A person like Mr Modi who now has the national mandate must show his willingness to hold a dialogue with us

Features Friday, July 18, 2014 - 05:30
The News Minute| July 1, 2014| 8.30 am IST On June 12th the Narmada Control Authority gave the Gujarat government permission to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam by 17 meters from 121.92 meters to 138.72 meters. The decision has been widely criticized which is seen as favoring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, at the cost of lakhs of people in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan who have spent decades fighting for the rights of people displaced by projects in the Narmada valley have staged protests and asked that the decision be reviewed. They contend that at its present height the Sardar Sarovar Dam affects 2 lakh people in the region and thousands of families are yet to receive relief and rehabilitation promised by the government. With a 17-meter rise in dam height another 2.5 lakh people will face the same fate. Medha Patkar, head of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, spoke to Nayantara Narayanan about the battle at hand. Why do you think there has been this quick decision to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam?  This is pressure from Gujarat industrialists, no doubt about it. The water cannot be used for irrigation at this moment because the irrigation channels are not ready. They are lifting only 20 percent of the available water today, so why spill more for irrigation? It is only the demand from the industrialists. It has become a political issue for Gujarat. So it is the pressure from Gujarat alone. Once Mr Modi came to power he took the decision without even giving time to the concerned ministries to look at the documents. Everything of the UPA government is otherwise being reviewed, but here the files were not looked at afresh. The NBA has asked that the PM review the NCA's decision. Does "review" mean that you won't accept anything less than an outright rejection of the proposal? That decision has to be repealed because it is against the law and against the judgment [of the Supreme Court on prior rehabilitation of displaced]. It’s absolutely illegal, and also unjust. Is there a middle path or some compromise you might consider? Middle path or compromise cannot be anything related to eviction without rehabilitation. What can be the middle path? The reasonable thing is displacement but with rehabilitation. If at all a review of the whole project has to take place, we feel that actually a person like Mr Modi who now has the national mandate must show his willingness to hold a dialogue with us; where there has been a conflict for so long show that some new path can be taken and also consider an alternative that may bring in a win-win situation. A win-win situation can be at 122 metres height –if the water that is ponded can give Gujarat it’s own water share then a little bit of compromise on power generation can be accepted by Madhya Pradesh government and Maharashtra government. People are anyway going to lose their land. Madhya Pradesh is going to lose the best of land and densely populated communities and so on. So this is all possible provided there is openness and willingness to consider the huge social impact and environmental impact, which is going to be affecting the lives and livelihood of lakhs of people. If Mr Modi were to engage with you in such a dialogue and you are assured that he will act on relief and rehabilitation would you then be ok with the height of the dam being raised?  That should happen first. The height of the dam cannot be thought of now. [At the] present height itself has lakhs of people in its submergence, below 122 meters. Taking that into consideration it will take years to resettle them first. For that we are ready to engage into dialogue anytime. And that is all set – policy, provisions, everything is on paper. So all that we want is fair and just implementation in letter and spirit.  Are you considering taking this to court and if that is the case what are your legal options now? We will fight the legal battle also. There are cases pending already. We just have to stand before the court with the up-to-date information. The NBA and affected people have been protesting at Jantar Mantar. How do you intend to take the protests forward? That will continue now. We are planning with other movements and other states. It is the sowing period. Immediately after sowing farmers in the valley will also be joining on a large scale. We just had the first round of protests and we have met the ministers. We have now to go to the next stage. Once we see whether they respond to what we are saying – they are saying that they will review it – we are just waiting. The Narmada Bachao Andolan is the face of the social movement but the Aam Aadmi Party, which also you are a member of, is backing the movement. Are you looking for the AAP to put political pressure on the government to rethink this decision?  They have passed a statement but the party has not jumped into the fray. I don’t know, I have left it to them. I have to now get everyone to mobilize. Not only the Aam Aadmi Party but even others. That is yet to take place. There have been reports that members of the NBA are a little worried that ideology of the movement and that of the AAP does not quite meet. Are you worried about this?  On the main issue of the Narmada Bachao Andolan the Aam Aadmi Party is with us because it was stated in the Delhi manifesto and also in the national manifesto – about the large dams, about the development project planning without the gram sabhas consent. Have you decided whether you will join the Aam Aadmi Party's national executive council?  I have not yet [decided] because if it is for a short time and they are going to evolve the structure from bottom up. So I thought I would wait till that happens and when finally the executive committee is created, that maybe better. And I don’t know how much time I will be able to give it.

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