People of the flood vow to drown rather than move

IN THE Narmada Valley, the river water is lapping at the first rows of corn. Lower down, only the tops of the trees are still visible. Last month a little girl drowned when she went to fetch water from the river.

When the Narmada River rises a few more feet in the coming days as a result of monsoon rains, the first houses in Domkhedi will be submerged. Sixty other villages in the valley - situated at the confluence of three Indian states: Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh - are also living under the threat of rising water.

"When it floods, we will carry on sitting here, even if we have to die," declared Ulya, a white-turbanned farmer whose six hectares of land will be engulfed in the coming days.

Ulya is sitting cross-legged in the middle of more than 100 villagers who have come from all around the valley to make their protest.

The threat comes from the massive Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has recently been raised to 88 metres.

The Sardar Sarovar is one of a chain of 30 huge dams built as part of the controversial Narmada River Valley Project, which was conceived during a craze for grandiose development projects in India's post- independence era. The project comprises thousands of dams in total.

Sardar Sarovar - the biggest dam, even though it is now only half complete - is the focus of a 15-year protest movement that has been swelled in recent days by the arrival of 200 sympathisers from Delhi, including Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author of The God of Small Things.

Ms Roy, who supports the protest group NBA - Narmada Bachao Andolan, or Save Narmada Movement - has written a vitriolic and passionate essay on the harm the dam is causing to the villagers' lives.

As in all the tribal villages of the Narmada Valley, the river is the source of life. There is no other source of drinking water, no electricity or telephone system. The Advasis, the tribes who live in the Narmada villages, were almost totally self-sufficient before the dam. They went to town to buy salt, but otherwise their lives were defined by nature, livestock, working in the fields and the river.

For the past 15 years, the Advasis have been fighting the dams. In Domkhedi and in neighbouring villages, the focus of opposition has been the Sardar Sarovar, once planned as the world's second-biggest dam in the world.

Work on the dam accelerated after a $450m loan from the World Bank in 1985, although it withdrew from the scheme in 1993 following pressure from the NBA.

The entire river valley project was supposed to irrigate 1.8 million hectares of land, generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity and bring drinking water to 40 million people.

According to the few official figures available, by 1991 the project had brought drinking water to only 8,215 villages.

In 1979, the government anticipated that 6,000 families would be displaced. Today it talks of 41,000. According to the NBA, 85,000 families, or half a million people, will be affected.

The costs of the project have far exceeded projections, with the Sardar Sarovar Dam alone so far costing pounds 1bn. The NBA claims that the dam will provide only 3 per cent of the 50 megawatts of electricity originally predicted.

India is the world's third-biggest builder of dams. However, irrigation remains a major problem and 226 million Indians, a quarter of the population, are still without potable drinking water.

For the past month, the NBA has been organising "sit-ins until we are swallowed up" in two villages. Around the clock, villagers and sympathisers from all around India take turns to spend an hour or a few days on a roof of banana leaves by the river, a few metres from the house of Medha Patkar, the NBA leader. "Didi" (sister), as the Advasis of the region call her, looks like an ordinary woman. She says: "We are not against progress, but for alternative solutions, on a human scale, which benefit the communities affected and those in greatest need.

"The electricity from the dams is going to people who already have it. The Sardar Sarovar Dam will affect 2,500 new villages, nearly 12,000 families, this year. Close to half a million people will be affected by the time that it is finished."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent