Ten Years of Injustice: Tehri Dam Survivors

A Documentary Film, Ten Years of Injustice,  directed by Vimalbhai, released in Delhi on Saturday is testimony to the human and ecological crisis that has emerged in the Himalayan region after construction of dams like the Tehri Dam

The movie is a testimony to the human and ecological crisis that emerged in the Himalayan region after the construction of dams such as Tehri which have ruined the lives and livelihoods of local communities and caused irreparable damage to the ecology, environment and cultural values that were centuries old.

The film also speaks of the long history of illegal and forced land acquisitions, violations of environmental safety norms and the utterly unfair rehabilitation policies by various governments
Internally displaced families are still seeking justice 10 Years After the Dam was Commissioned

Justice Rajinder Sachhar,, public intellectual and former judge of the Delhi High Court released the film on Saturday, April 10. Shambhunath Shukla, senior journalist and former editor with Amar Ujala Hindi Daily released the book ‘Why Dams?’ written by Vimal bhai and published by National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM).

“We can never feel the pain experienced by those who have faced the loss,” senior advocate Sanjay Parikh.

The film documents years of work done in the dam affected regions of Uttarakhand and discusses the environmental degradation, displacement and loss of livelihoods of the people in Uttarakhand owing to building of large dams. Complementary to the film is the book that also reflects on the worsening state of ecology, environment and people in Uttarakhand.

“Who really benefits from the dams?” asked Shambhunath Shukla while elaborating upon how the rehabilitation of people in the vicinity of the Tehri dam has been both thoughtless and callous. The people have been relocated to an area which has only worsened their quality of life. Overall too the move has brought environmental devastation.

“Until now, the problems arising in the Uttarakhand region and the Ganga Valley –much of which is caused by the number of small and big dams built — has been overlooked by the unjust greed for electricity; we have to save ecology and people’s rights over the natural resources provided by the Himalaya” said Vimal bhai, while criticising the Namami Ganga initiative which talks only about the pollution and cleaning of the River Ganga but evades the issue of dams on Ganga. “We will not give up until our rivers and our people get their rights,” he added.

Adv. Sanjay Parikh, fighting the legal battle for people on the Tehri Dam issue since 1992, was felicitated by people’s movements. He has been part of this endless struggle and extended support, which has benefited people of Uttarakhand and also provided strength to other people’s movements nationwide.

Justice Rajinder Sachhar along with Ms. Medha Patkar, Puran Singh Rana, senior activist of Matu Jansangthan and others honored Sanjay Parikh, gifting him with the Preamble of constitution and a shawl. Justice Rajinder Sachhar appreciated the Sanjay Parikh’s work and the fight for deepening of human rights jurisprudence since 1986 and evaluated his contribution worthy for a people’s award equivalent to a Bharat Ratna.

Sanjay Parikh, with his long 24 years’ experience handling the legal battle of the Tehri dam oustees and the NAPM shared insights: he said that the Indian judiciary has failed to understand the real problems caused by these large dams; both the Government and also the Judiciary have focused on rehabilitation issues without adequate attention being paid to the basic environmental concerns.

The Tehri Dam was environmentally not feasible and was, thus, kept at the planning stage only for many years after which the Government simply went ahead with the decision to just build it. Adequate rehabilitation has not been effected which refutes the claim of benefits to people from the Tehri Dam. The lack of social assessment and other devastation of cultural values because of displacement were missing in the prior assessment. The rights of people and environmental norms have been largely ignored.

Parikh shared with the people his experience of the area where the dam was built: villages looked deserted and depleted; displacement caused immeasurable impact on local populations. The project alienated the culture and society along with their association with the forests. “It was hard to witness the devastation and face the people as an advocate; we are human beings and cannot overlook the plight of people and upcoming devastation” said Mr. Parikh. He ended his conversation with the poem ‘Man Chaahta hai’, written by Vimal bhai.

During the panel discussion on “Tehri dam and Dams of Ganga Valley”, Medha Patkar, with her long journey of fighting for the justice of people displaced and against the large dams, termed it an emotional journey.

“Tehri Dam is a part of series of acts of planned violence on people’s lives, livelihoods and the environment” said Medha Patkar. These atrocities are not considered anti-national whereas the people raising voices for the justice are termed anti national. The Government is playing a very dangerous role in diverting the people’s attention and defaming real struggles to facilitate the transfer of natural resources into the hands of industries and the rich.

The current development model is a slave of industries and corporates, moving out the people from their own villages and habitats; exploiting the natural resources available for all. The Government, administration and others are rarely questioned inside the Courts when there is a constitutional challenge. There is also unwillingness to even listen to those people who are fighting for people’s issues. “We should never aspire for the legal justice but for human Justice”, she added.

“Three things impacting judgements are principles, pragmatism and prejudice”, said Usha Ramanathan, Legal Researcher and fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies observing the travesty of justice in Tehri Dam case. There is a distinction between impartiality and neutrality.

Mr. Soumya Dutta, a noted environmentalist spoke of the inequality in planning and the delivery of benefits: the largest good of the largest number was hardly ever a guiding principle causing people to suffer their lives, livelihoods and environment. The Ganga – Brahmputra river system brings in a lot of silt resulting in a very fertile soil deposition which has supported the agrarian system catering to food security for the majority of the population of India, but ignoring these facts, the rivers are getting dammed which is resulting in declining reservoir capacity too apart from its larger socio-environmental impacts.

The struggle for Dam free rivers and people’s rights will continue with greater support and strength, the meeting resolved.



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