Social activist Medha Patkar's health has started deteriorating a week into her indefinite hunger strike to demand swift rehabilitation of thousands affected by floods in areas surrounding the Sardar Sarovar Dam. She launched the agitation -- called the "Narmada Chunauti Satyagraha" -- at Chhota Barda in Madhya Pradesh's Barwani district on August 25, and 10 more villagers joined her four days later.
The main demand of Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is that the authorities keep the gates of the dam open until the rehabilitation of 32,000 affected people in the submergence area is completed. It also wants the government to keep in abeyance the Narmada Control Authority's directive to fill to its optimum level of 138.68 metres, and instead maintain it at 122 metres.
The government has not succeeded in making Medha Patkar call off the agitation so far. Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bala Bachchan met her with a request in this regard on August 29, after which Chief Minister Kamal Nath tried convincing her to wind up the hunger strike over the phone.
The social activist has made it clear to the government that there was no question of her backing out until a concrete plan is formulated for the rehabilitation of those affected. The NBA and the villagers have both warned that they will only intensify the struggle if the government does not give in to their demands.
Torrential rain and rising water levels in the Sardar Sarovar Dam have affected thousands of villages along the Narmada river on the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border. At least 80 villages across the three districts have been flooded, with the dam's water level crossing 133.5 metres due to the Gujarat government's reluctance to release water.
"At least 192 villages and a town may go under if the dam's water level breaches the 138-metre mark. The rehabilitation of people in these parts is not even complete," NBA member Rahu Yadav said.