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Government folds to farmers' demands

Villagers' victory after neck-deep water protest

Government folds to farmers' demands
Volunteers clean villagers after they emerge from the water
ucanews.com reporter, Bhopal
India

September 12, 2012

An unusual 17-day protest by 50 villagers in Madhya Pradesh has ended with a government pledge to compensate farmers whose land was taken for the construction of a state dam project. Farmers in Khandwa district stood neck-deep in water demanding land for more than 300 affected villagers. Each displaced family was entitled to a minimum of two hectares, said Alok Agarwal, an activist from Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which was spearheading the protest. "This is definitely a victorious moment for us in terms of our immediate needs," he said. According to government policy and a law laid down by the Supreme Court of India, the state government must ensure the resettlement of the displaced villagers. “The government failed to do so, forcing us to undertake the protest,” Agarwal said. They were also demanding a reduction in the water level of Omkareshwar dam on the Narmada river from 190.8 meters to 189 meters. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan agreed to the demands after a meeting on Monday with representatives of the affected families, led by Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Lokendra Singh Tomar. The government will allocate land to the villagers within 90 days, Chauhan said. He also announced a five-member committee to hear the grievances of the displaced people. The federal government has said it will send a team of observers to the dam site, and the state's Human Rights Commission directed the state government not to raise the water level and warned of action if anyone was killed during the protest. The government had planned to raise the water level to generate adequate hydropower from the 520 MW Omkareshwar project and extend irrigation facilities to an additional 20,000 hectares of land. Meanwhile, villagers in the state's Harda district were not as successful. They were forcibly evicted from a 15-day-old water protest today. They are demanding water level reductions at another dam on the river. Related reports: Controversial dam´s water reaches drought-hit region, but all not happy
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