The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Forgotten dam of death

Bhopal, April 12: Hundreds are counting their dead on the banks of the Narmada but there is no sign of Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy or any other Narmada Bachao Andolan crusader as the enormity of a man-made tragedy begins to sink in.

As many as 150 pilgrims are either dead or missing while taking a holy dip in the river on Friday after a dam released water for power generation without realising that lakhs had gathered downstream.

Every time a body drops from the fall into a now-empty kund (basin) at Dharaji, a hamlet 75 km from Indore, around 300 people rush in looking for identity marks. Once the body is identified, wails echo in the basin as the others withdraw slowly, waiting for the next body to drop down.

The sudden surge swept away many pilgrims taking the dip as well as those sleeping on the banks. Since the topography of this part of central India is rocky, many died a gruesome death. Most of the bodies recovered so far have multiple fractures.

The Dharaji tragedy is grave on several counts. But a striking feature has been the total absence of non-government agencies and activists in a place that was once considered the fountainhead of one the most enduring popular movements in the country.

Patkar's NBA, the spearhead of the campaign against dams in the area, has yet to send an emissary to either offer succour to the people or get to the bottom of the mix-up that cost so many lives. Contacted, NBA activist Bhagwan Das said: 'We will do something in a day or two.'

The Narmada is one of the largest and perhaps most heavily dammed rivers of the country. Over 3,000 dams are being built across the river as part of the Narmada Valley project.

The government, too, has not acquitted itself well. Chief minister Babulal Gaur has done little more than visiting the spot and announcing a compensation of Rs 1,00,000 each for the relatives of the dead.

The Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation, which released the water, claimed that the administration did not inform it of the pilgrims.

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