Narmada Bachao Andolan
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is a social movement consisting of adivasis, farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists against a number of large dams being built across the Narmada river. The river flows through the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in India. Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement.
Their mode of campaign includes hunger strikes and garnering support from film and art personalities (notably Bollywood actor Aamir Khan). Narmada Bachao Andolan, with its leading spokespersons Medha Patkar and Baba Amte, received the Right Livelihood Award in 1991.
History of the dam project
Post-1947, investigations were carried out to evaluate mechanisms for using water from the Narmada River, which flows into the Arabian Sea after passing through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat. Due to inter-state differences in implementing schemes and sharing of water, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal was constituted by the Government of India on 6 October 1969 to adjudicate over the disputes. This tribunal investigated the matters referred to it and responded after more than 10 years. On 12 December 1979, the decision as given by the tribunal, with all the parties at dispute binding to it, was released by the Indian government.
In 1985, after hearing about the Sardar Sarovar dam, Medha Patkar and her colleagues visited the project site and noticed that the project work being checked due to an order by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The reasons for this was cited as "non-fulfillment of basic environmental conditions and the lack of completion of crucial studies and plans". What she noticed was that the people who were going to be affected were given no information but for the offer for rehabilitation. Due to this, the villagers had many questions from why their permission was not taken to whether a good assessment on the ensuing destruction was taken. Furthermore, the officials related to the project had no answers to their questions. While World Bank, the financing agency for this project, came into the picture, Patkar approached the Ministry of Environment to seek clarifications. She realized, after seeking answers from the ministry, that the project was not sanctioned at all and wondered as to how funds were even sanctioned by the World Bank. After several studies, they realized that the officials had overlooked the post-project problems.
Through Patkar's channel of communication between the government and the residents, she provided critiques to the project authorities and the governments involved. At the same time, her group realized that all those displaced were only given compensation for the immediate standing crop and not for displacement and rehabilitation.
As Patkar remained immersed in the Narmada struggle, she chose to quit her Ph.D. studies and focus entirely on the Narmada activity. Thereafter, she organized a 36-day solidarity march among the neighboring states of the Narmada valley from Madhya Pradesh to the Sardar Sarovar dam site. She said that the march was "a path symbolizing the long path of struggle (both immediate and long-term) that [they] really had". The march was resisted by the police, who according to Patkar were "caning the marchers and arresting them and tearing the clothes off women activists".
There were many groups such as Gujarat-based Arch-Vahini (Action Research in Community Health and Development) and Narmada Asargrastha Samiti (Committee for people affected by the Narmada dam), Madhya Pradesh-based Narmada Ghati Nav Nirman Samiti (Committee for a new life in the Narmada Valley) and Maharashtra-based Narmada Dharangrastha Samiti (Committee for Narmada dam-affected people) who either believed in the need for fair rehabilitation plans for the people or who vehemently opposed dam construction despite a resettlement policy.
While Medha Patkar established Narmada Bachao Andolan in 1989, all these groups joined this national coalition of environmental and human rights activists, scientists, academics and project-affected people with a non-violent approach.
Within the focus of Narmada Bachao Andolan towards the stoppage of the Sardar Sarovar dam, Patkar advised addition of World Bank to their propaganda. Using the right to fasting, she undertook a 22-day fast that almost took her life. In 1991, Patkar's actions led to an unprecedented independent review by the World Bank. The Morse Commission, appointed in June 1991 at the recommendation of World Bank President Barber Conable, conducted its first independent review of a World Bank project. This independent review stated that "performance under these projects has fallen short of what is called for under Bank policies and guidelines and the policies of the Government of India." This resulted in the Indian Government pulling out of its loan agreement with the World Bank. In response, Patkar said "It is very clear and obvious that they used this as a face-saving device," suggesting that if this were not to happen, the World Bank eventually would have withdrawn the loan. The World Bank's participation in these projects was cancelled in 1995.
She undertook a similar fast in 1993 and resisted evacuation from the dam site. In 1994, the Narmada Bachao Andolan office was attacked reportedly by a couple of political parties, where Patkar and other activists were physically assaulted and verbally abused. In protest, a few NBA activists and she began a fast; 20 days later, they were arrested and forcibly fed intravenously.
Supreme Court's decision
The court initially ruled the decision in the Andolan's favor, thereby effecting an immediate stoppage of work at the dam and directing the concerned states to first complete the rehabilitation and replacement process.
The Court deliberated on this issue further for several years but finally upheld the Tribunal Award and allowed the construction to proceed, subject to conditions. The court introduced a mechanism to monitor the progress of resettlement pari passu with the raising of the height of the dam through the Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRA) in each of the party states. The court’s decision referred in this document, given in the year 2000 after seven years of deliberations, has paved the way for completing the project to attain full envisaged benefits. The court's final line of the order states, "Every endeavour shall be made to see that the project is completed as expeditiously as possible".
Subsequent to the court’s verdict, Press Information Bureau (PIB) featured an article which states that:
"The Narmada Bachao Andolan has rendered a yeoman's service to the country by creating a high-level of awareness about the environmental and rehabilitation and relief aspects of Sardar Sarovar and other projects on the Narmada. But, after the court verdict it is incumbent on it to adopt a new role. Instead of 'damning the dam' any longer, it could assume the role of vigilant observer to see that the resettlement work is as humane and painless as possible and that the environmental aspects are taken due care of."
1994 saw the launch of Narmada: A Valley Rises, by filmmaker Ali Kazimi. It documents the five-week Sangharsh Yatra of 1991. The film went on to win several awards and is considered by many to be a classic on the issue. In 1996, veteran documentary filmmaker, Anand Patwardhan, made an award-winning documentary: A Narmada Diary. Alok Agarwal, current member of the Aam Aadmi Party, is an active figure in the movement.
The Narmada dam's benefits include provision of drinking water, power generation and irrigation facilities. However, the campaign led by the NBA activists has held up the project's completion, and the NBA supporters have attacked on local people who accepted compensation for moving. Others have argued that the Narmada Dam protesters are little more than environmental extremists who use pseudoscientific agitprop to scuttle the development of the region and that the dam will provide agricultural benefits to millions of poor in India. There had also been instances when the NBA activists turned violent and attacked rehabilitation officer from Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA) and caused damage to the contractor's machinery.
The NBA has been accused of lying under oath in court about land ownership in areas affected by the dam. The Supreme Court has mulled perjury charges against the group.
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- Friends of River Narmada, the unofficial website of the NBA.