The Madhya Pradesh Government tried to nip this year’s Jal Satyagraha at the Indira Sagar Dam in the bud on Sunday by enforcing a curfew in all the venues of the protest. The unique protest, which was first held last year, involves people indefinitely immersing themselves in the backwaters of Narmada.
Villagers living on the banks of the Indira Sagar are protesting against raising the water level of the dam above 260 metres, as it submerges their crops and homes. They are also demanding land in lieu of the submerged land and a comprehensive rehabilitation package similar to the one given for evacuees of the Omkareshwar dam in the State. The level at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Indira Sagar was 261.61 metres.
The Satyagraha in September 2012 was called off after 17 days when the government decided to keep the level at Omkareshwar under 189 metres and grant compensation. A Rs. 212-crore package for Omkareshwar evacuees was cleared this May. This issue drew international attention. This time, the State took pre-emptive measures to prevent bad publicity in an election year.
On Saturday night, the police and revenue officials began an elaborate bandobust around the villages of Badkhalia, Mel Pipliya and Oonwa in Khandwa, Dewas and Harda districts respectively. Villagers, under the banner of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), had planned to congregate in the backwaters at noon. But fearing arrest before they could start the stir, they attempted to enter the waters at around 7-30 a.m.
“When we began gathering, the police told us that the government will only look into our demands if we stay out of the water. Some of us entered Ajnal river (a Narmada tributary) while others were held back. At 8 a.m., we were told that prohibitory orders have been imposed and all 175 of us were arrested. Ten children among us were released and the rest went to court,” said Harda organiser Ram Vilas Rathore.
The NBA claimed that more than 1,000 people, including Khandwa organiser Chittaroopa Palit were detained in the State. Most of them were released on personal bonds. Seven, including Palit were sent to judicial custody until September 10. No violence or lathi charges were reported.
“We are sticking to our declared stand, which is to abide by tribunal and court awards and to protect lives. Anyone endangering their own lives will be prevented,” chief secretary R. Parasuram told The Hindu .
Oonwa villager Sunil Rathore explained that around 70 acres of land above the submergence line went under this monsoon. “There was soya and moong dal crop standing. Yet, they raised the level to produce more electricity. The crop has gone. We can’t eat electricity,” he said.