It is a federation of Fishworker’s cooperatives. It is an organisation that fights for the rights of the displaced forest dwellers of the Satpura forest in Madhya Pradesh.
The problem of displacement of people and communities is very widespread in our country. Whenever any dam is built or forest areas are declared sanctuaries for animals; it results in the displacement of thousands of people.
Such displacement plays havoc in the lives of people. Their life is disrupted in the following ways:
The Tawa river flows through Betul before joining the Narmada in Hoshangabad. It originates in the Mahadeo hills of Chindwara district. The work of building the Tawa dam was started in 1958 and it was completed in the year 1978. It resulted in the submerging of large areas of forest and agricultural land. The life of the forest dwellers was reduced to nothing. Some of the displaced people settled around the reservoir. They found a new source of livelihood. Apart from their meagre farms, they started fishing. Their earnings were also very less.
The rights of fishing in the Tawa reservoir were given to private contractors by the government in the year 1994. These contractors drove away the local people in order to get cheap labour from outside. Those villagers who resisted leaving were threatened by the henchmen of contractors. At this point the villagers united and decided to set up an organisation for protecting their rights. This led to the formation of the Tawa Matsya Sangh (TMS).
The TMS demanded their right to continue fishing for their livelihood by organising rallies and chakka jams (blocking the roads).
The government, as a response to the protests by the TMS, created a committee to assess the issue. The committee recommended that the villagers should be given the fishing rights for their livelihood. Consequently, in 1996, the Madhya Pradesh government decided to give the displaced people the rights for the reservoir. Two months later a five-year lease agreement was signed and on January 2, 1997, the villagers from 33 villages started their new year with their first catch.
A cooperative was set up which bought the catch from the fishworkers at a fair price. The cooperative also arranged the transport and sale of the catch at a good price. This resulted in a three-fold increase in the earnings of the fishworkers. The TMS had also begun giving loans to the fishworkers for repair of nets and buying new nets.
The TMS has proved that when people’s organisations get their rights to livelihood, they can be good managers. This was proven by the increase in earnings of the fishworkers and the preservation of fish in the reservoir- both being an impact of the TMS.
The term ‘Constitution – a living document’ means that it is a document that exists in reality. It does not exist merely on paper but is implemented also. It has the ability to change the lives of the people in a better way, like it did for the fishworkers in TMS. The provisions of the Constitution regarding equality were actually implemented as a result of their united protests.
The recognition of equality for all people, besides being a provision in the Constitution, is also the basis for all the movements for justice and the poetries and songs on equality. There are communities and individuals in a democracy who constantly try to expand the sphere of democracy and push for more equality on existing as well as new issues.
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is a social movement consisting of adivasis, farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists against a number of large dams being built across the Narmada River. The river flows through the states of Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh in India. Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is one of the biggest dams on the river and was one of the first focal points of the movement.
Their mode of campaign includes hunger strikes and garnering support from film and art personalities. Narmada Bachao Andolan, with its leading spokespersons Medha Patkar and Baba Amte, received the Right Livelihood Award in 1991.
In 1985, after hearing about the Sardar Sarovar dam, Medha Patkar and her colleagues visited the project site and noticed that the project work being checked due to an order by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The reason for this was cited as "non-fulfillment of basic environmental conditions and the lack of completion of crucial studies and plans". What she noticed was that the people who were going to be affected were given no information but for the offer for rehabilitation. Due to this, the villagers had many questions from why their permission was not taken to whether a good assessment on the ensuing destruction was taken. Furthermore, the officials related to the project had no answers to their questions. While World Bank, the financing agency for this project, came into the picture, Patkar approached the Ministry of Environment to seek clarifications. She realized, after seeking answers from the ministry, that the project was not sanctioned at all and wondered as to how funds were even sanctioned by the World Bank. After several studies, they realized that the officials had overlooked the post-project problems.
Through Patkar's channel of communication between the government and the residents, she provided critiques to the project authorities and the governments involved. At the same time, her group realized that all those displaced were only given compensation for the immediate standing crop and not for displacement and rehabilitation.
A dam is built across a river. A reservoir is formed behind the dam in which water gets collected. The catchment area of dam submerges vast stretches of land. This results in destruction of vegetation and displacement of people.
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