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Jal Satyagraha in the Narmada Valley

By Daniela Del Bene.

Satyagraha is the struggle for the Truth, a Gandhian way of fighting injustice with the power of the Truth. Jal means water and the two words indicate a powerful means of struggle in the Narmada valley. Hundreds are now standing in the waters of the sacred river in three districts, Khandwa, Hrada and Dewas, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, demanding justice and the implementation of the law, while 76 have been arrested in the first days of protest. The government of Madhya Pradesh, and the company NHDC Limited are allowing water to rise in the reservoir of the Indira Sagar Dam, causing submergence of hundreds of villages. This goes in violation of the orders of the High Court and Supreme Court of India that ruled that the water level in the Indira Sagar dam shouldn’t be raised beyond the level of 260 meters.

More mobilizations are going on around the now infamous Sardar Sarovar Dam, in the state of Gujarat. More than 1,200 adivasis[1] from the 33 hilly adivasi villages affected by the dam and 73 forest villages in the Satpuda ranges of Nandurbar District of Maharashtra, marched into the Collector’s office yesterday in Nandurbar, Maharashtra. They demanded a conclusive answer to various serious issues such as compensation for illegal submergence caused due to the release of waters from the upstream dams in the SSP reservoir, land-based rehabilitation of more than 1,500 adivasi families, ensure community forest rights, review of small and medium dams on tributaries of Narmada, role and rights of Gram Sabhas[2], etc.

History tells that almost everywhere in the valley, submergence has been going hand in hand for decades with the non-compliance of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation measures and with gross violation of the Indian law committed by the same government and state companies. In both dam areas, thousands of the ousted are yet to be given land and other rehabilitation entitlements. Thousands of houses are yet to be acquired and thousands of acres of land have become island.

Firm commitment, social engagement and spiritual strength have been guiding the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) activists and inhabitants of the Narmada valley for the last 25+ years of struggle. They have become a source of deep inspiration for the whole country.

The latest protests are going on since the 1st of September, while in Delhi, the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill is soon going to be passed in the Rajya Sabha (the high chamber). Many Indian social movements, including NBA, have been criticizing the last versions of the bill for many months, arguing that the government is watering down the initial effort for a more inclusive participation process, which started after the Nandigram and Singur struggles. In the last version currently under approval, the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) will not be applicable to irrigation projects. Land for land provision, though minimal, will not be applicable in irrigation projects. Today’s NAPM – National Alliance of People’s Movements press note states: “This is being done in the backdrop of three decades of struggle against 30 big dams, 135 medium dams and 3000 small dams on the Narmada & its tributaries in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Together these dams are affecting nearly 5 million people in three states and as of now not in a single project the satisfactory resettlement and rehabilitation has been done by the government. Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) Award, 1979, which mandated 5 acres of land for land to every major sons for the Sardar Sarovar Dam affected families, a principle later accepted for some other dams too, is now under attack in collusion with Central and State government.”

According to South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and other sources 5,500 big dams in India have together displaced nearly 55 million people, of which 47% are adivasi communities.

The NAPM press note also declares: “The Land Bill passed by Lok Sabha (the lower chamber) has been a much diluted version from the original draft brought out by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2011, which itself was a watered down version of the NAC approved 2006 draft. The draft Bill was a step forward but two steps backward, since it legitimizes the acquisition of the land for private corporations for their profit in the name of public purpose and also left out 100 million displaced persons since 1947 due to development projects and other causes. It is a historic opportunity missed.”

Notwithstanding this, the current laws have to be implemented. The movement calls for international solidarity and action by sending the below petitions to Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Vice Chairman of the Narmada Valley Development Authority and Collector of Khandwa, Harda and Dewas to demand justice for the affected people of the Indira Sagar dam.


Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan,

Chief Minister,

Government of Madhya Pradesh,

Vallabh Bhawan,


Fax: 91-755-2441781, 2540501,

E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Shri Rajneesh Vaish,

Vice Chairman,

Narmada Valley Development Authority,

Naramda Bhavan, Bhopal

Phone: 0755-26775030755-2677535 (Fax)

E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is requiredemail hidden; JavaScript is required

The Collector,

District Khandwa,


Madhya Pradesh.

Phone : 91-733-2226666(O), 91-733-2223333(R);Fax : 91-733-2224233

E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required

The Collector,

District Dewas,

Dewas ,

Madhya Pradesh.

Phone : 07272-252111(O) , 07577-225011(Fax), 9826263270 (M)

E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required

The Collector,

District Harda,


Madhya Pradesh.

Phone: – 09425057585; 07272-252444(Fax)

E-mail: – email hidden; JavaScript is

Subject: Urgent action regarding oustees Indira Sagar Dam.

Dear Sir,

We have learnt with deep shock that the water level in Indira Sagar dam in the Narmada Valley have been illegally raised beyond 260 meters causing submergence of numerous lands and houses of oustees. Oustees of the dam have not been rehabilitated and resettled as per rehabilitation policy by giving them agricultural land and other rehabilitation entitlements. Although the Supreme Court has clearly ordered that these oustees have to be rehabilitated 6 months before submergence, thousands of families who are yet to be rehabilitated are now being submerged in complete violation of Supreme Court and High Court orders.

We have also learned that hundreds of oustees have been standing in Indira Sagar dam, demanding reduction in water level and rehabilitation before submergence. It is extremely disturbing that the oustees have to embark on Jal Satygraha to get their due rehabilitation rights.

We, therefore request you to maintain water level in the Indira Sagar dam at or below 260 M, survey and acquire thousands of houses and lands falling in the submergence area and the concerned families be rehabilitated, allotte a minimum of 5 acres of land each to the affected landholders and the landless families be provided with a grant of Rs. 2.5 lakhs so that after displacement, the oustees may restore their lives and livelihoods.

[1] The indigenous people of India

[2] Indian village council

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