Activists vow not to give up fight against evictions as India's biggest dam opened

Indian officials look at the overflowing Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam in Kavadia, 194 km (120 miles) south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, August 29, 2011. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Ahead of the ceremony, protesters stood in waist-deep water, demanding help for 40,000 families uprooted by the project

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Sept 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A day after the inauguration of India's biggest dam, activists vowed to keep fighting for the tens of thousands of people displaced by the project to be resettled and compensated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday dedicated the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river to the people of India. The project will provide power and water to millions in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states.

Ahead of the inauguration ceremony, protesters led by social activist Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) movement, stood in waist-deep Narmada water, demanding help for the some 40,000 families uprooted by the project.

"The dam may be complete, but the project is not complete, the resettlement and rehabilitation of people is not complete" said Madhuresh Kumar, an NBA campaigner.

"In the past, the inauguration of a project meant people were forgotten and left to fend for themselves. But where people have continued to fight, there have been victories, so we will continue to fight," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Sardar Sarovar dam is the centrepiece of the multi-billion dollar Narmada Valley development project to provide water and power through a series of dams, reservoirs and canals.

The project has been mired in controversy since it was conceived in the 1960s, with protracted battles over water sharing, evictions and compensation. Construction began in 1987.

The NBA has said the dam displaced 320,000 people - many of them poor tribal families and farmers who were not resettled on agricultural land - and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands more. Thousands have still not been compensated, it said.

Nearly 200 villages and tracts of agricultural land are being submerged by a planned increase in the height of the dam.

The dam "signals ruin not development for tens of thousands of unsuspecting, hapless and poor farmers and Adivasis in the absence of a just and fair rehabilitation programme," said Ravi Chellam, executive director of Greenpeace India.

The project also has an "immeasurable cost" in terms of the destruction of forests, biodiversity and ecosystems, he said.

About 65 million people were displaced in India by dams, highways, mines, power plants and airports between 1950 and 2005, according to Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Less than a fifth have been resettled.

In February, India's top court asked Madhya Pradesh to complete resettlement sites by July 31, and pay 6 million rupees ($94,000) to each of the 681 families who did not receive any compensation.

But the resettlement sites are unfinished and inadequate, say campaigners who were roughed up by police during a protest last month in Madhya Pradesh.

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