join us by extending ‘Jansahayog’ for providing the fish-workers with nets and boats. It was during the gathering following the boat rally that we made a small beginning by donating nets to a few adivasis in villages Bhitada, Sugat at the hands of the well known Hindi litterateur, Dr. M.B. Shah from Dhule, Maharashtra.


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