The water level in Gujarat's Narmada dam at Kevadiya rose to 133 metres, as on 20 August, just five metres short of its upper limit, due to heavy inflow of water from upstream.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, earlier in the month, performed a pooja in the “hope” that the dam water level will touch its full reservoir level for the first time since 2017 when its height was raised. But for the 32,000-odd families that live in and around the area, this is anything but good news.
At least 192 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 33 villages in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat are already inundated and are likely to be completely submerged if the water levels continue to rise and the gates of Sardar Sarovar dam are not opened, said activist Madhuresh Kumar, leading a protest in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar.
But Kumar adds that neither the state governments nor the Narendra Modi-led central government cares.
"“The situation is completely different now from when the dam was being built. So long as the dam had not reached 130 meters, water would not reach these villages. However, with the Gujarat government’s plan to increase it to 139 meters, these villages are expected to be completely submerged. Where will these families go?”" - Madhuresh Kumar, Activist
Water Levels Rising, But Not Due to Rainfall
Gujarat has so far received around 89 percent of the annual average rainfall in the ongoing monsoon season. But as long-time Narmada activist Joe Athialy points out, that has little to do with the drowning of villages.
"“Water is rising not because of the heavy rainfall but the Gujarat government wants the dam to be filled by October or November. The Gujarat CM has already thanked PM Narendra Modi for this. They don’t want to open the gates and let the water flow out. The gates of the upstream dams are opened but the Sardar Sarovar Dam at the end of the river is closed. This is why water is rising in the villages. This would not have been a problem if the people had been rehabilitated.”" - Joe Athialy, Activist
According to Gujarat government officials, 204 dams in the state are filled to the extent of 70.72 percent of their total storage capacity.
"Of the 204 dams, 41 are full to the brim while 40 dams are 70-100 percent full. Another 22 dams are 50-70 percent full, while the current water stock in 36 others is 25-50 percent," an official statement reads.
‘Where Will the Villagers Go’
Addressing the audience in New Delhi, Kumar said that many villages that are less than 10 km away from the Sardar Sarovar Dam are already submerged and that people have moved to hillocks near it. But this too, is a temporary solution.
Rohit, a resident of Badwani village in Madhya Pradesh echoes the same thoughts. He says normal life has come to a standstill and two people have died due to the flooding.
"“Water has choked our village from all four sides. Hospitals and schools are shut. The government does not seem to care. Two people have also died due to this in my village. I request the Gujarat government to not fill the dam until people are rehabilitated.”" - Rohit, Resident & Activist
‘Complete Apathy & Insensitivity’
Accusing the Modi government of insensitivity, 80-year-old NBA activist Devram Kanera questioned why no one was talking about the ‘vikas’ of the families that are suffering.
"“They are talking about vikas in the Narmada valley. But what about the vikas of the families that are going to be flooding? People sitting in Delhi, Gandhinagar and Bhopal are making the laws for the people of Narmada valley. But we are drowning. Modiji does Mann Ki Baat but what about the Mann Ki Baat of the people?”"
Athialy too, asserted that the failure of the government, both state and Centre, to rehabilitate people showed their insensitivity towards people.
"“The construction of the dam started way back in 1980s. We are talking about four decades ago. This is absolute insensitivity by all the state governments and the Union government.”"
The 214 km-long reservoir with 40,000 hectares of submergence area and 30 gates have been closed since 16 June 2017. But activists feel it is already late to repair the damages but that it is still possible to control the intensity of the destruction.
"“First and foremost, don’t fill the dam till 139 meters. Open the dam gates at once. And most importantly, rehabilitate people. Implement what the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal says for rehabilitation. There are 8,000 cases still pending with the grievance redressal authority. Address them without further delay.”" - Madhuresh Kumar, Activist . Read more on Environment by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsAfter ED, CBI Also Issues Lookout Notice Against Chidambaram . Read more on Environment by The Quint.