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Narmada oustees face bleak future

Written by: Staff

Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, Apr 25: Residents of 37 hamlets marooned by backwaters of the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada face a bleak future as their homesteads will be submerged.

For these hill villages spread over Badwani, Dhar and Jhabua districts of western Madhya Pradesh, motorboats are the sole means of contacting the outside world.

Inhabitants of these villages are dam-affected people (DAP) who were provided compensation and other packages, but they returned to their native places or nearby areas after finding rehabilitation sites ''uninhabitable,'' says Ram Singh of Kundia village near Kakrana in Jhabua.

Narrating DAP's tales of woe, motorboat owner Ter Singh of Bhadal village says, ''For a few years I have been earning well with villagers traversing the 20-km route from Kakrana to Anjanbada on my boat to sell food grain, forest produce and fish. With the backwaters submerging the forest and fields, DAP's income dwindled.

As the entire area will be submerged soon, my source of income will be gone.'' Interestingly, about 20 tribals purchased motorboats from Gujarat to arrange transport for DAP and for fishing.

Singh said the meagre compensation received for his land and house were spent on emergencies. Since the rehab site in nearby Gujarat was inhospitable, he returned.

Apprehending submergence, Anjanwada Sarpanch Khajan Singh -- once a wealthy farmer -- has shifted his residence and ration shop from the plains to a hillock summit. Other villagers followed suit.

Bereft of agriculture land and other sources of livelihood, the villagers face a bleak future, he says. Crocodiles pose a threat to both human and cattle population in several marooned villages. An 18-year-old youth of Anjanwada was devoured by one such reptile last year.

Meanwhile, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar told UNI over telephone that tribal residents of hillocks earn their bread from the forest, agriculture and fishing. Dam construction and rehab negate their efforts to become self-reliant. ''DAP residing atop hills have not been resettled. Residents of one such village Domkhedi fought against the British by siding with Tatya Tope. Now, they have been deprived of their right to earn livelihood and rehab,'' she adds.

Ms Patkar says several DAP were afflicted by water-borne ailments. Mobile dispensaries, placing a burden of several lakh rupees on the exchequer, are ''functioning only on paper.'' Executive Engineer (Rehabilitation) S K Waghela says the tribal oustees, accustomed to live near water bodies, do not want to shift.

Those living on hillocks have to move once the dam height is raised. Mr Waghela claims medical teams frequent the marooned villages. ''Displacement is painful but benefits of the dam are manifold,'' he adds.


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