| Writer Arundhati Roy speaks to a schoolgirl during a protest by Narmada Bachao Andolan activists in New Delhi. (AFP)
Dharmapuri (Madhya Pradesh), April 7: Some villagers put up road blocks to force the central ministers to stop and listen to their complaints.
Others snatched a minister’s car keys to stop the convoy leaving after a superfast “assessment” of the rehabilitation efforts.
Dharmapuri, set to be submerged by the Narmada on June 30, wanted Saifuddin Soz, Meira Kumar and Prithviraj Chavan to see for themselves how little the villagers had been paid as compensation.
“We are being robbed by corrupt officials. Come to my home and see how much I got,” Bharat Patwa pleaded.
Sunil Patel wanted to know how he would graze his dozen-odd cattle once he moves out.
But the ministers had only about five minutes to spare, and as the villagers saw the visitors prepare to leave, their frustration boiled over.
In the melee that broke out, some of them took away the keys of the Tata Safari in which Soz, the Union water resources minister, was travelling.
It was snatched back immediately, with a police raining kicks, slaps and abuses on the crowd, which retaliated by beating up deputy superintendent P.S. Meena.
The central ministers ' on tour to assess the compensation paid to those who would be displaced when the Sardar Sarovar dam’s height is increased ' faced angry crowds at every village.
At Anjad, Khedi and Piplood, people stopped the convoy and shouted slogans such as “Manmohan sarkar hosh mein aao (Manmohan government, come to your senses).”
At the rehabilitation camp in Khalbujurg, some inmates snatched the mike to accuse officials of demanding a 20 per cent cut on compensation. The land being allotted, too, was inadequate, they said.
Some said they wouldn’t leave their homes. “Main Nimad ki nari hoon, Nimad mein hi rahoongi (I am from Nimad, I shall stay at Nimad),” screamed a woman.
P.C. Sethi, who lives just outside Dharmapuri, had the opposite problem. “Why should I be staying on when the rest of the town will go under water'” he asked.
But since his home and land are outside the area that will be submerged, he is not entitled to rehabilitation.
Dharmapuri has over 2,000 households but only 1,387 have been asked to move, with the rest wondering how they would survive when two-thirds of the residents leave and the local economy collapses.
Asked if the Narmada Control Authority, which has requested the government to raise the dam’s height, might have misled it on the rehabilitation efforts, Soz said he couldn’t comment before completing his assessment.
“We are not an inquiry committee. We have arrived here to assess the situation and to hear the grievances of the people, especially whether they have got adequate compensation or not,” he added.