By Jinu Abraham and Christina Kamp
Since the 1960s, indigenous people have been displaced for the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and related infrastructure along the Narmada River in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat und Maharashtra. Following resistance and an extremely critical independent review, the World Bank withdrew from the project in 1993. Local people continue to fight for their rights, now also resisting further displacement in the name of tourism. They are supported by the "Save the Narmada Movement" (Narmada Bachao Andolan - NBA), led by human rights activist Medha Patkar. We interviewed Medha on human rights violations related to tourism around the dam site, and on possible avenues to support the people's struggle.
TW: In what respects are the human rights of people at the Sardar Sarovar Dam violated in the context of tourism?
Medha Patkar: There are six villages around the dam where the people have been displaced from their agricultural land for the colony of the dam. They were not considered as "project affected people", so they were not even offered rehabilitation. So they fought and fought with us, and still they got only 36,000 Rs. as a compensation package, which most of them did not take. Instead, they stayed put on their land which was remaining and not acquired, and they said "This is ours". They had access to that land and could continue cultivation. But now they are again being evicted in the name of tourism.
Some of the boys were taken as tourist guides, but these were all temporary jobs given as luring. Anyway, they have to date not given up their land, but it's a great struggle that they are continuously going through. It's not only the six villages, but it's the sixteen villages where the developers are saying that they want to have 5-star-hotels. Some hotels have been built already. Tourism is brought in slowly and steadily and the tourists are generally coming in and going back. Much of the plan which was to be imposed immediately got stalled because the developers are still worried that the dam is not permitted to go ahead, and they are still facing court cases. That's why they are doing this slowly and steadily.
TW: What is needed to protect the villagers' human rights, what will support the people's struggle?
Medha Patkar: In Gujarat, we have always questioned and challenged, but the government is very non-responsive. They feel that they have done everything that they could do for the affected people, so that is how it is. In Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the state is challenged and the state is compelled to give some response at least. The central authorities also have not been treating these tourism activities as part of the project, the dam project. It's a big barrier in getting the tourism affected people recognized as such. They were not treated as affected, not even as colony affected, and as tourism affected also they are ignored. Tourism is considered as a side activity. But we must consider tourism related to the dam or any project as part of the project and compel those in charge to have a plan and at least rehabilitate. To plan tourism and give them the first right to employment that is being created is the best way out. You can't totally stop tourism from happening, as it is planned by the State.
I think the definition of the project itself can include tourism kind of activities if they are around the project site. That is what we should insist on and everything would flow from that. So, the new national rehabilitation policy* is coming up and it should say that this is also part of the project. But we actually don't want this rehabilitation policy, we want the "Development Planning Act"** which we are currently drafting, and in which we would like to include this.
TW: What's the role of international solidarity in protecting the human rights of local people affected by human rights violations such as displacement in India?
Medha Patkar: At Narmada, one five star hotel is coming from Malaysia, the water parks are coming with outside investment. Wherever there is outside investment, the international community must question that and compel the investors to listen to the people. If there is opposition they should not go ahead for simply that and the project should be shut. The World Bank or any funding agency should be compelled to look at not only the direct displacement but also the displacement due to tourism. The international solidarity movements can question the World Bank or any hotelier or any company as to what they are doing to the people. This is what happened in the case of the Narmada dam: We threw out the World Bank!
* The Indian National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 was approved by the lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha) in 2009, but rejected by the upper house of Parliament (Rajya Sabha). It is likely to be redrafted and presented again.
** The National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM) and others demand the enactment of a comprehensive national legislation on development planning inclusive of the just rehabilitation of affected people and enunciating the principle of least displacement and a decentralized development planning. It is currently being drafted in consultation with movements across India and supposed to be presented in the upcoming Parliament session.
Jinu Abraham works with "Kabani - the other direction", an initiative in Kerala, South India, on tourism issues.
(925 words, 72 lines, March 2011, TW 62)