The case against the Sardar Sarovar dam in Navagaon in Gujarat that had been filed by the NBA in the Supreme Court in 1994 was finally disposed of in 2000. Even though the Supreme Court gave a green signal for the construction of the dam and rejected the voluminous arguments for it to be scrapped on the ground of the huge environmental and social costs involved, it nevertheless put in a rider. This was that the construction of the dam could take place only if those being displaced by it are first rehabilitated and resettled to their satisfaction. In the case of those being displaced in Madhya Pradesh, who are by far much greater in number, they would have to be resettled in that state itself if that is what they desired. This provision in the judgment has proved to be a tough nut to crack for the Government of Madhya Pradesh because it does not want to rehabilitate people by giving them land for land and only wants to give them some paltry cash compensation. The NBA has gone back to the High Court and Supreme Court time and again citing this intransigence on the part of the Madhya Pradesh Government to give land for land to the oustees in Madhya Pradesh and has been able to stall the further construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam over the height of 121 meters. Above this height the gates of 17 meter height are to be installed and this cannot be done until all those coming under submergence due to this increased height are rehabilitated. Similarly in other dams upstream also the NBA has used this provision of the original Supreme Court judgment to get judgments from both the High and Supreme Courts for rehabilitation with land for land for all oustees to be done before the water levels can be raised. So despite the Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar and Maheshwar dams having been completed the water in the reservoir cannot be filled because many oustees still remain unrehabilitated. The oustees have continually agitated at the grassroots level and kept up their fight for just rehabilitation.
Exasperated by this dour resistance and clever use of the courts by the NBA the Madhya Pradesh Government has now decided to blatantly disregard the courts' orders and raise the level of the water in the reservoirs in Omkareshwar and Indira Sagar dams without rehabilitating the oustees. The NBA instead of being intimidated by this illegal and patently unjust show of power by the State decided to undertake a Jal Satyagraha with upwards of 50 people, men and women, standing in water at Ghoghalgaon village in the Omkareshwar reservoir and another 30 odd in Khadana village in the Indira Sagar reservoir.
The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has said that the NBA is conspiring to hold back development in the State. Development for the rich and powerful that is. Today there is technology available for decentralised and communitarian production of electrical energy through gasification of bio-mass and irrigation through watershed development and artificial recharge. Yet these options which are eminently more sustainable environmentally, socially and economically are not being pursued because there is a conspiracy on the part of the rich and powerful to push through unsustainable development. The struggle of the NBA and many other mass organisations is against this anti-people and anti-nature conspiracy of the ruling classes and their stooges.
All this brings to the fore yet again, the anti-people and unjust character of Governments in this country which routinely promote the interests of the capitalists at the expense of the people and especially the farmers. The blatantly illegal actions of the State, including the use of force against peaceful agitations, have put paid to many mass movements since independence but the NBA has proved an exception as it has used a combination of various strategies to keep the fight for justice alive in the Narmada valley. Through this it has provided inspiration for many more such struggles that are going on against mining, nuclear power plants and steel plants across the country. It is this commendable perseverance that holds promise of a better tomorrow for the millions of downtrodden people of this country. Even though a broadbased movement for an alternative decentralised, just and sustainable development paradigm has not yet been able to garner mass support across the country, the devastating thrust of the State and its capitalist sponsors is being parried with gusto in many locations.