Tens of thousands of tribals will be forced from their homes if construction on several dam projects in Gujarat proceeds, Jesuit activists warn.
“This is another attempt to push indigenous people to the periphery by grabbing their land and houses to construct big dams,” Jesuit human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash, who directs an NGO in Gujarat’s commercial capital Ahmedabad said.
“More than 30,000 tribals displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam over the river Narmada in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are yet to be rehabilitated and construction of new dams would lead to further displacement of tribals,” the priest added.
The government says damming the Ambika, Par and Tapi rivers in Gujarat’s southern region will provide irrigation water to the Saurashtra and Kutch regions.
Meanwhile, drinking water for Mumbai in Maharashtra state can be supplied by building dams over the Damanganga and Pinjal rivers which flow through the two states.
An agreement for the projects was signed by the two governments in May.
The project sites are currently populated by indigenous people with their own language and cultural identity.
Other activists say the projects will not benefit the tribals at all.
“Compensation is unlikely because most of the land is claimed by the state government’s forest department,” said Father Stanny Jebamalai, who heads the Shakti Trust in Songadh in Tapi district.
Jesuit Father Xavier Manjooran accused authorities of trying to take water away from area already in need.
Dangs, a tribal dominated district, already has a water shortage so why build “big dams to take water to other areas?” he asked.
“Small reservoirs and check dams can be constructed without uprooting people to conserve water,” said Father Manjooran, who also provides legal aid to local tribal people.