Sardar Sarovar Project, the Statue of Unity and the dispossessed Adivasis
The tribal people of six villages who lost their lands in 1961 for the Sardar Sarovar Dam's colony, the Kevadia Colony, still await rehabilitation, 60 years on.
Nandini Oza 6 April 2022 8:12 AM GMT
Kevadia Colony, recently made famous with the Statue of Unity, is a classic case of appropriation of adivasi lands and culture by the dominant class and castes. While the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stands tall, it is also a testament to Gujarat's development model that basically transfers resources from the marginalised to the powerful through state power.
The Kevadia Colony came into being in 1961 on the lands of adivasis as part of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), then called the Navagam dam, on the river Narmada in Gujarat. The government claimed that the SSP would turn Gujarat into "Nandanvan", paradise.
In reality, the dam submerged 245 villages with a population of 250,000 people. An equal number of people were affected by other project infrastructure like the canals, project colonies, due to downstream impacts, etc. The dam submerged 13,000 hectares of forests and has adversely impacted river Narmada.
Kevadia Colony over tribal villages
Kevadia Colony in particular, where the Statue of Unity looms large, was built over six adivasi villages – Kevadia, Waghadia, Limdi, Navagam, Gora and Kothi. The lands were used to build the houses of the officers of the SSP, workers quarters, circuit houses, helipads for VIPs, godowns, parking areas for heavy machinery, etc.
However, unlike the inhabitants of the 245 villages falling in the submergence zone of the Sardar Sarovar dam, those who had lived in Kevadia Colony were not considered project affected and therefore not rehabilitated. Their struggle to be considered on par with those displaced by the dam, and be entitled to land-based rehabilitation, still continues.
Worse, those areas in Kevadia Colony that were not used for the dam, were diverted to develop tourism near the dam site, with its perfect setting of the Narmada River and the Satpura and the Vindhya Mountains as a scenic backdrop.
The adivasis of the six villages protested against this and demanded that the land not used for the dam should be returned to them.
Stories of struggle and protest
In an interview on the website of oral histories of the Narmada Struggle, Kapilaben Tadvi, a firebrand adivasi leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), who belonged to Waghadia village, spoke of the injustice of it all.
She recalled the time when her wedding was fixed with Prabhubhai Tadvi, who lost all his family lands in Waghadia village to the construction of Kevadia colony. At the time of her marriage when she was not even seventeen, people had expressed their concern as Waghadia had already been acquired for the dam project. In the interview, Kapilaben Tadvi also remembered how there was talk that the displaced inhabitants of Waghadia would be rehabilitated eventually. And so, she was married.
That was the beginning of her struggle and later, her association with the Narmada Bachao Andolan. In the interview, Kapila spoke of the demands they made for their lands. She spoke of how the men and women of the six villages gathered together to struggle against injustice.
It was a fight characterised by protests, memorandums, dharnas and even getting beaten up by the police and jails.
When the lands were acquired, people had no idea about the enormity of the consequences. Kapilaben said, "No one realised how many people would be rendered homeless, how many animals and birds would drown and die and how many trees would face the axe. Many oustees have become beggars and some even died by suicide". Kapilaben challenges the notion that the Sardar Sarovar Project is a 'jeevan dori' as the government promoted it.
The demand of the adivasis of these six villages to be rehabilitated was viewed sympathetically by the Supreme Court- appointed Grievance Redressal Authority, and in the government regulation (GR) in the year 2000, it has been explicitly stated that status quo should be maintained on these lands acquired for Kevadia Colony till a fresh rehabilitation package for the oustees was declared.
However, no such rehabilitation package has come about, and the adivasi lands once acquired for the SSP continue to be used to develop tourism near the Sardar Patel statue. "While the GR clearly states that the unused lands should not be used for other purposes, it is not being given back to the real owners. The lands of our forefathers were snatched by the government… they promised to compensate us with land. But nothing has happened and they have not solved any of our problems," Kapilaben said in her interview.
The dispossessed inhabitants of Kevadia Colony live a life of drudgery. Many of them work as domestic help in the homes of the project officers. There are widowed women who secretly brew liquor for a living (there is prohibition in Gujarat). If they are caught, their clay pots are smashed and they are beaten up by the police, narrated Kapilaben.
The struggle continues. The movement has ensured that the adivasis are not completely evicted. But they continue to live on the margins of the famous Kevadia Colony, facing threat of further evictions. The authorities are also treading cautiously in face of such vocal protests.
However, the fact remains that the adivasis of the six villages who lost their lands in 1961 for the Sardar Sarovar Dam's colony, the Kevadia Colony still await rehabilitation, 60 years on.
Nandini was an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan for 12 years. Views are personal.