Would Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, recently honoured by government, have approved of its dispossession of peasants living now?

Tanushree Gangopadhyay of India’s Civil Society Online, reported last year that the Narmada and other anti-displacement movements across India have for decades highlighted the dark side of infrastructure projects which have often led to an unequal spread of pains and gains. This is particularly true of the forced displacement that has disrupted the livelihoods of poor and marginalised people in rural areas.

Gujarat’s government set up the Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA), to promote tourism and the Government has proposed to extend KADA to 68 villages, giving priority to tourists, restaurants, golf courses and boating. People of these villages have conducted an awareness campaign speaking to Sardar Sarovar tourists, distributing leaflets etc.

Tanushree Gangopadhyay reported that tribal people from 70 villages around the Sardar Sarovar dam in Kevadia colony had been protesting in Indravarna village against the government’s move to acquire their land for tourism, saying “Let them first rehabilitate our kin from six villages, including Kevadia, who were evicted four decades ago”.

ids logoBy chance, a brief reference on the BBC World Service radio led to the only information found online about a current action, fully reported in April by Lyla Mehta (IDS).

She recorded that displaced people and activists are protesting in the Narmada valley because the state government seeks to increase the water level of the Omkareshwar dam on the River Narmada from 189 metres to 191 metres.

The dam will displace 50,000 small farmers and flood about 5,800 hectares of India’s last intact natural forests. When work on the project started, no proper social or environmental impact assessments had been conducted. It is estimated that the whole Narmada project will displace at least a million people from their homes, lands and livelihoods, many of whom are from indigenous communities, lower castes and small farmers.

standing narmada protest

20 activists have been standing or sitting waist-deep in the submergence waters of the Omkareshwar dam in Madhya Pradesh, India, since the middle of April. A doctor confirmed to the BBC World Service that their health is seriously suffering, naming adverse effects.

For over twenty years, the movement has adopted a strategy of non-cooperation, mass mobilisation and non-violent forms of protest including rallies, picketing, sit-ins, fasts and the more extreme case of “save or drown actions”. Activist villagers have refused to vacate their ancestral homes. As a result they have resisted and faced police atrocities and repressive tactics including mass arrests, harassment, sexual assault, bulldozing of their homes as well as the clear-felling of their forests.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, recently passed, diluted the few safeguards to protect displaced people which the 2013 Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act contained.The new bill ‘fast-tracks’ industrial corridors, defence, affordable housing and infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnerships, and other ‘special categories’ which will no longer require the consent of 70-80% of the sardar vallabhai patel statueland owners as set out in the 2013 act. It will remove the rights of forest dwellers, smallholders, agricultural workers and share-croppers, especially those with no title to the land they use.

Ironically the 2014-15 Union budget, allocated $32 million to build a monument to facing the Narmada Dam. It will incorporate a tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a lawyer who organised peasants in non-violent action against oppressive policies imposed by the British. It will look down on living peasants protesting against the outworking of oppressive legislation passed, not by a colonial power, but by their own government.

What would he have done about the plight of the villagers?


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