INDIA: Too little too late
After 17 days of daring to stand in neck-deep water, the villagers who are protesting against the unjust compensation package offered for the Onkareshwar Dam in Madhya Pradesh is yet to receive any guaranteed assurances from their government. Yesterday, the Madhya Pradesh State Government has reportedly agreed to reduce the water level in the reservoir, that some parts of the submerged lands would be relieved of submergence. This measure however is too little and has come too late, since most of the crops in the initially submerged land have already been lost to flooding. Originally submerged houses are no good even if the water recedes since they are no more habitable. Areas from where the water will recede, if the government stick to the temporary promise, would expose a marshy landscape that is certain to breed decease carrying vectors. Left with no land, income or a house, thousands of families are certain to perish on all fronts.
It is a scandal for which the Madhya Pradesh State Government has absolute responsibility to answer and find immediate solution to. The state government is yet to ensure proper rehabilitation of the villagers, who have lost everything to the project that is part of the highly controversial Narmada Valley Project. In that the protest by the villagers is just one incident of the entire Narmada Valley Project, that has devastated lives of millions of people, about which the state governments where the project is implemented or New Delhi have no accurate information.
The plight of the poor villagers and members of the tribal communities, estimated to be at least one million and possibly more in number, who are already or in the near future will be devastated by the adverse effects of the Narmada Valley Project has never been a concern at the state capitals and at New Delhi. In fact both governments have been aggressively perusing the project, with complete disregard to the right to consultation of the people, who have to sacrifice their lives and livelihood for the project, and have denied those who lost everything even the minimum respect of being offered a just rehabilitation package.
Even the Supreme Court of India has given up the people. The Court that once ruled that the villagers have no right to seek shelter in cities as a matter of right, should have known that the villagers were chased away from their hut and hearth by development projects that people in the cities have devised for their selfish benefit. It is an act, nothing less than judicial treachery, for the very same court to rule within a matter of five years that the government is expected to compensate the villagers only to the extent, "as far as possible" should the people loose their land and livelihood to the development projects. This act by the Court devoid of vision, justice and judicial wisdom is of such nature that it has undone the entire jurisprudence that defended the "common person" against the assault of the state. Given the nature and bizarre justifications the Indian judiciary is now notorious for resorting to - in defending the state - once could convincingly argue that the country's judiciary is no more independent.
Cashing upon the abundant opportunity has always been the state. The Madhya Pradesh government has advertised widely, even in international media about its forthcoming global investors' meet scheduled to be held between 28-30 October 2012 at Indore. The advertisement portrays the Chief Minister and the Minister for Commerce, Industry and Employment urging global investors to attend the meeting and exploit the state's potential as "the prime location in India" to invest. The government's order to its district administrations to identify 26000 hectares of land in 26 districts to be given away for industries, before the meet hence is no surprise. In the absence of any credible data as to how much the country and its people will benefit out of such investments, the meet can only be termed as an outright licensing to loot the country's resources at the expense of its people. Even as of today, there has been not a single consultation with the people as to what their opinion are about this state-sponsored corporate plunder of India, in this case Madhya Pradesh.
It is in this backdrop that the protest by the group of villagers against increase of water level before compensating them for what they have lost becomes most relevant. Development without planning and consulting the people for whom such projects are conceived must be viewed with exceptional suspicion. The protest of the villagers against the Omkareshwar Dam is a unique cry, and an inevitable fate for millions of poor Indians. It is cry in which the entire country must unite, that the very land upon which many Indians today stand are being sold to alien interests, who have eyed India to plunder, for which their governments have sold their souls.
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