12 / 1997
Close to Jabalpur in the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh is the Burgi dam, the first dam to come up in the massive-and by now, internationally known- Narmada project which envisages the construction of around 30 dams. The Burgi dam is very large, about 5 km long, with a massive reservoir stretching to around 75 km. The dam, which was completed in 1990, submerged around 162 villages. Approximately 100,000 people-mostly tribal and backward castes- were displaced. Meagre cash compensation was provided and no effective rehabilitation policies were implemented. In 1992 the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), the organisation fighting against the Narmada dam, took up the cause of the oustees. Large groups of people were mobilised to fight for rehabilitation. Though there were not many traditional fishers in the area, some fishing was being done in the river before the reservoir came up. Once the dam came up, the rights to fish the reservoir were auctioned off to contractors by the government. Subsequently, the NBA organised around 54 co-operatives of tribal fishers who had been fishing for two to three years in the reservoir, selling their catches to the contractors. In 1994, taking advantage of the government offer to lease the reservoir to the federation of co-operatives as a rehabilitation measure, the NBA facilitated the formation of the Burgi Dam Oustees’ Fisheries Co-operative Federation. The Federation commenced its work in late 1994. The NBA faced a huge challenge since it had to take over the entire organisation of production and marketing. The 54 co-operatives together soon built up a boat strength of 600. Around 2,000 fishermen and their families were actively involved in the fisheries, representing about 20 per cent of the total population that needed rehabilitation. Marketing posed a major challenge. The federation took over the system earlier run by the contractors to supply fish to the distant markets of Calcutta. Logistics had to be formulated from scratch. They were forced to depend on hired vehicles and ice supplies from outside sources. Merchants who had lost the contract to market the fish from the reservoir were keen to see the federation fail, and tried to create problems at the early stages. The federation has had its share of problems. During the lean season, for instance, the quantities of fish caught were so low that it was not economical to retain all the vehicles hired for transportation. The insulated vans were sent back and the federation hoped to survive by supplying only the local market. However, despite the low prices, the offtake was limited. The federation acutely felt the need to venture into other nearby markets. It also felt it important to build its own infrastructure. Apart from infrastructural problems the federation felt hamstrung by the lack of professional management. It experienced difficulties in managing the substantial workforce employed in handling the fish. There were also problems since local bodies, like the corporation, were not supportive of the efforts of the federation. Despite these problems the Federation made substantial profits, though, no doubt, many challenges lie ahead.
Millions of people all over the world have been displaced by large developmental projects, such as big dams. A majority of those displaced have been among the poorest and most marginalised sections of society. Deprived of their lands and other assets, often in return for meagre compensation, these oustees often end up as landless labourers or migrant workers in city slums. In recent years, social movements, like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, have brought issues related to rehabilitation to the forefront. By actively facilitating the formation of a federation of fisherpeople to take over aspects of the management of reservoir fisheries, the NBA has helped in rehabilitating a section of the oustees of the Burgi dam. Their efforts offer a lesson to governments and policy makers, and demonstrate the kind of rehabilitation measures that need to be put in place, if large developmental projects are at all undertaken. Active support to oustee groups, including financial and managerial, needs to be provided as part of the rehabilitation package.
Articles and files
VIVEKANANDAN, V., A damn fine effort in. Samudra Report, 1995/04, 12