Revered as ‘Devi’ (one of the seven sacred rivers) in Hindu mythology, hailed as the life line of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, river Narmada has been in the news of late due to the much hyped ‘Namami Devi Narmade’ campaign, undertaken by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Madhya Pradesh.
Launched on December 16, 2016, it was hailed as the “world’s biggest river conservation campaign with public participation” and ended on May 16, 2017, in Amarkantak with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concluding address.
While activists claim ₹100 crore were spent by the state government on the campaign, sceptics have several posers for the state government.
Rampant illegal mining is the biggest cause of worry for environmentalists working for decades to save the Narmada. There are thousands of sand traders in the state who enjoy direct patronage of political leaders/ministers, claimed an activist who did not wish to be named. Known social activist Medha Patkar had made similar claims two years ago in 2015.
Alok Agarwal, a social activist turned politician, told National Herald from Bhopal that although Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been in power for over a decade in the state, the situation has gone from bad to worse. “Narmada Yatra was nothing but a sham. In a state where the whole catchment area of Narmada is being dug up and sand sold by the mafia, spending crores of rupees on a Yatra was shameful. In a state where five farmers commit suicide every day, where 45% children are malnourished, showcasing a Yatra with big banners, posters and media coverage is an act of treason with the public,” he added.
“Loss of forests destroyed the ecosystem of Narmada river over the years. Thousands of acres of forest land has been submerged by dams. There are several places where the river has changed its course. Besides, compulsory forestation has never been done by the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government,” alleged an activist from Badvani, headquarters of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).
Several thermal power plants have come up on the banks of the Narmada. NBA activists and environmentalists believe that these power plants pose a major threat to the river. Residents of Chutka village, Mandla district, have been opposing plans to build a nuclear power plant on the bank of Narmada.
Although Narmada originates from Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and carries more water than the combined annual flows of the rivers Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, most of Madhya Pradesh faces shortage of water in summer every year. To add insult to injury, the state government has allowed Coca Cola to set up a plant in Hohshangabad on 110 acres of land along the banks of the river and permitted it to draw as much water as possible.
The NBA claims as many as a million people have been displaced by dams constructed on the Narmada river. The Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is one of the 30 dams proposed on the Narmada, has alone displaced more than 10,000 people and 250 villages have been submerged.