Bishop supports dam-affected Indian villager's struggle

Current situation is a matter of great concern says Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.

 
Father Roy Thomas (right), a social worker in the Indore Diocese, joined people on a huger strike in central India demanding compensation for thousands adversely affected by a dam project. (Photo supplied)
Bhopal: 

Catholic Church officials are backing a hunger strike in support of demands for compensation and rehabilitation for 40,000 families affected by a major dam project in central India's Madhya Pradesh state.

Protesters say increased water levels in the Sardar Sarovar Dam will submerge 912 villages while officials maintain that affected people have already been compensated and benefited from 'rehabilitation' measures.

Police on Aug. 7 'cane charged' supporters of 12 people on hunger strike since July 27 at Chikhalda, a village in Dhar district.

Activist Medha Patkar was hospitalized as a result of the encounter.

Police also forcefully took six others to hospital as their health deteriorated, but more joined the hunger strike to replace them.

The Sardar Sarovar Dam is one of 30 dams planned on the Narmada River as part of the huge Narmada Valley project initiated in 1979 aimed at irrigating farmlands and producing hydro electricity. However, the project became controversial as rights groups and environmental activists citied large-scale displacement of people and environmental damage.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who is based in the Madhya Pradesh state capital, said the current situation is a matter of great concern as nobody should be deprived of his or her "right to life." He called on the government to conduct a fresh survey to determine how many more people should be offered rehabilitation packages.

Federal authorities granted permission to neighboring Gujarat state to shut one of the Sardar Sarovar Dam gates in order to trap monsoon rains. This threatens to increase the water level to 138 meters from its current height of 122 meters.

Narmada Bachao Andolan (save Narmada movement) is demanding adequate rehabilitation and resettlement for some 200,000 affected people. The group complains that they have lost homes, farms and grazing land as well other sources of income.

The federal junior minister for Water Resources, Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, told parliament that all those impacted by the project have been assisted as required by a water disputes tribunal and a Supreme Court order.

But others, such as Father Roy Thomas, a social worker in Indore Diocese, also in Madhaya Pradesh state, said many people are yet to be rehabilitated. He, along with two Catholic nuns, joined the protest on Aug. 5. Those at risk were small and marginal farmers who had no other option to survive in the face of their small plots of land being submerged, the priest said.

Father Thomas said in some places the government provided tin sheds, without water facilities or drainage, which were not fit for human habitation.

Environmentalist Soumaya Dutta accused Madhya Pradesh police of forcing those affected to sign compensation bonds and leave villages. Both the federal and state governments were "lying" about the number of people affected, he told local media outlets.

Source: UCAN

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