When Devilal Tadvi of the Adivasi village of Gadkoi in Gujarat first saw the site of the Sardar Sarovar dam located about twelve kilometres from his home, a singular thought crossed his eager mind. When would the mighty Narmada water his small field? Little did he know, that not only would he get no water from the dam in the future, but that he wouldn't have much agricultural land left either.
Devilal's father Jatanbhai had already lost seven and a half acres to the dam's main canal in the early eighties. With only four acres left over that was partitioned between Jatanbhai and his four sons, Devilal's share was less than an acre. Though Gujarat Government officials promised the family adequate cash compensation when they acquired the land, they soon reneged on their sugar-coated assurances. Eventually, Jatanbhai was paid a meagre Rs.2800 an acre, impoverishing him with a stroke of a pen, for life.
Government officials also promised that all four of his sons would be employed, but only one son was hired as a clerk in a State Bank branch in the colony built for dam engineers and staff. Now Devilal was forced to work as a labourer on other people's farms, pulling out weeds all day for a tiny payment. When dry, merciless summers arrived, he had to leave home for Surat, to sweat and slog at construction sites in inhospitable conditions. But he still had hope that the Government would compensate his family for the land it had so unjustly usurped, that it would provide them Narmada waters to irrigate the fields which buttressed their lives. The compensation money never came. Nor did the water.
Jatanbhai is one of thousands of farmers who lost land to the canal network of the dam, much touted as Gujarat's lifeline. The 1992 report of the Independent Review commissioned by the World Bank - which initially sanctioned a loan of $450 million for the Sardar Sarovar Projects (SSP) - puts the figure of land-owning farmers with titles who would become landless or be left with less than two hectares, at about 14,000. The report further states that based on discussions with affected families, in many regions, one title holder is equal to three or four families.