Jal Satyagraha in MP

Villagers protesting imminent forced eviction by the Omkareshwar Dam in Ghogalgaon village of Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh, achieved a hard-won victory on 10 September. After standing in rising waters for 17 days, they forced the MP Government to agree to lower the water level in the Omkareshwar reservoir from 190.5 meters to 189 meters, to abandon its plan to increase the water level to 193 meters, and to announce that it would comply with the Supreme Court judgment of 11th May 2011, requiring allotment of a minimum of 2 hectares of land to each displaced cultivator family.

This is how Chittaroopa Palit of the Narmada Bachao Andolan described the protest:

“On 11th May 2011, the Supreme Court directed allotment of a minimum of 2 ha. of alternative land to each cultivator family affected by the Omkareshwar dam. The Apex Court has repeatedly held that this should be done before submergence. After the judgment, 2500 cultivator families affected by the Omkareshwar dam filed land applications. However the project authorities decided to submerge the area and flood out the people without allotting them land, so that there would be no one left to rehabilitate.

Thus, on 23rd and 24th of August the authorities raised the Omkareshwar reservoir beyond 189 meters, submerging around 1000 acres of crop lands and standing crops of mirchi, soyabean, cotton, painstakingly planted by the farmers, in many cases after incurring considerable debt. For two days the villagers agonized on how to respond to the illegal submergence being wreaked by the State. They understood that it was a life and death battle.

Finally on the 25th of August evening, the villagers, on their own, took a decision to undertake Jal Satyagraha, and informed the NBA activists.

For the next 17 days, 51 people consistently sat on Jal Satyagraha, getting up only to bathe, go to the toilet, eat the food served to them at the river bank, and to sleep for three hours every night on the river bank. We sat shivering in the freezing water in the middle of the thunderstorms and down-pours of late August and early September. Our hands and feet developed wounds and bled, attracting droves of fish that attacked our limbs. Cobras fleeing from the rising waters ran into us. Three times, the waters reached nose level and we nearly drowned, the last time on 9th September at 5.30 p.m. on the eve of our victory. However not a single protestor, aware that perhaps this was the last moment of their lives rose to escape the waters.”

The victory is heartening news. But the Khandwa villagers are not the only ones facing unlawful eviction due to big dams. Villagers of Harda district, protesting submersion by the Indira Sagar dam, got nothing but repression in return for their struggle.

According to the orders of the MP High Court, upheld by the Supreme Court, the water level of the Indira Sagar dam has to be kept at 260 meters. Accordingly, the protestors were demanding just rehabilitation and a reduction of dam waters from 262 to 260 meters. After 13 days of Jal Satyagraha, however, the police arrested 245 protestors, including Chittaroopa Palit, from the waters of the Indira Sagar dam. But soon after, the protesters had entered the dam waters again and continued the Satyagraha, before the NBA decided to call it off and move the courts instead.

Liberation Archive