Bullet train project: Is it Narmada all over again?

Updated: 23 November, 2019 07:39 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Vadodra

For the past 30 years, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, helmed by activist Medha Patkar, has been highlighting the flawed manner in which the project has been conceptualised.

Medha Patkar. Pic /AFP
Medha Patkar. Pic /AFP

BulletVadodra: The foundation for Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in Gujarat as part of the Narmada Valley Project was laid in 1961. But, for the past 30 years, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, helmed by activist Medha Patkar, has been highlighting the flawed manner in which the project has been conceptualised and how rehabilitation policies have failed the 41,000 families living near the reservoir.

One of the most memorable images of the protests led by Patkar were of the jal satyagraha. The photo of her along with dozens of villagers, submerged in the water, as a mark of protest, continues to be a moving image.

'30 years on, still miserable'

Rohit Prajapati, member of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), meets us at a local eatery in Vadodara that, according to him, serves the best Gujarati thali.

Even as he is shuttles between meetings in the city, he decides to squeeze in some time for us. "Under the guise of development, the government is exploiting nature.

All of us owe the Earth an apology," he says. Just like Patkar, Prajapati, too, has relentlessly struggled, seeking justice for the people—his fight against development started in the 80s, when he participated in rallies against the Narmada Valley Project.

"I was studying engineering at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara then. This was 1987, when the NBA office was set up in the same city. Patkar would regularly visit and organise protests from there. I, on the other hand, was focussing on the environmental hazards of industrial waste. I remember visiting the Hema Chemical Industries in 1992, and finding that people living nearby had chrome ulcers," he recalls.

While his focus remained elsewhere, Prajapati was aware of the dam project. It was his wife, Trupti Shah, an environmentalist, who introduced him to Patkar. "They had been involved in NBA and before I knew it, I had joined Patkar in her protests against the dams."

On March 19, 1994, an incident shook Prajapati. "It was the day my son, Maanav, was born. I did not get the chance to celebrate because our office in Vadodara was burnt to the ground by Congress and BJP leaders that day. We were arrested and locked up," he says. But there was no stopping Patkar or Prajapati. "In a few days, we set up a new office in the same area. There were so many issues with the dam project. Building a dam was not a solution to the water crisis, recharging groundwater was," he adds.

Medha Patkar during the iconic Jal Satyagraha. PIC/Narmada.org, Map/uday mohiteMedha Patkar during the iconic Jal Satyagraha. Pic/Narmada.org

Back then, villagers were promised rehabilitation. "But 19 villages were divided into 80 to 85 villages. How is that fair? How can they start afresh in an alien world? They have no fertile land there. How will they earn a livelihood? We have ruined their lives, and it pains me to see them miserable 30 years later."

Old story, new chapter

Not much has changed since, says Prajapati. "Thirty years ago, we fought against a dam project, and now we are fighting a railway project," he says. Prajapati, along with other activists, has opposed the NDA government's bullet train project.

The bullet train or the high speed rail corridor that will connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad is the government's dream project. The train will pass through the two states of Gujarat and Maharashtra and union territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Rohit Prajapati, member, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti
Rohit Prajapati, member, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti

The 508-km-long route starts from the Bandra-Kurla Complex and ends in Ahmedabad. The 12 proposed stations are Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Billimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati.

"They are promising villagers in Gujarat and Maharashtra that they will be compensated and rehabilitated, but none of them will be. The government needs to stop fooling the people. We will not let the bullet train ruin lives in Gujarat again," he says.

Length in km of the bullet train route

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First Published: 23 November, 2019 05:49 IST

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