The road to Karnat-1 and Karnat-2, two resettlement sites set up by the government of Gujarat to house families displaced by the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam in India, is too bumpy and rock-filled for cars or motorcycles to pass through. Its entrance off the main highway connecting Vadodara city and Kevadia colony, the local base of operations for the dam-building Sardar Sarovar Nigam Ltd., is scarcely noticeable. The stretch of land between the highway and Karnat-1 and 2 can hardly be called a road.
While the highway is busy with motorists and cargo trucks traveling between Vadodara city and the major villages nearby contributing to the economic development in surrounding cities, the seven mile road to Karnat-1 and 2 is virtually empty.
[The highway between Vadodara city and Kevadia colony (left), The road to Karnat-1 and Karnat-2 (right)]
The dirt roadâ€™s only frequent travelers are the inhabitants of Karnat-1 and 2 who travel by foot many times a day on their way to find work in nearby villages and cities or to take their children into town school or the doctor. Such facilitites, it should be noted, are supposed to be provided within the resettlement sites according to the current law.
The sites, severely lacking basic infrastructure such as sewage and irrigation facilities, can themselves hardly be called villages. Yet since the mid-1990s, these sites have been home to 80 families who once lived in the now-submerged village of Makhekheda. Nearly 12,000 other families live in sites that pass as villages off similar unnavigable roads across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These families, who had their land and livelihoods submerged as a result of the 360-foot high Sardar Sarovar dam, dot the unseen landscape of the Sardar Sarovar project.
But Karnat-1, Karnat-2 and the other resettlement sites in and around the Narmada Valley may soon see visitors from the federal government as a result of attempts by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and others to reverse a March decision to raise the height dam to 400 feet.
Attempts by the Narmada Control Authority, an inter-state agency responsible for overseeing all part of the Narmada project, to raise the height of the dam before all â€œproject-affected familiesâ€ are resettled have been halted as a result of hunger strikes, media campaigns and protests in India.
[Photo taken from Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Web site. This is how the resettlement site is supposed to look (left). Karnat-1 at a distance (right). What few pictures I was able to take should be seen within the context of the following â€œCommunity Benefitsâ€ section of the web page the Nigam has assigned to Rehabilitation and Resettelment. The following description of the resettlement site is given: â€œCivil and other amenities such as approach road, internal roads, primary school building, health, centre, Panchayat ghar, Seeds store, Children's park, Village pond, Drinking water wells, platform for community meetings, Street light electrification, Religious place, Crematorium ground etc. are provided at resettled site.â€]
Such a story should have made some headlines in the Western media, obsessed as it is with Indiaâ€™s development, no? After all, the Narmada project continues to be the costliest and most intensive infrastructure project in India. On top of that, it has its heart in states that are considered the industrial centers of India. (From a database search of roughly 650 stories from Western and nonwestern news outlets on the Narmada since the March 8 decision to raise the damâ€™s height, I was able to find roughly 18 briefs from Western (overwhelmingly European) media regarding the issue).
The scale of the damage being wrought by the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam is impressive. While the unofficial and official estimates peg the number of project-affected families at up to 50,000, the Andolan calculates that over 1 million people have been affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam project. From over 10,000 fisher families living downstream of the dam who have seen the river they use dried up, to the over 23,000 families displaced as the damâ€™s intricate canal network was constructed, none of these families are considered â€œproject-affectedâ€ and so have no legal recourse to fight for rehabilitation. It seems then, that the 35,000 families waiting to lose their livelihoods to the final raising of the dam and facing internal displacement afterwards are the luckiest of the unlucky victims of Indiaâ€™s most controversial infrastructure projects.
As a result of the pressure the NBA and others in India put on the government, there is currently dialogue about whether the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam should be raised. However, the issue at large will not be presented in Western newspapers because it doesnâ€™t have an â€œinternationalâ€ component: only stories about Indiaâ€™s up and coming young professionals or the countryâ€™s inability to meet the requirements of the UN Millenium Development Goals make it to the Western news media. Nonetheless, the ability of people around the world to show solidarity with the groups in India fighting for just and adequate rehabilitation of the drowned out families of the Narmada Valley is great. As the international business community continues to help feed Indiaâ€™s infrastructure development, displacement of scores of families will continue. Perhaps when this happens, Western newspapers will begin to cover such stories, having sufficiently found an â€œinternationalâ€ component.
[Photo taken from Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Web site. This is how a typical canal is supposed to look (left). A dried-up branch canal near the Sardar Sarovar dam. Theoretically, even during the time this picture was taken â€“ June 2005 â€“ the canal should have been full (right).]
In the meantime, there is much going on surrounding this issue that deserves attention.
One committee of ministers from the Narmada Control Authority has already visited similar sites in Madhya Pradesh and found the state of resettlement and rehabilitation inadequate. According to a confidential report resulting from the visit that was obtained by The Hindu newspaper: â€œThe GoM (group of ministers) was amazed that no sanitation, no drinking water, no system of sewage, no roads, much less the facilities like hospital, water reservoir, school, post office etc., have been provided there. There is no hope that such infrastructure will be built there soon.â€
It took the state governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh nearly a decade to agree on how to resettle 12,000 families, â€œhow can it possibly resettle another 35,000?â€ asked Sukumar Krishnan of the NBA when I accompanied him to Karnat-1 and 2 in June 2005. The Nigam is now estimating that the extra 36 feet can be successfully added to the dam within the end of the year.
[Kanjibhai Balia in front of his resettled home in Karnat-1 (left). Sideview of Baliaâ€™s home (right).]
Chhandasi Pandya ([email protected]) is a journalist based in New York.
The confidential note from the Group of Ministers after a tour of the resettlement sites: