Khandwa: Fifty one villagers sitting in neck-deep water for 17 days in protest has paid off. The Madhya Pradesh government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan has agreed to lower the water level in the Omkarehswar dam, one of the key demands of the protesters in Ghogalgaon village of the state's Khandwa district.
"We have agreed to bring down water level of dam to 189 metres and to compensate the farmers' land. We will also form a three-member ministerial panel to look into the matter," Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said today.
The Chief Minister also said, "The Supreme Court had given the go ahead to increase the water level to 196.5 metres, but we will not do so now. It will, however, affect irrigation in 20,000 hectares of land and generation of 120 megawatts electricity."
The protesters have called it a "partial victory". They say though that no written communication has been given to them yet. Arun Yadav, the Congress MP from Khandwa, said, "We hope that the statement the government has given, they will actually do it. The people who have lost their land and homes, they should compensated and at the earliest."
The Jal Satyagraha was launched, under the aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, to demand proper rehabilitation and reduction in the water level of the dam which is part of the Indira Sagar Project on the river Narmada.
The protesters, who have developed rashes with their skin peeling off after staying submerged in water for so long, had alleged that water was being released despite the authorities knowing for many days that they would drown if the water level rose any further.
"My family has seven acres of farmland and it supports our family of 20-25 people. But it is submerged in the water, and our life will become useless and we will have no money," said a farmer on protest. Demanding land for land, the dam-affected persons have also pointed out that as per the Supreme Court directives, the rehabilitation work should have been completed at least six months before the land in their village got submerged.
The unusual protest was highlighted by the media and brought widespread attention to the villagers sitting in water. The photograph of the shriveled, bruised feet of a woman protestor went viral on social networking sites.
Under extreme pressure to act, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan deputed ministers Kailash Vijaywargia and Vijay Shah to visit Ghogalgaon village on Saturday and meet the agitators. The ministers had assured them that an early decision wouold be taken to protect their rights.
"It was only after the media coverage and after people from across India started responding to our protest that they were ordered to visit us and talk to us, but now again the same thing is happening - delay - so that the movement is broken up and the people's wills are broken and then basically they will not have to rehabilitate anybody," Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Chittaroopa Palit, who is participating in the protest, said.
Farmers say that if the dam is filled to its full height of 196.5 metres, its expanding reservoir will submerge even more of their land than is already under water. Local villagers have already complained several times about the incomplete and inadequate rehabilitation, corruption in handing out compensation and a lack of concern from the government to consider their demands.
The government's point is that it needed to raise the water level to capacity so that there would more water for irrigation as well as for generating hydro-electric power. The Omkareshwar hydel project has a capacity to generate 520 megawatt of power. Dams in Madhya Pradesh are also overflowing due to excess late rain this monsoon.
Similar protests have been going on for the last twelve days at Barkhalia in Khandwa district and Khardana in Harda district as the land in these villages also got submerged due to rise in the water level at Omkareshwar Dam.
Both Indira Sagar and Omkareshwar hydropower projects were built on river Narmada.
(With PTI inputs)