INDIA: Abandoned to fate
After 13 days of protest, standing in neck-deep water in the catchment area of the Omkareshwar Dam, the protesters have found that neither the Madhya Pradesh state government nor the Government of India have time to listen to their voice. Risking serious aliments and water-borne infections, the protesters have found immense solidarity from the civil society group in India and abroad. The national media have once again started considering the protest with the seriousness it commands, and the international media have followed suit.
An earlier statement released by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in support of the protest is available here.
That many villagers who lost their land and livelihood options do no figure in government records show the failure in assessment and the government's lack of intricate knowledge and concern about the adverse impact massive development projects will have upon people's life. It is difficult to summarise how bad is the damage such projects will inflict upon the environment of the region.
The Entire Narmada Valley Project will submerge thousands of square kilometres of prime agricultural land, forest and natural habitats. This is in addition to the massive extent of stagnation water bodies are forced into and thousands of years old geographical, cultural and anthropological resources buried and destroyed forever by the project. None of this is reversible.
At the core of people's protest in Madhya Pradesh is the governments' refusal to render justice to the villagers who have lost everything to the Omkareshwar Dam, one of the 30 large projects under the controversial Narmada Valley Project. It is a cry for justice by the people, who the government is mandated to serve. The country's Supreme Court has abandoned them, by literally joining hands with the government. The protest is in fact to claim the last straw of survival, seeking land in lieu of the lands lost for the project. A similarly serious protest is going on against lack of adequate assessment and rehabilitation of villagers who have lost everything to yet another project under the Narmada Valley Project, the Indira Sagar Dam.
Yet another protest is brewing in the northeastern state of Manipur. The newly conceived petro-chemical project in that state is large enough to change the entire state into one massive oil field. However the activities in Manipur organised by the Committee on the Protection of Natural Resources in Manipur is yet to draw national or international attention. It is just that the people's protest in Manipur is not as dramatic and unique as it is in Madhya Pradesh, but dissent against government nonetheless.
The elementary concern of the people is that they are not adequately consulted when the proposals were conceived. Neither were there any attempts by the state to properly assess the damage caused to the land and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, for whom in fact the government claims these projects are implemented. In fact the state does not have a realistic estimate of the number of people who are adversely affected by these projects. So what is left for them is to protest demanding their legitimate rights, at every possible occasion.
In a democratic setup it is expected that there would be consultations and protests. However what make the protests against denied rehabilitation concerning the Narmada Valley Project and the petrochemical project in Manipur is that the government that draws its mandate through a democratic process has denied the very essence of democracy to the people. These are voices of the people against fictionalising the essence of democracy.
If the people shout slogans against their government that they are abandoned to fate, one cannot blame them. Having such an irresponsible government is their fate. The problem is, when people refuse to accept it.
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