30/08/2019 Indian Right Livelihood Award Laureate Medha Patkar on hunger strike – demands justice for people impacted by the Sardar Sarovar dam 

Indian Right Livelihood Award Laureate Medha Patkar on hunger strike – demands justice for people impacted by the Sardar Sarovar dam 

Environment, Human Rights, 30/08/2019

Medha Patkar visiting the Mumbai slums in 2015. Credit: Right Livelihood Foundation

Medha Patkar visiting the Mumbai slums in 2015. Credit: Right Livelihood Foundation

Today marked the sixth day since Right Livelihood Award Laureate Medha Patkar, founder of the organisation Narmada Bachao Andolan, went on hunger strike. She demands rehabilitation of the 32,000 flood-affected families due to rising levels in the Sardar Sarovar dam.

“We stand in solidarity with Medha Patkar and the thousands of families affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam. We support the urgent claims for their rehabilitation,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Foundation.

Earlier this month, the backwater level of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in Gujarat increased significantly following heavy rains. Flood-like situations in some parts of the Barwani district threatened the livelihoods of the communities living in the surrounding areas. Medha Patkar, along with four other women, initiated an indefinite hunger strike on August 25 at Chhota Badda village, which falls within the dam’s submergence area. The activists are calling on the Gujarat government to immediately open the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. On 29 August, ten more villagers joined the indefinite fast to draw attention to the ongoing struggle.

The Gujarat government and the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), a central government agency, are planning to fill up the reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar dam up to the maximum limit of 138.68 metres, which will mean submergence in a huge portion of the affected area. Residents of low-lying villages are demanding complete rehabilitation measures before submergence of areas around the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Affected residents, under the banner of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), have been demanding that all the disputes regarding rehabilitation should be resolved and complete rehabilitation ensured before the water is filled up to the maximum level. NBA estimates there are over 32.000 affected families in the submergence area of the Narmada valley in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Medha Patkar and Narmada Bachao Andolan demand that:

  • The water level of Sardar Sarovar should be kept constant at 122 meters till rehabilitation of all 32.000 families affected is completed as per policy.
  • The permission granted by the NCA to fill the dam to full reservoir level of 138.68 meters should be kept in abeyance until all the affected are rehabilitated.
  • The affected population of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat should be rehabilitated by providing complete civic amenities and means of livelihood before submergence.
  • All data and documents related to rehabilitation should be made public on the website so that new corruption can be curbed.
  • Rehabilitation, environmental protection and other expenses should be recovered from the Government of Gujarat.

The “Satyagrahis” (people practicing Satyagraha, a form of nonviolent resistance developed by Gandhi) resolved that if the government continued to increase the Narmada water level, the struggle would be further intensified.

Medha Patkar, Baba Amte and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) movement received the Right Livelihood Award in 1991 “for their inspired opposition to the disastrous Narmada Valley dams project and their promotion of alternatives designed to benefit the poor and the environment”.

On previous occasions, Medha Patkar engaged in hunger strikes to peacefully protest against the Madhya Pradesh government’s inadequate rehabilitation policies for 40.000 people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Dam. After local police forces removed her from the protest site in 2017, she was arrested for suspicion of being “likely to commit a breach of the peace or disturb the public tranquillity”, and charges of assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of duty and kidnapping of a government official at the site of protest in August 2017.

For more information, please contact Johannes Mosskin, Director of Communications, Right Livelihood Foundation.

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