After land it's dams: Congress seeks to cash in on anti-dam sentiment in Chhattisgarh

Raipur: In a hurry to regain lost political ground under the leadership of a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi, the Congress is taking a leaf from the Maoists' books in Chhattisgarh. While land acquisition remains its primary battle plank, it is also aiming to cash in on the widespread public anger in rural and tribal pockets over large dam projects. The Maoists have managed to win public sympathy in the 'red corridor' by standing solidly behind those who might get displaced or lose their land once the projects came up; the Congress wants to make these issues its own.

 After land its dams: Congress seeks to cash in on anti-dam sentiment in Chhattisgarh

Congress seeks to raise dam issue. AFP

Chhattisgarh is embroiled in decades old inter-state water disputes with Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Satpura range and the Aamarkantak system contribute a larger share of water to the rivers of the country than the Himalayas. The rivers either originate in or flow through the state. The neighbours have built dams just across the border leaving a large tracts inundated in Chhattisgarh. There are thousands of persons displaced without having been rehabilitated even after decades.

With some states surrounding Chhattisgarh eager to build more dams, there's bigger threat of more displacement and more submergence. Many of such projects had been lying dormant for decades. The almost forgotten projects, in a short span of time, have started occupying the news space with the dust raised by the land acquisition bill by the Central government. The Congress, no wonder, figures prominently in these news.

The northern and southern parts of the state are where the Maoists have their strongholds. These very areas are now overlapping the submergence and acquisition related resentment zones. Jashpur, adjoining Sarguja in North has witnessed public anger over the construction of a dam over Lava river in its Manora block to divert water into the Ib to help the industry located on its bank downstream. The project has been shelved for the time being. Public demonstrations and rallies, however, failed to stop another project on the same river some distance away. Work on the Gullu hydro electric project has started but the resentment stays on. All these areas have seen serious Maoist presence in the recent years.

The regions affected by the Amvar dam (district Sarguja and Balrampur in the North) and the one affected by the Polavaram (Bastar in the South) are the two most troubled in the state. The third affected region lies in the North-East. The Hirakud Dam on river Mahanadi acts as the mother of many disputes since the 1950s. Residents of village like Rebo on the edge of the state were displaced in 1956 and till date have got no land of their own to live and survive on. Then there are villagers affected by the Gangrel Dam still to be rehabilitated on the same river upstream. This forested area borders the Bastar area. Number of cases where people are dissatisfied with less or no-compensation received for the loss of trees run into thousands in various dam sites. Besides, the area is rife with new conflicts produced by the rows of barrages built to divert river water to the industries -– mainly the thermal power projects -- on its banks in both the states -– Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

Amvar Dam

The protests and the unrest accelerated when the UP Police opened fire on the protestors on 14 April in the Maoist-affected Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. Residents of many villages in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, besides Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting against dam on the river Kanhar being built in Amwar village of Dudhi tehsil there. The site of the dam borders Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The affected people of Uttar Pradesh are not satisfied with the compensation and those in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand just do not want it at all.

The 22 villages of Chhattisgarh threatened by submergence form part of the Maoist-affected and forested Balrampur and Sarguja districts of Chhattisgarh. The area is the stronghold of TS Singh Deo, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly. Congress lost no time and dispatched the party functionaries under the local MLA Brihaspati Singh to stand by the possible evictees. As many as 60,000 people are feared to be affected due to the dam. This includes about 35,000 from Chhattisgarh, 90 percent of which are tribals. 2500 hectares of dense forest is also going to be submerged.

Originally conceived in 1976, the dam is the result of an agreement for sharing the water that was signed by Arjun Singh (for MP) VP Singh (for UP) and Jagannath Mishra for Bihar in 1982. The foundation stone laid by chief minister Mayawati for the construction of Kanhar Dam on 15 January 2011 triggered a wave of resentment among the locals, mostly tribals, who fear a large-scale displacement.

A petition was filed before the National Green Tribunal on 24 December 2014 claiming that the abandoned project cannot be revived based on clearances obtained in the 1980’s since the same requires to undergo a fresh assessment taking into account the significant environmental changes occurred in past 30 years since the project was originally conceived by Central Water Commission. Activists have started arriving at the site; Medha Patkar is being invited; a team of NGOs visited the site and returned to Raipur yesterday.

Polavaram dam (on river Godavari in Telangana)

The Congress party has planned a big demonstration on 28 April at Konta, the southern tip of the state. The demand: spare Sukma district from being drowned in the Polavaram Dam.

The Polavaram dam will displace more people than Sardar Sarovar dam. Submergence is going to extend to 63,728 hectares as comparison to 37,000 hectares of Sardar Sarovar. This does not include the back water impact this submergence would make.

The jinxed Polavaram Project is in the pipeline for the last 75 years. Right from its conception in 1941 during Madras Presidency days, the project has been at the receiving end from both the state and Centre. In fact, it’s believed that the project was originally conceived much before 1941 by a Telugu engineer Sir Sonthi Venkata Rama Murthy, ICS but the project still is suffering from teething troubles. Meanwhile, the estimated cost of it escalated from Rs. 6.5 crore in 1941 to over Rs 16,500 crore in 2010-11.

The project also involves relocation and rehabilitation of over 52,000 families in AP, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, no provision for which has allegedly been made in the project.

Khatiguda Dam (on river Indrawati in Navarangpur district of Odisha)

Indrawati is the lifeline of the old Bastar district – larger in size than the state of Kerala. This dam has already resulted in Indrawati drying up in the non-monsoon season and flooding during the monsoon. The problem is that the river water, after the dam was built, started draining into Jora nala which actually is a tributary of Indrawati and flows in Odisha. As a solution, both the state governments agreed to build a control structure at a point before Indrawati enters Chhattisgarh. The half-constructed was damaged last week by a mob in order to keep the water flowing into Chhattisgarh.
Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, general secretary and the chairman of the media cell of the state Congress committee, said the party is serious about the issues of displacement and rehabilitation brought upon by construction of dams elsewhere. All the Congress MLAs of Bastar region have been asked to participate in the demonstration meeting that the party is organising in Konta near Sukma at the Southern tip of the state.

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Updated Date: Apr 24, 2015 19:39:09 IST